A high-tech whiz kid who taught himself computer code at an early age and went on to create.... see more
Source: Times Colonist
UVic honours tech innovator Stewart Butterfield
Victoria honoured one of its technology innovators on Friday at a soldout black-tie gala for Stewart Butterfield, a high-tech whiz kid who taught himself computer code at an early age and went on to create communication companies worth billions.
Butterfield was honoured as this year’s University of Victoria Peter B. Gustavson School of Business Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year.
He joins a prestigious group of previous technology winners, including Don Mattrick, former president of Microsoft Interactive Entertainment; Sir Terrance Matthews of Mitel Corp.; and Jeff Mallett, former president of Yahoo!
Butterfield went to St. Michaels University School and graduated from UVic with a philosophy degree in 1996, earning a master’s degree from Cambridge University two years later.
He is co-founder and chief executive of Slack, an enterprise communications platform with more than nine million weekly active users around the world.
Slack is used by small and medium businesses, and about 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies.
In addition to developing Slack, Butterfield co-founded Flickr. The image- and video-hosting website was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005.
“Stewart’s entrepreneurship is an inspiration to our students and our city,” said Saul Klein, dean of the business school. “It is wonderful to be able to celebrate a homegrown talent at our 15th annual gala.”
The Gustavson School celebrates entrepreneurial excellence with its Distinguished Entrepreneur Award. Each year, it recognizes an inspirational entrepreneur who has had a significant impact on the global community through business leadership.
In 2005, Butterfield was named one of Businessweek’s Top 50 leaders in the entrepreneur category. The same year, he was named to the TR35, a list created by MIT of top innovators in the world under age 35. In 2006, he was named to the Time 100, Time magazine’s list of the most influential people in the world, and also appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine.
In November 2008, Butterfield received the Legacy Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Victoria.
In 2015, he was named the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovator.
2017: Don Mattrick, Microsoft
2016: Linda Hasenfratz, Linamar Corp.
2015: David Foster, music producer
2014: Dennis Washington, industrialist
2013: Brandt C. Louie, London Drugs
2012: Dennis (Chip) Wilson, Lululemon
2011: JR Shaw, Shaw Communications
2010: Alex Campbell Sr., Thrifty Foods
2009: Sir Terence Matthews, Mitel Corp.
2008: Clive Beddoe, WestJet
2007: David Black, Black Press
2006: Gwyn Morgan, Encana
2005: Dave Ritchie, Ritchie Bros.
2004: Jeff Mallett, Yahoo!
"My focus in Vancouver is on product and design, whereas in San Francisco it’s more on investors..." see more
Is Slack a harbinger of tech riches for Vancouver?
The arrival of Slack in Vancouver seems to indicate full steam ahead for B.C.’s tech sector. If things change south of the border, however, all bets are off.
The enterprise software phenomenon Slack [(app built by Victoria company, Metalab)] has been in its Hamilton Street offices for almost a year now. But with extensive renovations just complete, CEO Stewart Butterfield hosted a media unveiling this September. As only befits a seven-year-old company valued mid-2016 at $3.8 billion, the place makes most offices look very ordinary indeed. The Michael Leckie-designed space features brick walls and dark timbers, kitchen and bar, lounge areas with lots of throw pillows, gauzy balloon-like light fixtures and a six-metre wall at the top of the main stairs that’s covered in bright green mummified moss.
An evidently proud Butterfield characterized the Vancouver office, now employing 82 people, as his favourite, noting: “The San Francisco office has a great location. But it wasn’t entirely built out by us. So it’s much less us.”
That Butterfield would champion his Vancouver office is perhaps to be expected. The 42-year-old founder of Flickr, later sold to Yahoo, started life on a commune in rural B.C. with the original given name Dharma. You could say he’s emphatically homegrown. But his enthusiasm might also reflect the anticipation that, poised at the dawn of 2017, the B.C. tech sector is set to boom.
Slack isn’t the only driver of that potential phenomenon. Microsoft invested $120 million in its Vancouver facility this past year, where it eventually intends to employ 750 people. Hootsuite officially became cash-flow positive mid-2016, and its awaited IPO now seems likely for this coming year. According to numbers recently released by the province, the B.C. tech sector now employs over 90,000 people—more than mining, oil and gas, and forestry combined.
All of this activity can also be seen as part of a bigger plan, which is to expand the economic ties and coordination between Seattle and Vancouver. Separated by a snarled freeway and a plugged-up international border, the cousin cities have long attracted the attention of local planners seeking to bring their communities closer together. In September we got an emblem of that in the form of B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s and Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s signatures on an agreement to coordinate economic development of the technology sectors in both places.
The motive for American companies is clear. Canada has a speedier immigration environment than does the U.S. That’s important in a sector with a seemingly insatiable demand for engineers, many of whom are being schooled at the tech-friendly educational institutions of China and India. Getting them into Canada, by some estimates, takes less than half the time required to get them into the States.
Butterfield himself anticipates close to 40 new hires in Vancouver, including in “customer experience” and front-end engineering. “Engineering is the second-biggest team here,” he says. “And this is where most of the design leadership is, the core of the front-end development team. So my focus in Vancouver is on product and design, whereas in San Francisco it’s more on investors and executive recruiting.”
Executive recruiting may be easier in the San Francisco area because there would be much greater depth in people with experience in enterprise software companies in the first place. But it may also be easier because of the housing demands of people being hired at the most senior levels. Sure, a younger workforce—Butterfield looked to be the only person over 40 in the Hamilton Street facility—may be willing to live in small or shared quarters in what is widely considered one of the least affordable cities in the world. If you’re looking to hire senior people, on the other hand, who will likely be older and may well have families, then you need to have places for them to live that don’t cost millions of dollars.
But maybe real estate prices are, in the end, a red herring. San Francisco and New York, both thriving tech hubs, have more expensive downtown real estate than Vancouver. The risk factor for the Vancouver tech boom may come down to a piece of paper: the U.S. H1-B visa. A non-immigration work permit allowing U.S. companies to hire foreign nationals in specialized sectors including technology, the H1-B is capped at 65,000 persons annually. Were that head cap to be lifted, as it is rumoured it might be, a key Vancouver competitive advantage would fall away. And then the Slack-indicated tech boom might well be in jeopardy.
Butterfield isn’t worrying about that—not at the moment, anyway; 2017 is coming, and he thinks Slack’s drawing power will be ample to attract the people he needs. “Just look at how beautiful our office is!” he exclaims. Then, more seriously, he offers the following prognosis: “I think that being at Slack right now will be similar to having worked at Google from 2005 to 2007, or Facebook from 2007 to 2009, or Apple in the mid 2000s.”
If he’s right, a lot of people will be having a happy New Year.
Love Slack? Thank Victoria, BC-based MetaLab, the company that designed the web’s most popular... see more
Author: Jennifer Aldrich
Love Slack? Thank Victoria, BC-based MetaLab, the company that designed the web’s most popular corporate chat client from the ground up. They’re also known for building TED Connect, Notarize, and many more beautifully designed, highly functional products and apps. We couldn’t be more proud to have them as part of the InVision community.
We sat down with MetaLab’s Design Leads Oliver Brooks and Ryan Le Roux to find out about how their remote team collaborates, how they vet new clients, and what good design is.
How is the design team set up at MetaLab?
Oliver: We have 22 designers, and about half of our team works remotely. Our main office is in Victoria, a small city that doesn’t have a huge pool of design talent to draw from, so hiring remote workers has enabled us to put together a really strong team.
All of our designers can do visual design, but everybody’s skillset varies in terms of their strengths and weaknesses on things like UX, iOS, etc.
Typically, we don’t break out of the roles as granularly as some other companies do. There’s a general sense that everybody has something to contribute to all the different phases in a project. And although certain people have strengths and weaknesses, when we resource a project, we typically don’t break it down to where we have a dedicated UX designer, or a dedicated visual designer, or anything like that.
Ryan: We want to make sure that the people on the project are all there from the beginning. Even our CEO will take a designer with him to meet a client and allow design to start thinking earlier on in the project. Our feeling is, if we get too granular and only let people do what they’re really great at, they won’t be able to grow in different areas and they won’t be able to learn about how product design works as a whole.
Every project has at least 2 designers on it—and ideally, those 2 people complement each other.
What’s the design culture like at MetaLab?
Oliver: We’re big on learning here. People come through the door with a certain expertise, but we want to help designers grow into all the areas that they’re interested in and really broaden their skills. It makes for a much better product—and a much happier team.
The last thing we want the team to ever feel like is that they’re in a corporate environment, or that there are people unnecessarily lording authority over other people. We have a highly collaborative environment where every designer, from interns up to design leads, feel like they have a voice and can bring up ideas they have.
Ryan: When you’re competing for talent with the juggernaut that is San Francisco, you have to be more creative with the resources you have. With us, our team’s able to take on more responsibility and experience growing at a pretty rapid rate—and they’re thrown into facing different challenges that I don’t think they’d necessarily face anywhere else.
We wrote a design handbook for onboarding that sets the tone of what we expect from the team in terms of behavior and culture. In a sense, it’s all about collaboration and education. As we scale, it’ll be harder and harder to maintain what we have, but as long as people have that understanding and expectation coming into the environment, then that’s what they need to be successful here. I believe it’ll be a lot easier to maintain and consider that culture.
Do you have more of an agile workflow where you pass feedback back and forth between the client and make instant changes?
Oliver: Our process is definitely more agile—we try not to be super prescriptive with the team. We have a broad set of principles, but every project is a little different because every client is different. We have to settle into a cadence with them that they’re happy with and we’re happy with. And sometimes it takes a little while to figure out what exactly is the best situation for a client.
How do you use InVision?
Oliver: Our whole process revolves around InVision, Slack, and Basecamp—plus some in-person meetings and hangouts when necessary. InVision is at the core of how we gather and execute on feedback. InVision lets us be so much faster than anything else because you just get all of that feedback in context and the annotations are essentially tasks by default. It’s just so easy. It’s crazy to think there was a time when we weren’t using InVision.
What are your team meetings like?
Ryan: When I started, it was just me and Oliver on the design team. Shortly after, we added a third designer, and we’d check in occasionally on Slack—we never really had any design meetings or company meetings.
But in the past year, MetaLab’s grown so much that we’re in the process of having our first ever design summit where we’ll get our team together in Vancouver for a few days so we can have a roundtable discussion and figure stuff out as a team.
Oliver: And on a day-to-day basis, we have a Slack channel just for designers where we share our work, ask for feedback, and share interesting articles on design.
Tell us about your design process when you’re working on a new project.
Oliver: We’re not hyper-descriptive, though we always make sure projects have a senior lead on them to help guide things. It’s a pretty typical standard design process of doing your homework, becoming the subject matter expert, really understanding the space that you’re designing for, understanding the other products that are also out there, and figuring out what they’re doing well and aren’t doing well so that you have a clear idea of what you’re designing for.
Beyond that, we do a lot of in-person kickoff meetings where the designers can get together and flesh out a bunch of ideas by sketching, whiteboarding, or drawing on Post-it notes. Everyone has a different way of working, so we make sure they have the tools they need to get things done.
Next comes wireframing. Wireframes could be low fidelity or high fidelity depending on the client and the type of product. We might even do testing in wireframes—it all depends on the customer. If the client is tech-savvy, for example, they might have no problem checking out wireframes first.
If we’re building a product for people who aren’t tech-savvy, though, we’d want to go with low-fidelity designs for testing.
How do you deal with prospective clients that you don’t want to work with?
Ryan: We’re lucky to have an awesome client-side team that’s made up of awesome people who are dedicated to managing client relationships, onboarding new clients, and determining scope and big-picture subjects.
They do a fantastic job of working with internal teams to determine what kind of stuff we’re going to be working on and what projects are a good fit. They make sure that when clients come through the door, we’ve set expectations properly in that everybody’s on the same page about what we’re going to do and what we’re going to achieve.
Oliver: It’s rare for people on the design team to interact with a client who hasn’t been vetted. A huge part of making a good product isn’t just the design of it—it’s when everyone working on the project can work well together, and a big component of that is the client, their perception of their product, and how they want their project to be run.
What’s your hiring process like?
Ryan: Interviewing is always hard for me because as a designer I’m very curious and inquisitive, and I always find something that I like in everyone we interview. But at the end of the day, a successful job candidate needs to hit the bar that’s been established—and it’s tough to find people who do that.
We get a lot of portfolios from students who have a fantastic process and tons of documentation, but we’re looking for people who can also hit the visual bar. The question always is, are you a design thinker and able to make something look beautiful? Most of the time, you only get one or the other.
Oliver: Sometimes as a base criteria, I ask myself if I’d hang out with them. A solid job candidate has something to teach the team.
Do you pay attention to any metrics as you’re designing?
Oliver: Quantifying work is always a struggle for designers. It’s really easy to do work and say,Well, that was great and it looks awesome, and then walk away and move onto the next project.
We’re buliding relationships with our clients—we’re not just doing things and disappearing into the sunset. We need to be held accountable for the work that we do. With any client we work with, the baseline expectation is that we’re establishing a longer term relationship with them, so there’s an assurance of quality we’re held accountable for. That means we need to understand how the product decisions we’ve made are impacting users.
Ryan: It’s an ongoing process. We’re in this weird spot between being a single-product company and being a fast-paced agency in the sense that we do products for companies, but at a more reasonable and livable pace.
So, we quantify whether we’ve done good work by that relationship with the client continuing on. They’re the ones who will be able to tell us if something isn’t working or it is working. You can do testing, but you can’t truly know until the project or product is actually finished and out there. It’s up to the client to take that information and feed it back to us.
How do you keep people from getting burned out?
Oliver: As our team scales and we take on bigger and better projects, there’s always a risk that we bring in so much work or we place so much pressure on designers that after completing a project, they want to leave because they’re so tired out.
One of the core things here at MetaLab is that this is a place to be part of a team and practice what you’re passionate about. But it’s about living in a sustainable environment—it’s on all of us to make sure that everybody has a sustainable workload. We end every work week a little tired, but we’re never dreading the next week.
How do you keep up with constantly changing web standards and opinions on what good design is?
Oliver: Everybody here is genuinely interested in design—we stay up to date with it just out of our own volition. MetaLab actually owns Designer News—that’s an example of how we’re engaged in what’s going on in the broader design community.
Ryan: Whenever I’m using an app, I’m always dissecting it because I’m curious about how it works. Designers have to be curious in order to get better at what they do.
Why did you chose the visual design for your brand and how did you come up with it?
Oliver: We created the logo early on—maybe 5 or 6 years ago, before I joined the company. It’s a great logo, and it doesn’t feel at all dated. The general aesthetic has been something that was there from day one: a focus on beautiful design, and no unnecessary frills. And it’s just carried through. We even made it through the shift from skeu to flat.
Ryan: In our early days, we were the go-to skeu guys—we were famous for our shiny buttons. Things have changed, but our core principles are still there.
Oliver: We don’t spend much time discussing our personal brand. Really, the people you hire are your brand.
Do you have any insight for new or growing designers?
Ryan: Keep doing stuff. Design is all about practice, practice, practice. Get your feet wet with whatever projects you can get your hands on—even self-directed projects. You’ve got to just get out there and do work.
Oliver: You can sit around and read as many articles or books about design as you want, but the theory only goes so far. You can intellectualize a lot of stuff to do with design, but in the end, a lot of it really just comes down to actually doing it.
Ryan: Oliver and I both dropped out of school and landed jobs at local marketing agencies to get our feet wet. Really, the only wrong way of approaching design: not doing anything that’s actual practical experience.
We see a lot of designers that are fresh out of school. They’re really good at documentation and theory, but they lack the eye for design. Having a good eye for design really feeds into UX more than I think a lot of people realize, because if something solves a real problem and also looks and works great, it’s so much nicer to use.
Ryan: Find a mentor who can give you feedback and help you grow. It’s hard to grow and develop as a designer if you don’t have other designers to work with and push you.
Stay humble. The reality is that it’s not possible for any of us to be an expert of everything. I’ve never done Android design, but that’s okay because we have junior designers here who know a ton about Android design—and I can learn from them.
Always be open to learning—don’t get arrogant about your skillset. There’s always more to learn.
What is good design?
Oliver: At MetaLab, we’re famous for making really beautiful products. But that’s only half the story.
In our eyes, a product needs to be not only beautiful, but usable and effective. Your design needs to look great, but it also needs to work great.