It’s not hard to understand why Vancouver Film School (VFS) grad Andrew Reid is a classic success story. Starting his own company at the age of twenty three, Andrew worked hard to make Vision Critical what it is today: one of the most successful technology-based institutions in the history of Vancouver. As Founder & President of Corporate Information, Andrew works with some of the biggest companies in the world, bringing them closer to their customers – what they like, what they don’t like, and who they are – by embracing the world of small data. It’s an effective process that kicks focus groups and questionnaires to the curb.
If you’d like to learn more about Andrew as a New Media student (now Digital Design) at VFS, his early career, and his tips for success, keep reading for our exclusive interview. We think you’ll agree that he’s truly mastered the adage, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Where are you from originally? What made you decide to come to VFS?
Andrew: I was born in Winnipeg. I moved to Vancouver in 1992 and I went to VFS in 1995. My dad, Angus Reid, is kind of a famous pollster, and his friend knew that I was into computers and that this kind of stuff was interesting to me. He saw an advertisement in the Vancouver Sun and clipped out the clipping of it and gave it to me one day and said, “Hey, this is a really cool program. You should think about doing this. Computers are going to change the world.” And I looked at it and went for an orientation session to check it out. I thought it was really interesting.
What was your time like at VFS?
Andrew: I was one of those high school kids who was never really that motivated. The summer I graduated high school, I vividly remember working at Boston Pizza, sitting on a stool peeling a ten pound bag of garlic and saying to myself, “I never want to do this again. Whatever I do next, I’m going to work really hard at so that I don’t ever do this again.” And I went right into film school and within a few weeks it really clicked for me. I really fell in love with all the different programs I was taking. Back then, it was a month and a half of video and sound. You learned about graphic design, CD ROM authoring, animation, and some marketing – a bunch of different things. I loved every component, every piece of it. What I realized was that I had this intrinsic comfort with front-end technology. I’d always been a visual communications kind of guy and this was taking everything to the next level.
It was a pretty exciting time because while I was there, Internet Explorer 1.0 came out. Macromedia bought FutureSplash and launched Flash. The timing was amazing, my motivation was there, and sometimes you get that groundswell of all the right things happening at the same time. And for me, that was that 1995-1996 time at film school that definitely changed my life forever.
What are the biggest lessons you took away from your year here and how do they apply to what you do today?
Andrew: It’s this comfort level that I have with technology. It’s the fact that, because of my experience at film school, I got exposed to so many different kinds of technology and I realized that it was pretty easy for me to pick them up – from not knowing anything to picking it up. I attribute it to learning a new language. If you’re learning a new language like Spanish or French, you go through the motions of saying the words and then one day it all kind of clicks. I found that happened pretty quickly for me when it came to all the different kinds of technology that I was exposed to – working teams, putting in real solid effort.
I met my wife while I was at film school, too. I was in class seven and my wife was in class eight, so that was also pretty awesome. (Laughs) It’s one of those cheesy Hollywood stories. I went from peeling garlic to starting one of the most successful companies in the history of Vancouver in technology because of film school. It one-hundred percent would not have happened if it wasn’t for my experience at VFS.
Image Source: Courtesy of Vision Critical
What was your post-graduation journey like? Where did you go? What did you do?
Andrew: I got a job right when I was graduating. I received an introduction to Frank Palmer who was running one of the largest advertising agencies in Canada – Palmer Jarvis. They were opening up an Internet division and because we learnt some HTML, Photoshop, and Macromedia Director (at that time called Shockwave), I had some skills. I was hired as employee number six at what became the Tribal DDB group – a very large interactive agency, one of the biggest and most successful in Canada.
I also did some specialty programming and graphic production for websites, and then I went to work at a smaller interactive shop called Populuxe Digital Media based out of Granville Island. I switched over to account management once I realized that I really liked talking, customers, and having that face-to-face time more than I liked being behind the computer. I also had a good understanding of how things worked so I could actually facilitate conversations with customers. I was managing $50-100,000 website builds that we were doing. I was also moonlighting myself, building websites for my dad’s friends and people in my network and getting more confident, realizing that I was actually pretty good at spec’ing these things out.
In 1999, my father called me because the Dot-Com boom was happening. He asked if I could work for him for six months and redo his website. So I said yes, and I went down there for 4-5 months to redo the Angus Reid website. I started building other little interactive promotional pieces for them, too. And then one day someone showed me a Power Point presentation of this idea of simulated shopping. This idea of being able to build a virtual grocery store, take participants into the store and simulate the experience of shopping for cereal or shampoo. The idea being that you could test a hundred combinations of products and prices and package designs, over and over and over again. Because of film school, and my experience doing CD ROM authoring, I understood the programming aspect and how to collect data, make things interactive, and because of my 3D experience, I knew how to make the virtual store. So, I wasn’t worried about whether or not I could do it, I just knew how to assemble it and all the different components for it so I could go and hire some people to do various jobs. Once the presentation ended, I very ambitiously said, “Hey, I know how to do this. We don’t need to work with whoever this company is. I can figure this out.”
Fast-forward three months, and I’m in Cincinnati meeting with Proctor and Gamble. I’m 22 years old and I’ve got this shopping simulation that they’re really excited about it. Fast-forward again to May of 2000. I started a company with Venture Capital firm called Discovery Capital (DC). They loved the fact that I could do this virtual shopping work and they loved the fact that I could build websites. It was very normal in 2000 for a 23-year-old who knew very little to own a company because that’s when the Dot-Com craze was happening. I always joke that people were handing out companies, so I took one.
I started the company and the idea was that I would build websites for all the DC portfolio companies and I would do the virtual shopping work and they would raise a bunch of money for me. The market fell apart about 5-6 months into running the business and the DC had to rescue all their other companies, and I was left all of a sudden — a twenty three-year-old trying to figure out how to run a company. I ended up buying the company back from the DC for one dollar. And I ran it on my own and I, very opportunistically, felt like I knew how to do a lot of stuff. I could literally pick up the phone book and call people and ask them if they need a website, and, if so, what do they need? So I did a lot of different things. I built large websites for government organizations like the Interior Health Authority, I built websites for brands, I built for companies that were trying to raise big money, I built them proof of concepts and simulations for how their big product was going to work, and I continued to do that 3D work.
3D work ended up leading to a project I did that lead me to working with Reebok. Reebok called me in 2002 and asked me to build a threaded discussion group for 300 female runners they had. They wanted to talk to these ladies every day for six months, so I built them a discussion board and they kept asking me for more and more functionalities. It was one of those awesome opportunities where you look back after 3 or 4 months of growing and doing this custom project and it was the very first community we ever launched. I ended up doing that a few more times and you fast-forward to today and, as of last month, we employ six-hundred and eighty people and run communities for some of the largest brands in the world. It’s pretty exciting and it’s all because of my experience at VFS.
Image Source: Courtesy of Vision Critical
How would you describe Vision Critical?
Andrew: We connect large brands and their customers. Everyone always talks about the world of big data. We’re the world of small data. People always talk about the awesome things you can do with data science and analyzing data information and I say, “Why don’t you talk to your customers and ask them what they think?” Historically, it’s been very inefficient to do that. We’ve built a very efficient model to be able to do just that: talk to your customers and learn from them — again and again. Learn about how they change over time and how their personas are so important to brand. Your customer can wreak havoc on your brand if you’re not careful. Embracing the customer and bringing them into the decision making process all the time will be a key strategy of success. We’re, we think, one of the only brands in the world who enables that skill.
How do you define success?
Andrew: It’s a state of mind that you have. Success is not how much money you make, it’s not your job title, who reports to you, it’s not how many reports you have. I link success to happiness and happiness is about understanding what your strengths are and using those muscles, implanting those strengths every single day. I’m fortunate that I get to do that.
What are three pieces of advice you would give to students or young professionals interested in starting their own business?
Andrew: Don’t sweat the big idea. Figure out what you’re passionate about, try and find an unmet need, figure out what mission you’re on — your larger mission — and what you want to do. Experiment as much as you can. People get caught up in big ideas, or a 16-page business plan and they’ve got to stay exactly on that plan. Life’s not like that.
Be comfortable with change. You have to change a lot.
Find people you love to work with. You have to find people you want to spend a lot of time with. You spend more time at work than you do with your spouse or your family, so you have to think really hard about who those people are for you. I’ll always take someone with less skill who’s got a bit more buy into the mission than I would someone who has the skills but is more of a robot.
Thanks for sharing your incredible story with us, Andrew!