#HowIMadeIt 2017

Nicole Verkindt, Entrepreneur

FLARE #HowIMadeIt celebrates 100+ talented, ambitious and driven Canadian women with cool jobs. Want what Nicole has? Here's how she did it

Headshot of Nicole Verkindt, wearing a blazer with wide black and grey stripes and her blond hair is down and she is staring right at the camera
Nicole Verkindt; 
@nicoleverkindt; Toronto

Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

I am building a global software platform that analyzes data on the industrial base, does business-to-business supply chain and tracking on the socio-economic impacts from procurement. [Concept still a little murky? Our friends at Canadian Business describe Verkindt’s startup as “helping government contractors manage their obligations to meet local procurement requirements.”]

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to Western University. I started in international politics, but moved over to the Ivey Business School and finished with an honours in business administration. But, I just want to say that I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was in school. I was interested in a lot of different things and always feeling confused about my future, because all I knew was that I didn’t fit into a traditional career path.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

Scooping ice cream, then cleaning horse stalls during hvigh school. Then in my field, I worked on commission selling press coverage to governments for the Big Media Group out of Belgium.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

One of my first big breaks was landing our first big angel investor, Rob Segal. I marched into his office when he was CEO of Virgin Gaming, totally empty-handed. I had no sales, no code written, no investor deck or PowerPoint presentation, no name and actually not even a bank account number. He heard my story and idea, we went out for lunch and he had to write a cheque to me in my personal name. That’s what kick-started OMX. I always think about that moment and just wish I could go back in time to tell myself five years ago that things would work out OK. I was freaking out inside.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

There has been a lot of ups and downs. In the beginning, just remarks I would hear from people could send me up or down. I had a very good (but always skeptical and never comfortable) feeling that things would work out when we landed our first big deal from Lockheed Martin. They are the biggest government contractor in the world, and their support of our little upstart made us who we are today.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

I heard a lot of rumours about me and my crazy idea, OMX, in the early days. I remember hearing from a large potential client that a senior government official had made fun of me and OMX. She had referred to us as the “eyelash-batting business” when we were getting started. I’m not going to lie, I went home and cried hysterically that night, because I figured she had the power to bring us right down and I had everything on the line.

How did I bounce back? The thing about entrepreneurship is that you don’t have any other option but to move on. If you don’t make sales, you go out of business. And when you have borrowed money from friends, family and angels who believed in you, you just do whatever it takes to make it work. You find other options.

There are people who are helpful and people who are harmful and you can’t let the harmful ones take up any space in your mind. You just don’t have that luxury.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Just work harder than everyone else. Young people especially are always looking for the short cuts, but it is a long grind, with long hours. If you are pitched a “get rich quick scheme,” it’s very likely a scheme.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

There was a lot of pressure in university to go into management consulting or investment banking and work your way up the ladder. The worst career advice I ever took was to suit up and interview in those industries. My interviews were a total flop. I was despondent one night and my business professor told me to stop taking the elevator and “just take the bloody stairs.” That really resonated with me.

Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?

The barriers that I felt throughout my startup career have been felt by all innovators, and those barriers are primarily around convincing people to embrace change. It’s a messy process to innovate and very difficult to drive sales and continued growth, as you are driving behavioural changes. I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on the specific gender barriers I may have faced, and I only realize now that of course there are subconscious barriers throughout society that we all have to overcome all the time.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?

When you are an entrepreneur, it’s all about the performance of the company. That is all I am focused on.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

That they are entitled, lazy, have no respect for authority, not detail oriented and spend their entire days on their social media. Every millennial should work hard to avoid those stereotypes. The flip side/positive part of those characteristics are that millennials are well connected, tech savvy and unafraid to disrupt and take on hierarchy or authority. Personally, I like a team with a range of ages, strengths, weaknesses, backgrounds and of course genders. You need to avoid “group think” in any organization and you should represent who your potential customers will be—which are often a wide range of people.

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