If you imagine that life at a Canadian tech startup is nothing but Venti vanilla-soy lattes and a fast-paced, gadget-fueled office life full of pinball, espresso machines and sleep pods, you have a good deal less than half the picture.
Google style play-offices are the norm for a select few. But the good times they signal are preceded, typically, by a lengthy apprenticeship of want.
One month, in the autumn of 2007, Wattpad founder Allen Lau shared a cup of coffee with his business partner and noted that the price he paid for it was approximately the same as the company’s previous month’s revenue.
The founders of TitanFile, a startup that develops data encryption tools, must regard such a story with something approaching envy. You see TitanFile, in a manner of speaking, is homeless.
Having developed their business in Waterloo’s Communitech Hub, TitanFile has been scoping the streets of Halifax for much of last year in search of an affordable base, its employees working from home while liaising with its small sister office in Ontario. While its development and engineering staff resides in Waterloo, the company’s sales and management staff are based in Halifax. TitanFile’s most recent space in Dartmouth, just across the bridge, didn’t work out, according to the company’s founder, Milan Vrekic, “due to its inconvenient location, which resulted in very poor attendance due to lack of public transportation.”
The company thought it had secured funding last summer, but the proposed anchor tenant of what was to be a new province run tech incubator, GoInstant, was acquired by SalesForce.com, and the plans fizzled.
TitanFile has kept itself going in part because of the $150,000 it has received from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency since 2011. Vrekic has considered moving all TitanFile personnel to Waterloo, but remains undecided. Although ACOA’s funding is contingent on a business providing “an economic benefit to an area or community,” the agency itself claims that there are no strings attached in terms of location for funding already given.
In the meantime, TitanFile is looking for a place to live. Should places like Halifax wish to retain their native tech talent they might soon consider taking a cue from recent moves by other municipalities, most prominently Vancouver’s offer of prime downtown real estate to powerful social media outfit HootSuite, which has become the symbol of a bustling Vancouver tech scene, that has attracted the internationally known TED Conference as its home for at least the next couple years.