Opinion

Letter from the editor: Back to the Bay with the C100

My heart is with all those affected by Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. As the conflict commands the world’s attention, and Canada and our allies muster a response,  the much more mundane challenges of day-to-day life here at home seem trivial by comparison. 

Yet it was those challenges that led me last week to California, where I attended the annual C100 tech summit in Napa. The C100 is a longstanding pillar of the Canadian tech community in the Bay Area. In fact, the very first feature-length article The Logic published back in 2018 traced the C100’s origins. 

The Logic was a partner in this year’s event, which for many in attendance was their first chance in two years to leave their home offices for a professional event. It was a great chance to catch up with tech leaders, entrepreneurs and investors, and to get a sense of what they were thinking as 2022 kicks into high gear. 

The event was under Chatham House rules, which means I can’t quote the participants directly. But these are the broad themes that are top of mind for Canada’s best and brightest entrepreneurs:

What will the return to the office look like?

This question was asked in almost every conversation I had, as employers think about what the spring will look like for their employees. While everyone had their own ideas of what a hybrid return to work could look like, there seemed to be unanimous agreement that a five-day office workweek is a relic of the past.

Several CEOs I spoke with have already shed their offices altogether, moving instead to renting co-working spaces or hot desks when necessary for in-person meetings.

How can we retain talent?

It wasn’t long ago that Canadian policymakers and tech CEOs were thumping their chests with pride over how we were winning the competition for talent. Special fast-track worker permits and a Trump-led crackdown on H-1B visas led to an influx of product, data and engineering talent coming to Canada. 

Those days are officially over. Many CEOs I spoke with complained that from Vancouver to Halifax, big U.S. companies are poaching talent. If there’s any solace, it’s that the challenge is widespread, with companies in India and smaller U.S. firms also complaining about the lack of tech talent. 

This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Late last year, The Logic published a 10-part series on the increasingly global fight for talent. And yet I was still struck by how dire the situation has become. If every company is a tech company, then every employee is a poachable target. 

One interesting trend coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that some Canadian companies have taken to hiring senior executives from the U.S. to work remotely from their U.S. locations. The thinking is that while those hires are more expensive, and there’s an exchange-rate hit to factor in, it’s worth it to get experienced C-suite level talent that knows how to build scalable companies.

How long will supply-chain disruptions last?

There is an interesting dichotomy between the SaaS-based tech companies that work primarily in the digital realm and those whose products exist in the physical world. For the former, the current supply-chain challenges are a non-issue. For some of the latter, the cost of shipping and unpredictable arrival times have led them to onshore some of their processes, at great expense.

Most of the CEOs I heard from said things were already improving and that much of the supply-chain challenges were likely to end sooner than expected. Of course, this was before Russian troops invaded Ukraine, with the geopolitical uncertainty that brings.

What will be the impact of long-term inflation? 

Surprisingly, inflationary pressures weren’t a big concern among the delegates—at least, not yet. There seemed to be uniform agreement that inflation was no longer transitory, and would instead be a source of sustained, long-term pressure. But few seemed overly concerned that pricing and interest-rate hikes will slow down growth in the venture space. (The Logic will have more on this next week.)

The only caution—perhaps a good one—was that companies seeking capital would no longer see inflated valuations based on predictive value, with the market instead rewarding companies with strong foundations and solid cash flow.

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Beyond any one topic, the overall mood of the event was joyful as people who hadn’t seen each other in over two years caught up. The importance of human connection is something that I hadn’t fully appreciated was missing from my life, and I suspect others felt the same way.

If there is a ray of light for all of us in these dark times, it is that as pandemic restrictions are carefully lifted and the days turn longer and the nights get warmer, many more of us will once again get to experience these happy reunions.

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