Making it work
How the right culture and global talent will help companies thrive in a post-COVID economy
How the right culture and global talent will help companies thrive in a post-COVID economyBy Etta Di Leo University Relations
Michael Litt (BASc ’11) smiles when he recalls the factors that led him to starting the company that would later become Vidyard. A cross-country road trip with his friend and now business partner Devon Galloway (BASc ’10) created the right environment for bouncing around ideas and building a dream for the future, but it was Waterloo’s co-op program that molded Litt into the entrepreneur that he is today.
“There’s something powerful about Waterloo’s co-op program,” says Litt. “In our last term, we had a unique opportunity to explore entrepreneurship through an open-ended experiment to see if we could build a business. Also, 99 per cent of our origin story is thanks to Waterloo’s co-op program.”
Vidyard originally focused on building corporate videos, but with each video they produced, customers were looking for more help and service. This led to a major transformation that turned Vidyard into the software-focused online video platform that it is today. Litt sees many fundamental lessons from Vidyard’s experience that can be applied to any industry.
“First and foremost, the market does not stand still. Our market has changed dramatically in the last three months [during the COVID-19 pandemic], but it was rapidly changing in the last year before that, too. The rate of innovation required is unrelenting. We’re constantly seeing new ideas and businesses emerging. While you need to keep a relentless level of conviction to your vision, you also have to understand where you could lose opportunity to new emerging competitors.”
In fact, the pandemic business environment created a tailwind for Vidyard as more companies have turned to video communication to tell their stories. It also created a new working environment, as work-from-home became the new normal. Litt sees that when businesses look at the changes as an opportunity, they have a chance to thrive in the new world of work.
“If you can be flexible, the world is your talent bucket. All the big players have been taking advantage of global talent — now everyone can. Borders have become imaginary. There are no restrictions. This will provide a wave of global commerce we have not seen before.”
For Litt, the key to success is the ability to balance hard work with the agility to anticipate and react to change – all of which hinges on a strong corporate culture that supports growth and new ideas.
“You have to hire people who will level up the organization every single day. They need to bring world-class ideas to the table without fear of rejection,” he says. “Finding those people and building that culture is not a science. It’s an art.”
While culture is a key factor as companies look to scale, Litt recognizes it can also be the biggest challenge. His advice: find the right people to bring the knowledge and support to the team, but make sure they remain focused on building and maintaining that strong culture. It’s so woven into Litt’s vision for Vidyard’s success that he continues to be involved in the hiring of every new employee.
As Litt looks to the future, his main goal is to grow the business to have a global impact. As he continues to keep an eye on market opportunities and the right investments for Vidyard, he’s also finding ways to prepare the next generation of business leaders. To that end, Litt is investing in Waterloo’s Digital Skills Foundations program to upskill students for a digital workplace.
“Digital innovation is now more important than ever before. If we had not adopted digital communications, we would have been left high and dry with the pandemic. Helping students get access to technology will help them make an impact with their employers.”
Litt has also partnered with Galloway and BufferBox co-founder Mike McCauley to create Garage Capital, which is focused on providing easy seed funding with clear terms that were easy to understand. The goal is to support founders so they can continue to build and grow their business. To date, the fund has invested in more than 80 companies and, as a result, they’ve seen big changes in the local ecosystem.
“We invest in Canada with the vast majority of companies in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor. We’ve seen the rate of innovation ramp up. There are now a number of quickly scaling, impactful organizations locally. Downtown Kitchener is thriving, and there’s a new generation of risk-taking that was nascent when we started.”
As Litt prepares to share his insights and experience at the 2020 Waterloo Innovation Summit on July 22, he hopes the conversation will focus on the future of work and the role Canadian innovation can play in empowering and accelerating global impact.
“I hope we can learn more about where Canada can play and where there are opportunities. At some point, we will need to offset the stimulus that’s been granted [during the pandemic]. There needs to be open brainstorming sessions on what the future will look like from a consumer and societal perspective. Companies need to be ready for the future. This is an exciting time for Canada.”