Six questions with Julia Rivard (2012)
Co-Founder & CMO of Squiggle Park
I think you could be accurately described as a serial entrepreneur. What has made you so successful starting new businesses?
I am not sure when you cross over into the “serial” space but after starting 6 companies, I have come to realize the start is the easy part. It is persistence that leads to success and persistence takes time. Other than persistence what stands out most to me as drivers of success are these three things:
1. The ability to weather emotional highs and lows and keep moving forward.
2. The ability to work extremely smart and hard.
3. Understanding how to pull the best people in to help push you further and faster towards your goals.
You were an Olympian – that is a huge accomplishment. But you had to go at it twice. Can you tell us what made you change from swimming to canoeing?
When I was in high school I was training as a National level swimmer. It had been a dream of mine to be an Olympic swimmer from the time I was 6. Unfortunately, in high school I was in a skiing accident and fractured my spine which required several months of recovery. That time off was enough for my competitors to move ahead of me and I felt my window to be an Olympic swimmer had closed. Once recovered I still had the desire to be a great athlete and luckily a strong athletic training base allowing me to pick up a new sport at a high level quickly.
I was introduced to kayaking in North Bay, Ontario in the month of March. We would go down to the river and break the ice so we could paddle. I immediately loved the sport and decided to dedicate myself to making the National Championships. After six months of training I did compete at the Canadian National Championships and was thrilled to win a bronze medal against the best women in the country. This result motivated me to dedicate myself to a goal of reaching the Olympic Games and four years later, I reached my goal and represented Canada at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has talked about women leaders needing to “lean in”. What do you think she means – and do you agree?
The book explores several topics about equity, opportunity, motherhood, success but ultimately what I took from the book was that women should approach opportunities with the confidence they have what it takes to reach success. Confidence is the key concept. Without it women, or anyone for that matter, do not reach their defined success and with it, you can go further than you expect possible. But confidence is fragile and unfaithful. It can leave you when you need it most and harnessing it as your loyal guide takes strength. To me leaning in asks women to use confidence as their advantage both personally and professionally to realize their potential.
You were a GGCLC member in 2012 and have stayed involved. How did the Conference experience impact you?
The GGCLC Conference was an outstanding experience for me. It was one of the events in life that I will look back on as a shaper of who I am today. Simply to be selected as a part of such an outstanding group of people is an affirmation you have achieved something worth recognizing and then the opportunity to meet with other leaders with such diverse experiences enriched my perspective. The opportunity for any of us to open our minds to new ways of thinking is a gift and this has been impact the Conference has had on me.
I have stayed in touch with the organization through feedback on ways to keep alumni connected and my team at Norex built an Alumni portal that houses all of the GGCLC contacts from years past. I have kept in touch with my study tour members (Team Bison) via Facebook and connecting in person when travel brings us together. This group will be one I always feel connected to.
Can you tell us about your latest challenge as a tech leader?
At the beginning of 2016 I joined my business partner Leah Skerry in a new start-up called Squiggle Park with the vision of improving global literacy by developing video games for children Pre K to grade 3 that teach the critical pre-reading skills through play. Education Technology is a difficult sector and one that is evolving quickly. The most recent challenge has been to reach out to leaders in education who are innovating their own systems and delivery of education to use Squiggle Park with their students and track improvements to reading progress here in Canada and all over the world.
You live in a Canada – in Nova Scotia – but your business takes you frequently to tech capitals like Silicon Valley and Boston. Do you think Canadians are doing enough to take advantage of global digital opportunities?
My sector is technology and in this sector it is common to see Canadians travelling or relocating to take advantage of global digital opportunities. In any industry the action of embedding yourself in a space where change is happening is so important. Surrounding yourself and connecting with the true leaders and innovators allows any business to bring in new thinking, systems and products which drive you forward. Just as important is bringing the best people in to our businesses in Canada. By investing in outstanding leadership from other parts of the world we are not only strengthening our own organizations but also the communities we live in and the future of Canada.