High and Mighty: Layer 7 ‘s Quietest Triumph

Vancouver’s competitive social scene means that there are plenty of plucky ingénues hoping that their big idea makes the big time. But with the success rate low, there’s a lot of inherent drama.

Investors see social media startups as wise investment choices. Most startups fail, but in the social media space, their failure is often cheap.

A company that provides the absolute best way to, say, imitate birdcalls with a smartphone may entertain consumers for a few months. To the relatively small birdwatching demographic, an essential app has been developed, and they may use it for years. But a cursory glance at lists of successful businesses in British Columbia—like those compiled by the Vancouver Sun or BCBusiness—would encourage entrepreneurs to invest their time, funds, and energy into more practical pursuits. By revenue, BC’s top three earners were Teck Resources, Telus Corp, and the Pattison Group; three companies that solve basic commercial or consumer problems.

With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that one of the biggest success stories in Vancouver’s tech scene is a company that has quietly addressed one of the biggest needs in digital infrastructure construction. Over the course of a decade, Vancouver’s own Layer 7 has grown into a 200-person-strong international workforce by offering API management solutions to dozens of financial and retail institutions—including 25 agencies in the American federal government.  

As to what that means, in layman’s terms? Dimitri Sirota, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer of Layer 7, explains.

“APIs are basically windows into information. For organizations that are looking to share information with partners, such as GM, who needs to share information with suppliers, for organizations that want to share information with app developers so it can be put into the mobile space,” he says. “College Board, for example, they have tests that they run through the cloud and stuff in their data center: APIs represent windows to that information. But you don’t want it to be naked—you need some clothes on it, administration and security. That’s what we handle. The security management and integration challenges of using APIs for connecting partners, mobile apps, cloud services, and developers.”

Just last month, Layer 7 beta-launched Apify.co, a 100% cloud-based service to manage APIs, geared for business users who wants to open up web information to mobile developers. For those outside of the IT world that most of their other products are made for, Apify promises security, simplicity, and ease of access. The beta, wisely, is free.

Dimitri is not a humble man. This is fair: he has no reason to be. As one of Layer 7’s founders, he’s shepherded the company’s development, ushered it through its first five lean years and overseen its development into a global force. If there hasn’t been much celebration in the local community, it would likely be because so much cause for celebration has been found abroad.

“We work with our clients, and they don’t happen to be in Vancouver,” he explained to Techvibes. “One of them, GTech, administers most of the lotteries in the US. In the UK, we work with a number of outfits like William Hill or Money supermarket. They help shape our direction more than locals do: to some degree, we’re here because my wife likes it here. We did raise some money locally, but outside of the fact that we have staff here, a lot of our infrastructure is in the Bay area. Our CEO is down south. Cisco, Adobe, NVidia, these are all clients of these. I don’t want to say that we’re a David and Goliath situation, it’s a little trite, but we go up against much better funded, bigger competitors, and win. We win by developing better products.”

Despite the new venture in the cloud sphere, the enterprise products are going to remain Layer 7’s top priority. 2013 will see the company’s first offices in India and Singapore, new offerings in the mobility arena (aided by some new hires scooped from the RIM firings) and a honed focus on the telecom market.

While Layer 7’s future is bright, Sirota sees a need for change in the way Vancouver’s tech scene is discussed by the media.

“To build a successful ecosystem, [we] need companies that generate revenue that hire at good salaries, right here in Vancouver,” he says. “I think that unfortunately, those good companies, ElasticPath, Teradici, I put us here, they get far less attention here in Vancouver. Because they’re revenue-focused, and US-focused, they’re well-known in the US, but less well-known in Canada. They’re hidden success stories. Some of that is the fault of the companies. But we’ve got to celebrate a range of organizations in this city.”

It would be easier for the local community to celebrate Layer 7 if it put itself forward for more praise—you won’t find a post celebrating award wins on the first five pages of their blog, and this year they didn’t even submit to the Deloitte Canadian Fast 50 for contention.

Regardless of its modesty, Layer 7 has succeeded in a way befitting its name, and is likely to continue doing so. Here’s hoping they have a local celebration sooner rather than later.