Lori Farley Hosts Afton Brazzoni
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[00:00:00] Lori Farley: All right, welcome everybody. Thank you Al, my name is Lori Farley, and I'm joined today by Afton Brazzoni, a founder of Scribe National. Now Afton partners with B2B tech marketers to create high quality content that drives demand and growth.
She has had the pleasure of working with nearly 50 clients worldwide in her two and a half years as founder of Scribe National, the majority of whom are repeat customers, including unicorns like Wealthsimple and others who are among Canada's fastest growing companies, such as TouchBistro Afton brings 12 years of experience to her mission to deliver her clients impeccable content that drives their companies forward, their search rankings higher, and qualified leads to their virtual doorsteps.
As a former reporter, her journalistic approach means her client's content is original expert level and on brand when she's not working Afton spending time with her husband, hiking with her dogs, where they live in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies or honing her oil painting skills. Welcome Afton. How are you?
[00:00:57] Afton Brazzoni: Thank you so much for having me Lori, I'm doing well. Thanks. How are you?
[00:01:02] Lori Farley: I'm really good. It's a nice chilly weather here in Calgary here in January of 2021, a brand new year. Have you made any new year's resolutions this year?
[00:01:11] Afton Brazzoni: I haven't really made any resolutions, but one thing I was actually speaking about with a friend recently is just the idea of.
Taking things a little less seriously having a bit more fun. you know, during this very cold weather, it is a little difficult to stick to that and to find the fun in it. But certainly I think that's the attitude I want to go into the year with.
[00:01:31] Lori Farley: Amazing. I love that. So, we haven't met. This is our second time meeting in terms of preparation for during this interview, but maybe you can tell me and everybody else, that's listening a little bit about yourself. Like where did you come from? How did you get to where you are today?
Yeah, I'd be happy to chat about that. So in terms of, I'll talk about it both, you know, from a career path perspective, as well as actually from a geography perspective, I'm originally from Canada east coast.
So I'm from Halifax. I've been in Alberta for about 10 years. And I think you might've mentioned this in the introduction, but my background is in journalism. And so. You know, ever since I was a child, I've really always been captivated by storytelling. And, and I knew I wanted to do that, and I knew I wanted to do that through the written word.
And so that has really remained consistent throughout my life and throughout my career. But, you know, as, as it is with most of us, I'd say it's taken some twists and turns along the way. And so I ended up. Um, coming out to Alberta in back in 2013, I had lived here previously during the summers, but I had come out and I started working with Banff Center.
And so for those who don't know, that's an arts institution in the Canadian Rockies. It's a wonderful place. Lots of amazing things. They've got a lot going on there really from arts, like written. Science things like, mathematics, tons of different stuff going on there and leadership, lots of good stuff, but I was working there on the marketing team and that was one of several places, you know, over the past.
Well, it was between that time. And, 2019 was, was right before I started my business, but I had always kind of been an employee, working within organizations, never planned on being an entrepreneur. You know, it wasn't something that I knew I wanted to do, but over time I felt like I really wanted to spend more time writing.
And so I had always kind of been freelancing throughout my career in marketing and communications. And as that kind of evolved more and more in the fall of 2019, I decided to start Scribe National. And I decided to really, you know, create a company that would enable other companies to tell their stories through the written word, because that's what I was passionate about.
So at that time I was doing that. Part-time, you know, I was working at Banff Center and then of course, as we all know, the world really just turned upside down in March of 2020. And so at that time I was one of about 75% of the organization that was laid off and I thought, okay, well, this is the moment.
It's like Scribe had been getting pretty busy. it had been getting to the point where I was going to have to make that decision anyway. And so, yeah, so here I am now. And, and I mean, we've been doing this full-time ever since, so I think that's kind of just, I guess, a 101 on my journey into entrepreneurship and how it wasn't exactly intentional, but you know, it turned out great at the end.
I love that story because that's actually, now that I was hearing you tell that story that's happened to me in 2009, when the market crashed for the energy sector. In 2008, I was in recruiting in the energy sector. And, I was just loathing, I wanted to quit, but I had, they had sent me to some course that I want to go.
And I had promised to stay for three years in payment of that. And I was like, oh, why did I promise that. And then one day they came into my office and said, yeah, we have to let you go. And I got a year severance and I thought, oh, well, like what should I do? And I started one of my first businesses. I would not have had the courage to do that if I didn't have that year safety net and the push out the door, just wouldn't happen ,I don't think.
[00:04:58] Afton Brazzoni: Absolutely. Yeah. I totally agree. I don't think, you know, I was, I was kind of teetering on the edge of the decision, but I think sometimes it's like in those moments where. The decision was almost made for us. And then, you know, we're kind of propelled onto the next path. certainly a lot of entrepreneurial journeys have started that way.
[00:05:16] Lori Farley: I love that. So being a woman, who's a founder, how have you sort of seen some trends that are happening or if it has some things that have happened to you or so some advice that you've been given or some advice that you could give, is there something that you could talk about is as you know, As women entrepreneurs, we don't like to talk about ourselves as women entrepreneurs.
We want to be entrepreneurs, but there is a category of women who are struggling to get their foot into the door or to be able to participate in this portion of the economy. What are your thoughts on that?
[00:05:42] Afton Brazzoni: Yeah, I absolutely. So I actually really feel passionate about this topic and, you know, one thing I will say not to get like too theoretical, but my perspective on feminism really is that.
We can be like, I completely get the whole idea behind saying that yes, we're entrepreneurs. We're not, we don't have to qualify it by saying we're women. But I also think that if we want to do that, I think that that's completely valid. So I think for anybody who's listening, like wherever you sit on that side of the argument, I support that and I actually completely see both sides of that.
And so I think some of the things that do come along with. really recognizing that yes, we are. We are women. Entrepreneurs is like recognizing the fact that, you know, the barriers that have been faced with funding and especially like female tech founders. And venture capital and investment, and the numbers show that that's something that women really don't receive on anywhere near the same level that, that men do receive it.
I just think kind of like having an awareness around those things and then trying to further conversations and sort of find like-minded allies, I guess you could say. So like for example, one organization that I'm involved with, well, there, there, there are a couple so I'll name a few things like here in Alberta, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs is absolutely fantastic and I've been involved with their community for over a year now.
[00:07:03] Afton Brazzoni: And so, you know, they are really focused on education and really focused on just access, like helping business owners kind of understand the digital economy and really getting their businesses up and up to speed with those things that a lot of us don't have access to funding to really train ourselves in or, or to grow in that way.
you know, I'm also involved with the Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce. They do a lot of great advocacy work at the federal level. And then I'd say as well that in BC, there's the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs. And so I think it's, it's just sort of stepping out there and, and I think as an entrepreneur, regardless of gender, it can be quite isolating.
[00:07:43] Afton Brazzoni: And so I think for anybody like getting out there and really trying to take advantage of the resources that are available to you while also. You know, continuing to push for more because it's absolutely needed. I, I, so I think it's kind of a balance of both of those things. but. Yeah, I, I love the whole, the whole topic of, you know, women's entrepreneurship and, certainly like tons of great people in the community doing amazing things to further that.
[00:08:09] Lori Farley: Ya, and I think we just had to be cognizant of the fact of, of, the power of words. And if feminism was a, is a word that's been sort of taken away. And, bastardized in some ways by, you know, haters as an example. And I think we just need to remember as a community, especially the tech community, that feminism really just means diversity and inclusion and equality.
So, that's where I come from, that's my kind of feminism. I'm not kind of a radical feminist.
[00:08:33] Afton Brazzoni: I completely, and we agree with you. Yeah, it's really just about, like you said, it's, it's just an equal playing field really. It's, it's certainly not about, you know, I think men are absolutely allies and, and we work with tons of clients ,of all genders. And I think that, you know, the more we can just kind of get together and try to put our heads together on some of these issues as opposed to coming at them separately is great.
[00:08:53] Lori Farley: Agreed, agreed, thank you. So I'm wondering a little bit about like, sort of what you do in your business. How does it work? What's setting you apart and how is it that you're reaching these unicorns and, you know, 500 level companies?
[00:09:05] Afton Brazzoni: Yeah, absolutely. I think, really just like our core value as a business is excellence. And so of course, you know, with that, like no one is perfect and we're not going to be perfect every moment of the day, but I think we really do strive both in the service that we provide the actual quality of the writing and the storytelling as well as in our client delivery.
And so. I think that's been one of the things really that has helped with the success, but I'll kind of talk a little bit more practically about what we do. So we are a content writing studio for B2B companies and primarily B2B technology companies. And so. We kind of, we can come in at two different stages really, so sometimes we work with companies that are a little bit earlier on in their journey. And so at that stage, they're often trying to figure out things like their brand messaging. They're trying to figure out, you know, how to set themselves apart in the marketplace and how to speak, who to speak to, how to speak to them and how to really have those messages resonate and translate into business for them.
And so at that point, you know, we're often working with people and things like their messaging or their content strategies. The other way that we work with clients and this would be for, you know, the more established companies is when really they've got a strategy in place. They have a robust marketing function within their organization, but they simply don't have enough hours in the day to tell their story and to get it all done.
And so in that case, we'll come in and we'll work with, it's usually their content marketing manager or a marketing director or something like that, and really help them execute on their strategy. And tell the stories that they need to tell through content marketing. And so that's kind of the, the practical, how, of what we do.
But I think , and this goes for any entrepreneur, really, like always striving to improve the business and listening to our client's needs, and listening to our markets needs and actually like getting out there and talking to them about the things that they're struggling with.
I think those have been some of the things that have enabled our company to be successful and to grow over the past few years.
[00:11:05] Lori Farley: So, what does a, so what does a content strategy look like from your perspective in terms of the types of clients that you're working with or connecting with are interested in working with?
[00:11:15] Afton Brazzoni: Yeah, that's a great question. I would say, like, I'll kind of speak about it. I know in the Rainforest community, there are a lot of tech, founders and tech companies involved in the community. So I'll speak about it from that perspective. And I think. You know, we always want to be conscious of the fact that like in business, there are just never enough hours in the day.
And especially with a smaller company, you know, if you're a startup being strategic, the advantage that that can really give you. Is giving you a roadmap and, and kind of helping you reclaim some of your time back. Because a lot of the time when people are looking at marketing initiatives, we want to try a whole bunch of different things.
it can become very time-consuming and sometimes unproductive if it's not done in a strategic way. And so that's why we want to come in and, and create a content strategy. That's going to look at. Okay. What are your goals for the content? So, you know, if you have a SAS product, for example, and you want to drive a certain amount of users for that product, get a certain amount of recurring revenue.
[00:12:15] Afton Brazzoni: What do you need to be doing? Like, how do you need to be out there in the marketplace? What marketing, excuse me, marketing channels. Do you need to be on, what messages do you need to be sharing and who do you need to be sharing them with? And the content strategy. We'll look at that from the perspective of tactics that are often used in B2B tech, which would be things like: customer stories that showcase the results of your products and services. it could be things like white papers that really, put your thought leadership out there and, and help people get to know your brand that way by sharing those perspectives or something like, building up your organic search traffic by having, a blogging strategy in place.
So those are some of the main tactics that we would put into a content strategy. And again, and of course it's always going to depend on the company. Like those are, those are three examples, but it's, it's going to become more nuanced than that. But the idea really is to give you that roadmap from which you can execute your marketing so that you don't have to be doing things from scratch.
And so that you don't have to be, you know, banging your head against the wall and asking. Well, why isn't this working or, you know, just, just throwing all the darts at the dartboard, so to speak.
[00:13:21] Lori Farley: Yeah. Or even know if it's working, I work a lot with startups in the earliest stages and get them up to the stages where they are going into other accelerators and incubators for the most part.
And I'm wondering these are strategies that are needed in businesses, right from the very beginning, in some senses, in many senses. And so what are some of the ways that entrepreneurs can be getting prepared or ready so that they're doing things in a way that once they're in a, the place where they can hire you, what would that look like, if anything?
[00:13:49] Afton Brazzoni: Yeah, I think really at the startup stage, like one of the biggest things is just really the positioning of the brand itself and like getting clear what we always love to see when we start working with someone is a company that has already thought about particularly what its values are. Like. I think when someone can come in knowing their mission, their vision and their values. That's really all we need them to have for us to kind of go ahead and start developing a brand personality for them and a brand voice and a brand story. Like they don't need to come with those things. But I think as a founder, if you can. Just be really clear on your mission, your vision and your values.
I think that's going to set you up so well for the, decision-making not only in marketing, but you know, other decisions that you're going to make in your company as well in the future. So I'd say like those three things would be an excellent foundation and it's not to say that they can't change or that they need to always be the same forever, but like making values-based decisions is, is just such a powerful thing.
[00:14:56] Lori Farley: I agree, coming from the social impact perspective as my audience listeners know, that's the space, that's the most important and those that, those core values, those core pillars that lead you to stay true to your passion and not be led astray by advice or funders that are actually counter to what you're actually trying to do and paying attention to those and checking in on those and making sure they haven't changed over time because our values do change over time and making, making sure that we do that generative work.
That's the work we do early on helping businesses to set those foundations to so that they can move into,finding their true customers, not all customers, you know, you know, we, when people do their pitches and they talk about the 70 million people that are going to buy their product, well, we help people find out that people that are going to actually buy their products due to value alignment and those types of things. I'm assuming that that's what you're doing as well?
[00:15:46] Afton Brazzoni: Yes. I think like when you said that, what came to mind for me is in our line of work, it's like asking them about their target audience. And then when someone says. Well, our target audience is everyone. And you have to like, and of course we want things to appeal to everyone, but I think actually then we kind of, as an entrepreneur, like you go through this phase where you realize.
It's actually the more specific it can be, the more successful it will probably be. So it's yeah, I totally understand where you're coming from with that.
[00:16:15] Lori Farley: So do you have any clients that, get in the way of the, of themselves and you when you're trying to do the work, they are, they don't maybe understand the process or they have their own ideas and like, what is it that entrepreneurs might be shooting themselves in the foot in this space?
[00:16:29] Afton Brazzoni: That is a juicy one and yes, it does happen. So while I will also take care to be discreet, like yes, that can certainly happen. I mean, we're, we're actually quite lucky at Scribe. Like we've had amazing clients. I have definitely worked in environments in the past as a marketer within companies where.
my internal clients, like the other departments in the company, it, it was a very kind of difficult relationship to try to make marketing goals happen. And so I think that, like, what I would say to business owners is that it is tough. And I am saying this from experience because like, when it's your business, you're so close to it.
it can be difficult, but I think the outside perspectives can be really valuable if you can kind of just have a little bit of that give and take. And if you are making an investment in an expert, whether it's a marketing person or like an external finance person or whatever it is, you know, if you're making that investment, I do think it's not like you have to follow every single piece of advice they give you.
[00:17:33] Afton Brazzoni: But I think if you're going to make the investment. maybe being okay with being a little bit uncomfortable and, and, and trusting, right. You have to, and that's where, like, it is important to find a partner that you trust so that when they do give you a piece of advice that you're unsure about, if you trust in their abilities, and if you trust in their, level of commitment to your success, then at least, even if you're unsure, you can know that there's a good reason for sort of taking a stab at it or at least giving it a try because yeah, if you don't do that, you do get in your own way. Right. And then you don't really get anything out of the experience.
[00:18:07] Lori Farley: Yeah, I'm, I'm struggling through that a little bit myself, so that's going to be a good, that's good advice for me struggling having one of our I'm involved in a number of startups and projects, and we have one founder that's particularly has some blinders on, so it's hard to market when there's, when the perspective is kind of old-fashioned.
[00:18:25] Afton Brazzoni: Yes, ya. And I think, like that definitely comes up in all industries. but yeah, it's a tough one, but I think like good things can come out of trying to push outside of that comfort zone.
[00:18:36] Lori Farley: What are some of the things that you have like that you're really excited and proud of that you've done in your career or even in your business right now?
[00:18:42] Afton Brazzoni: Yes. I think this is a great time of year to actually reflect on those things. So I think, you know, something I'm, I'm really proud of is our. Our ability to have exceeded our revenue goal by quite a bit last year, and still at the same time, maintaining a reasonable work schedule for myself, because I think it's like it's putting those, those numbers and things like that in context, because the first year in my business.
We also did quite well, but I worked quite a bit more. And obviously when someone is starting a business, that that's going to be part of it and that's part of the deal. But I think being able to achieve financial goals in the business while also having like that personal side where, you know, you, you, you do feel like, yes, I actually got to experience the summer.
Whereas the first summer in my business, I was in my office the whole time. so that's something I'm really proud of. And then the other thing I'd say is. You know, as you mentioned in the intro, like most of our customers are repeat customers and I think, well, in any industry, but I think in this is relevant for tech as well, there's a lot of focus that can be placed on customer acquisition. And obviously it's important, you know, we always need to be gaining new customers and growing and things like that, but I've, I've just been so happy to look back and see that a lot of our customers are. Buying from us multiple times.
And, you know, we're delivering on the promise that we said we were going to deliver on and they're happy with that service. And that has become a long-term relationship. And the same would go for the writers who are involved with my team. Like they've been involved since the beginning. And so. I think, you know, those are, those are some things that I'm really incredibly pleased with.
[00:20:19] Lori Farley: So, one of the, the sort of the tenants of the Rainforest in Calgary and Alberta in general is sort of this sort of pay it forward mentality. Are there things that you have that you can offer into the ecosystem in terms of advice or support or some other things do you have some things that you have at the ready?
[00:20:36] Afton Brazzoni: Yes, I definitely do so on our website, we do have some free, learning and training resources. And then what I'd also love to do is just really extend a special offer to listeners. So typically I would offer anyone a free 30 minute consultation, but within the Rainforest community, I really do want to be mindful of putting something forward.
That's a little more substantial than that. So if there's anyone who's listed. Like let's have a longer conversation, you know, we can do kind of like a 60 to 90 minute marketing, deep dive. I am really happy to offer that, you know, completely complimentary and to the community. And just talk to you about what stage your tech company's at, you know, whether you're literally, whether it's at the ideation stage or whether you've already got a ton of customers like let's chat.
I think that. I think actually one of the things during this pandemic, not that we need to be reminded that we're in a pandemic, but I'm like, I'm hesitant to even bring it up. But, but one of the things that has actually been really nice is just the ability to have, to have built so many more connections with people online?
[00:21:42] Afton Brazzoni: And like in, in this community, for example, and many others, like all over the world, really. So please do like, take me up on it. I, I mean that, please get in touch and we'll have a conversation about it because I think having someone, even though I'm in marketing, it's like, when I want to think about the marketing for Scribe.
I, I want to bounce ideas off of somebody else. And so I think for anyone, whether how, however adept you are at marketing, like to have someone else to speak about it with is always helpful.
[00:22:08] Lori Farley: Right, and you're on the Rainforest Slack channel. So easy to, for people to contact you.
[00:22:13] Afton Brazzoni: Yup, I am on there, yup, that's right. Yeah. And then scribenational.ca is our website.
So if someone does want to go on there, there are, there is a learning section where you can grab a free guide, a free content checklist calendar. And then I've also got a free training on brand messaging on there too. And then like, our contact page, you can get in touch with me there. Or like you said, through the Slack, on the Rainforest channel.
[00:22:35] Lori Farley: What are some of the things that you might have as an ask to the ecosystem. Are you needing things from other people in the community?
[00:22:41] Afton Brazzoni: I think my ask would really just be like, I've been interested in connecting with more tech companies in Calgary, and I think it's just such an exciting moment for the industry in Calgary. And so I'd say like, if there is anyone, you know, that is interested in content marketing and having their company's story told, you know, in looking at their marketing in new ways, maybe kind of just talking to someone about it, like we're here.
I would say really just getting the word out. It would be my ask, you know, I've, I've really built Scribe National on, largely on word of mouth, like largely on previous clients and referrals. And I think it's still a super powerful strategy, even though we have all the digital tools at our disposal and I'm, you know, we do use them and I'm not opposed, but I just think word of mouth.
Like it has worked well for my business. So that's what I would ask is just, if anybody knows anyone that that might be a good fit for us to have a conversation.
[00:23:36] Lori Farley: Agreed word of mouth, I actually never learned how to market properly. So when I started my latest couple of companies, I didn't know how to market because all of my business from 2005 til now was based on word of mouth.
If I said, oh, I'm, I'm stopping doing something. I'm having some free time. And as if you know any customers, I would, I would be overwhelmed with customers. So learning how to market for me. Done very backwards. I don't have a concept, but I never went through the grind of doing it all this time.
[00:24:03] Afton Brazzoni: Yeah. Well it's so, glossed over sometimes because we do have all of these, you know, really high tech, fancy strategies that we can use and that.
There is certainly a place for it. Absolutely. But I think especially this year, like I've been hearing so much about this being the year of organic marketing and this being the year of relationship building. And I think, especially with some of the changes that have happened with Facebook advertising and really.
People also just wanting actual human connection. Like, I wouldn't be surprised at all if, if we all saw a really big resurgence in those grassroots types of marketing for 2022.
[00:24:40] Lori Farley: So what might some of those trends be then you think?
[00:24:43] Afton Brazzoni: Well, one of the things that I've already heard a lot about is this concept of dark social, or like private online communities where.
You know, you can't run an advertising campaign inside the community. You need to really go in there and actually have conversations like the Rainforest Slack channel would be a great example of it. Like you've got to put in the time and you've got to build real relationships with people, you know? And it's another reason why LinkedIn, I think, is, is having such a moment right now and seeing such success because the algorithm on LinkedIn is such that.
Your content can actually get seen. You don't have to put a bunch of money behind it for someone to see a post. And the people who are on LinkedIn are actually engaging with the content. And so I feel like a lot of people have abandoned other social platforms in favor of going over to LinkedIn, to market, whether it's their personal brand as an entrepreneur, whether it's their company.
Just anywhere where you can actually have like a genuine connection. I just think that those types of marketing are, are certainly coming to the forefront. I don't know enough to know what's going to happen with events. I I'm sure they'll continue to be hybrid. I hope that some in person events will be able to happen.
But yeah. I just think that that sort of personalized marketing, that connection based marketing,
[00:26:01] Lori Farley: what are some of the, what are some of the reasons that you, got connected into Rainforest?
[00:26:05] Afton Brazzoni: Yeah, so I've, like I said, I think that it's a really exciting time to kind of be connected with the tech community in Calgary.
And one of the other things I would say is that I liked the idea of how. You know, you bring something to the community and, and you can also make an ask of the community. And I think that when people especially are in a startup stage and I really still consider my business, like we've only, we've had our two year anniversary, but like we're still quite new.
I just think that, that, that those kinds of opportunities and having the space to do that is extremely, extremely valuable. And I just loved that. It's not only implied, but like it's right there on your website that like, these are the guiding principles of this community. And I think, if I can kind of put a branding spin on that for a moment as a, as a tip to people listening.
People connect with your brand when they understand what you're about and when they understand what your values are. And so I think that's something that rainforest has done really well is like putting it right out there. You know, this is what we're about. so that was one of the things for me that, that attracted me to it.
[00:27:11] Lori Farley: Me too. I joined Rainforest because it was. a living group of people embodying my values and principles, which there's not very many groups out there unless you're in totally the social impact space and we need impact and visibility. And so having a more tech space, thinking about the ideals of, of, of living and connecting with people and, sharing and, and diversity, those types of things.
Building the trust and the culture are things that I live and breathe every day. And I'd never felt in the tech community before that. And I'm a groupie and again, a geek, I hang out with a lot of tech people and a lot of tech companies and a lot of tech organizations, but I'm always a sort of an outsider.
Like, why are you here? You're, you're a social impact person. You're an artist. You're all these other things that we're not. And I'm saying. That's good. That's good for you. It's good for me, that sort of Mixing, melding of people who maybe in some people's minds shouldn't come together, but when they do what amazing things can happen, the synergy is the ideas, the innovation.
[00:28:12] Afton Brazzoni: I completely agree with that. And it's, you know, it just the fact that like my experience, I mean, when I started connecting with Rainforest and even though it's like, I'm not a tech founder, but I have felt completely welcomed. I mean, even for example, like to come on to this podcast and to speak to the audience, like there, it doesn't feel like you're not one of us.
And so I think that everything you just said, like, it's really, it's really true. Like we, we really feel that as, like as, from an outside perspective, looking at the community, I can really tell that.
[00:28:42] Lori Farley: I think our audience, particularly with the historical members, we'll be glad to hear that. Some of the questions that I ask everybody is.
What advice would you give to your teenage self to get to where you are today or looking back at where you are today from your teenage self?
[00:28:58] Afton Brazzoni: Oh my gosh. I probably have like a laundry list of pieces of advice that I would give her. I think if I had to give I'll just give, she needs a lot of advice. Let me just say that, but I will give just one and I guess it would just be that, kind of what I talked about before, about how like, I never thought I was going to be an entrepreneur.
And I think, being okay with things, not being linear, like I've always been a very organized person. I like to, you know, be in control of the outcomes. I like to see the path I like to know what's happening. But I think that if I, at that time, at that age, I was like fully set on being an international news correspondent.
Like I was, I, that was what I was going to do, but I think I would just say. That actually sometimes the unknown and sometimes. Following that path where we're not, we don't, we see the one step in front of us, but we don't see the whole path and that that's okay. Like that is completely fine, and that's actually very exciting.
[00:29:56] Lori Farley: I love that, it just reminded me that I consider myself an inventor now, and I never did, but I did through my whole youth because I was just making things all the time because we needed something. But my advice to people out there is to just look around yourself because what we're doing normally naturally ourselves.
Other people can't do and they don't want to do, and they will pay you to do that was a big revelation for me when I started my business in 2009. It's just understanding that. The uniqueness that we all have in ourselves that we can bring into entrepreneurship is really an amazing capacity. And it's what people need and want. And as part of the community culture that we try to create as entrepreneurs,
[00:30:36] Afton Brazzoni: that's so true. And I think one thing and like, kind of going back to our conversation before about women entrepreneurs specifically, and again, not to generalize, cause I know that not every woman feels this way, but what I will, one thing that I, that I will say is like the whole thought of well,
well, who am I to do it? And it's like, well, no, actually, who are you not to do it? And I think what you've just said about you do have gifts. you do have like, there, there are tons of things that people are not skilled at that someone else is, or, you know, one thing or the other. And I think those are how some of them not only great companies, but also.
Like I am having more fun in my career now than I ever had. And if I hadn't started my own business, I would have missed out on that.
[00:31:17] Lori Farley: Amazing. And you're a role model, an amazing role model, very connected, very interesting, very knowledgeable, and someone who's willing to support the community and, and receive from the community receiving sometimes hard.
I know. I'm hard at asking for help. For some reason I'm not good at it. I'm sure there's other people out there that are in that way, but Rainforest is a pretty safe place to do that. So, I, I'm encouraging all of our, all of our listeners to practice that. Afton, is there anything that I didn't ask you that you thought, oh, I wish I would have been able to say that. What are some of the things that you want to talk about?
[00:31:49] Afton Brazzoni: Really? I think we've covered a lot of good stuff. Like I think I wanted to just sort of. Of course, let people know, you know, how I can help them, which, which we've certainly covered. obviously highlighting the great things about this community, which, which we've totally covered.
I think if anyone ever, like I'm a dog lover, I also love hiking. If anyone ever wants to talk about those kinds of things, feel free to get in touch. you know, and. I think for people to like to continue exploring their creativity right. Is, is really just, I think what it's all about. I think that entrepreneurial spirit and creativity really go hand in hand. So. No, I think, I think we've had a great convo for sure.
[00:32:28] Lori Farley: I agree as well. And thank you for joining us today. thank you for this chance to get to know you. And most of the people I've interviewed in the past are people that I've known for a long time. So I really enjoyed what we had a chance to talk about, and I think our listeners will as well.
And I just want to thank the, thank our hundreds of listeners that are out there. Make sure you come back next week for our next episode of the Leaders, Innovators, and Big Ideas podcast. Back to you, Al.
Al Del Degan Hosts Darren Machalek
Listen to the episode here: Podcast
[00:00:00] Al Del Degan: Hey everybody. Welcome to the show. my special guest today is Darren Machalek. I mean, there's so much exciting things that have happened with Darren and his life. We go way back actually. so I'm gonna just start out with, hi, Darren. Welcome to the show.
[00:00:12] Darren Machalek: Hi, thanks for having me.
[00:00:14] Al Del Degan: So I know the listeners of the show, they really enjoy. Hearing, people's origin stories,mainly focused I guess, on your, career, but, if you want to add some of your, personal trials and tribulations as well, you're more than welcome to, but can you give us a bit of a run through, how you got to where you are today?
[00:00:32] Darren Machalek: All right. So a little bit of, my background, born and raised in Winnipeg. so great city love that city. when I turned 18, I pretty much packed my bags and moved to Calgary. and again, nothing wrong with that city. Absolutely love it. My family is still all out there. love to go back every year and visit with my family and wonderful city.
But, I went out to Calgary to go to university. And I just wanted to, to start fresh, you know, like when your growing up, you know, through high school and you make your friends and lifelong friends, you almost have this identity thrust upon you. And I saw this as a good opportunity to move to Calgary, start this new chapter in my life and really find out who I wanted to become and create that identity of who I wanted to so I got accepted to both university of Manitoba and, Devry Institute of Technology here in Calgary. And I went, you know what? This is a great opportunity. I'm going to go to Calgary. I'm going to go to Devry. It's an accelerated program. So it's a four year degree in three years, by the way, this is not a plug for Devry, they're not getting any money.
[00:01:37] Al Del Degan: Are they even still around?
[00:01:38] Darren Machalek: They do in the U S they're. They're all online here in Canada, but they're still in the U S. But I got my bachelor of science in computer engineering technology, from the U S so I have an American degree, great hands-on program. And then after I, I left, and graduated Devry I started my first company, which was to make video games.
So me and three other friends started this company and we started working on a role-playing game and submitted our application to Sony. And then we are going to develop games for the PlayStation portable, and then we got rejected by Sony. And you think you're 21 years old, just finished university, your hopes and dreams of creating video games is crushed.
but we didn't, we didn't take it that way. We, we said, you know what? This is kind of cool. We got rejected by Sony. This is a multi-billion dollar company. How cool is that? I still have the email. I still have the email. I, one day I'm going to get it framed. You know, after that we're like, okay, well, I guess we better go get jobs.
[00:02:39] Darren Machalek: So I got a job at an auto parts warehouse just to kinda keep me going. And then one day I saw this company online, never heard of them before DKTek Software Corporation. And I'm like, oh, they're looking for a software developer. So I applied and sure enough, they called me back. I'm literally in the middle of this auto parts warehouse.
I get the phone call. We'd like to come in for an interview. And I'm like, oh my God, I was walking on cloud nine. It didn't matter that I didn't have the job. I just had an interview as a software dev. And I was walking on cloud nine that whole day. And I'm like, okay. Did I even listen to what they said?
Where am I going for this interview? So I go on their website and I see two addresses. And I think you might remember this two addresses and I'm like, oh no, this is a 50 50 chance here. I'm like, okay, I'm going to pick this one. This one seems logical. So show up and I picked, right. And I remember mentioning, I think it was to you and, and this is where we met Al and you're like, well, you passed the first test.
You found the right list of the two. So did my test. And, I guess I, I did well. We did the interview. Did the test. I think I tried to bribe you guys with movie tickets. Cause my girlfriend at the time was looking for a movie at a movie. but nonetheless it paid off and I got my first crack as in the industry.
you know, and I'm, you know, Al you talk about how we know each other and, and the journey. I wouldn't be where I am today. If you guys didn't take a chance on a junior developer with zero experience, I, I would not be here. I would not have the experience. I don't know where my life would have been, had I not had that.
so just, a little, thank you. And I've said that to you many times, but just so your audience knows our relationship.
[00:04:24] Al Del Degan: I want my audience to know how important it is that you can hire junior developers and, you know, create new, career trajectories and change the world. Right? Like, I mean, you're a living example of that and wait until everybody hears the rest of your career trajectory. Cause it's pretty amazing.
[00:04:42] Darren Machalek: Yeah. And I will also say just, just as a, a little call here for DKTek, like not only did I get my first opportunity as a software dev, but I learned a lot of cool things about what a company could be, and we're going to get into my future of my company now, but some fundamental pieces that I'm inspiring to build the culture of my company came from DKTek.
It was, it had that startup vibe. It was laissez-faire right. Like we have work to do. And we were very serious with our clients and our projects, but it was just easy going, you guys, you and, and, and Chris Kelly treated people. Right. You know, it wasn't micromanagy and like it was guys, we have an objective, we had the big project schedule on the wall.
We had a fridge full of Red Bulls and let's do it. And we did it right. We, we did really well in delivering the major projects we had. And for me personally, Like that, that casual, we were serious about the work we do, but we're a team, we're a family. We went out to Banff for our retreats, every Christmas, right?
Like it built a foundation or planted the seed in my mind of what I wanted to build as a company. So going on in my journey. so you guys inspired me in many, in many ways. you know, then after that DKTek shifted focus, and I, I started my second company, which was L 99. inspired by video games cause I'm an avid gamer.
It was Level 99 Software and it was just consulting with you guys for, I think it was about a year, you know, we, we tag team on some projects and did that brief stint. And then in 2008, as we all know, 2008, the market and the housing market and the economy just. No one was hiring contractors. And at the time we were working at a major client and their contracts dried up, but they had a full-time role as a systems analyst.
And they said, do you want to make that transition? So in 2008, December 1st, 2008, I joined this company and worked as a systems analyst and then things rapidly took off. I think a year and a half in, I was then moved into a temporary manager role of corporate systems. So managing the team that does like finance, HR, like managing all of those corporate applications.
then once I moved from that temporary role, like it was a term role. I moved into a manager of systems planning, which,and I'll, I'll share where we worked. We worked at the Calgary Airport Authority. At that time, they started the planning for the new international facility. And my director at the time, Paul Lawrence saw something in me.
[00:07:24] Darren Machalek: And this is another person that took a chance on somebody who had zero management experience. And he said, I liked this guy. I want this guy. And he was tough. He was a tough director, but fair. Right? Like he, he would give you rope, and, and, and let you, and let you go well, but you better deliver on what he asked for.
And I did. I, you know, I think that's the beauty of I, going back to that point, a young manager we're hungry, right? I don't have experience, but I'm hungry to try and achieve and be successful. And, and it worked. And for, I did a brief stint as that manager of systems planning and Paul then moved from IT to a larger portfolio executive director of terminal integration.
He is overseeing that whole big program of taking the existing terminal and the new terminal and making them work together. And he got to pick two people on his team, the moment he started it, and he said, Darren, I want you to be one of these people. And he's like, I want you to be general manager of terminal integration IT.
And I want you to build a team, put the team together because I know we're going to be successful. And I did. This was, I became a general manager, like very short timeframe. I'm now running a multi-million dollar. Like I don't, I'm not talking one, $2 million. I'm talking tens of millions of dollars. And he knew that I'm a nerd when it comes to budget and finance and despite having ADHD, like, and a lot of people see it as detriment.
Now I'll get into where the detriment of ADHD comes in but, hyper-focus is one of our superpowers and budgets, projects, things like that. I get my hyper-focus and he knew this, like, he didn't know how to HD, but he knew he gave me something I could run with. And boom, I was running the entire budget for Paul.
If he trusted me to not just run my IT Piece, but our entire team budget. And that went on up until about, I would say about 2016 when we slated to open the international terminal. And we got an opportunity to work again together on the IFP project, right? You were part of the, the actual IFP core project team and I was on terminal integration.
So another great opportunity to work together. and. We, we opened an international terminal in 2016. Like we delivered on this and, and my role as general manager, was to take the existing terminal, and the new terminal and make them work from an IT aspect. So my project team, we had to gut a lot of the technology systems in the domestic terminal put in brand new project systems or new systems.
IT systems that would work in the international terminal. So like if, if for the audience to give you some examples,if you use the flight information displays or the check-in kiosks, The self bag drops, like everything that you use from an IT aspect. that's what we made sure was well integrated and working successfully.
[00:10:27] Al Del Degan: Ya, and I bet you a lot of people don't realize that, even though each airline has all these different pieces of technology in their own area they're actually just using it. And it's actually put in there and managed by the Calgary Airport Authority itself. So like all the technology in the building with the exception, I think of the U S area, cause they kind of do a bit of their own stuff, in security and stuff, but you still provide all the wires to those locations and probably some of the hardware as well. but yeah, like people don't realize that the Calgary Airport Authority is a pretty massive IT company, and you were basically running that show, which is really cool.
[00:11:03] Darren Machalek: We had a great team. I, you know, I, I thank you for the, you know, I was running the show. We, we couldn't have done it without a fantastic team. Like, you know, I had one project manager, senior project manager, Damien Griffith. For those of you looking for a great project manager, I still recommend him.
we won a project of the year from PMI for our terminal integration. So we had to renumber the whole terminal. If you remember this, the terminal used to go backwards. So from south to north, it would go ABC. Right? And because the, international terminal was built on the south side, we had to flip the whole terminal around and you think, oh, you're just changing gate numbers and letters, but all of the IT systems, your baggage is routed based off of those gates and carousels and labeling electrical designs are all done through that.
[00:11:58] Darren Machalek: We had to flip it and it was a portfolio under our program we were delivering on. And the crazy part about this is we had to do this in one night. We had to flip an entire terminal in three hours because we couldn't disrupt operations.
[00:12:12] Al Del Degan: 24 hours. Right. Airports run 24 hours a day.
[00:12:15] Darren Machalek: Yeah. So Damien and I, and, and the team, I, I, you know, there was a grand team, right?
Like electrical, passenger experience, baggage, everyone. This is a team effort. but Damien and I built the plans. Eight, months of planning on paper for three hours to execute in one night. And I'll tell you this, nobody lost a bag. Nobody got lost in that terminal. Cause we, we did it smoothly and we were rewarded.
PMI recognized us as being project of the year, which was, which was fantastic. so the year of opening 2016, there was a reorg within IT. So I wasn't part of IT. I was part of that terminal integration, but there was a reorg and I was asked to take on another general manager role. But remember, the terminal is not open yet.
I can't leave my job. So they, they gave me a second general manager role to manage and a second team to manage. so now I was general manager of IT operational systems, as well as general manager of terminal integration. so I led that up until we opened in October. I think we opened Halloween, of 2016.
And then once that was done, I moved into my final transformational role, which was general manager of airport systems. So I completed my term, the terminal opened yay success,that we reorg'd the department. And the new role was general manager airport systems, which was. like a solution design engineering team.
So, you know, all those new things we put in on the new international terminal, we, we designed those. So did that for a few years and, and I apologize, very long-winded audience. I'm sorry. I'm still talking about my history 2016 happened. It was great. 2017, was moving along smoothly and that's when, my life hit a big bit of a twist.
So back in 2010, my mom slipped and fell on some ice and she had a traumatic brain injury in which she lost motor function, memory, everything she was hospitalized and couldn't even feed herself. Couldn't remember my dad, it was bad. That was 2010, and she started to recover. like she got motor functions, started getting her memory back.
She had to learn how to write again. Like, and thankfully she got all of her motor function back, but she suffered longterm cognitive damage, brain damage. So, memory short-term memory is, is a challenge for her. So that's in Winnipeg, my mom and dad and Winnipeg. So that happened in 2010 and then 2017, My dad had a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 63 and passed away.
And my mom who can't take care of herself, like she can't cook for herself. She can't like that's, that's how bad her brain damage is. She's fully functioned. Like I can have a great conversation with her, but those fine details. she, she can't do. And her primary caregiver, which was my dad passed away. And my dad worked, at CP Rail for 35, 36 years.
One company, his whole life had a pension, was retired. He just retired. He retired. Yeah. And then passed away and I needed to make a choice and a lot of thoughts. And for those of you that have had a death in the family, you go through this period where you start re-evaluating everything in your life. So I was remotely taken care of my mum, from, from Calgary and she's a Winnipeg and trying the best I could and I had that to manage.
And that was tough. That was so tough. And I said, okay, what am I going to do here? I can't, I can't sustain taking care of my mom and, and have this full intensive career at the airport. And I went, you know what, life's too short. my dad worked for one company for 35 years and I don't think he would ever change that.
You know, he, he loved what he did. He was a machinist at CP Rail and he loved what he did and they took good care of him, but I didn't want that to be me. You know, I was coming up on 10 years at the Calgary Airport Authority and it was, it, it was a great place, great people. it still is a great place and great people.
I still have many friends there. But I'm like, do I want to be 35 years at the Calgary Airport Authority? What, what am I missing? Right. Like I had DKTek, I did contracting, what am I? There's something driving me. And I said, you know, I want to make the video game. I'm a creative person. I want to make video games.
Yeah. I just I'm like, I love writing, you know, you and I did a short film together. I love create creativity, creative aspects. I love being a programmer. I love business. Like I learned so much about business and I'm PMP certified. I love projects. There must be a career out there that does all this.
And sure enough, there is video games, video games you have to wear every single hat and do that. So I went, okay. I'm building a plan. Putting together a plan here. And I started building a plan and I said, you know what? December 1st, 2018 will be my 10 years at the Calgary Airport Authority. That would be a perfect date to leave.
And I put in my notice, I gave them a month's notice. You know, I socialized it first, they knew it was coming and I gave my notice. And December 1st I started my new journey and I started, I converted, an old hobby company, into a game company, my old consulting firm into a game company and I created what is called Metawe.
And you're like Metawe. What, how do you spell that? And why are you saying it funny? And it's M E T A W E. And a lot of people would go Mettawee. Yeah. Mettawee but it comes from a Cree phrase, "pe meta way", meaning to come and play, which is great for a video game company. We want you to come in. but also in just taking those root words, Metawe how do, how what's the new way people connect?
You know, we connect online, we connect to playing games, we connect in a virtual sense in a meta sense really., so we take the "Meta" and the "we" together we're in the Metawe. And for those of you that have heard that Facebook has rebranded to Meta. That's a whole other topic that I'm willing to get into after, after I share close out my history.
So yeah, so 2018, December 1st, 2018, I left a 10 year career and started making video games full time. And that is where I'm at today. Oh, I should also throw, because this is big and I don't want anyone to think that there's any kind of cultural appropriation. Yes, the name Metawe is inspired by the Cree language and I am Meitei, so I I'm a member of the Meitei Nation of Alberta.
I have, my genealogy of, of rich, indigenous heritage, consisting of Cree or Chippewa chip away. And, it's fantastic. It's it's actually part of becoming a member of any, meitei group, you have to show your genealogy. And it's so wonderful to go through there and see my heritage documented of, of all of this richness.
[00:19:17] Darren Machalek: So, yes, the name is inspired by my, my heritage and my proud Meitei, upbringing from my mom. So. And that's where I'm at today.
[00:19:25] Al Del Degan: Well, don't, bury this. You just on LinkedIn, I saw that you just posted something really exciting. Do you want to tell us about that?
[00:19:32] Darren Machalek: Oh, absolutely. So we just became a member of the Canada Council of, Aboriginal Business.
Yeah. So like what, we became a member and we got our certified Aboriginal status. Like they have their own certified. So what they do is they allow, indigenous businesses to register with them. They host conferences, networking events, they provide resources for indigenous businesses to help them grow and set them up for success.
But they also connect non-indigenous businesses with indigenous businesses. To help both. Right? Sometimes non-indigenous businesses are looking to partner up with indigenous businesses and to help them to work together, to further both companies, best interest, right. That, has been, very exciting.
So that is where we just recently joined that, the, yeah, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and we submitted our, our proof of, heritage and the company. They gave us our, our Certified Aboriginal Business status, which is fantastic. I'm so proud of just being able to be recognized from that, like, you know, being Meitei to you and I have my Meitei card and all of that.
it's just nice that my business has also equally or our business is also equally, equally recognized, and you know, it's not, and I just want to clear this up because sometimes there can be some negative stereotypes. You know, having my mate, my matey card and applying for certified Aboriginal business, there's no financial or monetary gains having this.
[00:20:56] Darren Machalek: I don't pay less in taxes. I don't get indigenous discounts. I don't get free education. Just for me, it's a sense of pride, right? Like, you know, somebody's Italian, and they have their Italian heritage. They're proud of their food. They're proud of their music, their wine, their culture.
That's the benefit in itself. And for me being Meitei and, and a, and a member of the Meitei nation of Alberta, it's the exact same thing. Right , of just having that pride in my culture. So, yeah, I was really happy to have that and, you know, the first day of being a member, I actually came across another indigenous game developer here in Canada. Like just literally the first day and we're going to have coffee next week. and it's super exciting and I apologize. I'm going to butcher their name. it's Achimostawinan Games, but I think it's,Achimostawinan . Yeah. So we can, we can, you can probably post a link to their, their game site, but they're out in Ontario and, very exciting.
It's it's like finding a long lost cousin. That you just, and you're like, man, we have so much to talk about. Like, so I'm really looking forward to, to meeting with them for coffee next week. So, yeah.
[00:22:03] Al Del Degan: That's brilliant. So the obvious questions that pop into my head right now are, with it's Mettawee is that, am I saying that right?
Picture it like, if it was spelled M E T A W A Y Metawe
[00:22:15] Al Del Degan: Metawe. Okay. So with, with Metawe, What's it been like since you dove in with both feet? Now, I know, cause I downloaded it. You created a smartphone game for landing aircraft, which is very cool. How was that journey? And then what have you been up to since then? Like how has it been running a video game company now? Cause you had already said that that was like the first thing you did was create a company to create video games and then you went through all. 10 12 years of history. And then now you're back to full circle, back to creating a video game again. So tell us a little bit about that.
[00:22:48] Darren Machalek: It is, for the, all of you aspiring game developers out there,making a video game and making a video game business are two very different things. If you like making video games, That's great.
That's fantastic. Maybe just make video games and release them under your own name. running a video game business is, is like playing a video game on hard mode. You know, like you, you now have to be the creative director. You have to be the project manager. You have to be the producer. You have to be the art director, you so, and that's just oversight and the, and the game designer, then you have to program.
and then on top of that, you have to file taxes and run a business and pay GST, find out how you're going to sell your game. And thankfully, there's good avenues out there like Apple and Google, both have their platforms, right. to download games. so making a game is very different than marketing and selling a game, which is very different than running a game business and just making a game and putting it out there.
[00:23:49] Darren Machalek: It's not going to be successful. I can. I, if you are just a lucky, you just get lucky and somebody stumbles across it. Yeah. Maybe, but, it's, it's very hard without marketing to, to find that out. And, my first game Departure Dash available now on the apple and Google, it's been available for four years now, but, It's, it was one of those labors of love where I took my past history and made it one of those clicky, you know, you're landing aircraft and taking off aircraft.
I thought my first game sales were going to translate into me being self-sufficient and being able to afford making another game. And boy was that eyeopening. I, you know, I pulled together a team. The team was contractors. Like I can't do art. So I had an art team and all of that. And that came from my project management experience.
[00:24:35] Darren Machalek: But, yeah, nowhere did I recoup the costs that it took for my personal time. If I did the math on how much I spent, like personal time on it, I would have made about a dollar an hour, so I could go get a minimum wage job and still make, you know, 15 times more than I would as a game developer. so it really plays hand in hand and that was probably the most eyeopening, but then I made two other mobile games and I'm like, I'm not giving up on this.
That's not me. I don't give up. I just didn't find the right recipe for success. So I launched two more mobile games and this time I said maybe how I'm trying to monetize is wrong. I'm going to give these away for free and put ads in them. And so I made a Ready Jump, which is kid friendly, by the way, if anyone wants to download Ready, Jump, you play as a dinosaur and you jump, you just tap the screen and you jump.
and I check the ad revenue on that, and I went okay. This could be lucrative if I had $50,000 in marketing budget to promote the game, but it just wasn't lucrative. So I'm like, okay, I don't have the, the brand to create a video game that's going to sell at a price. I don't have the marketing budget to promote free games.
[00:25:55] Darren Machalek: So what other options are there? And I said, well, You really didn't want to create mobile free games and casual games. You just did this to get the experience. Let's focus on what you want to do, which is creating full fledged, full big role-playing games. And you want to write story? I want to write dialogue.
I want to create interesting characters and worlds. That's the vision. That's the mission. Of Metawe. That's what I started out to was, like to embrace my roots as a storyteller and to create these immersive, imaginative worlds that players can come in and be like, what's this story about, what's the intrigue, what's this world building.
That's really what I wanted to do. And I said, okay, I have experience now of launching games. I have launched 3, and I'm going to say successful games. Finance does not always mean success, launching a game and having experience can also mean success. And so that's what I've been working on for the past, year and a half now is, my, my current role-playing game.
It's called Project Kenora. Right now, that's its working title. we're currently in the process of trademarking the official name before we go public with it. and we're working with our legal team on that and yeah, it's a full fledged RPG set in space. It's a scifi adventure, with indigenous roots as part of it too. So there's, I'm drawing from that as well. essentially it's, there's a new planet, that earth is starting to reach out to like what earth is expanding out to start to colonize new planets and essentially the earth government, the United Nations said.
Okay. you know, as part of reparations for the land, it Canada in the United States that, you know, was, was taken and, and we're going to give these planets free to indigenous groups and go out and you guys recreate your own societies and your own land under, under the earth government, but you'll still go do that.
And there's this one planet called Odenow, but they get free reign of this planet, but it's overseen by a corporation and the corporation gets one core city and then gets to mine minerals. And that plays into a whole intrigue there of corporations and indigenous land. And, you play as a member of this corporation.
Her name is Kenora. That's why it's called Project Kenora and she is Meitei. Mixed blood she's mixed blood and her whole thing here is she's an agent of this corporation executing the corporations will, but she's going through this struggle of this identity of working for a corporation and trying to get her roots because she's never, she was taken from a young age to work for this corporation, and she's never had that opportunity to embrace her community.
And it's that struggle that she goes through and that's what the player gets to experience. And there's so much more, but that's just the Coles notes of a scifi adventure. there's I mentioned indigenous,inspiration there, you know, people see things like cyber punk, you know, there's games out there.
There's a whole genre of science fiction cyberpunk, and you look at it. And one thing I wanted to do different was you see cyber punk and always in the background you see characters, like all of the signs are either written in like Chinese characters or Japanese characters. And, you know, that was kind of the futurism for cyberpunk of, you know, that fusion, that cultural fusion.
I went, I'm doing something different. I'm going to do all of the characters on all of the buildings, in Cree syllabics. And if you look up Cree syllabics, they look super cool. Like they, it looks scifi and futuristic. And so neat. And so working with my concept artists. And if you go check out on Twitter @Metawegames, a lot of my concept art is up there.
You'll see our buildings have the Cree syllabics on there. and, and that's what I want is those glowing neon lights with, with a language that people, a lot of people wouldn't recognize like, oh, out of the global population, not very many people speak Cree or see Cree syllabics. So I wanted people to be, whoa, what is that?
And then they start researching more. Wow. That's Cree that's really cool. I want to see more. What does that mean? And I want them to go onto the Cree online dictionary, but oh, wow. That means restaurants. That means beer and start getting that cool pop culture piece from the indigenous undertones that are, that are in the game.
And it's just something cool I wanted to play with.
So how far are you into this game now?. so it's, I have a playable. Like you can play it like me. I can play it or a test or can play it and it start the, the first zone. it's an open world, so you can go and do multiple things and there's branching storylines.
so I would say it's a pre-alpha state, but I didn't want to start bringing on contractors and other teammates until I was ready. And so last year I was ready. I'm like, I can't just use dev art or art. I find online a free art online, never steal. I always, I always credit the artists and what, what they did.
but I, I used that temporary art until I was ready. And last year we were ready and we hired four artists to the project team. We have a character concept, artist, a building concept, artist. We have a three character animator and we have a props animator. So I have four, four contractors working right now.
[00:31:22] Darren Machalek: And they're located throughout the globe. Like it is an international team working on this. It is super cool to work with people from other countries on, on this initiative. And this year, 2022, we're what nine days in. I'm going to be expanding the team out to probably about four more. So, I want to bring on board a, and this is going to be targeted.
Certain roles are gonna be targeted. I want to collaborate with some indigenous concept artists to create the clothing of this world. I want to inspire the, the, the fusion of indigenous traditional clothing with SciFi modern clothing and, and basically say, okay, this town looks like this. What would they wear?
And so that's, that's one role, a UX UI designer. I I'm bringing on board, another prop animator and, and another concept artist. So we're really going to be ramping up to four more contractors this year, to, to keep going with the company.
[00:32:18] Al Del Degan: Let's go full circle again. Let me ask you a, Dangerous question. Are you going to be open to hiring junior developers in the future?
[00:32:25] Darren Machalek: 100%? And by the way, it's even these concept artists, I don't need game experience. I need passion, right? So like you can teach people how to program. You can teach people those technical skills, passion, you can't teach passion, you can't teach, you know, ambition.
That's what I look for. Right. You know, I would say that, to the audience, you know, if you're ever looking for talent and you're creating a talent pipeline, hit up SAIT, hit up UofC, hit up your local university and trade schools, hire these junior people, give them slack. Like, they're not going to know, but I'm going to tell you that it's an and yes, they're going to get experienced three to four or five years.
They're probably going to leave you. Yes, they are. That's inevitable. That's inevitable. But. That's the beauty of a pipeline. That's the beauty of this. You can create a wonderful talent pipeline and it's better to have a junior resource for three to five years pumping out great things for your company, then to just have to settle with somebody. Do you know what I mean? Like, it's hard to find that ambition and passion and absolutely, developer roles. I'm the only developer right now. I'm the only writer and developer. and I'm working with, I made a friend, up in Edmonton. he runs a board game shop and their name is very similar.
he runs Pe Metawe, which is the full phrase, of the Cree. and he runs a board game shop in Edmonton. So check them out. If you're up in Edmonton, check out, Pe Metawe Games, awesome company. They do consulting as well, but we made friends, we became friends and we were talking and he's what he's doing is he's creating programs for internships.
he's working with company to help create programs for internships. And he's like, would Metawe wanna hire interns to do like software development testing? All that I said, yes. Let's do it paid, you know, I don't, I don't. And maybe this is just my opinion, not please don't think I'm, I'm, I'm, looking negatively upon anyone for it, for this, but I will always pay internships.
[00:34:23] Darren Machalek: I believe that just because somebody's inexperienced doesn't mean that they don't have value. Right. And, and I, even if it's something small minimum wage, $20 an hour, whatever it may be and just for their, their three months, or four months. It gives them that sense of pride and ownership. I got paid for doing something and it also gives me that sense of I'm not taking an advantage of this person.
I'm getting value and I'm paying them for that value. So we're going to be interns. and my I'm going to only hire like, this is I I'm saying this recorded audio your five, 10 years from now. You're going like Darren, you said this, I got it on audio. I'm only gonna have. Devs out a university.
I'm not going to hire a AAA. you know, somebody in the industry for five, 10 years, and you're gonna be like, why, why wouldn't you want that experience? I absolutely would love that experience. But game dev is a passion industry and I want that passion. I want those junior people to feel that and give them that taste of it.
Maybe they try out game dev for three to three years and they go, I don't like game dev. I want to go work at, you know, a big company. I want to develop APIs. I want to do, I want to develop blockchain. Cool. But at least I gave you that experience to do that and go forth. And then I'll bring in another new junior devs and I'll train them up and set them up for success.
Like you guys did with me, right. At DKTek. You guys took that chance. And as I said, you guys inspired me. I hope to do that. For the next, new software developer, that's coming out of school. I give them 3, 4, 5 years experience and maybe they go create, the new disruptive technology.
And they, they changed the world who knows, maybe they don't, maybe they just get a great career, , get married and have kids, or maybe they just enjoy their life as is. I don't care. I just want to be able to help those people. and so yes, I'm making that commitment. All my devs will be fresh out of university or college or just even an impassioned person that says I've never done game development for it, but this is what I want in my career.
[00:36:28] Al Del Degan: Right on. Well, Darren, I mean, you're, you're a, you're a huge inspiration. you know, I hired you originally back in the day, because I could see that passion just pouring out of you when you were sitting in our office.
And, and I'm so glad I did because, you certainly changed a portion of the world in, in a better way. And I think you're going to go on and continue to do that going forward. So huge pat on the back. And, and, I'm actually proud of you, Darren. I'm inspired and proud at the same time.
So that's. thank you so much for joining us today on the show. I really appreciate it. I'm looking forward to having many more conversations with you and, you know, just thanks so much for being here.
[00:37:08] Darren Machalek: Great. Thank you having me at any time you want me to back, I would be more than happy to talk. You know, me, I'd love to talk so.
[00:37:16] Al Del Degan: Awesome. All right, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. we'll see you next week. Every Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM. We have a new episode, so join us. And if you want to be a guest on the show, reach out to us. And, we're also looking for hosts. It's a community podcast so if you'd like to host an episode of your own, please reach out as well. So take care, everyone. Thanks for listening.
It has been such an exciting year within Alberta tech and the energy in the Rainforest has been no different! 2021 began with vigor as the virtual world was no longer filled with uncertainty - we felt more grounded in our virtual community.
As the digital environment grew, the desire to know more about what was happening in the tech sector became fierce in YYC. The Rainforest met that demand by focusing our weekly cadence, LWOL (pssst… get it in your calendar for 2022), on demystifying the tech scene. Our first panel of career pivotor's brought in an attendance of over 165 people and the energy grew week-over-week as we explored different tech roles, ecosystem resources, and introduced over 300 newcomers to our online gatherings.
In the Summer, we recognized the LWOL audience was made up mostly of founders and curious Calgarians so we shifted our focus to hearing founder stories through the lens of the Social Contract. An average of 80 attendees joined per week with each founder bringing a new audience to the community. Hearing how the innovation of ways played into these founders’ success, failures, and team building has inspired many to form collaborations, pay it forward, and share their own knowledge with others.
When not colliding at LWOL, our online Slack community of nearly 2,000 people shared 5,400 private and public messages demonstrating the power of the online community even further.
2021 also began with an addition to the YYC team with our new Community Storyteller, Amber Rowden. Among Amber’s many efforts to tell founder stories through the lens of the Social Contract (check out our blog, Rainforest Role Models campaign, and our various social channels), she grew the Rainforest LinkedIn following by 75% and brought Rainforest Alberta nearly 15,000 website visitors. She even took the community onto new channels like Instagram and TikTok where we continue to gain followers and act as an onramp to the ecosystem.
In 2021, we engaged in a project with previous Community Manager and artist, Mackenzie Bedford of Bedford Creative. This inspiring project offers an approachable and fun way of sharing the Rainforest analogy with new audiences. The videos are also used throughout the ecosystem to help us remain rooted in the social contract. The project has already had over 230 views!
In the Spring we held a fireside chat with co-author of the Rainforest book, Greg Horowitt (hosted by Rainforest Alberta co-founder, Jim Gibson) where we were reminded that “99% of what makes innovation happen is completely invisible”. It all comes down to optimized human behaviour and TRUST!
This led to our first-ever virtual Summit where 147 participants took part in an interactive morning of reflection on the social contract values and the importance that our actions have on accelerating a welcoming, inclusive, and vibrant tech sector.
A very special highlight of this year has been supporting the community-led LIBI podcast, managed by Al Del Degan. This year we hosted the first-ever LIBI podcast awards and it truly felt like we were on the red carpet! We couldn’t be prouder of this team, as the podcast was named top 4 Canadian innovation podcast this year!
Other impactful events and partnerships have involved our friends at Platform Calgary, Startup Calgary, CRIN, and more! Check out this report for more impact stats.
As we say goodbye to another unprecedented year, we would like to thank the many partners who help us grow the Rainforest movement. Thank you to our friends at Rainforest YEG, Alberta Innovates, the Calgary Innovation Coalition, the wonderful humans at Zinc Ventures, and most importantly, the dreamers, doers, and curious individuals who make up this incredible community. We are grateful to serve you.
Wishing you all a peaceful and joyful holiday season,
Rainforest Alberta - YYC
Al Del Degan Hosts Danielle Barker
Listen to episode 147 here: Podcast
[00:00:00] Al Del Degan: Hey everybody. Welcome to the show. I'm really excited today to have one of my colleagues. Danielle Barker is here and Danielle is one of the valued and favorites of the learners that inceptionU. She's helping us with, the, facilitation of the inceptionU program. but she was also a learner in the program in the previous cohort.
Danielle, thanks so much for being here.
[00:00:23] Danielle Barker: Ya, thanks
[00:00:24] Al Del Degan: We talked briefly, one day about your past, and I thought you had this incredibly fascinating story that I think people would really enjoy hearing. So why don't you tell us a little bit about where you came from and how your life has gotten you to where you are today.
[00:00:40] Danielle Barker: So it's a really long story, butI'll tell a short version and you can ask more questions based on that, I guess. Yeah. So I started to get an interest in software development in, actually in high school in grade 11, they had,one of the options that we were allowed to take was, software development.
So we learned to visual basic and C plus plus, I really loved it. this might be something I want to do for a living. Yeah. So I went to a university for a year and really struggled and I had to work at the same time. So I wasn't able to, you know, keep up with my studies and didn't do very well.
I kind of gave up on that dream. I thought that was the only way to get in is to just, is to get a degree, otherwise I have to do something else. So yeah, I, ended up just having jobs, like customer service jobs, and I was a school bus driver, warehouse job here and there. And eventually I ended up, Being unemployed for a while, five years, I was unemployed for a, I was just on, on welfare and, I got called it to the welfare office and they said, we can't keep you on welfare forever.
You're going to have to get a job. And like, if you need help getting a job, there's resources and they said, you either have to get a job within the next three months, or you can take this, employment program. So it was like, employability skills. program through Alberta works. I ended up going to that and that's where I learned about InceptionU .
And, yeah, so I thought it was a really cool program sounded cool. And I decided, yeah, I want to take the leap and try by best and do what I can and it ended up turning out really great for me. That's how I ended up where I am today.
[00:02:22] Al Del Degan: Now you had mentioned to me that not only were you on welfare, but you actually spent a little bit of time homeless, correct?
[00:02:28] Danielle Barker: Yeah. So I lost my, my job as a school bus driver. That was my last job I had. Kind of just a bunch of other bad things happened at the same time and just kind of hit this point where I just wanted to give up, so I didn't want to go find another job. So I just ended up, taking what money I had and buying a van, and I just lived in the van for six months.
[00:02:52] Al Del Degan: That must've been, quite a struggle.
[00:02:54] Danielle Barker: It was at times ya, there's not a lot of places that let you park a van and sleep at night. And so, you know, like they'd wake you up in middle of the night, Hey, you gotta move. You can't be here. There was some times where I forgot where I parked and ended up having to sleep on the street I'm terrible with directions.
I get lost very easily, so I thought someone stole my van. I was just like, guess I'm on the street now.
[00:03:24] Al Del Degan: I guess there must've been a little tiny piece of that, that was very free though?.
[00:03:30] Danielle Barker: Yeah, there definitely was parts of it, of the experience that I enjoyed. Like I took the van and I actually went across BC.
So I drove to Nelson was the first place I stayed. Nelson's really nice. I went to Vancouver. And then I stayed in Victoria for quite a while and I got to go and be on the beach every day and sleep by the beach. Yeah. So there was some nice parts to it, for sure.
[00:03:57] Al Del Degan: I'm guessing you're back in Calgary now when you're,living on welfare and did they provide, any sort of housing or anything?
[00:04:04] Danielle Barker: They don't provide housing, but they, they give you like, they give you $350 a month, and you can use that towards rent. Yeah. So I found a place that was $350 for rent.
[00:04:18] Al Del Degan: You can't eat, but at least you have a roof over your head.
[00:04:21] Danielle Barker: They give you, they give you some other money too. It's maybe three 50 for rent and then 400 for everything else. So it wasn't I wasn't living the high life, but I had my basic needs.
[00:04:35] Al Del Degan: The other interesting thing, is that you had mentioned to me that you were also on the autism spectrum, what's that been like on top of all this other stuff?
[00:04:43] Danielle Barker: Yeah so for me, that comes through mostly with, having sensory sensitivities also, especially when I was younger with social, social norms, like understanding them and following them.
Yeah. So I struggled with like making friends and socializing with people and knowing what to do in social situations. And so that was a struggle to kind of learn. Stuff that comes naturally to most people. Yeah. And then like this, the sensory things like being sensitive to certain textures sounds sensitivity to bright light, that kind of thing.
So yeah, it, it definitely adds some extra struggle on top of the regular stuff.
[00:05:29] Al Del Degan: It's amazing how resilient you've been. Like from, where you've come to where you are now, you know, I'm sure that some of the InceptionU, learners past and present are probably going to listen to this episode. And I mean, they all love you.
Like, you're such a huge favorite with all the learners and with all the staff at InceptionU, I know Margo. She, she adores you and doesn't want you to go anywhere. She wants you to stay around forever. you know, you've really come full circle back into. you know what you could clearly qualify as success. You've made a success out of your life coming from, literally nothing to, where you are today, that's an amazing accomplishment.
[00:06:12] Danielle Barker: Yeah, it feels like I've found my place in the world, I guess,
[00:06:17] Al Del Degan: You've found your fit. And so now, you are, like myself, you have a part-time contract with InceptionU, and you're doing, an amazing job with facilitation.
You've been actually teaching some classes and for someone who's, you know, been very shy and introverted, what's it been like actually teaching classes?
[00:06:37] Danielle Barker: Yeah, the, the very first one, I was so nervous. I was like shaking and just, yeah, I had to keep notes on like every single sentence that I was going to say to remember it all.
And it was very nerve wracking, but it just got more and more comfortable every session after that. And now it's like, I still get nervous leading up to it, but then once I'm there, it's just about like having conversation with people.
[00:07:02] Al Del Degan: And you're in your element because you're talking about, software development topics, right?
So it's kind of like it's your gig, it's your fun. And the other thing too is now, hopefully I don't get this wrong, but you're also a Scrabble champion of sorts. Can you tell us it's a bit about that?
[00:07:20] Danielle Barker: Yeah, so I played Scrabble competitively. I'm a member of a scrapple organization, North American Scrabble Organization.
The club gets together twice a week to play scrabble. So when I didn't, back when I didn't have job, that's what I was. That's what I spent my time doing is studying Scrabble, playing Scrabble. I would play on average, three games a day, every day. Yeah, one of the things, one of the common autistic traits is, having, special interests or like kind of like a hyper-focus on and only do one thing.
That's the only thing you care about. I don't know if it, if it got to like, like a bad point or anything, or like, I wasn't doing things I needed to in my life because I was playing Scrabble. But like, yeah. It's was, yeah, I've been like, I've been playing, probably about three times a week since I was like six.
Yeah. So I just started like, I was always afraid to, to go to the like Scrabble clubs or like join tournaments and stuff. and then, you know, I was, I was like, really down point in my life, I was just like, I gotta do something rather than just sit at home all day, doing nothing. If I don't have a job, I might as well do something, take a risk and see, see what comes of it.
So I went to my first,Scrabble club. It was in 2018. Yeah. I went and showed up and I was like, Hey, I'm here to play Scrabble. And that's when I started like, learning like the, the ways that the pro's study. It's totally different from how like a regular person might think to study Scrabble. Yeah.
Just like you said, you, you said I was a Scrabble champion. Well, I haven't won like a national championship or anything like that. I'm not better than everyone in North America, but I have won in my division. Several times.
[00:09:15] Al Del Degan: Well, I think that qualifies maybe, the word champion itself is maybe not exactly right, but like serious competitor at the very least right? Like you'd probably kick all our butts any day of the week right?
[00:09:30] Danielle Barker: Yeah, anybody who doesn't play competitively, I probably easily just because, like I said, like the study, the way that, the way you study, it really impacts and the strategy there's like, it's not just playing the highest scoring words.
That's not the strategy. There's so much more it's so much deeper than that. And so willing to learn all that and the regular like kitchen table, Scrabble players struggle to keep up.
[00:09:58] Al Del Degan: So did you ever see the, television mini series? The Queen's gambit? The one about the chess I would imagine. And maybe after you watch it, you can let me know what you think, but I imagine it's kind of on those lines or cause it's competitive, like high-end competitive chess. but yeah, it'd be, it'd be fascinating to know if it's anything like that.
[00:10:18] Danielle Barker: There's quite a big crossover actually, between the chess world and the scrabble world, like people that play in both. Yeah. It's interesting to like, you'll see a mix.
There's lots of chess players who play Scrabble. There's lots of Scrabble players who there's actually quite a few Scrabble players who have been on Jeopardy. It's like, it's, it's weird. There's like, if you're good at chess, you're good at memorizing things and logic stuff.
[00:10:45] Al Del Degan: Looking for patterns and thinking of strategies and stuff, oh, that's fascinating. When you graduated from, the InceptionU program, you did, obviously come back and start working for InceptionU as well, but you got some gigs off the ground, right? Like, freelance consulting gigs right away, didn't you?
[00:11:02] Danielle Barker: It's been interesting. It was, what was the first jobs I got was I was working on WordPress. I'd never worked on WordPress before. I had no idea how to do anything in WordPress. And they were like, yeah, can you do, can you like fix this problem? I'm like, Al?, like I had that like beginner developer feeling your again where it's like, oh, I don't know anything.
Why are they trusting me to do this?
[00:11:32] Al Del Degan: But you broke the problems down into little pieces and figured it out and asked for help where you needed to, and then you're off sailing. Right. What are some of your plans for the future
[00:11:41] Danielle Barker: Plans for the future? Yeah. I haven't really got there yet. Haven't really thought too far into the future. Kind of liking how things are now and ya, I don't know.
[00:11:53] Al Del Degan: That's totally okay. I mean, living for the moment and, being able to pay your bills, doing stuff that you love doing. That's, that's an achievement of success right there. So, so that's brilliant. So I guess more the same really, I guess eh?
[00:12:05] Danielle Barker: Ya, now like, I wanna buy a house. That's the one that's really all I've thought about is, Hey, I might be able to buy a house now. This is the first time that I've like, lived on my own, like without roommates or anything.
[00:12:18] Al Del Degan: Well, that's you're, such a fascinating person, and every time I hear you telling one of the stories of, what you've been through and, what you do and these things just kind of pop up and it's like, what?, like really? Holy moly. I just thought it would be really, really cool to have you on the podcast and, you know, let people know, what you've been through, because I think, when people take, a pivoting their career type program like InceptionU, there's a lot of imposter syndrome and there's a lot of wondering, if they can get through it and then be able to get a job and that kind of thing and I think you're really, a shining beacon to people that you can kind of do anything if you, if you really just decide to do it. Right. you're definitely accomplished in a lot of different things and you've been through, a whole lot of crap too, so, I imagine you're probably inspiring to a lot of people and, I really appreciate that you took the time to be on the episode with me today and to be open in sharing the, the crazy life you've had so far, and,I really enjoy working with you at InceptionU, and I know everybody else does. And, and I see great things for you in the future. So I just want to have you on the show and, and let the world know what an awesome person you are.
[00:13:29] Danielle Barker: Oh thanks, I appreciate that, I enjoy working with you as well.
[00:13:33] Al Del Degan: Well, thanks everybody. I hope you enjoyed the episode. if you want to get ahold of Danielle, she's with InceptionU right now, and we'll share her LinkedIn profile in the show notes like we do with, all of our guests, and, tune in next week, same time, same channel, for the next episode of the Leaders, Innovators, and Big Ideas podcast.
Peter Beaudoin Hosts Liz Nilsen
Listen to episode 145 here: https://www.podbean.com/ew/pb-nrdad-113979b
[00:00:00] Peter Beaudoin: So thanks Al. Hi, my name is Peter Beaudoin and I'll be your host of today's rainforest podcast. Today's guest is Liz Nilsen. She's the associate director of the agile strategy lab at the university of north Alabama. Liz and her team have just completed a project across the Alberta innovation ecosystem, which we'll talk about and explore today.
So firstly, welcome Liz.
[00:00:20] Liz Nilsen: Thanks. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:22] Peter Beaudoin: So can you tell us a little bit about the university's Agile Strategy Lab and the Strategic Doing Program that you guys do?
[00:00:29] Liz Nilsen: Sure, why don't I start with, do it the other way around and start with Strategic Doing then talk a little bit about the lab. So Strategic Doing has been around a lot longer than the lab, so developed about 25 years ago, and I know we'll talk more about what it is, but then about 15 years ago, maybe, our director Ed Morrison decided that what he really wanted to do to scale that up was to learn, to teach it and teach it more broadly than he'd been able to do solo. And so then he went to work at a university, a different university, with the intention of learning, how to teach it, thought that would take a couple of years. It actually has taken a lot more than and so we established an agile strategy lab a couple of years ago, five years ago, maybe. And then in January of 2020, we moved the lab to the university of north Alabama, which is in the very Northwest corner of the state on the Tennessee river.
[00:01:16] Peter Beaudoin: Okay, that's great. So let's, let's explore what is Strategic Doing now, because I guess that's a component. So can you tell us a little bit about what is the program? What is Strategic Doing.
[00:01:25] Liz Nilsen: So Strategic Doing is a group process or discipline, or you could use just about any of those nouns. it's a process for groups, particularly groups that are in what we call a loosely connected open networks to work together effectively.
And what I mean by that is there, isn't a person kind of on top who can say, this is what you need to do. And there's, so there's a sense of voluntary-ness that people come in and out of the network as, as circumstances warrant. and usually they aren't all in one organization or at least they're in different units of an organization.
And when you're in that kind of situations, the kind of standard approaches to strategy don't work, all that well, you know, strategic planning was really designed for our hierarchy. kind of situation, but when you're working in a loosely connected network, that approach isn't really appropriate. So strategic doing a specifically designed for that kind of situation, to give groups a way to interact and conduct their conversations that helps them form effective collaborations, quickly focus on some strategic outcomes. And then, this is key, start into action immediately. With a understanding that as the group starts to learn more about whatever the challenge is they're focused on, that they'll be able to pivot and adjust accordingly.
[00:02:45] Peter Beaudoin: So you guys have been doing this for quite a while, right? I mean the Strategic Doing program, as you said, you've been growing it teaching it.
So can you give us an example of where a Strategic Doing program was used and how it fundamentally transformed a city or region?
[00:02:59] Liz Nilsen: We've worked in lots of different regions? So let me tell you about two of them. so the first is in our home backyard. So the university is in, what's called the Shoals area of Alabama, which is best known for music, actually Aretha Franklin and Rolling Stones and all those other people recorded there.
and also agriculture it's in a pretty rural part of this. and it's a university that traditionally was a teacher's college. That's how it was founded. but now has a much more comprehensive program. And what they really wanted to tackle was they had, they were graduating lots of great students.
[00:03:28] Liz Nilsen: And the students said, we love this community where we've gone to school and there are no jobs here, we can't stay. And so what the university was really focused on was how do we transform the economy of this region so that the students that were graduating, the best talent that we've really got in this region because most students come from pretty close, that the best talent we have here can stay here and flourish and help our economy flourish.
so they started their work about seven years ago, it continues to grow. But I'd say at this point, you know, Florence, Alabama, which is kind of the seat of the, is the town for the university. It's really a different place than it was seven years ago. It really does have the feel of it kind of an up and coming town with lots of really interesting things going on.
[00:04:07] Liz Nilsen: And an increasing number of students are choosing to stay put and start new businesses and, or have remote businesses where they can stay because the quality of life is great. You know, it's taken them a while, but they've really gotten traction and are continuing to move. And it's really changed the character of that community. So that's one, and that's as kind of a small rural town, which is one kind of community, right? So the other one is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which obviously is a much bigger place. And Milwaukee is traditionally known as the beer city. That's kind of how they sort of, made their, made their mark in terms of what people think of it.
But that's not so much. They still brew some beer, but that's not the core of their economy anymore. and, what they did was they, they brought a group together using Strategic Doing and said, you know, what could we do with the assets that we have at our disposal? Because that's the question that we always start with in Strategic Doing and the assets that they had were assets that really did come out of their beer heritage because they were water assets. They were all assets around water technology, and obviously water is the key thing. You need to make a beer. Right. and so they actually established what originally was called the Milwaukee water council, an incubator for water based businesses. they set up some coworking spaces for people who were working in that area. there was a cold water company in a warm water company that got together and said, you know, we're willing to give lab space to whoever wants that. no matter what they're working on. and they now have a global water council. So no matter where you are in the world, you probably in some way have interacted with the water council there. So that's, that's kind of a big city example.
[00:05:43] Peter Beaudoin: Yeah. And, and I want to explore that a bit because when I look at the Strategic Doing, and I had gone through the program, so I have a little bit of an understanding, but if I look at Strategic Doing, it's a methodology to transform sort of how the ecosystem players collaborate.
Right. But the program itself is really designed to take people through a process where. They collaborate on projects. And so can you just describe a little bit more about that, that actual process of Strategic Doing?
[00:06:08] Liz Nilsen: Sure, so let me go back to the Milwaukee example. So, that group, the very first time they got together, you know, it was very open, you know, they didn't know what was going to come out of that conversation.
They just knew they wanted to sort of explore this space of, you know, we have a lot of things going on in water. What could. and in that process, you asked four questions in Strategic Doing. So the first question is what could we do? So what could we do with the assets we already have at our disposal?
We try to get rid of those questions that say, oh, if only we had a million dollars, oh, if only we had, you know, a bunch more people, what can we do with what we already have? That's the first question. The second question is what should we do? There's always more things to do than we can. So what's the strategic place to start?
the third question is what will we do, which is where the rubber kind of hits the road. You know, what commitments are we going to make to each other about taking action to move forward on that should. And then the last question is what's our 30 30, which is our shorthand for when are we going to get back together? Talk about what happened when we did those commitments that we made to each other. Usually in the last 30 days, Decide whether or not we need to change our, our path at all. And they make plans for the next 30 days. So those are the four questions. So in Milwaukee, they started with this idea of, well, you know, what could we do?
[00:07:22] Liz Nilsen: What do we have? And so, you know, they, all these, they invited lots of people. So all these different water assets started to kind of, you know, it's like, here's all the things that not right. And then it was, well, what, what, what could we do with those and rearrange them in interesting ways and this person with the hot water lab person with the cold water lab happened to be sitting next to each other. And they said, well, we could, is there something we could do with these two things and what they decided the opportunity was was, well, we could, we have extra, you know, at least time capacity in those labs, we could make that available to people who aren't our employees.
So that was the idea they started with that became their kind of, you know, they did a pilot project or like, let's try it out. Let's see what's going to work, was successful. And over time they kept meeting the group, kept meeting together every 30 days. And at some point I'm not sure how long down the road they said that was very successful.
How about a whole building that does that kind of thing? And it became a very large thing. Now, if you go to Milwaukee and you go to the water council, it's this lovely, large building with lots of space, for, you know, labs and coworking and all kinds of other things. But they started with this very small, these two guys sitting next to each other saying, well, we could just let people come into our labs. That's all we could do. And that's turned into something much bigger.
[00:08:39] Peter Beaudoin: So it's really, yeah. About taking a number of, you know, getting together, starting on a concept, building that and growing over time. So this is, you know, and that's a, maybe that's a great point to say, let's talk a little bit about what you're doing in Alberta, because I know you're just sort of finishing the first phase of a project. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you've done here.
[00:08:56] Liz Nilsen: We've been working with Platform Calgary and they contacted us, let's see a little bit more than a year ago, I guess, and said they were interested in Strategic Doing, and they were particularly interested in, training a set of people who were involved with Platform Calgary, their partners, and staff, and whoever else were kind of their stakeholders to learn something about Strategic Doing and learn how they might use the skills of agile leadership to push their collaborations farther.
As they looked forward to opening their new building, offering new services and that kind of thing. so we had a set of, I think 45 people who went through an online training. So we used to do our training in person, of course. And then since the pandemic happened, we now do a lot of things online.
so we did that. we then followed that up with a. What we call a workshop, which is a session in which we actually do Strategic Doing, and that included some people who had been through the training and then some people who had not been through the training, but, the people who had been trained were able to kind of guide the others through that process.
and they were able to, identify some opportunities for, you know, putting their assets together and, and moving out on those. So that's, that's one thing we did somewhere in the middle of all that, Alberta Innovates decided that they also would like to have some people trained. And so a group of about 32 people maybe, went through the Strategic Doing course, which is a little bit more involved than the course of the Platform Calgary people had done.
[00:10:18] Liz Nilsen: So they got trained. So now there's this pretty large group of about 75 people who have been trained in. thinking about how do we use those skills to push the innovation ecosystem forward.
[00:10:27] Peter Beaudoin: Okay. So let's, so that's, you've got a group that you already trained and did a cohort and actually ran a program and you've got another group that's almost ready to take on, the first set of projects, I guess, or to go through the process.
So can I just ask, like, when you look at this, I mean, it is a, it's a process that'll take a few years, like you said, in, in Shoals and in Milwaukee, it's not something that happens overnight. I mean, You know, so, so what were sort of the results to date? And I guess like, what's the next step? Where do you see this going for, for Alberta?
[00:10:56] Liz Nilsen: So, yeah, it's not instant and, you know, like a lot of processes, you know, the saying of, you know, it works. If you work, it kinda kind of makes sense. you know, so it really does take people deciding that they're going to, embrace it and embrace particularly that every 30 days we're going to get back together and we're just going to keep moving.
Even if we hit bumps, potholes. Oh, that thing that we thought was going to work. Oh, maybe not. Okay. Let's figure out what's next. It really does take that kind of discipline. So we certainly expect that. You know, will happen with the, with the groups that we did a workshop with. and we've already seen that, you know, we had, I think, eight groups at that initial workshop and, you know, some of those, projects for whatever reason, you know, the groups have decided no, that project doesn't really make sense anymore.
but there are others that have gotten some traction and are continuing to move. the group that we trained from Alberta Innovates, they actually did identify at the very end of that course, some groups that they wanted to introduce Strategic Doing to using a workshop. So they, at this point, are probably starting to do that.
[00:11:56] Liz Nilsen: You know, they're training, I think started in, I want to say the spring. So, you know, Canadian summer does put a little bit of a hiatus, some things, right. People are busy doing other things. but now as they head into fall, I think they're starting to implement those workshops. And, I'm, I'm curious to hear what's happened is they started to do that.
[00:12:11] Peter Beaudoin: So cause, and, and I, like I'd mentioned, I'd taken the Strategic Doing course and also acted as a facilitator. So sort of led one of these teams and for one of the groups who worked on one of these projects and what we did is we had created a road map of how entrepreneurs in Calgary could find and onboard tech talent.
We found, oh, there's a gap. You know? And we, we looked at that. So for us, we found that it was a good project, but when I think back on it, I recognize it's, it's only one project. So in a way it's a drop in a bucket. Right. So how, how do you know when this trickle of projects. Right starts to transform the ecosystem. Like what's the markers we should be looking for to go, wow, like we're, we're getting there. There's momentum. How do you measure that?
[00:12:51] Liz Nilsen: Well, what the, the main product that comes out of a Strategic Doing workshop, you know, that very first time that groups together, the main product really isn't the project.
The main product is trust because trust is what fuels ongoing innovation in a group because that first project usually is pretty small. Like yours was, you know, it, wasn't very large. Wasn't very complex. Didn't take you very long. But what it did was give you an opportunity to work together, to figure out whether or not you trusted each other.
You figured out who it was that was going to live up to the commitments they made and who wasn't. And that's the kind of thing that then lets the group say, okay, we did this, we were successful. What can we do next? And who else have we met as we've done this other thing that we might want to bring in and work with us.
So in some ways the most important thing that happens, our director likes to say, I don't care what you do, but do something because what you do, isn't as important as that experience of working together and building some trust, that's something that. It takes awhile to build. And it is a little bit one of those things where it's hard to measure, but most groups know when they've got it.
[00:13:59] Peter Beaudoin: It's an interesting point because one of the things we did on our team is we were, you know what, I think we were seven people, one or two of the people I did know, you know, I I'd worked with them in the past, but it was all these new people. So I found, I found this was a great outcome where I built a network.
I even, you know, phoned up each of the team members. Let's just do a 30 minute call to introduce ourselves. So now I've got a new contact point in the network to do things, right. It's just, you know, for, for me, that was one of the benefits. but so I want to ask, cause sort of continuing on that with the building of trust, because I did find the program intuitive, cause in a way you get a virtual team together to collaborate on a small project that it builds, it builds that community. It does build trust. But one thing is that you have to have participants in a way. Well, if possible subordinate in a way, their organizational goals from the ecosystem objectives. Cause you're trying to say it's not about my day job in a way I'm trying to contribute to the ecosystem.
And sometimes that's a challenge, right? Because you're asking people to contribute time and effort and energy. So, so how do you sort of overcome that? Right. Cause it's sort of, this does take time and that's a challenge in this process.
[00:15:08] Liz Nilsen: It is a challenge. You know, we work with lots of different kinds of organizations in Strategic Doing and the degree to which that's an issue just depends on the context, you know, but certainly in this project yes.
You know, that the request to people was, although maybe not so explicit was, you know, please come together. And be at the table to help grow the ecosystem more than to help grow your organization. And that is, you know, some people, are very interested in doing that and very invested in doing that and other people not so much.
And I mean, that's something you can't really. Change for people. There are people who might say at the beginning, you know what? I just got too much going on to really want to do that. some of them will come back because at some point they'll say, Hey, the benefits my organization can get out of being part of a thriving ecosystem, outweigh this contribution of time that they're asking me to make for other people, it's always going to be one of those. I love this Canadian phrase is we don't have this in the United States. It's always going to be a project off the side of the desk. You know, it's never gonna kind of make its way back onto the desk, but you don't really know until you get into the middle of it and you ask people to make commitments.
[00:16:14] Peter Beaudoin: Yeah. And it is interesting because I did find that it is a challenge because you're doing it remotely. Right. So for the people I did know in the team, it was easy to sort of build that. Hey, I haven't seen you in awhile. Let's build the trust. But for people you don't know. You know, if a face-to-face event would actually give you that more building of trust and building community etcetera.
So I appreciate that. So I guess from experience in other jurisdictions, how many cycles usually of Strategic Doing, does it take for learnings to stick? Because like I was a facilitator in one table. You know, and it's like, okay, I'm sorta getting a hang of this process. And you know, maybe we do a few more, but how do you get it where it becomes momentum in the ecosystem?
[00:16:54] Liz Nilsen: That's a really interesting question. I don't know that I have an exact answer for it. So, you know, the initial project that I learned Strategic Doing on had to do with, teams from universities in the United States that were working on changing engineering education. And I worked with 50 teams. And they learned the process.
They picked a first project. I did some coaching with them along the way to kind of get them through that first project and maybe a second project maybe. And then they were kind of on their own. And, then we looked back at the end and kind of looked at, you know, who, you know, which teams had been, effective, which teams hadn't been.
And, you know, why, what kinds of, what kinds of factors maybe played into that? We looked at lots of different kinds of things. I think the, you know, keeping at that, we're going to have a meeting every 30 days, no matter what. That really is what it takes. And, you know, sometimes those meetings are, oh my God, You know, this thing that we thought we're going to do was a disaster.
And, you know, I, I have some of those stories where a group picked a project and they went, oh my goodness, that doesn't work at all. you know, It's too big. Or our dean says that stop, you know, you're not doing that or whatever. And a team has to be able to say, okay, so what do we do next? And that's really the difference between teams where it sticks and teams where it doesn't, it's just that ability to say every 30 days, you know, the group in the Shoals, they've been meeting every 30 days for seven years.
The people at the table have changed,
[00:18:18] Peter Beaudoin: but the process goes lives on in a way. Yeah. Yeah. And so, well, and again, it's interesting because I'm always, when I look at it, I I've come in at the very earliest stages cause it's really a trickle of projects and, and it's almost like, okay, it's going to grow.
And so, so when you, I guess, is I'm just thinking of the evolution for this. Like you say, some groups they meet every month. They've been doing it for seven years, but we've got when we did it in Calgary, we had approximately. I think seven or eight groups, as you said. Right? So we're all, you know, you're talking seven or eight projects.
You do that a few times. So I guess what happens next in that context is the idea to do more of these small projects or at one point you moved to bigger, but that's in a way that's. The original intent of Strategic Doing is a bite sized project. If you start saying, well, we're going to, like you had mentioned combining two labs, that's not a bite-sized project anymore.
That's a major infrastructure rebuild or repositioning. So how does that, how do you transition from small projects do major pieces?
[00:19:21] Liz Nilsen: Part of It has the scenes of it are in how you pick that first project. So, you know, there's several criteria. We ask groups to take a look at when they're picking that first project. And you know, one of them is you can do it without getting permission.
it has to be big enough to involve everybody because that's part of that building trust is everybody has to have something to do. It has to be big enough. One of the other criteria is it needs to be something that's interesting enough that when other people hear about it, they will be interested to hear and hopefully get involved.
[00:19:50] Liz Nilsen: Because you do want to be able to pull more people in because that gives you more capacity to do bigger projects. So the extent to which you can pick something that has those characteristics. Then allows you to slowly like, oh, okay. Maybe now we split into two groups and we could do two things at the same time, you know, eventually.
And you know, this is the hope for the Platform Calgary group or whatever is that they have, you know, a process going where they have a core team kind of at the middle of the core team is keeping its eye on maybe several different kinds of initiatives. And there might be several projects within each of those, as those projects, you know, get some traction and attract other people.
[00:20:29] Peter Beaudoin: Cause I do see it as a way as you build trust. And then once that trust grows, then there's that trust to try something bigger because the first time you're like, oh, well how big do we want to do this? We don't know all these people around the table, but I can see that as you, as you learn from people, then you're, you're willing to try something bigger. Right. You're willing to try something.
[00:20:46] Liz Nilsen: Ya, and I think the other thing is that there is nothing, as you think about kind of attracting other people and recruiting them to be part of it. You know, there's a part of that that feels kind of scary because it feels like, oh, I'm asking people to make a contribution. You know, it's a little bit like asking for money, right? But the reality is that people really want to join a group that's actually getting something done. Because we have all spent so much time in meetings with groups that could never get off the dime. You can sort of demonstrate like, no, this is really going to be different really. And truly it's going to be different.
People are pretty ready to sign up for that, actually.
[00:21:21] Peter Beaudoin: Yeah. And it is, people are looking for solutions to some of this where, and, you know, the, the Canadian expression of side of your desk is if you're going to have a project on the side of your desk, how can you do it the most effectively? And I found Strategic Doing gives you that opportunity of a mechanism to go spend a little bit of time.
And create outcomes right across the ecosystem. So, no, that's good. So I just wanted to ask, like, so the course itself, I mean, for the listeners who are interested to know, I mean, the course itself is, you know, is available for people who want to sign up for the course. Correct? I mean, there, you can take it. It's virtual, it's available.
[00:21:56] Liz Nilsen: It's available both virtually and in person these days, now that we're starting to come out of the pandemic, we have, we have both options available.
Okay. So that's, so for those, I guess, and for those listeners who want to know more about the Agile Strategy Lab, or Strategic Doing, what should they do?
Yeah. So they can come to our website, which is AgileStrategyLab.org. And that'll tell them about all the different things we do, which includes Strategic Doing. go beyond that as well. And that's the best way to do that. They can also contact us and say, Hey, I, you know, heard the podcast. I'd like to learn more and we'd be happy to reach out and have a conversation.
[00:22:29] Peter Beaudoin: Great. Okay. Well, look, Liz, I do want to say thanks for your time. I think this was a great discussion today. So again, thanks again.
[00:22:36] Liz Nilsen: Thanks for having me really appreciate it.
[00:22:38] Peter Beaudoin: So for those listeners, if you did like this episode, please subscribe to the podcast and thanks for listening.