Over the last few weeks I have had several business exchanges with the Toronto tech start-up community and have noticed some similarities and differences with the junior mining industry. The junior mining model was essentially a precursor to the tech start-up model as it relates to getting early stage funding which is then followed up with additional financing rounds. One difference is that mining mainly used the public financing route (IPO’s) while the tech field mainly relies on private equity venture capital (VC’s).
There are a few more differences that are readily apparent to me. In general, the tech industry is young, vibrant, tech-savvy, uses the latest in social technology to collaborate while the mining industry seems to be lagging behind on some of these aspects. The following article will describe a few of my observations.
My initial experience with the tech industry was mainly related to the numerous after-hours meetings (called “meetups”) held from 6 to 9pm and used for networking purposes, or to allow guest speakers to describe their experience in starting companies, or for “how-to” training with new techniques (e.g. Google Analytics, Facebook advertising, email marketing, etc.). Attending these meetups is usually free; they are typically held at the offices of tech companies, and they often provide pizza and drinks. Networking is a primary driver for these meetings.
Scheduling of such meetings is done via the website www.meetup.com. Meetup.com works well for distributing the meeting notice and then tracking the attendees. Meetups are not only tech-related; they are also held for various subjects such as hiking groups, theatre groups, business marketing, and other topics of interest. They are a good way to create a well connected community. One thing I noticed is that here in Toronto there are no geology or mining meetups posted on the meetup website, so the mining industry may be missing out on a good way to create a close and collaborative community.
With regards to local mining meetings here in Toronto, as far as I know there are three regular mining events (PDAC is an annual event). The CIM has a monthly luncheon with a cost of $50-$65 per lunch (not exactly tailored for the millenials). There is a Toronto Geological Discussion Group that holds meetings intermittently and seems to consist of the 50-60 yr old geologists demographic. The third event is Mining 4 Beer, which a small group that meets intermittently at a local bar. These few events don’t create any real buzz for those working in the mining industry in Toronto. There are a lot of mining companies here and a lot of mining people but not a lot of vibrancy.
Some of the tech meetups are held in local tech offices. These offices are great; they have the open concept, pool tables, ping pong, video games, kitchen fully stocked….who wouldn’t want to work here? The last time I was in the offices of a large engineering firm I felt like a lab rat in a cubical maze trying to find the cheese (i.e. conference room). I’m not saying engineering offices can switch to the tech office style layout, but enjoying the office environment might help draw people to work in the mining industry.
Perhaps it’s easy to have a positive work attitude when money is being thrown at you (as is happening in the tech field) versus having to scratch and claw for funds like mining must do right now. However I suggest if one wants more smart young people to come into the industry then one needs to think young. This means more than just buying the latest 3D geological or mining software. It means creating an attitudinal environment that people want to work in. The current Integra Gold challenge (like the Goldcorp challenge from several years ago) may be type of novel thinking needed in the future.
In 1998 I was working on the Diavik Project at their engineering office in Calgary. They provided a unique office layout whereby everyone on the owner’s team had an “office” but no front wall on the office so you couldn’t shut yourself in. There were numerous map layout tables scattered throughout the office to purposely foster discussion amongst the geological and engineering team. A similar type philosophy is used by Apple in their office layout design where even the kitchen placement has a purpose. Discussion amongst your people is good; camping yourself in an office is not good.
Another interesting thing I noticed with the tech field is that when start-up tech companies are given an opportunity to tell their story, typically they only have 5 to 10 minute time limit to get their point across. No long winded thirty page PowerPoint presentation to explain what they are doing. The tech industry is also big on the “elevator pitch”, a one minute simple verbal summary of what they are doing. The tech people are taught to be concise; if you can’t explain it in plain language in one minute then it’s too complicated. Conversely in many mining investor presentations they can be highly technical and tailored towards other technical people and not the average person or average investor. Who is the target audience for those presentations?
Even the contracting, billing, invoicing side of the tech business are interesting. Using sites such as Freshbooks, the consulting services contract is signed electronically, invoices are sent electronically, and payment is made electronically. It’s a very fast and efficient system.
For communication and collaboration, they use systems such as Slack. No more of the long email threads with five people cc’d on each email, various people responding, with no one sure what is being agreed to. Slack uses a chatting approach, similar to text messaging, which makes it easier to follow the conversation and share files. Can older mining executives be taught to use Slack? I don’t see a problem with that as long as one earnestly wants to learn it. It’s really not that complicated.
My bottom line is that I can see a great difference in the atmosphere and attitude in the tech field versus the mining industry. The junior mining game has been the precursor for the tech start-up industry but has not kept up with the modernization of how people like to work. Many older personnel are leaving the mining industry in the next few years and the loss of this mining experience is a big negative; however the fresh thinking that may follow behind could be a small positive.