Over the last year I have had many encounters with the Toronto tech start-up community. I have noticed some similarities with the junior mining industry but some differences also.
The tech start-up model is similar to the junior mining business model as it relates to early stage funding followed by additional financing rounds. One obvious difference is that mining mainly uses the public financing route (IPO’s) while the tech industry relies on private equity venture capital (VC’s).
There are also some less obvious differences.
Generally the tech industry is young, vibrant, technology-savvy, and applies the latest in social technology to collaborate. The mining industry seems to be lagging behind on many of these aspects.
The following article will describe a few of my observations. As you read through this, ask yourself “Should the mining industry be doing these things?”
Tech Meetups and Networking
My first experience with the tech industry was associated with the many after-hours networking meetings called “meetups”. They are held weeknights from 6 to 9 pm and consist of guest speakers, expert panels, and for general networking purposes. Often guest speakers will describe their learnings in starting new companies and failures they had along the way.
The meetups may also provide “how-to” advice for techniques like Google Analytics, Facebook advertising, Google Adwords, email marketing, etc.).
Attending these meetups is usually free. They are typically held after hours at different tech company offices and they often provide free beer and pizza. One can see the entire industry working together for the betterment of the industry.
How to Organize Meetups
Scheduling of meetups is done via the online software platforms Meetup or eventbrite. Both of these work well for announcing the meeting notice and tracking signups and attendees.
By the way, meetups are not only tech-related; they are also held for interest groups for hiking, theatre, writing, yoga, business marketing, etc. The platforms provide a good way to manage communities. Unfortunately here in Toronto there are no geology or mining related meetups so the mining industry may be missing out on a good way to build a more collaborative community.
The mining industry does have some local meetings, as far as I know there are mainly three after-hour mining events. The CIM has a monthly luncheon with a cost of $50-$65 (not exactly inclusive to everybody). There is a Toronto Geological Discussion Group that holds monthly meetings and seems to be comprised of the older geologist demographic. The third event is Mining 4 Beer, which a small group that meets intermittently at a local bar. These few events limit the amount of buzz for those working in the mining industry. There are a lot of mining companies here with a lot of mining people but not a lot of vibrancy.
Where to hold an event
Most of the tech meetups are held in local tech offices. These offices are great. They have an open concept, pool tables, ping pong, video games, fully stocked kitchen. Who wouldn’t want to work there?
The last time I was in the offices of a large engineering firm I felt like a lab rat in a cubical maze. I’m not saying engineering offices can switch to a tech office layout, but more enjoyment of the office environment might help draw more people to the mining industry.
Perhaps it’s easier to have a positive work attitude when money is being thrown at you (as is happening in the tech world) rather than 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 adapt. This means more than just buying the latest 3D geological software. It means creating an environment that people want to work in.
In the late 1990’s I was working in the Diavik engineering office in Calgary. They provided a unique office layout whereby everyone 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 among the team.
A similar type philosophy is used by Apple in their office layout design where even the kitchen placement has a purpose. People should mingle and run into one another to promote conversation. Discussion is good. Camping out in an office is not good.
Keep it short and to the point
Another thing I noticed with the tech industry is that when start-up tech companies are given an opportunity to tell their story, typically they only have 5 to 10 minutes to pitch. 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 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.
For comparison, many mining investor presentations can be long, highly technical, and tailored to other technical people and not the average person. One must ask who is the real target audience for those presentations?
The tech industry relies a lot on remote workers. They might be overseas or spread around Canada. For communication and collaboration, they use various online systems such as Slack, Google Hangout, Trello. No more long email threads with five people cc’d on each email. Slack uses a chatting approach, similar to text messaging, which makes it easier to follow the conversation and share files.
Can the mining industry be taught to use something new like Slack? I don’t see a problem with that as long as one honestly wants to learn it. It’s really not that complicated.
For interest, another blog provides some more discussion on online collaboration software “Online Collaboration and Management Tools“.