MetaLab’s Andrew Wilkinson spends time with the Martlet

Business Business | Tech

Andrew Wilkinson sits on a grey sofa in his company’s lounge, waiting for me to take his second portrait of the day. The first portrait, a standing one, did not work. He towered over me, and though I climbed the staircase for extra height, two steps were not enough.

Wilkinson is the 27-year-old founder and CEO of MetaLab, a Victoria-based software company. We spoke in one of MetaLab’s conference rooms: a glass cube nestled in aged bricks, with website mock-ups scrawled on the windows.

MetaLab’s latest product is a time-tracking tool called Peak, released last month. Rather than have employees manually record hours, Peak does that automatically, so managers know if work is being completed. It also tracks longer-term trends, like if an employee is working later than usual.

Rather than a micromanager’s dream, Wilkinson sees it as a way to stay more hands-off and avoid “shoulder taps,” periodic check-ins from management that disrupt an employee’s work. It’s an approach that his assistant, Elexa Styan, agrees with: “It’s really great to feel that kind of trust from your boss, that you can handle what you’re given.”

In some ways, Wilkinson’s biography mirrors that of many tech entrepreneurs. The son of an architect, he found early success with Macteens, an online magazine catering to young Mac electronics enthusiasts, which allowed him to meet Steve Jobs when he was 15. This led him to journalism school, but he quickly dropped out. “I have a lot of trouble learning things when I don’t want to learn them, when I’m not interested in them.”

After that, he worked for a local design firm, but quit after a fight with his boss. While looking for another job, he freelanced, finding it far more enjoyable. At 19, he founded MetaLab.

Nowadays, Wilkinson’s afternoons (he doesn’t work mornings) are spent making connections and maintaining relationships with his clients. Flow, MetaLab’s task-management software, is used by companies like Adobe and Costco. Pixel Union, MetaLab’s Tumblr division (which was born after a drink with Tumblr founder David Karp), now makes themes favoured by celebrities like Zooey Deschanel and Snoop Lion.

Pixel Union is currently hiring, and while they employ UVic grads, these employees’ credentials had little to do with their hiring.

“I would actually say UVic is a terrible place to find people because everyone . . . ” He stops and laughs a little, anticipating the controversy. “A lot of people come out of a computer science degree feeling entitled to a high-paying job, when they have zero experience and they are very junior still. The co-op program is extremely expensive compared to hiring someone else who has the equivalent skill-set . . . We haven’t found that UVic is a great place to look.”

Considering all of MetaLab’s organizational products like Peak and Flow (a task management tool used by companies likes Adobe), Wilkinson is good at keeping his own schedule. At the end of our interview, he said he had about 10 minutes left for a photo.

Back at the sofa, he eschewed a smile in favour of an intense stare, a variation on his neutral expression. I asked if he could pretend to laugh, and he obliged, though the puppy dog eyes didn’t seem fitting. Nine minutes and 39 seconds after my first photograph, we were done.