Janet Bannister, Founder of Kijiji.ca, on A Culture of Innovation
Excerpted from In-Person Interview, Toronto, Canada
It was innovative, it was disrupting, and when I didn’t know how we were going to build Kijiji—because we didn’t have any budget at the time—I went to the newspapers and I said, “Hey guys, how about we do a partnership?” They basically either laughed at me or pushed me out of their room and said: “You know what, you’re never going to be successful. Nobody will ever move from using newspaper classifieds.”
So I don’t think I necessarily thought “innovation”—what I saw [were] the dynamics in the Canadian marketplace. And I think that for any business you really need to understand, “Hey, what [is] your local marketplace—what are you dealing with, and then how can I build the right solution given those dynamics.” And, in Canada, what we saw is, you know, a huge percentage of people were spending time online, and spending a lot of time online, but they were not shopping online. I thought, “Okay, this is an interesting dynamic.” Marry that with the fact that Canada is a very urbanized country. Eighty percent of the population lives in urban centres. So, you marry all those factors together and you think, “Hey, I think given that environment, a classifieds model would work very well.”
There’s this whole notion of failure—once you fail, it’s game over. What’s your kind of take on failure?
We failed a lot on a lot of things. In fact, we probably failed on more things than we did succeed when we were building Kijiji. But what we did was: we stopped doing the things that failed and we just doubled down on the things that were successful. People look at the media and they see Instagram or Snapchat or all these companies that came out of nowhere and instantly became worth, you know, billions of dollars and all we see is the success of them and people don’t realize, actually … there were an awful lot of failures, an awful lot of self-doubt that people don’t see because it happens behind the scenes. I think one of the challenges for some entrepreneurs or business leaders is, they get enamoured with their product and in their technology and they think “Oh, you know, everybody’s gonna buy this,” or “People will switch from the competition to me because I'm 2% better.” Well that may not happen and so you need to really be objective in terms of how you think about your business and say, “Okay, now really, who is going to use my product?” Often it may be people who aren’t using your product—who maybe aren’t even aware of the category—who may be better customers in the near term than people who are using your competition.
What is the landscape of the tech industry in general looking like in Canada versus anywhere else in the world?
So, I think that the landscape in Canada is fantastic. I think that we’ve never had a better environment in Canada to build a tech company and so I’m super excited about that. And I think a few years ago, people who are entrepreneurs used to think, “I'll sell my company for 10 million dollars and then I’ll retire and I’ll buy a cottage in Muskoka and I’m set,” and now the aspirations have changed where the entrepreneurs are predominantly saying “Hey, I want to build a great company. I want to create something that’s going to change people’s lives,” and so they’re reaching higher. Then we have the capital that’s willing to support it and I think that in an ecosystem—and [specifically] a tech ecosystem—success begets success. The more success you have, the more likely you’re going to have future success. We are now at a tipping point where we have had enough success and I don’t think there’s ever been a better time in Canada.
What gets Janet Bannister excited? What can you share with audiences?
I love to talk to people and have them leave energized and enthused, but also have practical lessons. It’s not just, “Hey, great, I got pumped up and now I feel great for the next 24 hours and after that I’m back to who I was before,” [but], “What are some practical techniques or some practical insights that I can then take and apply in my daily life?”