Five Questions with Jobber Co-founder & CEO Sam Pillar

December 4, 2022

Jobber is a fast-growing CCI member company headquartered in Alberta. For more than a year, CEO and Co-Founder Sam Pillar has been navigating an ongoing legal battle with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) over whether tech companies can use the title of “software engineers.”

But Jobber isn’t alone. APEGA has been threatening many Alberta companies with legal action. In October CCI worked with Jobber to write an open letter to the Alberta government raising concerns about APEGA. More than 100 business leaders have now signed that open letter.

CCI President Benjamin Bergen talked with Sam about what it’s been like navigating this issue while also growing his company.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Benjamin Bergen: So first of all, can you tell me a little bit about Jobber, the platform you operate, and how long you’ve been building the company?

Sam Pillar: Jobber is an operations management system for home service businesses. We make a product that small companies use to run their business day-to-day — in sectors such as landscaping and lawn care, residential cleaning, and HVAC. So we enable all their scheduling, invoicing and billing, and we’ve got a mobile app so that they can keep in touch with their employees in the field. We have over 200,000 service professionals using our product every day. And those businesses have now invoiced over $40 billion worth of services using our product.

We launched the company back in 2011, my co-founder Forrest and I, here in Edmonton, Alberta. Today we’re just a little over 550 people in total, with about 250 of those in Alberta.

BB: That’s an amazing story and tremendous growth. I saw that you’re on the Deloitte Fast 50 again this year, which is always a good benchmark here in Canada.

Changing gears a little bit, tell me what’s been going on with APEGA. Over the last couple of years, what have you guys been dealing with?

SP: Rewinding about a year and a half — I think April 2021 — I started getting messages from APEGA. And frankly, I wasn’t really aware of APEGA — the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta. They had taken issue with the fact that we had job postings on our careers page that were referring to, you know, software engineers and data engineers and various types of engineering roles that are very common in the world of tech startups and software companies. We’ve always used them, and all the companies that we know, have used them.

We weren’t really sure what to make of it. We engaged with our legal counsel, and we concluded that we were not offside and did not need to address the issue.

We went along with our business, and later that year things escalated and they really insisted on talking to us and started threatening legal action. We attempted to meet with APEGA and try to understand what their issue was. We actually made concessions at the time; we put disclaimers on our website saying: look, we’re not an engineering services firm that builds bridges or whatever; we’re a software company. There wasn’t really any confusion at the time and there was no evidence of confusion, but nonetheless, we wanted to try to resolve any potential concern that APEGA was having.

That wasn’t good enough. And a few days before Christmas in 2021 they served us with legal action. So yeah, since then we have been before courts fighting this issue with the APEGA. And of course as you know, I can’t comment on ongoing litigation, but it is still outstanding and ongoing.

BB: Yeah, and you’re not alone. Other companies in the province have also received that type of notice.

People might think that a job title isn’t really a big deal. Can you talk us through what makes this so disruptive for a company like Jobber? How does it impact your ability to recruit and grow in Alberta?

SP: We don’t exist as a software company in isolation here in Alberta. We’re not off on an island on our own — you know, building a product, and building a company, only competing against other companies in our region.

We’re a global company. We have customers all over the world, and increasingly, we have employees all over the place. We compete against other companies, not just for customers, but for talent.

The people that we’re going after are used to seeing “software engineer” in the job posting. And their buddy is a software engineer, and maybe they’re already working as a software engineer. So when we go to try to hire them, we have to hire them for the job that they’re familiar with. We’re competing with companies like Google and Facebook, and if we can’t do that on a level playing field, we’re not going to be able to build big Canadian companies and have the kind of impact that we want to have long-term here at home.

And the thing is, in a place like Alberta, software startups that are able to grow and scale and generate revenue globally are massively important to future economic diversification and the ability to build a robust economy.

This issue is, I really believe, an existential threat for software and tech companies. The №1 input to our success as a business is the people that build our product. And if we can’t attract the best possible people to build a globally competitive company, then someone else will.

So we will do whatever is necessary to make sure that we’re the company that builds the winning product in the space that we’re competing in. If that means exploring relocating the business to a more accommodating environment, then we’ll look at all options.

And I can’t believe I’m saying that! Alberta is supposed to be the most accommodating business environment in Canada.

BB: In October, we worked together on an open letter to Premier Danielle Smith, calling for government action on the APEGA issue. What’s it been like, in the weeks since the letter was published? What sort of response have you had from the business community?

SP: It’s been amazing. I am hearing from people all over the country, and across a range of other industries. Within the tech community, there is very broad alignment that this is a threat to our industry, and something that really flies in the face of the longstanding conventions in tech. The ability to use those terms is really important to our ability to be competitive.

And I will add it’s not the case that I think APEGA shouldn’t exist, and I know other people agree with me on this. They serve an important role in protecting the public, and they do a very good job. There are mechanisms in place to make sure that people aren’t fraudulently stamping engineering plans, and holding themselves out as certified professional engineers — using the P.Eng designation.

There is no confusion anywhere that I’m aware of, about software engineers building bridges or stamping plans. Like this isn’t something that the general public is confused about.

BB: So where are you seeing this land? What are your thoughts on a positive outcome?

SP: I think we will see a positive resolution here. I’m optimistic that, you know, really, at the end of the day, everyone wants the same outcome. Everyone wants a successful thriving economy. I know the new premier wants that, the government wants that, the opposition wants that. And APEGA wants that. Fundamentally, everybody wants the same thing, and I’m confident that we’ll get there.

But at the same time, I think we need to keep pushing. We need to make sure that the government understands that this is an issue that has the potential to severely negatively impact our companies, but also the entire tech sector really hangs in the balance.

I know that sounds a little bit dramatic, but to the point I made earlier, there are no talent borders, and there’s very little standing in the way of company mobility. Where friction comes into the system, the very best companies, the ones that are going to succeed long-term, are very good at finding the path of least resistance and making sure that they’re able to succeed.

Companies in Alberta need to keep making it known that this is an issue that’s important to their success as a business and to their ability to contribute to the future of this sector in Alberta.

The Council of Canadian Innovators is a national business council of more than 150 scale-up technology companies headquartered in Canada. Our members are job-creators, philanthropists and leading commercialization experts in the 21st century digital economy.

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