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Founder Spotlight: How Steve Barker is making a mark in auto tech with Autograph Analytics

The journey of his path from burnout to breakthrough — from finding inspiration from his grandfather’s footsteps to founding a tech and data solutions company for the auto industry

Welcome to Vancouver Tech Journal’s founder spotlight, where we get into the backstory of the people leading Vancouver’s must-know companies.

“If not now, when?” Steve Barker asked himself.

After nearly a decade of executive roles, Barker found himself in deep burnout. It was clear that he needed to step away from his job and reevaluate what he wanted from his life and career.

As he reflected on what that would look like, he found himself often thinking back to his childhood aspirations. One was to become an entrepreneur — just like his grandfather, a successful self-made businessman who sold products door-to-door to fund his studies at Harvard before starting a financial services firm.

Barker didn’t know it then, but he was already on the right path to achieving this goal. He and two of his former colleagues, Bryan Nguyen and Joe Leano, would end up founding Autograph Analytics, a data solutions and tech company for the auto industry. 

To date, Autograph supports hundreds of clients across North America — including some of the largest dealer groups — while maintaining a 100% retention rate. The company also notably launched the industry’s first AI data analyst.

Barker sat with Vancouver Tech Journal to share how overcoming burnout led to building Autograph, why and how he and his team successfully pivoted from services to a SaaS model, and his advice for other entrepreneurs — from mindset to relationships and the value of having partners.

Founders Joe Leano, Bryan Nguyen, Steve Barker (Image: Autograph Analytics)

Tell us more about your story.

A decade ago, I began an unexpected journey in the auto tech industry when a startup in New West took a chance on me as a business development rep. 

Having spent the previous few years in real estate tech, I had no connections or experience in the industry. Still, I had a strong passion for cars and was eager to learn. I quickly found myself immersed in digital marketing and sales within the auto industry.

Fast forward to four years later, I had developed enough account management, sales, and marketing skills to be offered a leadership role for an auto ads, web design, and tech company based in Ontario. 

Eight years of relentless travel, intense pace, and high stress resulted in profound burnout — prompting me to reevaluate my professional path and life goals. This phase highlighted my need for a shift towards something more in tune with my values and ambitions. I resigned from my role and took time to think about what I wanted from my life and career. 

From a young age, I aspired to be an entrepreneur, inspired by my grandfather, a successful self-made businessman. My long-term goal was always to start my own company. I found myself thinking, "If not now, when?"

Choosing to dedicate myself full-time to Autograph marked a defining moment — transforming previous challenges into the start of the most rewarding phase of my career. 

In the last 18 months, Autograph has experienced significant growth. We support hundreds of clients in Canada and the U.S. — including some of the largest dealer groups in North America, while maintaining a 100% retention rate. We’re solving real industry problems that help our clients run their businesses more effectively.

Our shift towards a SaaS model and the launch of the industry’s first AI data analyst has marked significant milestones — reflecting our dedication to innovation and vision for the future. I feel we're just getting started. 

  • Where were you born? Toronto, but called Vancouver home since I was three

  • How old are you? 41

  • Do you have kids? No. I do have some plants that I try to keep alive and our Ridgeback, Tim Riggins

  • What did you want to be when you were a kid? To create sound effects for movies and TV

  • Favourite class in school? Creative writing, history, and gym

  • Least favourite subject? I found it hard to engage in any subject taught by disinterested teachers

  • Previous job before Autograph Analytics? VP of sales for Leadbox

  • How do you commute? A short shuffle to my home office or kitchen table

  • What time do you normally wake up? 6:15 a.m.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

I like waking up to the smell of bacon, and since I don't have a butler, I have to do it myself. So, most nights before I go to bed, I will lay six strips of bacon out on my George Foreman grill. 

Then I go to sleep. 

When I wake up, I plug in the grill then go back to sleep again. Then I wake up to the smell of crackling bacon. It is delicious. It's good for me. It's a perfect way to start the day. 

  • What time do you normally sleep? 11 p.m.

  • What’s the last thing you do before bed? Review the next day's schedule and unwind with a book.

What are you reading right now or listening to?

Currently, I'm juggling a few books:

Having a variety on the go keeps me engaged and offers a refreshing change of pace between topics. 

I’m also hooked on podcasts:

Where do you normally work from?

Since 2018, my home office has served as my primary workspace, complemented by Pavillion and WeWork for added flexibility. 

With our team spread across numerous cities, we've embraced our virtual office on Kumospace as an essential hub for collaboration. 

Initially, I was pretty skeptical about it, but I've grown to love the culture and community it fosters.

Elevator pitch — what does Autograph Analytics do?

Autograph transforms auto marketing reporting, effortlessly aggregates data, and supercharges analysis with AI. We empower our clients to make informed decisions to drive their success.

To dig a little deeper, we distill complex data into actionable insights for strategic decisions. 

Our clients allocate resources across diverse marketing channels, websites, platforms, advertising accounts, and third-party marketplaces in addition to managing CRM, sales, and inventory data. 

The intricacy of handling this much data multiplied across many dealerships presents a significant challenge. We streamline this complex information to extract valuable insights and informed decisions — enhancing the clarity and effectiveness of their strategies.

Image: Autograph Analytics

Why did you start Autograph Analytics?

The genesis of Autograph happened when I teamed up with my co-founders, Bryan Nguyen and Joe Leano.

Our paths first crossed when we all worked together at Speed Shift Media (SSM) in 2015. With our collective experience in the automotive industry, we identified a critical gap: the need for transparent, unbiased, and industry-specific data analytics and reporting solutions. 

We pinpointed several key industry challenges, including the need for clear and unbiased reporting, the intricacies of handling data from diverse sources, and the unique challenges of automotive marketing. 

After parting ways at SSM, we stayed connected and often talked about the possibility of starting our own business. Over three years, we brainstormed ideas as our vision came together. As we each pursued other projects and interests, the issues facing the industry were not being solved and we saw an opportunity to start the business. 

We started by taking on small service projects where we helped businesses with analytics, Google Tag Manager, and implementation and reporting work.

The launch of GA4 was a turning point. 

It allowed us to leverage our collective experience — in analytics implementation, data strategy, and digital marketing — and address the auto industry’s need for specialized analytics and data support. We were uniquely positioned to help hundreds of clients set up GA4 in a way that supported the complexity of the Automotive industry. 

The growing demand made it clear that we needed to transition from a services company to developing a SaaS model.

Have you raised any money?

No. We're self-funded, profitable, and follow the principles of the Practical Founders' approach.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

Entrepreneurship is an emotional journey with many peaks and valleys but the satisfaction is unmatched.

As the famed VC, Marc Andreessen, says, “It’s a blend of euphoria and terror.”

What’s one of the biggest challenges you are facing right now?

As we grow, balancing strategic, operational, and cultural aspects of the business is our main challenge — requiring constant adaptation and prioritization.

What’s the most memorable milestone in your career so far?

Presenting on the keynote stage at the Digital Dealer Conference & Expo with my co-founders. 

After 18 months of hard work, it provided a valuable opportunity to reflect on our journey and appreciate how far we have come. 

Photo: Autograph Analytics

What are you learning right now?

Focusing on HR practices, technical interviewing, and resource planning to support our expanding team and technical needs.

Do you have any mentors?

The CEO of Leadbox, Ian Cruickshank, has been an invaluable mentor and friend — guiding me through significant career transitions and challenges. I wouldn’t be on this journey without his guidance and support. 

What’s a recent habit you’ve picked up that’s made a difference in your life?

Incorporating outdoor activity into my morning routine before starting work has had a major impact on improving my well-being — alongside meditating regularly.

Where do you see yourself in 3, 6, and 9 years?

Focused on growing Autograph in alignment with our strategic plan — establishing a strong industry presence and adapting to future challenges with flexibility.

How do you prevent burnout?

Recognizing early warning signs and taking immediate action is key. 

My approach focuses on establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life. This involves prioritizing stress management, ensuring adequate sleep, practicing mindfulness, maintaining regular exercise, and making time for sports, family, and friends.  

Support from my wife, Danielle, has also made a huge difference. I wouldn’t be able to take on the work that I do without her. 

For anyone finding themselves close to burnout, I encourage you to take it seriously and not hesitate to consult a professional for guidance. We all have limits we must respect. 

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

It’s easier to fix steering than an engine, so get moving. Momentum is a powerful force. If you have an idea you want to pursue, get started. 

The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life. Surround yourself with the right people and focus on building quality relationships — within and outside your industry. 

Have a regular meditation practice. Even five minutes a day can change your life. Download Calm or Headspace if you need a guide.

Your relationship with co-founders is a long-term commitment. You'll share countless hours, travel, living and working spaces, meals, wins, and losses. It's essential to partner with people you trust, can depend on, and enjoy spending time with. 

While some individuals may choose to embark on this journey alone, I find more fulfillment in sharing it with others, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

What’s your favourite coffee shop in Vancouver?

Choosing a single favourite anything is a challenge for me. 

Commercial Drive is stacked with great options. Commercial Street Cafe has a great atmosphere for working or catching up with friends. Il Mondo, Moja, and Prado are also great spots. 

What’s your favourite restaurant in Vancouver?

On Commercial Drive, we're spoiled with choices.

Truong Thanh and Bun Cha Ca Hoang Yen for Vietnamese. Sopra Sotto for Italian. Havana for Cuban. La Mezcaleria for Mexican. And we can't forget about Church’s—a company favourite that always slaps. 

What’s your favourite vacation spot?

Southeast Asia and Kauai are favourites for their cultures, landscapes, and cuisines. 

We also enjoy relaxing at Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos, BC. 

Amsterdam and New Orleans are two of my favourite cities. 

What website or app do you visit the most?

WhatsApp for connecting, Reddit for content, and Headspace for meditation and focus.

What’s your favourite show to binge-watch?

I’m a huge Canucks fan, so Sportsnet for games and to keep up with the NHL. 

Recently, "The Traitors" for its mix of strategy and suspense. The host, Alan Cumming, is pure gold.

Who’s one person or brand everyone should follow on social?

If you're into startups, the founder of Practical Founders, Greg Head

His practical advice and wisdom on entrepreneurship, marketing, and scaling businesses are invaluable for founders.

Do you support any charities? If so, which ones and why?

These organizations address critical health issues like cancer and mental health — impacting many people across Canada. 

What does Vancouver’s tech ecosystem need the most?

Vancouver's tech scene thrives on innovation and collaboration. 

Encouraging new founders and promoting local success stories globally boosts our ecosystem's growth and attracts top talent and investment. 

More great events like VTJ meetups are critical. I met our most recent hire at VTJ’s weekly tech morning coffee event last week.

What kind of support can you offer the community?

We're committed to contributing to the community by offering our time and expertise wherever possible. 

If an organization needs assistance with analytics, data, or reporting, we're here to help as we’re always keen to leverage our skills to support others and make a meaningful impact.

How can people connect with you?

You can find me at the Spartacus Gym on most mornings. Otherwise, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or via email. I'm always open to new connections and exploring potential collaborations.

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