Living/Working October 9, 2020


October 9, 2020

B.C. tech rides ‘tidal wave’ of online education demand

Local firms tap investment millions as pandemic drives surge in remote learning options

Thinkific Labs Inc. CEO Greg Smith says the pandemic has accelerated business growth for his tech company, which specializes in online courses |  Chung Chow

Greg Smith doesn’t have to strain his eyes to see the parallels between his success and the success of small businesses thriving amid the pandemic.

His Thinkific Labs Inc. helps businesses and individuals create and distribute online courses.

The Vancouver-based tech firm had been turning a profit two years before the COVID-19 crisis began shutting down schools, gyms and community centres where people were previously spending their time learning and interacting.

“We might have seen one week of things being a little bit slow – but not even a concerning level of flow – and then everything completely blew up in a good way,” said Smith, Thinkific’s co-founder and CEO, referring to the outset of the pandemic.

If people are stuck at home, why not use online courses for learning?

Medical organization were turning to the company to help more than one million health-care professionals over three months to better understand COVID-19.

And the guitar tutors or martial arts instructors who’d typically meet with people were suddenly migrating to online courses as well.

“We saw a bit of uncertainty in the world, but also a real opportunity to double down and do even more for businesses that are unique. The interesting thing we’ve seen is so many businesses that would have otherwise potentially failed are now thriving because they’ve moved or transitioned to online education or added it as a component,” Smith said.

Thinkific’s business model has created a lot of investor interest. The company closed a $22 million funding round late last month led by Vancouver-based Rhino Ventures.

The company has free offerings, but revenue is generated by delivering additional features to course creators who typically pay between $49 and $99 a month and then charge their clients fees for the courses (Thinkific does not take a cut of those fees).

Since the outset of the pandemic, course creation on Thinkific’s platform has surged 200%, and Smith said the company is tripling its headcount over the next 18 months by hiring 350 more tech workers to meet the demand.

Increased interest in online course offerings hasn’t been lost on other West Coast tech companies.

Vancouver-based Course Studio Inc. launched two months into the pandemic. It specializes in helping creators design and launch online courses.

Thinkific also refers clients to the B.C. startup to help with building courses for creators.

Within four months of launching, Course Studio closed a $1 million seed round led by undisclosed angel investors – the same week as Thinkific’s big raise – according to company director Kyle Murphy.

“Right now we’re very focused on building out the service business, because there is a lot of demand for it accelerated by COVID,” he said

Like Thinkific, the company is planning to expand its headcount, adding two to four workers in the coming weeks to its full-time roster of six employees.

The business model is slightly different from Thinkific’s.

Course Studio will research a company’s needs and offer a quote, according to Murphy.

While educational institutions might seem ripe for jumping on the bandwagon, he said that hasn’t been the case.

“The post-secondary space is not the quickest to adopt these new technologies because even pre-pandemic they were set up for online because they were building out the online service offerings to diversify that revenue pool. So they’re relying on a lot of those legacy systems.”

Meantime, Thinkific’s revenue is up 150% year over year, and the company estimates revenue earned by course creators will grow to $1.5 billion by the end of 2021.

“We were already riding quite a tidal wave of trends in building businesses around the education space. But this [pandemic] has brought that forward faster than we thought would happen,” Smith said.

“Twice as quickly.” •


Expect long-delayed results from John Horgan’s snap election call

It is an election no one sought soon.

It is also an election no one settles soon.

October 24, the official vote date, is far from the finish line. Think nearly mid-November. Thank the pandemic and John Horgan, not necessarily in that order.

Before we know who are our members of the legislative assembly, perhaps even who forms government, a record number of mailed ballots will need to be tallied – later, much later. The mail-ins stand to be difference-makers, not their typical afterthought.

About 600,000 (and counting) British Columbians have requested a package to mail their votes to Elections BC. The likelihood of massive mail-in balloting creates a considerable complication to this controversial election call and likely confusion about the election-night result. 

They don’t call it snail mail for nothing: the mail-in counting will not start for 13 days after the in-person balloting to get the paper to the right riding and ensure people haven’t voted twice. This exponentially larger cohort (there were only 6,000 mail-ins in 2017) could push Elections BC past its traditional announcement of final results 17 days after in-person voting.

If this election were a meal, it would be more sous vide than fast food.

To look at the implications, we need to make a couple of assumptions and accept a couple of imponderables.

The assumptions:

1) Some won’t use the mail-in ballots – they ordered them as a safety net if they choose not to vote in person – but it’s bound to be a hefty legion. Mail-outs will increase by October  24, to estimates of 800,000 or about 40% of the voter turnout of 1.97 million last election.

2) Voter turnout might be lower this time, because 2017 was a conventional campaign of door-knocking, street-standing, hand-shaking candidates, with a traditional apparatus of volunteers to assist. It is harder to identify your vote and get it out in 2020, and the race is not seemingly tight yet or ignited by a ballot-box issue. Might the mail-in ballots be an even larger proportion of the votes because those who asked for them are among the more dedicated of the electorate?

The imponderables:

1) Who are ordering the mail-in ballots? Voters worried about the virus at the polling station? People who won’t want to be part of a slow-moving indoor lineup or a long line out the door in bad weather?

2) Where are the mail-in ballots going? In areas where the pandemic has been more pronounced? We don’t have any clue about which of the 87 ridings might have a large mail-in cohort, and we won’t know how many more votes will be due when the in-person results are brought forward October 24.

The implications:

1) By my count, 40 of the 87 ridings were decided by fewer than 4,000 votes last time, including 32 by fewer than 3,000. You’ve got an average of about 7,000 mail-in ballots per riding (although those numbers are likely larger and smaller in big and petite ridings). True, many ridings vote consistently for one party, but the combination of circumstances and the wild card of mail-in ballots could swing those ridings, and most make it impossible to declare a lot of victors October 24. After all, if you don’t know how many ballots are left to count in a close race, how can you call it?

2) Only 23 ridings in 2017 were landslide results of more than 6,000, but many of those featured high-profile candidates who aren’t running in 2020. Might those seats be more contested this time, and might the mail-ins be the decisive factor?

All in all, it will make for some awkward, “Thanks, I think I won” election night acceptance speeches. Even if the winning party weren’t in doubt, the government’s composition would be. Which means it will take longer to form cabinet and legislature roles and to engage into the duties and decision-making. MLAs will be MIA when most needed, which makes the election only the BC NDP wanted an even more sorrowful exercise.

Nestled in the minds in the NDP brain trust must have been a calculation that the combination of a rather quiet legislative summer and a caretaker government during the autumn campaign could also yield a break well into winter if they won. Few of us in the pandemic can claim such a financed respite. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.




Reel in some fish and chips at this new daytime pop-up in Kitsilano

How's this for a fresh catch?

Photo: The Happy Halibut

How's this for a fresh catch? There's a brand new fish and chips pop-up happening in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood.

Called The Happy Halibut, the operation comes from the team at Yagger's Kitsilano, which happens to also be where the pop-up takes place.

The Happy Halibut came from a desire to create an opportunity to draw customers to Yagger's Kitsilano for a quick dine-in or take-out during the lunch hours. 

The sports pub owners say they "did some research and realized outside of Granville Island there aren't any fish and chips shops in the Kits area."

With a menu of what they're calling "West coast fish with a little east coast flair," the Happy Halibut is serving up orders of beer-battered Pacific cod, Sockeye salmon, and halibut with Old Bay tartar sauce, and salt and vinegar fries with a buttermilk apple slaw. There's also seafood chowder and fish sandwiches on the menu, as well as beer specials.

Fish and chips 2 Photo: The Happy Halibut

The Happy Halibut is open Monday through Friday from noon to 3:30 p.m. and is family-friendly.

Follow the @happy_halibut on Instagram for updates. Yagger's Kitsilano is located at 2884 W Broadway in Vancouver.


Groups can now rent out a private New West arcade all to themselves

Game collector Kyle Seller says with COVID-19 there’s negativity: 'I’ve just tried to come up with something that makes you forget'

A Vancouver-based arcade game rental company has adapted during COVID-19 times with the creation of its very own arcade. Photo: Industry Arcade

A Vancouver-based arcade game rental company has adapted during COVID-19 times with the creation of its very own arcade. Photo: Industry Arcade

“With COVID-19 there’s so much negativity – I’ve just tried to come up with something that makes you forget about that a little bit.”

That’s from pinball aficionado Kyle Seller, the founder of the new Industry Arcade which recently popped up near the New Westminster waterfront.

Nearly 50 arcade games now line the expansive industrial warehouse Seller used to house the vast collection he rented to bars and for events before the pandemic.

Though he started the venture East Van Amusements in 2013, it became largely unprofitable when a public health crisis was declared in British Columbia.

'It was like a hammer,” Seller told Vancouver Is Awesome. In March, revenue from arcade games rented out to Vancouver establishments “stopped dead."

By mid-April, the pinball location in which Seller supplied games – Pub 340 – closed its doors permanently. Along with it, other locations including Brewhall had to limit their rentals in order to make space for social distancing.

“We went from 10 games to just two there,” Seller explained. “Our profits have been cut by around 98 per cent. Nearly all of our accounts in Vancouver have closed.”

So the games man decided he had to act, and fast.

“I told myself I got to do something,” he said.

For the next four months, Seller and his wife worked to transform their “dirty old shop” in New Westminster into a fully functioning, private arcade for small family or social groups to rent.

“The space is all theirs, no general public at all,” Seller said, adding that most people are shocked when they first see the set-up.

Arcade-Kyle-Seller Industry Arcade owner and operator Kyle Seller. Photo: Museum of Vancouver


With rates as low as $200 for up to 10 people, two hours of gameplay works out to $20 a person.

Groups are even allowed to bring their own food and drink – although, with Another Beer Company next door game players have been known to stop and enjoy a stout.

Seller and his wife conduct a one-hour process to thoroughly sanitize machines in between rental groups.

So far, having just recently opened, he said "we haven't made much money," but they've raised hundreds of dollars for charity by renting the space out by donation.

"This past weekend we had three groups book the space," Seller said. "It's been rewarding to see people have fun."

The owner is grateful the City of New Westminster granted the arcade a temporary use permit in the industrial space.


Start your Christmas shopping early to avoid holiday mail surge, says Canada Post

Crown corporation says it is preparing for “a Christmas season like no other"

Photo: Canada Post/Facebook

Canada Post says it is preparing for “a Christmas season like no other” and recommends people start their holiday shopping early.

The corporation said Thursday that it expects the “rapid escalation” of parcel deliveries seen during COVID-19, as more people shopped online, to continue through the holidays and beyond.

A survey conducted for Canada Post in June showed that 48 per cent of Canadian shoppers plan on shopping mostly, or exclusively, online this Christmas. Furthermore, 54 per cent were open to begin their holiday shopping in October or early November.

“Shopping early and spreading out purchases is key to avoiding the traditional short-term surge in online holiday shopping,” the corporation said in a statement.

“With the expected volumes, the addition of a traditional holiday parcel surge has the potential to overwhelm capacity and cause significant delays.”

In order to scale up operations, Canada Post will be rolling out its 2020 Holiday peak season plan, which includes hiring more than 4,000 temporary seasonal employees and increasing its fleet by more than 1,000 vehicles.

Deliveries will also be done on weekends in “many communities,” while more parcel pickup locations will be added and post office hours extended, according to the corporation.

“Even with plans to upscale, add capacity and work with customers, a traditional holiday parcel surge combined with unprecedented volumes could overwhelm our capacity to process and deliver across the country,” said Canada Post.

Shopping early will help Canadians avoid disappointment, support businesses across the country, as well as spread out the expected demand and avoid the Christmas capacity crunch, according to the corporation. 



What are we reading? October 9, 2020


Each week, BIV staff will share with you some of the interesting stories we have found from around the web.


Timothy Renshaw, Managing Editor

Major marine cargo carriers are considering a wide range of low-carbon alternatives to heavy bunker oil to power container ships and other large cargo carriers. Wind has thus far taken a distant back-seat to ammonia, methane, hydrogen and LNG, but here's an example of how the renewable, no-carbon shipping energy source from centuries past can still be harnessed on major trade routes to deliver the goods. – Popular Mechanics


A glimmer of hope, perhaps, in global efforts to help humanity stem the rising tide of its deepening sea of plastic pollution.


Mark Falkenberg, deputy managing editor

The Royal Bank of Canada is the latest financial institution to announce it will not fund drilling projects in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, citing its “ecological and social significance and vulnerability.”   – CBC


Pulitzer winner Carlos Lozada has a bone to pick with what he calls the “Chaos Chronicles” – the litany of tell-all bestsellers about the Trump administration, arguing they have “devolved into a contest for the most explosive, chyron-ready anecdotes” and unconsciously embody the corrupted values of the U.S. maladministration – Atlantic


Nelson Bennett, reporter

Federal carbon taxes will need to be higher than what the federal Liberal government has planned, or Canada will miss its Paris Agreement targets by 77 million tonnes of CO2 in 2030, says the Parliamentary Budget Officer. When a $50 carbon tax is combined with $50 federal fuel charge, Canadians will pay $117 to $289 per tonne in explicit carbon pricing, the PBO estimates. But the carbon tax needs to go higher than the $50 per tonne the Liberal government has targeted for 2022. – Parliamentary Budget Officer


Glen Korstrom, reporter

LinkedIn has long been seen as the most staid of social media platforms, but this article explains how it is evolving. Some people even view it now as having conversations that are more “on fire” than are those on Twitter – perhaps because of the pandemic and the Black LIves Matter movement. – New York Times