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Championing a future for women-led innovation to thrive

Get to know the influential minds behind DMZ’s Women Innovation Summit Steering Committee 

In honour of International Women’s Day, DMZ’s annual Women Innovation Summit is designed to empower and celebrate women in entrepreneurship and innovation. 

An action-packed event, the Summit will include roundtable discussions, our Women Innovation Pitch Competition for women-led startups to secure funding and the unveiling of DMZ’s Women of the Year award recipients. 

We know it takes a village to support women innovators. To bring this Summit to life, we brought together an influential group of leaders, executives and corporate partners to form our Steering Committee. Their role? Ensure a wide range of perspectives, experiences and ideas are considered to reduce bias, support an equitable review process and -— above all else — ensure the Summit reflects the diversity of women that fuels Canada’s innovation economy.

We wanted to give an insider’s look at the individuals behind the Committee to recognize them for the trailblazers that they are. 

Without further ado, please meet DMZ’s Women Innovation Summit Steering Committee: 

Janet Lin | Vice President, Lending and Payments Technology at Equitable Bank

A technology strategist with a passion for innovation, digital transformation, diversity and inclusion, Janet Lin is committed to creating human-centric experiences by leveraging technology. She brings over 20 years of experience in digital transformation, technology strategy, software development, customer engagement and AI transformation. She currently works at Equitable Bank, transforming retail and commercial lending businesses with customer-centric, agile decision-making principles enabled by cloud-native technology. 

Janet was inspired to join the Committee to promote, recognize and create innovation opportunities for women in Canada. 

Her advice for women entrepreneurs looking to break into tech and innovation?

“Dear women entrepreneurs in technology and innovation, equip yourself with thorough preparation. The path ahead may present challenges, resilience is your friend on this journey. Stay determined, and focused and don’t give up your dreams!”

Magnolia Perron | Indigenous Women and Youth Program Manager at the
National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association 

An advocate for entrepreneurship and economic development for Indigenous communities, Magnolia Perron has worked with various Indigenous non-profits, including the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and the First Nations Information Governance Centre, where she has led advocacy, research and program development. Today, she oversees programs dedicated to Indigenous women and youth at the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association. Magnolia is from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and is a proud member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.

Magnolia was inspired to join the Committee because of her deep-rooted commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion. She believes that diverse perspectives lead to better innovation and is keen to contribute to an initiative where women can thrive, network and find support for their endeavours. 

How does she envision the Summit shaping the future landscape for women in tech and innovation? 

“The Summit has the potential to break down barriers, promote equality, and ultimately contribute to a future where women play an integral role in shaping the landscape of technology and innovation. It’s a catalyst, and by showcasing successful women leaders and entrepreneurs, we can inspire the next generation to pursue careers in the industry.”

Peter Bowie | Independent Director, Former CEO of Deloitte China and
DMZ Advisory Council Member

Peter Bowie is an Independent Director of Magna International and a DMZ Advisory Council member. He is a celebrated industry leader with a diverse background in corporate governance, leadership, and advisory roles. He has held prominent positions in organizations such as Uranium One, Deloitte Canada, and Deloitte China, where he served as CEO and Senior Partner. With a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, Peter is also an investor and advisor in early-stage startup companies. 

Peter was inspired to join the Committee because he’s passionate about encouraging and supporting women entrepreneurs in their journey to success. He believes initiatives like the Summit will enhance opportunities for women in the tech ecosystem. 

How does he envision the Summit shaping the future landscape for women in tech and innovation?  

“I hope that the Women Innovation Summit, along with other DMZ initiatives dedicated to women entrepreneurs, fosters a culture where women feel empowered to pursue their dreams and where the broader community recognizes the importance of supporting their endeavours in the tech ecosystem.”

Megan Munro | Digital Commerce Strategic Initiatives Lead at

A high-velocity strategic decision-maker who brings 20+ years of experience in digital initiatives, Megan Munro is a dynamic leader who has managed winning teams in fashion, telecoms, sports and entertainment, airlines and banking. Today, she oversees digital commerce strategic initiatives at Scotiabank, where she champions a collaborative and data-driven approach to deliver inspired solutions. 

Megan was inspired to join the Committee because she’s passionate about supporting initiatives that promote, encourage and enable equity in innovation. She believes the Summit embodies this passion and is committed to recognizing standout, inspirational women driving innovation and change.

Her advice for women entrepreneurs looking to break into tech and innovation?

“Go for it. Have confidence in your skill set (there is no one like you!), stay curious with a lifelong learning mindset, advocate for yourself and assemble your hype squad with a trusted mentor and people who will cheer you on.”

Jennifer Chiang | Business Development: Canada Lead for Accelerators, Incubators & Seed VCs at
Amazon Web Services

A serial founder, a former soldier in the Canadian Army Reserves and an active mentor and advisor, Jennifer Chiang is a pioneer in influencer marketing, founding a technology that powers the top Fortune 500 brands and reaches over 98M consumers worldwide. She currently works at AWS Startups and continues to share her legacy and mentorship with early-stage founders and partners. 

Jennifer was inspired to join the Committee because she’s committed to giving back to the community, a value her mentor Bonnie Foley Wong instilled in her. 

Her advice for women entrepreneurs looking to break into tech and innovation?

“Strive to always be on the edge of the miraculous.”

Moshe Mikanovsky | Product Director at RootQuotient

Moshe Mikanovsky, a product management leader with a background in engineering, applies a lean, iterative approach to developing products that exceed users’ expectations. At RootQuotient, he supports companies of all sizes, from startups to corporates, build digital products. An entrepreneur at heart, Moshe founded Products for Good, a social initiative for aspiring product managers to learn the craft while building products to help humanity. 

A proud father of three daughters, Moshe is an advocate for women’s empowerment and women in tech. His personal experiences as a father have fueled his dedication to supporting his daughters in finding their career paths. This led him to join the Committee to ensure the ecosystem nurtures and promotes women’s advancement in technology and beyond. 

How does he envision the Summit shaping the future landscape for women in tech and innovation? 

“One of the most important things we can do as an ecosystem is profile success stories to inspire other women and young girls. Having a national spotlight and funding up for grabs for women-led startups can support women founders tremendously, but above all else, being connected to a community like DMZ’s can work wonders.”

Mark your calendars. DMZ’s Women Innovation Summit takes place on March 7, 2024. Head to to learn more about the Summit and how to get involved. 


Introducing Nathaniel Bagnell: Alumni-in-Residence Spotlight

Hear from Nathaniel on why he’s excited to give back to the DMZ community, the experiences of an Indigenous entrepreneur, and how he conceptualized the MVP for LiveGauge

The DMZ is thrilled to introduce Nathaniel Bagnell, the co-founder of
LiveGauge, and our newest alumni to join the DMZ’s Alumni-in-Residence (AiR) program

Nathaniel’s breadth of business expertise will provide founders guidance in accounting, resource planning, hiring, product management and corporate strategy. 

The AiR program brings alumni back to the DMZ to act as mentors to the founders in current DMZ programs. Whether it’s offering sound business advice to new founders or providing guidance on personal development as an entrepreneur, AiRs play a vital role in the success of current startups at the DMZ – they were once in their shoes, and they know exactly what it’s like to be an early-stage founder.

A marketing technology entrepreneur with over 12 years of experience, Nathaniel is an ambitious founder with a strong interest in creating and participating in innovative ideas, projects, and products that impact the world in a positive way.

At the DMZ, we are committed to creating an equitable future for all founders; a prosperous economy is one that fosters diverse perspectives. The underrepresentation of Indigenous founders has been a persistent issue in the startup ecosystem as they are met with a disproportionate number of barriers when trying to break in. 

We sat down with Nathaniel to learn more about his expertise, his entrepreneurial journey, the evolution of LiveGauge, and the challenges and opportunities Indigenous entrepreneurs experience.


What are your areas of expertise? What can founders come to you with questions about?

“My core expertise revolves around operational and financial aspects of business. This includes resource planning, hiring, product management, go-to-market strategy, product planning, budgeting, forecasting, and vertical expansion planning. I can also help with managerial accounting and financial accounting from my years of being the sole bookkeeper at LiveGauge.” 


What made you decide to come back to the DMZ, now as an AiR?

“I would not be where I am today without the DMZ and the support it has given me. I feel so appreciative of everyone who has helped me get to where I am, and I truly want to help others in the same boat. Being able to support other entrepreneurs through the DMZ is something I couldn’t be happier to do. 


Could you tell us a little bit about LiveGauge’s history? What problem were you trying to solve?

LiveGauge is an experiential marketing suite that helps brands and agencies better understand how effective their campaigns are.

“LiveGauge started by combining two ideas from experiences in my career. The concept of tracking people and understanding what led them to buy a product emerged from my time working at Future Shop as a merchandiser. 

Every Thursday, we rearranged the shelf order based on a planogram printed out by the POS system. Some products were positioned based on payments from the brand, but most positioning decisions were made based on historical sales information. 

I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be better to understand how we got to the end result of a purchase versus using end results to generate more end results?’ This is where my desire to understand consumer behaviour came from.

In a later role, I worked in mobile app development. In this job, I learned how it’d be possible to execute on the process of collecting consumer behaviour data. I was researching mobile devices and their technological capabilities and discovered a paper that explained the types of signals that cell phones emit. I used it as the MVP basis to execute on the business concept of LiveGauge.”


It has been nearly 9 years since you first launched LiveGauge — how has the company grown and evolved?

“Over the past 9 years, the company has been reborn. Every facet of the business, from the technological foundation, to the customers, to our founding team, has evolved.

Some changes were evolutionary, like adapting components to changing privacy laws and re-developing our algorithms to meet mobile marketplace changes. Others were revolutionary, like completely changing our target customer base, re-structuring our company, and developing new products completely outside of our primary focus. 

There are positives and negatives, of course. Positive growing moments are easy to point out — like moving into our own office space and surpassing revenue goals. Negative ones are hard to recognize as blessings, but they push us outside of our comfort zones. 

One notable example would be the pandemic. We are in the events business, and with in-person gatherings shut down around the globe, we were forced to look into new product developments and other target customers. Now, we are a multi-industry business with revenue streams from different verticals!”


What was your experience at DMZ’s Incubator back in 2017 like?

“I still remember getting the invitation to be a part of the Incubator — it felt so right for us. We wanted to be part of a community that shared our drive, and understood our struggles and dreams.

Our fellow DMZ startups in the space had an array of experiences and lessons to share, from B2B and B2C companies, loyalty program startups, fintech, to medical training education solutions. Being surrounded by other startups makes you even more hungry as an entrepreneur. Seeing others commit 110% to their business makes you want to commit 150%. It’s a fuel like no other.

The community was exceptionally valuable, not just from the other entrepreneurs, but the DMZ’s advisors and EiRs. Their experience and insights were priceless. Mentorship is one of the best hacks a startup can utilize. A handful of solid sessions with someone who has been in your shoes can save you hours from making their same mistakes.”

“Being surrounded by other startups makes you even more hungry as an entrepreneur. Seeing others commit 110% to their business makes you want to commit 150%. It’s a fuel like no other.”


Any insights into your experiences as an Indigenous entrepreneur? What kinds of support can startup incubators, government, etc. provide Indigenous entrepreneurs?

“I often have encounters with individuals who, at no fault of their own, stereotype what an Indigenous founder ‘should’ look like.

When I let someone know I’m Miꞌkmaq they are a bit shocked, which is understandable given the way the media and Hollywood have painted the picture of Indigenous peoples. I think we’ll see that change soon though!

Today, we’re seeing more grants being offered exclusively to Indigenous entrepreneurs and strong business support communities. What I find the most interesting is that there are companies across North America that want to work with businesses that are minority-owned, Indigenous included!

These companies seek minority-owned businesses for a handful of reasons, including government incentives, and preferential selection as a second-tier supplier or vendor if they are listed as working with minority-owned businesses.

The startup ecosystem can always be better, but quite frankly there’s never been a better time for anybody to start following their entrepreneurial dreams, Indigenous peoples included.”


Are there any mentors from your early days as an entrepreneur that have made an impact on your personal or professional growth?

“There are three that come to mind. I’ll just refer to them by their first names. The first is James, he taught me how to persevere through tough times and adopt a ‘hustler’ mentality. His lessons have helped me identify when to adapt, when to go all in and fight, or cut my losses and move on. 

The second is Dave. He has changed the way I look at and execute sales. He helped me to understand that the qualitative part of sales is equally as important as your quantitative parts. Focus on the psychology of your sales as much as you do your performance KPIs. Sales is an art and a science, and his mentorship has been invaluable. 

The third would be Sheri. Her guidance and advice are not explicitly business-related, but she  helped me to grow personally, which is critical as a business leader.”


Connect with Nathaniel here.


To access mentors like Nathaniel, apply to our programs today by visiting

Women founders empowering women founders: How Nouhaila Chelkhaoui is uplifting women-led startups

On Wednesdays, we startup.

Women tech founders drive innovation and the tech ecosystem – when women-led businesses are thriving, the economy at large thrives.

It’s no ecosystem secret that women founders face disproportionate barriers when starting and growing a business in comparison to their male counterparts. Women are often denied business loans because of gender and cultural biases, and women of colour, in particular, face even greater barriers when it comes to accessing startup capital. 

Add in a global pandemic, and women entrepreneurs had one more ball to juggle. On average, women faced greater economic stress, and an increased burden for caregiving and housework. 

We have marvelled at the resilience demonstrated by women founders, and are truly honoured to support them along their entrepreneurial journeys.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward, and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs. 

To kick off the series, we sat down with Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager of the Women Founders Programs at the DMZ to learn about what inspired her to pursue a career in the innovation sector, and her vision for the ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’ series.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I came to Canada at the age of 17 from Morocco – all by myself. I went to the University of Toronto where I studied political science. After graduating, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue. So, I decided to leave Canada temporarily, travelled back to Morocco, and spent almost one year in Turkey where I taught English.

This was the most formative year I’ve had to date. It was the year I realized what I wanted to do – and I decided to come back to Canada to work in the startup ecosystem.

I landed a job at a tech startup helping newcomers access Canadian healthcare. A couple of years later, I started attending the DMZ’s women in tech events. After connecting with the DMZ community, I ended up working with the DMZ and today I manage the Women Founders Programs. 

A few years into my time here, I realized I also had a dream of being an entrepreneur myself, so I decided to found Scale Without Borders.

When I’m not working at the DMZ, I spend my time working on the Scale Without Borders platform that helps Canadian newcomers navigate the tech ecosystem. As a newcomer myself who didn’t have access to the necessary support systems and networks, I wanted to give back to those who faced similar challenges.

What motivated you to pursue a role that supports startup founders?

With a background in political science, I used to think that the only way to solve complex global challenges was at the political level. I then discovered that innovation and entrepreneurship was an alternative way to solving some of our world’s biggest challenges – perhaps a much more effective way!


Who are you inspired by? What strong or successful women leaders do you look up to, whether that’s professionally or personally?

At the risk of sounding unoriginal, I always look up to women like Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, and Emma Watson. But, I also remind myself that they too are imperfect and that’s been very helpful for me.

I wish more women owned up to their struggles so we could all know we’re not alone. I also look up to my older sister and my mother, who are both mentors of mine. My sister, Sara, left Morocco to study in France at around 16 on her own, which really paved the way for me. She pursued a field in STEM and went on to lead a career in an industry that is largely male-dominated. My mother raised and supported the two of us, which played an immense role in my career trajectory.

What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There isn’t anything you need that you can’t find within yourself. It’s often easier said than done, but it is doable – and it’s worth it when it’s done!

“There isn’t anything you need that you can’t find within yourself. It’s often easier said than done, but it is doable – and it’s worth it when it’s done!” –Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager, DMZ Women Founders Programs

Who are up and coming women founders that we should keep an eye out for?

Wow, way too many to list. But let me give it a shot.

And so many more. I could really go on here, but there isn’t enough blog space in the world to capture all the outstanding women founders out there.

What is your vision behind starting ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, and what do you hope to achieve with the series? 

I look at the series as a communal platform for women to share the incredible tech businesses they are working on. To me, it’s an opportunity to build authentic relationships in the tech ecosystem with fellow women founders. Plus, it’s a bonus if a business deal comes out of it. All in all, I feel privileged to be part of this group. 

The series will provide women founders a platform to be seen, heard, understood, and promoted. Through this series, women founders will discuss the problems their startups are addressing, their successes, and struggles. I also hope that aspiring founders take inspiration from these stories and find opportunities to connect and learn from some of the trailblazing women we cover in the series.

What are some crucial changes you want to see in the startup ecosystem for future and current women founders?

I’d like to see more resources dedicated to women founders, especially BIPOC, LGTBQ+, and newcomer women founders. 

What do I mean by resources? I mean funding, sponsorship, impactful mentorship, visibility and exposure. I’d also like to see less lip service and performative activities which are primarily motivated by PR benefits.

Another crucial change I think we need to make is to move away from the self-defeating narrative. We must acknowledge the barriers women founders face, and hold those accountable who are benefiting from the uneven distribution of resources. However, we must also do so in a way that is productive and paves the way forward for women founders.

“Another crucial change I think we need to make is to move away from the self-defeating narrative. We must acknowledge the barriers women founders face, and hold those accountable who are benefiting from the uneven distribution of resources. However, we must also do so in a way that is productive and paves the way forward for women founders.” –Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager, DMZ Women Founders Programs

What is currently the most challenging part of being a woman founder in the tech space?

Traditionally, women founders are underrepresented and have been excluded from the inner circles that contain key resources and connections. 

This breeds an incessant cycle where women-led startups are at a disadvantage and conversely, other founders benefit from the unfair advantage of being in the circle, creating a vicious cycle. And so, breaking into that circle becomes extremely important. It is a challenge, but one that we can and will overcome. 

Do you think it’s important for investors to seek out women-led startups? What do they bring to the table that’s unique? 

There’s a ton of data out there that demonstrates how diverse teams do better than their homogeneous counterparts.

When I say diverse I am referring to gender and beyond. An intersectional approach is very important, and this is a data-backed perspective.

Additionally, more than a return on investment, seeking out women-led startups also means involving the half of the population that is underrepresented and supporting challenges that are meaningful to them. 

“More than a return on investment, seeking out women-led startups also means involving the half of the population that is underrepresented and supporting challenges that are meaningful to them.” –Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager, DMZ Women Founders Programs

What three tips would you give women founders looking to grow and create connections within the startup ecosystem?

There are three foundational values I try sticking to as a woman founder. First, especially when starting out, always ask yourself ‘what is your why’? Would you enjoy doing this work year after year after year? Next, it’s so important to find a balance between healthy urgency and patience. Finding the balance is a process that takes practice.

My third tip for women founders? At the end of the day, put yourself first – before everything, including your business. 

Learn more about and connect with Nouhaila


Make sure to follow the DMZ on Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram to follow our ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’ women founder series.  To learn more about the Women Founders Programs, visit

More than just a buzzword: Taking a “people-centred” approach to business has huge benefits

Having a values-driven mission and people-centred business design can make all the difference for your bottom line – it’s how successful organizations attract great talent and develop iconic products and services.

Just a few short years ago, Sampler’s Founder and CEO, Marie Chevrier Schwartz, was a part of the DMZ where she received mentorship, business support and the connections her sprouting startup needed through what was formerly Ryerson Futures Inc. (now DMZ Ventures). Building on this foundation, Sampler went on to disrupt the traditional product sampling industry and is now recognized as the leading direct-to-consumer sampling platform.

Charlotte Crawford, a former DMZ team member who now works for Sampler, explains what both organizations share in common that make them exceptional places to develop and grow professionally. We sat down with Charlotte, Content Marketing Specialist at Sampler, and Kelly Stewart, VP of Marketing at Sampler, to learn more about Charlotte’s journey at the DMZ, how she launched her career at Sampler and how Sampler prioritizes a values-driven approach to tech and its team.

Could you tell us a little more about your journey to the DMZ?

Charlotte: “I completed my 4-month internship for my Masters in Professional Communication at Toronto Metropolitan University at the DMZ. 

When I started my Masters, I knew very little about the tech and startup space, but had a growing interest in the field. What really solidified my interest in tech was my media relations professor, Dr. Gregory Levey, who is a DMZ alum, previous CEO of Figure 1 and current CEO of Robinson Huntly, Ltd. It was through his class I was able to conceptualize the pivotal role communications professionals play in the technology and startup space. Once I expressed to him that I was interested in tech, he let me know the DMZ was the place to be.

I remember some of my peers asking me why I was putting in so much effort for an internship during the peak of our school work. I knew the right internship could really go a long way for my future – and I was absolutely correct. My time at the DMZ was not only the highlight of my Masters but also the reason I’m now working for one of Canada’s top growing startups (Canadian Business and Globe and Mail).” 

“I’ll never forget walking into the DMZ and seeing ‘equity over everything’ in neon lights above the door. The culture at the DMZ really made me feel valued, supported and challenged.” 

How was your time working at the DMZ?

Charlotte: “Above all else, the DMZ showed me what I deserve from a workplace. I’ll never forget walking into the DMZ and seeing ‘equity over everything’ in neon lights above the door. The culture at the DMZ really made me feel valued, supported and challenged. 

Throughout my time at the DMZ, I got to sit down with and interview founders and members of the DMZ community. It made me see, firsthand, that it was the people behind the tech that made places like the DMZ and Sampler special. 

I learned that stories of innovation are made relatable and exciting not just through a tech product, but rather the vision, missteps and story behind it. This realization gave me a heightened awareness of the importance in taking a people-centred approach to marketing, content and communications. 

I succinctly describe this approach now as, ‘don’t just tell users how great your product is – show them what it’s like to be on your team.’ This has become my north star for my career.”

How did your time at the DMZ launch you into working full time at Sampler? What attracted you to joining the Sampler team?  

Charlotte: “Before my first meeting with Abdullah Snobar, DMZ’s Executive Director, I was reading up on different DMZ startups. In my research, I found a DMZ podcast episode that featured Sampler’s CEO, Marie Chevrier Schwartz. It was apparent to me how strong Sampler’s value proposition was, but what really got me excited was what Marie had to say about her values in leadership, organizational culture and entrepreneurship. 

I specifically remember Marie discussing how she worked every day for no one else but her employees and investors. She was also asked how she felt about Amazon entering the sampling space and she answered with such confidence because of her belief in her team. 

After listening to the podcast, I told myself that if a job ever popped up at Sampler, I would apply. During my first meeting with Abdullah, he asked me what my favourite startup was. I said Sampler based on how Marie had inspired me during the podcast. I then saw a content marketing position open up at Sampler after I had graduated – it all really felt meant to be.”

An entire team fosters its work culture – what do you think is most important in this process?

Charlotte: “The pandemic has shown us the importance of fostering a values-driven work culture. The companies who have taken direct action to support their employees are the ones who will have great success in the next normal. 

To develop a great team culture, you must commit to living your values every day. It goes further than putting values on your website. It’s fostering a collective understanding of how specific values translate into action on a daily basis.

What really showed the DMZ was living their values was the team’s direct support of community members like myself in achieving their goals. 

I truly had a team of DMZ colleagues cheering me on and directly working with me at every stage of my job search, long after my DMZ internship ended. Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, DMZ’s Women Founders Programs Manager, referred me for my current role at Sampler. Nouhaila, along with Ahmed Saleh, Emily Collins, and Rob Macken all helped me make connections, prepare for interviews, review writing assessments, and find the right knowledge resources.  

“To develop a great team culture, you must commit to living your values every day. It goes further than putting values on your website. It’s fostering a collective understanding of how specific values translate into action on a daily basis.”

Could you tell us a little bit more about your role at Sampler? How did your time at the DMZ prepare you for it?

Charlotte: “This is an exciting time to join Sampler as they have seen so much growth this year as the pandemic expedited the shift to digital strategies for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands. In my role, I develop organizational storytelling and thought leadership content that positions Sampler as a leader in the product sampling space.

Before I started my Masters, I remember hearing someone in the field say that good communications professionals are the linchpin to organizational success. I understood this idea in theory, but I saw it come to life by watching Natasha Campagna and Ahmed Saleh at the DMZ. They drove organizational alignment, remained so in tune with the broader ecosystem, and were amazing team motivators. Their work highlighted what made the DMZ special.

My time at the DMZ, along with completing my Master’s thesis on Big Tech’s facial recognition technology communications, solidified in me a commitment to take a more innovative approach to communications – an approach that moves beyond standard practice to speak directly to the lived everyday realities of target audiences. These experiences will guide my work at Sampler and beyond.” 

One of Sampler’s proudest achievements is having built a people-centred and values-driven workplace. We know in tech this is not always the industry standard. How do some of Sampler’s values like “ownership, balance, growth and inclusion” translate into daily activities for you and your team?

Kelly: “Weaving our values into everything that we do is truly at the core of our business. To us, you can’t have one without the other. Sampler has a Values Committee that works incredibly hard to ensure we’re living these values both internally and externally, from speaking out on causes that are important to us, to identifying ways that the company can foster work/life balance. They hold the entire business accountable to stay true to who we are, and it’s been such an invaluable piece of who Sampler is.

When it comes to ownership, Sampler has always fostered an entrepreneurial culture around each and every team member’s role. Our staff are experts in their specialties, and we give them the support to grow. Investing in people benefits everyone.

Inclusion is an extremely important value to us and something we continuously work hard to achieve. Recently, Sampler has made the decision to take a step forward in better representing non-binary consumers in the CPG space. Sampler has worked non-binary options into our platform and is actively working with brands to include non-binary consumers into the targeting on all of their sampling programs. 

When it comes to balance, our People Operations team sends out monthly company-wide surveys to get a pulse check on how the team is feeling. It’s created a safe space for everyone in the company to share how they’re feeling. From those results, we’ve launched flex hours, introduced permanent 4.5 day work weeks, and encouraged mid-day breaks. When we get any feedback around stress or burnout we take it extremely seriously and act quickly, which has helped our team trust that their voices are always heard and supported.”

“When you’re able to find talented people who really believe in your mission, the impact on the business is magical.”

Has prioritizing a values-driven workplace translated to your business performance? If so, how? What should early-stage startups think about when building their teams?

Kelly: “Absolutely—without a doubt. When you’re able to find talented people who really believe in your mission, the impact on the business is magical. People can feel how deeply we care for them and their careers, and it shows in the work that they do.

For early-stage startups building their teams, it’s so important to create a safe space to let team members know their voice matters. It’s easy to be too close to the business to really see where you might not be showing up for your team. Step back and see what the day-to-day experience is like for every single person at your company. It can really help to keep your perspective grounded and avoid seeing your culture through rose-coloured glasses. Never ever be afraid of feedback, no matter what stage or level you’re at in your career.”

What is Sampler up to today? 

Sampler has announced their newest tool within their product sampling dashboard, consumer sentiment analysis, which allows brand partners to quickly identify key trends in consumer feedback, effectively segment their audience and plan personalized remarketing campaigns. Check it out here

Want to learn more about the DMZ support that helped pave the way to Sampler’s Success? Click here for more information on our Incubator program.

It’s time for tech companies and startups to turn awareness into action.

With another International Women’s Day celebration behind us, it is easy to let the focus on women in tech fizzle out. We can’t let that happen. 

Women in tech continue to be underrepresented and face discimintation. There is no shortage of material about how this hurts tech companies and startups

Most of us want to change this narrative, but the path to real change can feel unclear. 

Where do we begin? What does solidarity and allyship actually look like?

We spoke with four women changemakers in the DMZ community and heavily leaned into the tech ecosystem to find out.

1. Take a stance, neutrality is not enough.

  • Technology is one of the strongest social and political forces of our time. 
  • The expectations of tech users and producers have changed, the days of “we just make the tech” are long over. 
  • If tensions or allegations arise, listen to women and acknowledge the structural bias that works against them. 

“There is this feeling that because code is based in logic and math that tech is neutral. It never was. Code is a language produced by humans, and humans have bias. If we hope to fix our issues around diversity, we (tech industry) need to acknowledge that, outright.”

Dr. Chris McKillop, CEO of Turalt-the technology of empathy.

“To say you are neutral is like saying you do not see colour, it is just not possible. Women’s experiences are different than men’s, it is just a fact. Take a stance.”

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Program Lead, Accelerator & Women’s Founders at the DMZ.

“You need to have an opinion, even if I don’t like it, I would rather that. Right now, we need leaders who are willing to push the envelope.” 

Lisa Soodeen, COO of StonePaper, fuels visibility and control of your value and content chains. 

“I always tell my staff if you can do something, do something… Women don’t get to start at the same line as men. If you can do something to rectify that, you should do it.” 

Vanessa Shiu, Manager, Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. 

2. Closing the tech gender gap requires a shift in culture, not seperate programming.

  • Women of colour, trans women, women with different socio-economnic status  and so many more all have unique experiences and interests.
  • But, that does not mean your tech company or startup needs separate programming or initiatives for each identity. 

“Programs like BIF (DMZ’s Black Innovation Fellowship) are not about having separate programs. It’s about creating additional resources and space within the programs we have.” 

Vanessa Shiu, Manager, Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. 

“If you are saying ‘oh we need to do a D&I thing’ as if it’s a separate thing then you have a problem…When I introduce myself as a CEO men still have a reaction and no one says anything…

We need to develop a culture based on mutual respect and empathy.” 

Dr. Chris McKillop, CEO of Turalt-the technology of empathy.

“Ask women where they want to be and figure out how you can help get them there. It’s not about sympathy, but how you can help get them their next seed round. ”

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Program Lead, Accelerator & Women’s Founders at the DMZ.

“No two people are the same, mentorship is so important… I used to be the only woman in the room, and I’m black and didn’t have a tech background. The men around me had jargon and similar interests, you feel like an outsider… We just need to feel valued, we need resources.” 

Lisa Soodeen, COO of StonePaper, fuels visibility and control of your value and content chains. 

3. It’s not just about getting women in the door, but creating an inclusive space for them to thrive long-term. 

  • More than half of women in tech leave the industry for other fields. 
  • Hiring lots of women at once won’t close the tech gender gap; prioritizing and understanding their role in the industry’s growth will. 

“When you don’t have anyone around you that looks like you, you feel like an imposter, especially when you add being a racial minority. 

Imposter syndrome can happen unconsciously, things build up and then women leave… If women are not on your calendar invites you need to ask yourself why.” 

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Program Lead, Accelerator & Women’s Founders at the DMZ.

“I used to record meetings, go home and listen to them every night and try to make sense of it all…It’s important to speak in a way anyone can understand,

 if someone else does not understand you, you have failed, not them. ”

Lisa Soodeen, COO of StonePaper, fuels visibility and control of your value and content chains. 

“If you’re in any sort of leadership capacity, make sure to invite and encourage input on the work environment you’re creating. Is your space consistently looking at the potential of everyone on your team? From management to new employees and interns? Listen to what your teammates are saying. And when you do get negative feedback, accept it and take steps to make necessary changes. Make it clear that you’re working on inclusivity and offer your team some sort of way to provide feedback anonymously.”

Vanessa Shiu, Manager, Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. 

“We know women don’t get as much funding, but ask yourself why? There is a root issue here… We all have subtle biases, you have to look in the mirror first.” 

Dr. Chris McKillop, CEO of Turalt-the technology of empathy.

Startup and tech entrepreneurs are known to disrupt the norm and be a catalyst for societal change. First principles thinking shows us the value of questioning our daily practices, how making decisions based solely on standard practice can hold us back. Taking a stance and committing to action on women’s issues is an avenue for Canadian tech entrepreneurs to set themselves apart. Consumers reward industry leaders who take a stand

Women are the founders of modern technology programming. It is time to honour that by stepping outside of our comfort zones to stand in solidarity with women in tech.

Are you up for the challenge?

Three Lessons About Burnout and Mental Health in the Workplace

On October 8, 2019, as part of Mental Health Illness Awareness Week, the DMZ , Inkblot Therapy and the Ryerson Career & Co-Op Centre proudly partnered to organize a half-day event called Investing in Inclusion: Burnout and Work-Life Balance.

At the event, attendees heard honest and engaging firsthand accounts of burnout and workplace stress from keynote panelists:

  • Julie Sabine (Moderator), CMO, Inkblot Technologies
  • Cherry Rose Tan, Founder & CEO, For Founders by Founders
  • Hamza Khan, Managing Director, Student Life Network
  • Jason Tafler, CEO & Founder, Unyte
  • Sara Asalya, Graduate Student, OISE & Ryerson Employee

Why talk about burnout and workplace stress? Well, according to findings from Statistics Canada, 20% of Canadians will experience burnout at some point in their life. In addition, almost 40% of Canadians suffer from workplace stress, attributed most commonly to inflexible schedules, long hours, constant connectivity, tight deadlines and a lack of vacation time. By talking openly and bravely about their personal experiences, the panelists shone a light on these statistics and raised three important lessons:

1. Burnout can happen to anyone, at anytime

Although we often associate burnout with life in the high-pressure corporations, it’s prevalent across all industries and places of work – from the corporate world, to the public sector, to the startup ecosystem.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health defines burnout as, “a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress,” and says symptoms of burnout can include:

  • Feeling emotionally drained and unable to function at work or in other areas of life
  • Experiencing physical symptoms like back aches, headaches, loss of appetite or disrupted sleep
  • Becoming increasingly withdrawn and reclusive, and feeling disengaged
  • Calling in sick to work more often, lacking motivation and having difficulties getting things done
  • Experiencing a drop in confidence, feeling like a failure or having feelings of helplessness

Symptoms can affect individuals in different ways, and burnout often creeps up slowly – especially during busy times. 

Jason Tafler shared that, for years, he relentlessly chased after success, worked hard, and checked off all the boxes he thought he should. Yet, the results of his achievements weren’t good health and happiness. In fact, they were the quite opposite. One day, when he was sitting in a board meeting, he started to feel unwell. It was during a particularly stressful period at work where he was pushing himself to the limits. He looked down at his hands and saw, to his alarm, that they were turning yellow. He realized that something was seriously wrong and that he needed to get to a hospital immediately.

Jason recounted, “At that meeting, I wasn’t thinking about what I had achieved at work, or how much money I had in the bank. All I was thinking about was whether or not I’d make it to the hospital and, if I survived, how I needed to start focusing on what was really important to me.” Jason learned at the hospital later that night that he was suffering from internal bleeding, stating, “I worked myself to the point where I literally almost bled to death.”

Hamza Khan’s experience with burnout was different, yet many of the underlying factors were similar. Hamza always considered himself a high performer and believed that achieving success meant pushing himself hard. “I didn’t have a healthy relationship with work and I believed many unhealthy myths about success and productivity,” he shared. He said social media only worsened the problem, where ‘inspirational’ quotes on his feed about productivity, achievement and happiness added to the stress he already felt. 

As a result, Hamza started to burn out. He missed deadlines, his performance was lackluster and he started to suffer from long depressive episodes. He recounted experiencing an identity crisis at one point, where his expectations of himself weren’t matching his performance at work. It wasn’t until he realized that there was something very wrong that he started reaching out for help and making changes in his life.

Stories like these show that burnout can sneak up on any of us, at any time – even if we think we’re immune or following the right path.

2. It’s time for companies to talk openly about mental health

With one in five Canadians experiencing burnout at some point in their life and almost half of us suffering from workplace stress, it’s time to make changes in the workplace to support mental health and wellness. But how can we do this?

Cherry Rose Tan spoke about her experiences with workplace stress and said, “In the startup community, it’s time for founders to talk more openly about mental health and create safe spaces to share what they’re going through personally or at work. Instead of talking to me about your IPO, talk to me about how you’re feeling.” 

For Cherry Rose, a healthy work environment isn’t about creating room for a ping pong table, it’s about creating room for honest dialogue around the realities of mental health. After going through a series of traumatic events in her life, and wondering where she could turn to for support, she realized that she probably wasn’t alone. Having brave conversations is a way we can support each other and mental health in the workplace. 

Sara Asalya offered a similar viewpoint. After migrating to Canada, Sara landed a job that seemed good on paper. But she soon learned that the company cared more about sales quotas than about taking care of their employees. Despite mounting responsibilities at home and the stress of being in a new country, she pushed herself hard and kept going. “I felt so alone,” she said. “I wanted to be successful at work and a perfect mom at home, and there were high expectations. I was scared to bring up anything at work because I feared they’d question whether or not I could handle the job.”

When Sara reached her breaking point, she realized that she needed to unlearn what she had been taught about success, and instead take care of herself first. She also realized that her workplace had undermined her mental health due to its unhealthy power dynamics and micromanaging. “Most chronic workplace stress goes unnoticed. It’s time we talk about that,” said Sara.

3. New resources and communities are offering additional means of supporting mental health

There are many ways to support mental health – some conventional and some that are taking new approaches. Our panelists shared how they’re contributing to developing new and promising means of supporting mental health:

  • Inkblot is revolutionizing mental health care by offering confidential and convenient support – any time, any place. Inkblot’s Employee Mental Health Services create more positive and engaging workplaces and are utilized by forward-thinking organizations including the DMZ, League, 500px, tucows and TribalScale. Julie Sabine is the CMO at Inkblot.
  • For Founders by Founders is a mental health movement for the tech industry where founders and investors can pledge their mental health stories as survivors or allies. For Founders by Founders is based on the premise that change happens when we share our truth and have brave conversations. Cherry Rose is the Founder & CEO of For Founders by Founders.
  • Unyte offers a self-regulation device and immersive meditation experiences that leads users to reach new levels of calm and wellness. Using real-time biofeedback, Unyte provides an evidence-based guide that fosters a healthy coping lifestyle. Jason Tafler is the CEO & Founder of Unyte.
  • Fresponsibility is a word that means “a workplace culture that encourages self-managed co-workers to enjoy responsible freedom within a decentralized decision-making climate and minimum hierarchy.” Fresponsibility is built around five pillars: autonomy, radical transparency, open communication, people first, and intrinsic motivation. Sara Asalya is working to advance the concept of fresponsibility.

Burnout and workplace stress can be experienced by anyone, at any time, and dialogue is an important step to calling out the factors that contribute to unhealthy situations.

Out of office: How to make remote teams work for your business

When technology firm IBM revealed it was rolling back telecommuting perks many called it the beginning of the end for the work-from-home trend. The tech giant helped pioneer remote working in the 1980s and since then has gone on to be a leader in the space. Before the announcement, a whopping 40 per cent of its employees in 173 countries around the world worked outside the office.

Of course, out-of-office arrangements — which let employees work from home or shared co-working spaces — in Canada remain incredibly popular. Almost half of all Canadians work remotely, according to workspace provider RegusCanada.

For IBM, the office reversal was part of a bigger strategy to increase collaboration and boost productivity after 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue. Other companies that have invoked similar policies — think Reddit, Bank of America and more — espoused similar sentiments.

But while reining in remote workers may seem like the perfect fix for productivity issues, it’s only a temporary solution. Why? It’s simple: The same problems that plague employees outside of the office can easily carry on in a new environment. To truly make a difference executives need to better communicate their expectations, say experts.

Starting off on the right foot

Tech startups have long relied on remote workers to help them rise in the industry. In fact, most companies these days offer up flexible work schedules in order to attract the best talent, especially since a majority of full-time workers,  aged 18 to 29, now prefer it. And, since millennials make up most of today’s active workforce — outnumbering both Gen-X and Baby Boomers — business leaders are keen to keep it.

82 per cent of millennials say they would be more loyal to employers if they had flexible work options, according to @FlexJobs.

Michael Prynor, founder and CEO of popular task management software Trello has found an effective way to manage remote workers that startups can employ in their own business. It all starts with the interview process, he explains in a CBNC interview. He and his team screen applicants via video conference to make sure they can effectively communicate without being face-to-face. It’s also a test to find out more about their work environment and set them up for long-term success.

“If we decide to hire someone then we go through this process of asking, ‘Do you have an office with a door that closes? If you don’t and you live in a studio, then you have to go find a coworking space if you take this job,” he says.

Trello’s requirements for remote success:

  1. Good wifi: This one isn’t a surprise since an Internet connection is required for even the most basic office work these days.
  2. Access to work resources. Workers need to be able to “log into [their machine as a local administrator” and also have access to a standard VPN for privacy.
  3. Working headset. Bad, static-laden connections are a big no-no, so workers need to have a reliable headset.
  4. An office with a door. To cut down on distractions Trello asks employees to work in an office with a door.
  5. Prioritizing responsibilities. Just like at regular offices, employees can’t expect to take care of household chores, care for children or pets during working hours.
  6. Over communicate. This piece of advice could apply to any worker. Employees should make sure stick to scheduled hours and communicate if/when problems arise.
  7. Be reachable. Employees should be able to reach remote workers via phone and other work channels.

Beat Buhlmann, general manager for note-taking app Evernote, uses a similar approach for remote workers, he explained in a podcast interview with Lisette Sutherland. That’s not all either, he explains. His team also interview employees via video and outline expectations as well as responsibilities to ensure staff understand the job requirements beforehand.

“It is important to establish communication rules in a joint team-code-conduct manner that includes teams and their wishes directly in the creation,” he says in a publicly shared guide that includes advice from some of tech’s biggest players. “When do we use chats? Why do we write emails? At what point do we pick up the phone? These answers should be a joint effort and one that is reflective of the team’s efforts versus that of one person.”

Laying the financial groundwork

Creating a so-called paper trail is critical for remote workers as well, especially since most companies don’t have one in place. Two out of five companies with remote work policies don’t have formal paperwork that outlines expectations, according to a report by Workopolis.

Related: Why community plays a pivotal role in startup success

Enter: Workable. The remote-focused company created a series of templates that both small and large businesses can use to help their company operate as effectively as possible. Another template can be found online at  Workplace Analytics that specifies everything — from pay to hours of operation– startups can utilize for their own workplace policies.

Meanwhile, for Patty Azzarello, the best thing a startup can do to help streamline remote policies already in place is designate specific work-at-home days of the week to optimize office togetherness. The entrepreneur and business advisors to companies, like Adobe and Hewlett Packard, has spent years crafting work-from-home policies that, well, actually work and shared her advice in Fast Company.

“Require pre-approval for specific work-at-home days versus people having the expectation that they can just send an email on any given day saying ‘I’m working at home today,’” she shares.

At the end of the day there are great reasons for companies to embrace remote workers, but in order for it to be effective companies need to make sure they have policies in place that will allow them to be successful and help their employees thrive.

Why community plays a pivotal role in startup success

Wattpad co-founder Allen Lau has created a million-dollar empire out of building engaging (and hardworking) communities. As a result, it means he understands just how pivotal they can be for a startup’s success.

These days his company is more than just a free story-sharing app based in Toronto. In fact, it’s now one of Canada’s most successful tech companies and raised USD $117.8 million from prominent backers like China’s billion-dollar Tencent Holdings, OMERS Ventures and BDC.

Part of the company’s rapid success lies in its ability to create a thriving workplace culture. An important feat in today’s ever-changing tech world where tech talent is in high demand.

In fact, Wattpad’s dedication to culture is a smart business move considering happy and “engaged” employees make better workers. A study from Warwick University found happy employees worked harder and were 12 per cent more productive, while a 2017 Gallup report discovered stressful work environments produced higher employee turnover and absenteeism.

“Culture is the most important part of a company,” explains Lau. “It’s the glue that holds a company together. Creating a supportive environment that allows everyone to thrive and do world-class work.”

How Allen Lau and his team create a thriving community:

  • Spend time with your employees: Wattpad management regularly meet with employees for one-on-one for feedback.
  • Create collaboration: A no-door policy and open space layout help employees work and collaborate more.
  • Keep communication open 24/7: Employees feel empowered to share ideas, thoughts and opinions, no matter their position, through shared internal platforms.

There are all kinds of communities

Of course, building a successful company goes beyond just investing in an amazing workplace culture. Community outreach plays an essential, yet sometimes overlooked part, explains Erin Bury, managing director for communications agency Eighty-Eight. Community outreach, she says, has the power to turn people into brand advocates and boost brand recognition.

“Building community outreach does not require a budget just time and authenticity,” the communication expert says. “Startups just need to identify what those communities are [that they want to help] and how they can help.” That can be something as simple as entrepreneurs volunteering their product or skills.

For example, Bury’s firm works pro bono for a Toronto-based charity called the Upside Foundation. Through its community work, the company works closely with some of Canada’s best tech startups all while making a difference.  

Maya Shoucair, Shopify’s community development manager for Toronto, understands how beneficial working with the community can be as well. The Torontonian has built a career out of helping companies grow and strengthen their local community. She is an integral part of Shopify team that helps solidify the company’s reputation as an important part of the tech ecosystem.

Her advice for companies hoping to mimic Shopify’s success? When engaging with communities outside of your office make sure employees share the same goals.

“Making sure everyone understands what problems you’re trying to solve. And also how you intend to bring your mission to life is crucial. Sometimes, this means over-communicating, so that everyone is on the same page.”

Shopify Community Manager Maya Shoucair shares three things startups should know:

  • Give, don’t just take: Never take more than you give when working in the community. It should always be a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Be inclusive: Don’t create inaccessible spaces that don’t feel welcoming or open to different voices.
  • Share the wealth: Help employees take the lead on initiatives.

Don’t expect results overnight

Healthy Pets‘ founder Emma Harris has seen firsthand how community outreach can uplift emerging businesses. Despite only launching in 2017 her company has grown exponentially since joining Toronto’s tech community.

One recent success includes last week’s appearance on Dragons’ Den. The TV role garnered a $500K deal from Arlene Dickinson, but what the episode didn’t capture was how volunteering and attending community events was a crucial part of the company’s journey.

“Always raise the amount of money [you need] to support your growth, but you have to get out there and go to events or volunteer to truly impact your business,” she says. “I believe prioritizing community events is worth the cost.”

Dragons’ Den alum Emma Harris’ advice for community outreach:

  • Only attend or volunteer at one event per night: Instead of attending a few events every night for an hour or two, make an impact by choosing one and creating deeper relationships with people around you, so you stand out.
  • Rotate the type of events you attend: Attend a variety of meetups — an investment event one night, a sales-focused meetup the next to get as much as possible out of the city’s offerings.
  • Go in small groups or even alone: Attending or volunteering at an event by yourself forces you to meet as many people as you can and makes it less intimidating when you approach new people.

While community work helped Emma find new opportunities and grow in less than a year, not every founder can count on the same experience.

Shoucair suggests founders or companies dipping their toe into community outreach start small like Harris did. Attend events or volunteer at a manageable capacity to create real impact and change.

“Anyone looking to strengthen their community, whether they are in a community development position or not, is to never focus on growing as fast as possible at the start,” she says. “Your community will grow and strengthen organically if you’re able to provide the right value and direction.”

Startup problems: Why founders keep getting fired

Every founder dreams of making it big.

Stories about struggling entrepreneurs who turned their startup into million-dollar businesses have captivated the industry for years. But what founders rarely talk about is what happens when they’re asked to leave the very company they helped create.

“The interesting paradox is that when founder-CEOs do really well that also increases the chances that they’re going to be replaced.”

It may sound counterintuitive, but starting a company doesn’t guarantee a job for life. Founders are forced out all the time. Entrepreneurs behind some of today’s most-talked-about tech enterprises — like Steve Jobs (Apple), Jerry Yang (Yahoo) and Andrew Mason (Groupon) — all found themselves pushed out at one point in their career.

Getting the red slip

Interestingly a founder’s early success can play a crucial part in their firing. As startups grow, they often bring on more investors. These investors end up on the board of directors and can make management decisions about hiring and firing.

In fact, a study by Noam Wasserman, a professor at the University of Southern California, found founders rarely last. On average, four out of five entrepreneurs are forced to step down or removed from management. By the time startups reach the three-year mark 50 per cent of founders are no longer CEO. By the IPO fewer than 25 per cent still lead their company.

“The percentage of founder-CEOs who ‘go the distance’ is extremely low,” Wasserman explains.

“People like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison, who are able to lead their companies for quite a while, get all the attention because they are rare.”

Plan for the future

There aren’t any steadfast rules for founders who want to stick around, but here are three things that can help.

Ryan Howard, ex-CEO of Practice Fusion, was fired twice from his own company. He suggests entrepreneurs plan ahead in case one day they’re forced out too.

It helps, he says, to tackle the uncomfortable ‘what ifs’ by hiring a lawyer who can help, he explains in Fast Company. “That attorney can help draw up an employment agreement for the founders. [It] might include things like accelerated vesting and a severance package.”

Don’t give up too much control

Another way to prevent being pushed out is to properly vet board members. Ensure new members offer value, share the same vision and future plans for the company. By doing this, founders can spend less time worrying about being ousted and concentrate on work.

“Founders get fired when they’ve turned over majority control of their company to others in exchange for working capital, and the investors lose faith in the founders’ ability to create value” shared Ian McCullough, engineering manager for Uber.

Grow with the company

Changing with a company is crucial. Like everything in life, it can take time for entrepreneurs to get accustomed to a new environment. Founders that can grow with their team and adapt have a better chance of lasting.

“If you are a founder that constantly questions yourself as well as your business then the founder concerned is better positioned to carry on making the right decisions for the business,” explains U.S. VC Guy Lewis.

Why VCs keep falling in love with dating apps

Finding love online isn’t new.

Dating sites, à la eHarmony, OKCupid and, have used top-secret algorithms to match singles for almost two decades. However, a unique breed of smartphone apps — think Tinder and Grindr — focused on instant matching have revolutionized the dating market.

Since then a slew of new startups hoping to mimic their meteoric success have managed to not only attract investors from across the globe but spawn a hodgepodge of imitators all looking to hit it big.

In recent years niche apps (everything from @coffeeMbagel to @Bumble and even Sizzle (a free platform for bacon lovers) have diversified the market.

Looking for a lover who must love dogs? There’s an app for it. Seeking out singles who have thick, luscious beards? There’s an app for it. Want a partner who’s a dedicated foodie? Yep, you guessed it. There’s an app for it.

But, in an oversaturated market that’s facing steep competition from new upstarts, can dating apps continue to thrive? For entrepreneurs who can outlast the competition the rewards are huge but so are the risks.

A match made in heaven

It should come as no surprise that both entrepreneurs and VCs are diving head first into online dating. Love is now a multi-billion dollar business. In fact, a report by Fast Company, found the online dating market worth more than $4 billion. China represents approximately $1.6 billion of that total, likely buoyed by its growing economy and a gender imbalance that sees men outnumber women almost two to one.

It also doesn’t hurt that in North America more men and women are signing up for online dating sites. A study by Pew Research Center found the number of people aged 18 to 24 dating online tripled between 2003 and 2016.

When done right, dating apps have also managed to rack up a large number of users and money. Last summer offered to acquire Bumble for $450 million (valuing the company at $1 billion). Tinder is 50 million-members strong and valued at $3 billion while Coffee Meets Bagel has raised a total of $16.7 million and famously turned down a $30 million takeover offer on Shark Tank.

“The singles market is growing, which means category size is growing. In 2011 there were about 300 million single adults online worldwide,” explains Coffee Meets Bagel co-founder Dawoon Kang about the ever-increasing market. That number will be close to about 700 million by 2019. Growing category size means growing revenue for dating apps that serve singles,”

How to make it work

So, what separates successful dating apps from the rest? How can entrepreneurs create a lasting relationship with consumers? It all boils down to finding an underserved market and creating unique services that provide meaningful experiences.

Happn, a GPS-focused app that’s raised $22 million, found its niche by matching people who have physically crossed paths. Through location tracking, it connects singles who happen to share the same commute, visit the same coffee shop or even pass each other on the street.

We’re a generation used to technology that does everything. Apps that connect people together in a way that’s easy, genuine and touch on with real life work and that’s why Happn works, explain Emma Mrejen, a dating expert at @Happn_app

Some of the biggest and most successful companies in recent years were apps focused on Asia’s growing, yet underserved, market that up until a few years ago had few competitors. Last year Beijing-based Tantan raised $70 million while Singapore’s Paktor brought in $32.5 million in 2016 and gay dating app Blued secured $100 million earlier this year.

In North America, more companies are diversifying beyond romance-based offerings to create new value for their users. For Bumble, that means asking users to swipe right on potential business contacts, new friends, and even prospective mentors. Tinder and Plenty of Fish also offer up friendship as one of its core services.

While it may seem like an odd prospect to look for friends on dating apps it makes sense to customers accustomed to swiping right on everything from food to love.  Of course, the future for digital dating is uncertain, but startups that hope to survive should look to new trends before it’s too late stand if they hope to create a lasting relationship.

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