It was an agonizing decision.
My old startup was finishing the last few items required for its sale, and my next company was young enough that I could pick it up and move it wherever felt right.
All I had to worry about was my partner, a few million in funding, and the big question – where would our company have the best chance to grow into the giant we envisioned it being?
For years I had been at the mercy of the winds of fate. My companies had started in Los Angeles and expanded to Silicon Valley and Nevada. With offices and employees, there was no chance to move, so there was no need to assess the merits of different locales. However, eight years ago, several 8-figure sales relieved me of the gravitational pull of offices and staff.
My new company, Utherverse.net, was pioneering a groundbreaking technology called the Virtual World Web. We were essentially developing a new layer of the Internet that would overlay the “flat” Web and create a 3-D Internet.
My prior companies had developed and patented some of the technology that makes the current Web work as it does today, so this wasn’t as much of a stretch as it might otherwise seem. Still, I knew that this could not be done in the United States — and there were some very specific reasons why.
The first criterion that I had to consider was the talent pool. The ideal location would need to have a lot of skilled employees ranging from those who were familiar with the core fundamentals that make the Internet work to expert game developers.
The West Coast of North America is famous for its high-tech industries, and it is true that there is amazing talent in the region.
Over the past 25 years, the nexus for high-tech business has migrated north up along the West Coast. Early high-tech companies began in Los Angeles, and at the height of the internet boom, San Jose was at the center. Then, after the bust, companies like Microsoft and Amazon populated Seattle.
Most recently, Vancouver, British Columbia has become home to the world’s largest game developers (Electronic Arts for example) and hundreds of other game and app development companies both large and small. Schools in Vancouver are churning out students specializing in 3D graphics, game development and programming in general.
But having the talent isn’t enough. I had owned and run companies in San Jose in the past, and while the skillset was there, frankly, the work ethic simply wasn’t. The goal was for Utherverse to revolutionize human interaction on a whole new scale, and that would require the passion and dedication of everyone involved, not just those at the very top.
When I built one of my earlier ventures, WebJump, it was done in San Jose, and staffing the start-up was ridiculous. We hired programmers who didn’t have the skills that they claimed on their resumes, and many who did have the skills were leapfrogging from one company to another – so in demand, that they would obtain a better title and a higher salary from us, only to update their resume and begin interviewing for a new job immediately thereafter.
Finding passionate employees was a distant dream. In reality, competent employees who could be lured to work with stock-options and the promise of a “quick-hit” were the best that I ever hoped for in that environment.
For a project that would take almost a decade to come to fruition, I needed access to both a skilled pool of potential employees, and employees who could become excited about building something meant to last. We also needed to be located in a country whose economy was sound and where the politics provided for stability.
The formula all pointed to Canada, and after three trips to Vancouver, I discovered the following:
The skill level of software developers and artists in Vancouver is the best I have ever encountered. The Canadian educational system seems to reward intelligence and academic success. When the Economist Intelligence Unit measured literacy and graduation rates between 2006 and 2010, Canada landed seven spots ahead of the United States, which finished in 17th place.
As an employer, I find that operating a company where everyone is well educated is helpful. There is no position in which it is not advantageous to have someone who is trained to work hard and work smart, so my company operates more smoothly on every level now than any of my previous firms.
The work ethic of employees in Vancouver is second to none. Finding staff that are dedicated to their job and who take pride in the company, themselves and their work is the norm, not the exception.
Throughout my high-tech business career, telling a job applicant that the company will be private for a few years while we would build something meaningful sent most of them running for the hills.
In Canada, building something meaningful seems to be prioritized over the quick hit.
The outlook on life that Vancouver employees have is representative of Canada — friendly and caring. Canadians may sometimes be mocked for being so easygoing, but these are real character traits, and they are reflected in our corporate culture.
As a corporation, we want our relationships with our customers and business partners to have depth and respect. This seems to come naturally to the staff that I have now.
As an added bonus, it turns out that there are a variety of stimulus programs in Canada that actually work - tax and business incentives that are smart. This is not to say that Canadian politics are perfect by any stretch, but I find that the government is functional, which in this day-and-age is a rare thing indeed. The programs offered nationally and provincially are intelligent and reward things like hiring productive and creative people, and generating innovative products.
It has been nearly eight years since I chose Vancouver to host my then-start-up, Utherverse.net. In that time, the company has grown from five employees to about 60. In addition, we provide employment to several thousand virtual-world residents and entrepreneurs who perform activities ranging from teaching classes to planning weddings to selling real-world real-estate and hosting massive online conventions.
Our proof-of concept phase is almost complete. We are preparing to launch the first release version of the Virtual World Web late this year.
I have no doubt that the location I chose to plant this seed has been a key factor in bringing the venture to bloom. Canada has proven to be fertile soil for a new generation of Web development and high tech start-ups.
Brian Shuster is founder and chief executive of Utherverse.net.