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Doing My (Small) Part to Build Canadian Tech

Peter Lee

I started with a world-class education and took the scenic route to entrepreneurship. I graduated from the University of Waterloo in 1998 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

When I graduated the goal for most of my classmates was to go corporate and my degree helped open doors to a number of great opportunities. As a young man starting out I followed those doors, as many do, into some great opportunities at large well-known companies. This provided a great foundation to my career as well as some pretty good paychecks. But as I matured I realized that decent paychecks didn’t always translate into career satisfaction.

I learned quickly that my strength was in technical sales and worked my way up the ranks at Oracle selling software.  It was amazing to me how often I’d run into other Waterloo alumni when meeting people at various events. I found myself drawn to those alumni like a magnet, and began to notice that quite a few had gone down the road of entrepreneurship. Little by little, meeting these other entrepreneurs gave me the sense that perhaps entrepreneurship was in my blood.

I did have some great role models.  My parents provided for us by pouring their blood, sweat and tears into running a small convenience store.  My first kick at entrepreneurship was a clothing line that I started with my two brothers.  It was crazy fun and we did get some traction but eventually the lure of big paychecks pulled me away.

Sometimes Being Stuck in Traffic is a Good Thing

The traffic in Toronto is absolutely atrocious!  One rainy morning stuck on soul crushingly bad traffic I came to a realization.  I realized that I’d grown accustomed to waking up dreading going to the office, it was then that I made the decision to take everything I learned and devote myself fully to starting my own company.

Which brings me to today.

My own entrepreneurial goal is to help other entrepreneurs. Last year, with the help of 2 other University of Waterloo grads, I launched a startup called Forewards. It’s a simple concept. An easy to use tool for small e-commerce businesses, designed to help them improve their marketing by tapping into the power of online customer referrals. It’s simple but extremely powerful. We help turn online transactions into a marketing opportunity by automatically asking a store’s customers to refer their friends and family via email and social media in exchange for a coupon or incentive.   Our software is being used by e-stores of various sizes in 19 countries, 10 languages and 14 currencies.

The Good and the Bad

The most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur is the fact that my decision can affect the livelihood of dozens of people.  It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.  The greatest thing about being an entrepreneur is that you end up meeting and working with incredibly talented people and it really is all about people.  I’d rather take the right team with the wrong product than the right product with the wrong team.

If I could offer any advice?

In the 16 years since I’ve graduated from UWaterloo I’ve verified a few facts.  UWaterloo grads are second to none when it comes to talent and creativity.  I suspect it’s due to a mind-set that is pervasive through the entire culture of the University from the faculty to the student body.  The current accelerator program is a testament to this mind-set.  My advice is to take advantage of every resource the University has to offer and start now, with the advice that people matter more than ideas or technology.  Heck, just start with one simple question “How can I help?”  You will be amazed at the power of that one question.

The University of Waterloo has played a huge role in inspiring me to pursue my own entrepreneurial dream as well as helping to build a great Canadian tech hub reaching from Kitchener to Toronto. I’m trying my best to do my University proud by playing my (small) part in building Canadian tech.

You can learn more by visiting our website here http://forewardsapp.com/

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