Meet Rivian, the $80B EV maker with offices in Yaletown

Tesla’s biggest competitor is building in BC. Here’s what you need to know about them.

What do Amazon, Ford and Yaletown, BC have in common? All three are being leveraged by Rivian, the electric vehicle maker set to IPO in the next month. Riv- who? Rivian Automotive. The company, which was founded in 2008 by RJ Scaringe in California, is best known for its just-launched R1T, an all-electric pickup truck. It has a major partnership with Ford and Amazon was a lead investor in its most recent USD$2.5B funding round. Media has characterized the automaker as consumers’ first real alternative to Tesla. Plus, its impending IPO could value the company at an astonishing $80 billion.

Rivian is based in California with a manufacturing plant in Illinois and additional locations in Michigan, Arizona, and England — and a fast-growing presence in Vancouver, right here in our own backyard. Its Vancouver team is led by general manager Erhun Arkan, the former vice president of engineering at Vancouver-founded Grow Technologies. We recently caught up with him to discuss Rivian’s Vancouver presence, what his team is working on, and the deep bench of talent he’s been able to recruit to the automaker. Here’s what we learned.

Rivian in Vancouver

Arkan joined Rivian in December of 2019, and the company opened its Vancouver office in early 2020. The company now has two side-by-side spaces at 1038 and 1050 Homer Street, in the former home of a Mini dealership.

The Vancouver teams are working on digital experiences inside and outside of the Rivian vehicle, explained Arkan. Future Rivian owners will have a few places they’ll digitally engage with their Rivians — including the infotainment centre in the vehicle and the mobile phone application. “A significant portion of these applications are developed here in Vancouver,” Arkan shared.

In addition to the work on the mobile and infotainment apps, which include items like navigation maps, connectivity and multimedia, the local Rivian team has people working on fleet management and vehicle services, connectivity and virtual manufacturing software, among other items. Arkan shared these details in order to make the point that talent that goes to work at Rivian won’t be locked into a single role — there are other divisions and alternative opportunities at the firm that can be taken advantage of. There are “multiple other departments they can diversify their career” through, Arkan said.

Lookout: R1Ts in the streets

If you ever thought you spotted one of Rivian’s vehicles in the wild, you weren’t hallucinating. Arkan confirmed that their vehicles are on the streets in Vancouver for testing purposes. As they’ve developed software here, they’ve needed to validate what they’re building. “The main purpose of the cars here is for that,” Arkan noted.

Leveraging BC’s talent pool

Arkan has worked in tech for decades, and what’s impressed him about BC are the province’s educational institutions. He specifically name-dropped UBC, SFU, University of Victoria and BCIT, while shouting out their co-op programs, which Rivian has tapped into.

Like most technology-enabled companies, Rivian has experienced the talent crunch facing most companies right now. They’ve employed the same tactics most firms have for hiring, including using internal talent acquisition teams and recently participating in an online WomenHack event. However, Arkan believes they’re getting a leg up through their current employees' networks and something no other company has: Rivian’s product. “More than compensation packages, people fall in love with the product,” he said. He says the more people learn about what his team is working on, the more passionate they become.

Rivian’s Vancouver team is around 100 people right now. In terms of their hiring goals, they’re hoping to hit 150 by the end of the year, however, “It’s difficult to articulate the exact number,” Arkan shared. “That’s a nice round number, but obviously there are lots of things to factor in.”

In terms of other local and notable Rivian hires, Arkan has drawn in an impressive group: Ruchi Sharma, with a CV that includes Mojio, Dell and Accenture; Gavin Tholl, who came from Amazon, Absolute Software and Vision Critical; Ranyl Bantog, ex- Best Buy, Bosa and Pay-By-Phone; Christopher Read, who used to work for Microsoft; Stefanie Rao, formerly with Intel and Parsable; in the role of principal software engineer, Adam Arsenault, who’s had senior roles at Hootsuite, PNI Digital and Microsoft; Calvin Ching from Intel; Henry Hsiao from ATB technologies; and Erwin Choi from PAI Health.

In other words, Rivian and Arkan have already built quite the Vancouver team. But they’re not done yet.

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