Exploring the Realities of Startup Life

(Original article published on SFU Communique)

When you think of a startup, does the HBO series, Silicon Valley come to mind? Do you picture a group of nerdy men, parked at their desktops for 10+ hours at a time, rarely getting outside for a glimpse of the sun? While the computers, parked bottoms, and long hours don’t stray too far from my startup work experience, there are some misconceptions I would like to clear up about startup life.

1. Highly creative and efficient workers with extensive social networks.

Despite the ‘nerdy,’ ‘loner’ stereotype that tech startups glean, my colleagues are extremely outgoing individuals with large social networks. Having spent my first co-op work term at a startup that assists other startups with funding, I’ve learned that for early-stage companies, the people in your network (friends, family, industry connections) are vital resources when it comes to driving business growth.

2. You may be the co-op student, but everyone is doing coffee runs.

Going into my co-op work term, I anticipated doing the menial work that most employees dread – scheduling, office organization, etc. I adopted an optimistic attitude, accepting that I would willingly take on all sorts of responsibilities if it meant that I would learn something. However, I quickly noticed the absence of an organizational hierarchy within the company, and more of a team-oriented atmosphere. One day, I would be trekking to Staples to buy materials for an event, but the next day, the CEO would be taking out the trash.

3. The only rule is: there are no rules.

Even during the interview process, my soon-to-be employers emphasized that the startup environment is extremely unpredictable, transparent, and welcoming of new ideas. Early-stage companies are constantly experimenting and strategizing ways to avoid and/or overcome kinks in the corporate infrastructure, as well as how to fuel rapid business growth. From the get-go, I was encouraged by my employers to speak up, challenge established processes, and to know that my thoughts were valued and important.

4. It isn’t a 9 to 5 job.

When I signed my co-op contract, it explicitly stated that I would be working 30 hours a week, and so, for the first week of my work term, the innocent newcomer in me abided by these hours religiously. I soon learned, however, that given the size of the team and the heavy workload, there was no way that I was going to meet my deadlines within this weekly timeframe. Since then, my work hours have extended into the evenings, and occasionally, into my weekends.

To some, this may seem unfair and unreasonable. To me, it was necessary to put in those extra hours to learn and familiarize myself with the industry I was working in, and to produce my best work.

Co-op provides students with opportunities to explore various careers and environments, and to essentially find a best fit. You are encouraged to question, learn from, and absorb as much information from the professional environment you are exposed to, and because of the aforementioned realities (particularly number 3), this seems to be further emphasized at startups! Having long been interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and its perpetually evolving landscape, co-op fulfilled my curiosities by placing me right at the core of the action. After a 7-month (soon to be 8) placement, I have become more familiar with the inner workings of a startup, and as a result, have validated my affinity for the entrepreneurial environment.


Productive Procrastination

Original post: Recultured

Photo cred: Beani Forst
Photo cred: Beani Forst

More often than not, students tend to be typecast by their expertise in procrastination – I am living proof of this. But what if we could challenge the negative stigma attached to procrastination and transform it into something positive? In delaying the progress of one particular task, you offer yourself the opportunity to make headway in another endeavour.

Here are 5 ways to stay productive while trying to procrastinate:

1. Organize your workspace:

    The best thing you can do for yourself, is take those dirty dishes down to the kitchen, and sort through that perpetually growing pile of papers. There’s no better feeling, in my opinion, than sitting down at an uncluttered desk, ready to tackle that term paper, and knowing exactly where to look for that term paper outline.


2. Plan out your week in advance:

    This might mean allocating specific hours of the day to work on particular assignments or duties (e.g. 9:30-10am: breakfast, 10-12pm: work on CMNS paper, 12-1:30pm: [literal] Netflix and chill… etc.) or simply looking at your calendar on a month-to-month basis and penciling in important events and deadlines. At the start of each year, I used to make the exciting trip to buy my $15 agenda, only to find that I would stop using it 3-4 weeks into the semester. Now, I use my iCalendar since it easily sync events and reminders to my iPhone (shoutout to technology).


3. Socialize:

    Wait, what? I don’t mean ditching that group assignment to hit the clubs on a Wednesday night (even though group projects have probably made us all want to at some point). I’m referring to socializing in terms of networking – establish and develop those long-lasting connections. Surround yourself with your peers and other individuals who inspire you. Also, get involved and attend events that will assist you in your professional development.


4. Work on your online portfolio:

    This won’t be the last time you hear that recruiters are now turning to online platforms in search of their next potential employees. While it’s important to maintain and curate your social media profiles (especially if they are set to public), having your own personal website to act as a hub where HR professionals can access all your work samples will make you a more competitive candidate.


5. Read:

    Friends of mine who see this blog post will laugh at the fact that of all people, I am the one suggesting that reading is a way to productively procrastinate (the only readings I do are assigned readings). In all seriousness though, reading is undoubtedly one of the best and simplest ways to expand your knowledge and vocabulary. With that improved capability, tackling that term paper that’s due at midnight (note, I am not advocating leaving things to the last minute) is going to be a breeze.

Gentrification and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

[Capilano University: CMNS 112 Term Paper – 2014]

Through the economic hardships and unfortunate power struggles, gentrification plays an important role in communicating a reality. First and foremost, it reiterates the fact that the DTES is indeed a poor neighbourhood; it is occasionally referred to as “Canada’s poorest postal code” (The Canadian Press). While this is a neutral and static perspective of the subject matter, the causes of gentrification also actively seek to produce, maintain, repair, and transform the community.

Amidst the arrival of fancier, modern establishments in Gastown, for example, there seems to be an unspoken intention and/or awareness of maintaining the historical architecture and foundation of the neighbourhood. The re-vamping of Save-On-Meats and the recent opening of the Fox Cabaret are worth noting as projects that are focused on refurbishing and finding new uses for deteriorating or abandoned buildings.

“Aging properties previously considered unsuitable for upgrade, like those in areas of extreme poverty, grow dollar signs as cultural pathfinders begin to change the character of the neighbourhood, driving up land values and prices” (Matt Chambers).

The emphasis on repairing and transforming the neighbourhood is part of the government’s long-term prospects of bettering the DTES economy; “[Kerry Jang, Director of the Greater Vancouver District Regional Board,] admitted some of the newer stores and restaurants support lifestyles that are out of reach of the area’s low-income residents, but he pointed out other retail outlets, such as grocery markets and drug stores, can now better sustain themselves and serve everybody” (The Canadian Press). Evidently, the transformation of the neighbourhood is bringing about a great deal of publicity, therefore drawing in new visitors and clients who may contribute positively to the Vancouver economy.

From a positive perspective, gentrification prolongs the human experience. It gives hopeful business owners the opportunity to make their dreams become a reality and build a career out of something they are genuinely passionate about.

Mark Brand is a well-known local entrepreneur and owner of several businesses in the Gastown area – Boneta (now closed), The Diamond, and Save-On-Meats, are just a few of the establishments he oversees. Brand is a firm supporter of the “revitalization without displacement” initiative. He says, “Boneta… The Diamond… Gallery, which was Sharks, was completely dormant and empty and was a squatters’ heaven… These were not spaces that were vibrant, community spaces – … – these were places that were empty” (Matt Chambers). Brand is particularly celebrated for remaining in support of the low-income inhabitants and his “vision of [creating] a vibrant and diverse community” (Matt Chambers). His intent for Save-On-Meats was to provide nourishing meals at a break-even cost and simultaneously encourage economic development and maintain the DTES as the primary neighbourhood for low-income people. In this way, Mark Brand is helping to rebuild the DTES, physically and economically, thus resulting in the continuity of the human experience.

While the displacement of low-income individuals is unsettling, the underlying concern of gentrification is the future of the economy. Certain schools of thought, such as Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and post-modernism movements, arrange their social ideas and expectations around the economy; the economy is the basis of all social structure. This is why neighbourhoods like Gastown continue to flourish, as they are successful in the integration of disciplines (arts and trades, for example) through a variety of upcoming businesses into the community.

As we already know, it is unfortunate that profit-driven production does end up oppressing the working class, and this is something that these schools of thought addressed. However, as mentioned before, aspiring business owners are now seeking ways to secure economic growth whilst making strong efforts to support and better the lifestyles of low-income residents. One strategy that has already been implemented is giving these individuals the opportunity of employment, therefore allowing them to build a sense of financial security so that they may be able to fully fend for themselves in the future. They are also given the possibility of learning useful skills, which pertains to the post-modernism movement and the manipulation of knowledge.

Initially, when I learned about the DTES and gentrification, I was aghast that business owners could be so unconcerned with the emotions of the low-income residents. Their actions seemed intrusive and selfish; they were, in my eyes, purely profit-driven. However, upon learning about the “revitalization without displacement” initiative and reading about Mark Brand and his genuine goal of bettering the lifestyles of DTES residents, I began to understand the benefits and rationale behind gentrification.

Over the past year, I have become almost obsessed with neighbourhoods such as Gastown and Chinatown, and frequent the areas in search of new local businesses. The success of hip cafes such as Matchstick Coffee Roasters, or modern eateries like Meat & Bread, further support the long-term benefits of gentrification for business owners. Also, there seems to be a strong sense of community amongst all inhabitants of the DTES. I remember sitting in Nelson the Seagull café, just off of Carrall and West Cordova St., and saw a homeless man enter the establishment, dragging a huge garbage bag behind him. He walked up to the counter and was happily greeted by the employee who then offered him a wholesome slice of bread and a bottle of water. This to me, is evidence that gentrification in Vancouver is not solely interested in the economic success of new businesses, but also in the well being of the neighbourhood, its diverse inhabitants, and the overall sense of community.

The Social Media Network: #LinkedIn102 Workshop

Original post: The Social Media Network


On February 3rd, SFUSMN hosted its first event of the Spring 2016 semester: a #LinkedIn102 workshop featuring speakers Manisha Narula (Program Manager at GradusOne) and Kimberly Nguyen (Communications Specialist at BCTIA).

The weather gods must have been having a bad day as they blessed Vancouver with an overwhelming amount of rain, so we’ll forgive those of you who were unable to join us. Lucky for you, we have some key takeaways from the event to share with you!


Our lovely speakers, Kimberly and Manisha.

Your Profile

Did you know that having a professional headshot makes you 14x more likely to show up in employers’ search results?! Although your selfie game was undoubtedly “on fleek” in that other photo, it is highly advised that you get a friend or photographer to take a high-resolution, work-appropriate photo.

Be concise, but let your personality come through.
– Highlight career goals and interests, skill set and qualifications, education (optional), and most importantly, a unique differentiator.

Indicate your concentration and timeframe, as well as your extra-curricular activities.
– For example: “I am an SFUSMN member!”

Work/Volunteer Experience:
Include a description of your role and responsibilities. If possible, also add a few lines to describe the organization.

  • Mention achievements/projects you worked on, and provide media examples (videos, photos, articles… etc.) This demonstrates your capabilities more effectively than simply listing skills.
  • Distinguishing between work and volunteer experience should not be based on whether or not it was a paid position. Instead, categorize experiences according to how you want to be ‘branded,’ as well as the amount of time and effort you committed to that particular position.

Honours and Awards:
Include scholarships, volunteer or class awards, competitions.
– For example: *hint* SMN’s Platform Case Competition! *hint*

Endorsements & Recommendations:
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your connections for either of these – just be sure to reciprocate the favour!

  • Organize your skills – this gives you the chance to personally reflect on how you would like to be perceived. Ask yourself: “what skill would I like to be known most for?”
  • Recommendations are a little more time-consuming. However, LinkedIn provides a very easy-to-follow process that’s built into the website.
  • Both features display your credibility and value as a potential employee.

Causes/Organizations You Support:
This might add “extra noise” to your profile so it might be wise to simply remove this section. However, if there are specific causes that you do support, definitely include this information.

There is no right or wrong way to organize the sections within your LinkedIn profile. Best advice? Put whatever highlights your uniqueness at the top of your profile.


LinkedIn’s Premium Account

  • Mostly used by recruiters and individuals working in HR.
  • $59.99/month, although everyone is entitled to a one-month free trial.
    – Choose an appropriate time to take advantage of this trial (for example, subsequent to graduation when you begin job hunting).
  • Enables you to see the full profile of your 2nd and 3rd connections.

How To Maximize Your LinkedIn Experience:

  • Connect with industry professionals, and reconnect with old classmates, colleagues… etc.
    • Expand your network! – Don’t hesitate to ask your 1st connections to orchestrate introductions.
  • Use the platform as a research tool – gain further insight into organizations, influencers, career opportunities, and stay up-to-date with industry newsAn organization’s LinkedIn page will provide you with information like how you’re connected to their employees, where alumni currently work, recently published articles, job postings, and much more!

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Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.44.37 AM

Once again, we owe a big thank you to Manisha and Kimberly for inspiring us to spruce up our LinkedIn profiles! What’s one more platform to professionally ‘creep’ on other people?!

For more event photos, visit our Facebook album HERE, and search the hashtag #LinkedIN102 on Instagram and Twitter for more posts from the event!