Andrew Dudum and his partners at Atomic have a straightforward plan to address Waterloo Region’s tech talent shortage. They want to scale their operation to such a size, turn it so relevant, that local entrepreneurs lose all interest in departing for Silicon Valley — they’ll have no need because they’ll have what amounts to Silicon Valley in their own backyard.
And Atomic wants to get it done now.
“We’re looking to [grow] pretty quickly on all fronts,” said Dudum in a recent telephone interview with Communitech News.
“We’ve got 70 to 80 people now and we’re looking to double that in the next six months or so.
“We’ve got an impressive growth plan.”
Scant weeks ago, Atomic, a four-year-old San Francisco venture capital firm with some high-powered backing, hosted a crowd of 200 to celebrate the opening of its spacious new Kitchener office.
Dudum said Atomic has been astonished at the results it has seen since, and is looking to leverage what it has found — the talent, the vibe, the co-operative spirit, the quality of life — into more, and bigger.
“We’ve been seeing such great results in every regard,” said Dudum. “The [Waterloo Region] community just seems right for all of Atomic’s companies. So we want to ramp up and make a much more concentrated effort.”
Atomic isn’t a conventional VC. It builds its own companies from inception, in-house. It mentors, guides and funds. A one-stop shop, if you will.
Its backers include noted Valley investors Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen, and one of Dudum’s partners is Jack Abraham, a serial entrepreneur and investor who oversees Thiel’s foundation.
There’s a deliberate method to Atomic’s growth mania.
“We keep hearing about people moving to San Francisco and New York because they want access to the most challenging problems, access to money, access to support,” said Dudum.
“We asked ourselves: How do we make [Waterloo Region] a place where people want to stay, so they have access to what they have in San Francisco?”
The answer, he believes, is in size, growing to a point where Atomic, and by extension the local ecosystem, become so important that a startup, or a software engineer, would have no motivation to leave, and every motivation to stay.
The not-so-longterm plan is to eventually grow to “400, 500, 600 people,” and become “the second-largest player [in the region] next to Google.”
“This is a big effort for me.”
Ambitious. But Dudum is convinced that Waterloo’s inherent advantages — lower real estate prices, and what he described as “a higher quality of life” than the Bay Area — are the building blocks that can get the job done. He thinks that the security and “the stability of a large organization,” like Atomic, access to mentorship and cash, and Atomic’s unique approach — “building companies from scratch” — can make the Valley, well, redundant.
“I think you can build that. I think we [can be] that opportunity, [and get] people, who are excited to stay.”
He said the firm is already keeping an eye out for new offices to accommodate the expected personnel influx, and “keeping close tabs on the region,” in general. In that regard, Dudum made it a point to appear front-and-centre at a recent networking event in San Jose, Calif., hosted by the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation at an NHL game involving the Sharks and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I don’t know if there are current buildings that exist [in Waterloo Region] or if we build out,” said Dudum, but he said the firm’s current downtown Kitchener space, in Vidyard’s former headquarters, can “get us to 100 to 150 [people], but eventually we’ll have to move.”
Dudum is also co-founder of Ever, one Atomic’s companies. Ever is a photo-sharing platform that lets users “swap content with family members seamlessly.” The company, he said, has recently invested in machine learning,” and is “doubling down in Kitchener-Waterloo,” looking for talent with machine-learning capability. He said the firm is hunting for as many as five to 10 hires “if we can find the right people.”
It was only in late 2015 that Atomic first began exploring a move to Waterloo Region. A year later, the firm had moved into its own digs, had dozens of employees, and now it’s looking to increase its momentum. That it has elected to do so this quickly, and aggressively, is a remarkable testament to Atomic’s commitment to, and belief in, the Waterloo Region ecosystem.
“We want to make Atomic the reason the stay in the region,” said Dudum.