#WomenInTech: Building a Big Data Startup in Toronto with Amanda Parker
As Co-Founder and CEO of SimplyInsight, Amanda Parker knows what it takes to run and grow a business. She spoke to us about the importance of data analysis, and why she chose to return from Silicon Valley and build her company in Toronto.
Menaka: You’re CEO and Co-Founder of SimplyInsight, which helps simplify data for businesses. What drew you to data analysis?
Amanda: Data is such a core issue for all businesses. At my last company, we were working with a lot of agencies and clients in the advertising world, and data is so central to their decisions, but it was very inaccessible. Every day, they would email us various different data questions: What were the highest performing channels? What types of consumers were converting? The reports weren’t sufficient – they needed ad-hoc access.
Getting answers to those questions was a very manual process: they ask a question, we pull specific data or a report, rejig the data and send it back. We realized there could be an interface and technology in-between. So we developed exactly that – a system where you can type your question in natural language and get a contextual result using your own data.
Menaka: You majored in entrepreneurship at Ryerson – do you recommend that kind of formal education, or is it just as valuable to jump in and get hands-on experience?
Amanda: Do whatever you feel you’re going to be most successful at. I’ve hired self-taught developers before, and I’ve hired people with PhDs – it really depends on the person, the business needs and how that person learns best.
For me, I like a combination of both. I was lucky enough to be able to finish my degree and build out my very first business at the same time, so I think entrepreneurship programs, like the one I did at Ryerson, do work. My program at Ryerson provided broad learning mixed with some hands-on experience.
Menaka: You went to work in the startup mecca, Silicon Valley, for a while – what made you come back to Toronto?
Amanda: I was in the Valley with our last project for over 6 months – we had a few investors, including 500 Startups, that funded us. However, the Valley is incredibly expensive.
We quickly learned that we didn’t need to be in the Valley to build a successful company. Frequent trips, absolutely! But the talent is here in Toronto, the startup ecosystem is growing, and there are always plenty of direct flights to the Valley and New York.
Amanda: Both are definitely fantastic co-working spaces. Your network is everything, and being surrounded by awesome founders and companies, the way you are in an incubator, is priceless.
There are so many benefits to being surrounded by smart people. The experience is really about shared learning, and having other people there who really understand what it’s like to be in the trenches.
Menaka: What have you learned from your experience as a founder that you wish you’d known before?
Amanda: Two big things. The first is don’t be afraid to be aggressive. Sometimes female executives, especially if they are young, can get labeled some interesting names – don’t be afraid of that. Traction and success trump all (no pun intended). The second is that mentors are incredibly important – find many.