We’re a technology company that provides a software platform used by media publishers around the world to run advertising online. As CEO I do a bit of everything. I spend a lot of time with customers as well as growing the team and driving the overall vision and strategy for the company.
I started the company about eight months before graduating from the University of Waterloo.
Software engineering was the hardest program to get into at Waterloo the year I applied, so I figured that’s where I’d find the smartest people. It was only the program’s third year, and it wasn’t even accredited. This was back in 2003, and over the last decade software has transformed every major industry. To gain skills in a field that’s used by every single industry is powerful.
“Challenging” is the first word I’d use to describe the program, “competitive” the second. Every other semester, you had to look for a co-op job, and you ended up doing five or six co-op terms. Students from computer, electrical and systems engineering and computer science were all seeking software jobs. So everyone in the programs, whatever their interest, definitely graduated with skills and experience in software.
I didn’t look for software development jobs. I was more interested in the business of software and how it’s used from within to potentially change companies. I worked in a bank, at a consulting firm and with a venture capitalist, and I did an exchange in Hong Kong. Working in a wide variety of industries, I never actually wrote a single line of code. I always sought out business roles within technology environments. To this day, there’s a scarcity of business people with technology acumen.
Co-op is great because you get exposure to what you want to do, but also to what you don’t want to do.
My first job was at a large bank, and my second at one of the big three telecom companies. I learned a lot and got an appreciation for how big companies work, but at 19 I was able to say to myself, “I don’t want to work for one of those companies.”
I want to be surrounded by people who are open to change and to the idea of thinking outside the box, a dynamic that is difficult to introduce into a big enterprise.
“Waterloo was good at providing projects, assignment and group work that forced collaboration. Running a technology company is all about collaboration. “
Polar is growing really quickly, and we have a lot of opportunities and growth challenges. I can’t and don’t want to solve everything, but my job as leader is to find the right people and to get them to collaborate. Thinking critically and not being afraid to suggest new ways to do things, that’s something I learned in school.
My marks weren’t very good, which isn’t something I’m proud of, but I got really great co-op placements and did extremely well with those opportunities.
At the end of my first year, I started a group called Impact, the first youth-led entrepreneurship non-profit organization. We grew the organization significantly and hosted conferences, competitions and programs across the country. It existed independently of the school but with tons of support from it. A few years ago we decided to close the organization because our mandate had been met after 10 years.
At Polar we hire quite a few co-op students. I hired a student last week who studied in the same program I did. Academically, it’s become much more challenging. I think that’s a sign of technology evolving and the bar getting higher. Students who are bright and talented are able to find co-op jobs easily compared to when I was in school, but those who are not as motivated or eager are struggling.