When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I was really into computers, and I was a little bit into math in school, so I thought I wanted to go into computer science or computer engineering. I didn’t know [what that was], but it seemed to be a good career choice. I sort of arrived at it by deduction rather than by choice or by a real passion for it. I was basically like, “Not this, not this, not this, so this is what I’m left with.”
Well, I was an international student, and I wanted to go to university in an English-speaking country. Now in retrospect, I’m like, “I could have gone anywhere.” But it was between Australia, Canada, and the US. Australia was too far. It was the year after 9/11 and I was [from Palestine], maybe going to the States was not the best idea. That weighed in a lot. So I was basically looking at different universities in Canada.
University of Toronto had a very good computer science program, and it was one of the better-known universities I had applied to; reputation played a part in it, I guess. And I knew some people who had gone to University of Toronto, so it seemed like a good choice of where to go.
I liked the city, I liked University of Toronto. I was 18, I was living in a dorm, I was by myself, and it was a big change, completely leaving family and everything behind and starting on my own. But I did not like my program.
How did you choose your major?
I was taking some elective courses my first year, and I liked all my elective courses more than my courses for computer engineering. I basically realized I could keep doing something that I didn’t really enjoy doing, or not. It was a lot of work, and I didn’t want to put the work into something I wasn’t too passionate about. So I decided to go into economics and sociology.
I think I was taking an economics and a political science class, and I thought, “I like this better, I like the type of work that I have to put into it better, I like the classes better, I even like the teachers better.” It was just something that I was drawn to, more my worldview.
Also, at that age, it seemed like this was learning about the world. And it was very outward looking, while computer science seemed very myopic and just looking at very specific functions and a lot of calculus. You’re very introspective, and you’re just working within that field. The humanities and arts classes taught me way more about the world. In hindsight, when I look at the people who ended up staying in computer science and working in that field, it’s very lucrative but I could clearly see what that life would have been. So, no regrets.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
It was really being in the right place at the right time. I worked with a startup as an intern at a small company in Toronto that was pivoting their product from one thing to the other. There was no real roadmap, no defined anything. There was just a bootstrap startup that was trying to make a difference. And there was the opportunity to create my own role, and just find my own path within the company because it was very new and very young. So out of my internship, I started a full-time position there.
I was working in marketing, and back then marketing was very different. There was no such thing as social media marketing, there was no such thing as Google ads. The entirety of what a marketing person does now, especially digital marketing has changed so much. But I liked that because when I was there it was at the cusp of when Twitter was just starting. So I had to learn Twitter on the job, and there was nobody to teach me because it was new to everyone.
I ended up staying there for 5 years, and then I sort of felt like I had reached a plateau within the company and within that role. I was looking at other things, a job in a company that’s “big,” and I wanted to try that and see how that lifestyle was. So I worked for a few years in medium to large-scale companies, which I quickly realized was not for me. But I realized I liked the tech world, I liked startups, and I liked marketing. So I just started to go on my own doing marketing for startups.
In Toronto there were a bunch of startups coming up, and it was becoming somewhat of a hub for tech companies. I branched out on my own, and I was working as a consultant for two or three clients at a time. I liked it a lot because it exposed me to different clients, different startups, different products, different ideas, different people. I thought it was a good approach because usually the founders are either business-oriented or tech-oriented but they have not had any experience in marketing for a startup.
Seeing all these companies start on their own, I always wanted to start something on my own. So at some point, I decided to just jump in and start my own company, my own startup, and that’s where I am now. I started a food delivery company, an app basically, so we like to think of ourselves as a tech company more than a food delivery or logistics company. It’s a food delivery app for offices, because we realized, everybody eats at work and it’s a big market. There’s big competition, but that’s mostly residential/consumer based and we wanted to start something for an underserved market for people who eat at work.
Any tech startup is reliant on developers behind it. I’ve worked with many developers before, so it was not too hard to find the right people. I would have loved to be able to do it myself, but seeing it from a marketing perspective helped me see it from a user or customer perspective. Rather than building a product I want, I was bringing my marketing background to how to design that product so that it would fit people’s needs.
As with any startup it’s very tricky. Even being around other startups, it’s very hard to expect the challenges – you think you’ve seen it all and then something else happens. There are a lot of things we want to see materialize before we do anything else. Two years is good validation; we know it works, and we know we want to build new things to enhance what we’re doing.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I don’t think anybody could have told me anything because I wouldn’t have listened to anybody anyway. Maybe it’s my personality too, but at that age, it’s tough to take other people’s [advice]. I always wanted to do my own thing, and now looking back at it, a lot of what people told me was very true and I should have listened to it, education-wise, career-wise, personality-wise.
I made my decision [to go to University of Toronto] on a whim, very much so, but hindsight is 20/20, and I would have had such a different trajectory. It wasn’t thought out at all, it was very “I’ll just go here. Things will work out.” But it did work out.
And I think being serious about schooling was one of those things that I didn’t really put too much work into, and I think maybe my university life would have been better if I had put more into my studies. I loved being a student, I would love to be a student again, I could study for the rest of my life. Maybe being more decisive in terms of what to study could’ve helped. But at the same time, not being decisive ended up helping me too.