Entrepreneurship runs in the family for Andrew Reid. But, he’s carving his own path
The Rival Technologies founder reflects on his third decade of entrepreneurship, his leadership style and Rival’s return to work plan.
Despite my parents having met in Winnipeg, I know very little about the city. Aside from its mosquitos—an early job for my father was working for the city spraying an anti-mosquito insecticide off the back of a truck—I know only of Jeanne’s Cake, a beloved, cookie-bottom dessert. I have been told by relatives that live there that a wedding doesn’t really count until the Jeanne has been cut. I’ve had it only once. Good but not great is my review, if you’re curious. The cake did show signs of a battle with the YVR baggage handlers, though.
Alongside Jeanne's Cake, Jonathon Toews and Neil Young, there's a case to be made that Andrew Reid is one of the city's more notable exports. “I grew up in the armpit of Canada: Winnipeg, Manitoba,” Reid told me with a wry smile.
Since the turn of the 21st Century, Reid has been a mover and shaker in the Vancouver entrepreneurial scene. He first founded Vision Critical (now known as Alida) in 2000, a software company that combines customer insight and customer feedback to help clients optimize their customer’s experiences. Those clients? BuzzFeed, LinkedIn and GoDaddy, to name a few. Not a bad list.
After departing Vision Critical and spin-off company VC Labs in 2018, he founded his current venture, Rival Technologies, a market research company that builds conversational survey software. A pandemic, the launch of a Workplace Culture Index, and a nomination in the 2021 Technology Impact Awards—Rival is up for the Tech Culture of the Year—later, I caught up with Reid at a captivating time for him and his company.
“The thrust of our business really is, to be bold, to reinvent market research,” said Reid of Rival at the onset of our conversation. “We live in this world where you're getting asked a lot of questions. The coffee shop you're at wants to know how your experience was. DoorDash wants to know how your experience was. Plus, that's all tied to executive-level compensation. On top of all that, the restrictions on the creepiness of Google and Facebook—them having to start to ask permission, not just do creepy tracking—all point in the direction to say that we have to find ways for brands to connect with their customers.”
Reid then gave me a quick history lesson on surveys.
“We have this quantitative survey instrument, which was invented by Henry Mayhew in the 1800s, when one of his subjects said, ‘Hey, why don't we understand what the peasants think?' [Surveys] became more and more popular. We had pencil and paper surveys. The Ford Motor Company would send you a survey booklet when you bought a Model T and they had, like, a 90% response rate. People would spend days answering these questionnaires. Then, we started calling people and it was cool to get the phone call. That was neat,” he said with a sarcastic tinge before he continued.
“Then, we moved to the internet. We took those surveys and we pasted them onto a screen, it was kind of the same. For mobile phones, we just shrunk those to fit on [a smaller] screen. There's not a lot of really good innovation that's happened in that space. Yet we have these phones that facilitate this two-way conversation in a really interesting way. So for me, it was like, ‘Well, why don't we try and change the rules, change the experience of how you take a survey?” Reid pondered.
“Fundamentally, the big thing we can do is take people out of test-taking mode. Every time you answer a four or five-question survey, right? You're constantly thinking, ‘this is a test, okay, I gotta get through this test.’ That is also an extension of the brand experience that you just had. So we build these chats that feel like just that—a chat. They are really sophisticated data collection systems. Every time we ask someone for an open-ended response, we give them the choice to type a text response or upload a selfie video. We get a lot of videos, which really helps tell stories,” he explained.
“It’s a space I've been in for my whole life. We focused on some slightly different challenges at Vision Critical. When building and scaling a company, we're doing something similar and some things different. It’s really neat getting to grow a business. There's a lot of different ways to make money. But, for me, getting to work with a core group of people that are really talented, getting that talent density, having a good mission—there's this enjoyment factor that you can't buy. You can't rent. You can only experience it,” he said
Rival, now 100 employees strong, has an A-list client roster. “We’re powering some really amazing blue-chip companies. P Diddy has a media company called Revolt, and he's one of our clients. He posts invites to join the Revolt Nation on Instagram and Discord. I have a video of a story of his where he's hanging out in the studio with Rick Ross, asking people to join the community,” Reid justifiably boasted.
I was thinking of my father (and his mosquito battling prowess), so I asked Reid about his. Andrew’s father is Angus Reid, a Canadian institution in the field his son is reinventing.
“My father started his first company in 1979 on our kitchen table. That was called the Angus Reid group. He grew that to be the largest market research company in Canada, sort of known as Canada's pollster. He was always very into innovation and research. He was the first guy to do some pretty interesting things with telephone research and global research,” he recalled, before opening up on his own journey.
“I was a kid that I would worry about if that [kid] was my kid. If you're a faith-oriented person, you're saying your prayers at night, writing in your journal about, like, ‘Oh, is this kid gonna launch?’ I ended up, after high school, going into film school. I took a multimedia program at Vancouver Film School in 1995, where I learned about CD ROM authoring, video editing, design, animation—a whole lot of different things. That was really exciting and switched me on to technology,” Reid reflected.
On top of those things, Reid added programming to the list. That skill landed Reid a job at a digital agency, DDB. Not long after, an opportunity arose to work with his dad.
“In 1999, Angus hired me to build his website. The irony was, a guy who used to work with me, who's now the CEO of Klue, Jason Smith, was working at an agency and he had just given Angus a proposal to spend a whole bunch of money on his website. Angus was like, ‘I'm looking at this effing proposal for 300 grand, can you come work with me?’ I always thank Jason for my start. I went in and helped Angus with that, and then just realized, ‘Wow, there's so much opportunity in innovation we can do in the world of research,’” Reid shared.
It wasn’t long after that Reid caught the entrepreneurial bug, starting Vision Critical just one year later. As the company grew, his father joined the team. By 2006, Andrew named Angus CEO, telling me he made that appointment because “it made more sense for him to scale this thing up and play a whole bunch of different roles.” A decade later, Andrew left Vision Critical, ready to once again start a company.
I asked Reid how his father’s entrepreneurship shaped him. “I was inspired by some of the things he did and I thought, ‘Okay, well, I'm gonna do that differently’ about others,” Reid replied.
“I definitely lead in a more unique way. When I started Vision Critical, I was 23. I had more confidence than skill in most things. At 44, it's a little different. You have a better sense of what you're good at and you've had a chance to fail a whole bunch. Between 23 and 44, you probably have screwed some things up pretty good. I've raised kids now. That's part of it, too. I'd say, for anyone that's in 2021 doing that whole family thing, you want to be more deliberate about how you balance yourself and the time you have,” he said.
“I've seen so many articles about why you shouldn't refer to your work crew as your family. It's not a family and I agree with that. But, this is a group of people that you spend a shit tonne of time with. A lot of them end up becoming friends with and you're accomplishing some serious, serious goals with them. So, it's really tricky to try to figure out how to balance that,” he continued.
Reid is also quick to dispel the notion that endless work equals entrepreneurial nirvana.
“There are too many people I meet, when I look back, [that subscribe to] this idea that there's some hero cape for working 60 hours a week. But, if anything, you are potentially setting that precedent and expectation for your whole team. Yes, we have to run fast and we for sure work lots. We go through waves of these big pushes. But, at the same time, I want to have a work-life balance and I want my team to be really happy,” Reid shared.
“For me, my style of leadership is: hire really smart people, set strategic goals, then give them a ton of room to go and run. I’m not a micromanager. I'm not a control freak. That probably gets me into trouble sometimes. But, for the most part, it means that I trust my people. We have that nice mix of really deeply caring about each other, the mission we're on and then staying focused on our goals. You have to make sure that you are checking in with each other, that you're doing collective things that aren't just always all about your p&l and your balance sheet and cash and that are. That’s even harder to do on Zoom. If your job is to be, you know, a magnetic leader, it's easy to do it when you can breathe the same air as other people, harder to do it over the screen,” Reid said.
He will have increased opportunities—within reason—to share oxygen with his team. At the latest BC Tech ScaleUp Roundtable virtual event, Reid expanded upon Rival’s return to work plans. The plan even includes some new digs.
“We did a few things. We moved our office from downtown into Strathcona, East Vancouver, where we have free parking. It is underestimated how amazing free parking is. Every single person that's moved out of the city has a car. Those people are more than happy to commute from time to time. We have a new office that we're just putting the finishing touches on. We're playing with a system where everyone is required to come to the office for up to one week a month, but cannot visit the office for more than three weeks a month,” he explained.
“That allows me to make sure I don't have so much space that I need a seat for every single bum. So I basically built my own sort of WeWork space, hot-desking. My core DNA team is there all the time. But other people that want to go [for a] meeting or to jam on something, or the whole team wants to do a hackathon or has a script they're going on for my sales and marketing teams to get together, they can,” Reid shared.
“Then, everyone has an awesome home office setup—we have a stipend for their home office—and also has a great place to come to work when they want to. So it's working well for us if it works for everyone. It's been a huge change for us from downtown but we're really enjoying it,” he acknowledged.
Looking to the future, Reid has a reptilian goal for Rival.
“We're at the point now where we are, I like to tell people, we're like a six-foot alligator. If you've read the stories about alligator babies, they are very susceptible to everything else in the jungle. Once they become six-feet, they are not. And so we're just right now emerging as a six-foot Alligator. I hope to grow into a 13-foot alligator one day.”
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