Atomic Expands Waterloo Region Talent Play Under New Brand 'Terminal'

Atomic’s Waterloo Region talent experiment has proven so successful that it has decided to scale, using its Kitchener operation as a template for similar offices in Montreal, Vancouver and beyond.

The venture is called Terminal, and it officially launched Monday, with details described in a blog entry on Medium by Joe Lonsdale and Jack Abraham. Lonsdale is the founding partner of 8VC; Abraham is one of the founding partners at Atomic, a startup studio and investment firm headquartered in San Francisco.

Both will be on hand in Kitchener Wednesday night for a launch party being held at the Tannery Event Centre.

Terminal aims to help technology companies find talent and establish a footprint outside the border of their own headquarters. It locates and hires talented people, establishes them in an office that is shared by Terminal’s staff, takes care of payroll process, and outfits the office with creature comforts, in exchange for a fee from client companies.

“We provide great real estate, we provide deep local knowledge in the recruiting and staffing areas, and we do all the back-office process, so as an employee or employer you’re able to build a team or become part of a team and really focus on building your product and driving the company forward,” said Luke Finney, Terminal’s co-founder and head of operations.

Terminal, Finney said, allows companies to focus on building product while it takes care of setting up for them what is, in effect, a branch office.

Terminal’s Kitchener operation, located in the former Vidyard headquarters at 119 King Street, has a staff of 11 and more than 80 developers affiliated with 12 companies based in Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., and New York. Plans are in the works to expand the Kitchener footprint to a second office in the top two floors of 305 King Street that can accommodate another 160 developers.

Finney called the Waterloo Region office “the stealth or beta mode” that is being used as a model for Terminal offices elsewhere; offices in Montreal and Vancouver are now up and running.

Finney said “San Francisco [and] New York are having a heck of a time right now because the [talent] market in those places is really thin.

“The churn in San Francisco is somewhere around 24 per cent. The average length of time a developer or an engineer stays with a company is between eight and 12 months.”

Terminal was attracted to Waterloo Region by the strong talent pool and high density of startups and established tech companies.

Finney, who is from Wyoming, said he sees similarities in the work ethic of the U.S. midwest with that of Waterloo Region and Canadians in general.

“People work really hard [in Canada],” he said. “They’re not entitled. They are incredibly dedicated to the work they’re doing and truly believe in it and are not swayed by the flashing lights or shiny things.”

Asked what distinguishes Terminal from a more traditional head hunting firm, Finney said it boils down to the ongoing relationship established with the employees it hires and the companies it works with.

“[Working with a] recruiting agency, it’s a very transactional type of engagement,” said Finney. “It’s ‘We’ll go out and once we fill this seat with a warm body, you give us the money and we walk away, and thanks a lot for the business.’

“We call our clients partners for a reason. We engage with them to build an initial team, [and] our recruiters sit here next to engineers. There’s a relationship there.”

Finney said the company is evaluating the suitability of establishing operations in several other Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Calgary and Halifax. Toronto, he said, is also a possibility, but the well-developed nature of its tech ecosystem makes it less attractive from a competitive point of view.

“In Canada, we figure we’ll open up one or two more next year and then a number internationally – all following a similar criteria.”