Movers and Starters is an exclusive series that profiles the individuals who drive Toronto’s startup community.
Jen Evans is the co-founder and CEO of Squeeze CMM–a content marketing performance measurement platform.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo.
What were you like in high school?
I was a non-techie. I actually was a technophobe right through University up until I was 27-years-old. I didn’t use a computer until I was almost 30.
What’d you take in University?
[Laughs] I have a degree in Soviet politics.
So, very relevant to what I’m doing now. I was–still am–a political junkie and creative person. I thought I’d end up being a novelist living somewhere in Paris. And the creative side of my personality ended up being devoured by business
What was your first job after University?
I was a waitress and bartender throughout school, then I went to Japan and taught English for a couple of years.
Where were you a waitress?
There were a couple of places in Kingston, one was a restaurant called the Chinese Laundry café, another was a fine dining restaurant called Gregory’s. Yeah, I loved that. I loved waiting tables and bartending. It was very good experience for any kind of business.
What was your first culture shock experience like going to Japan?
Well, I had kind of an unusual situation: I spent a summer there when I was 10-years-old, so I kind of knew what I was getting into as an adult, but Japan–especially Tokyo–is a 24 hour city. Traffic jams at 4:00 in the morning, I had 7 24-hour convenience stores within two blocks of the place I lived. The population density is the biggest thing, I think. There’s 40 million people in Tokyo-Yokohama area, which is pretty much the population of Canada. There are people everywhere, all the time. And that’s an adjustment from North America.
What was your first job back in Canada?
So, this is a funny story–when I was working in Japan, I was working in an office for a while. I was working in the head office of a company and they had brought me over. I saw a Yahoo page load for the first time and thought “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. OI don’t really know EXACTLY what it is, but whatever it is, I want to be doing something like that.” So I fired of a bunch of resumes when I got back to Canada for a bunch of technology positions.
What kind of positions?
Oh, this is the best story. One was for a firewall support engineer. So, I send my completely non-technical Canadian Literature, Psych-Writing resume off for this firewall support engineer position.
The CEO of the company called me and he’s like, “So you want to do this firewall support engineer job.” I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Do you know what a firewall is?”
I said “no.” He’s like, “Okay, Well, I can’t give you this job, but I see you have experience that you have this website design experience,” —I had done a website on Canadian Literature and I had won a Yahoo pick of the week way back in ’97–and he said, “We need our corporate website redesigned, so would you want to come in and do that?”
And it turns out that guy was Robert Herjaveic from Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den.
Yeah. So I worked for Robert for a year and half while he built his company into something he eventually sold for $100 million. I really got bit by the entrepreneurship, sales, and marketing bug. And I really tested some of the ideas that developed into Squeeze, way back then.
And where did you go after that?
After that I went to another start-up, which was a unified communications service provider. It was very early, like ’99. We never got any market traction; it was just way too early to market something like that. Then I went to another start-up that was acquired by a company in Montreal called Cognicase, which was eventually bought by CGI. And then I got laid off. I got a termination severance package…and ended up starting an agency with that package in 2002. I ran it up until a year ago. It was in that agency that the idea for Squeeze first came about.
How did the idea first come up?
Well, we were doing a lot of work with Bell. We produced a lot of content marketing assets for Bell–things like whitepapers, case studies, buying guides, etc–and Bell was always asking us, “What did this actually do for this? What did we get out of this?” and we would try to cobble together these reports, and it was really manual and painful, so we developed a platform that would be easier. That’s Squeeze.
What are the big obstacles facing Squeeze as a company?
I think that one of the big obstacles that is facing us is that the content marketing measurement space is the perception that it’s very crowded right now. We handle the compontent of measurements very differently fmor other companies out there, but there’s still the perception that it’s a crowded space, so getting our message out there in a way that resonates with the market is the big battle.
How did you decide on the name Squeeze?
Part of what we offer is a short domain service, so a URL shortener. And the shortest domain that we could find was SQZ.co. So we decided we would incorporate that into the name. And one of our largest clients is HP. And we had a call with them. And they said, “Okay, so we started Squeezing our links last night…” and we were like, “Alright! That’s our name! We have arrived.”
Who are some of your other clients?
We work with HP, we work with a large auto-manufacturer, we work with some of the Big Five consulting firms, software companies.
How did you guys go about getting those clients?
Some direct sales, and a lot through partners.
How long has Squeeze been operating?
So Squeeze has been out of beta since July, and we started the development in 2011.
What are your hours like? When do you wake up, when do you leave?
It’s really all over the place. I tend to be a bit of a night owl. I’m usually up somewhere between six and seven, I’m usually in bed somewhere between midnight and 1. And my hours…it’s usually an all day thing. I’m
What motivates you?
You know what it is? I saw the idea. I saw the need for this. And really, it’s a bit of the Edward Albee thing–the mountain is there, why not climb it? I think there’s a lot of Canadian companies that tried to sell themselves early and don’t really try to take advantage of the fact that this is an incredible place to try and build a global company.
What benefits does Canada have that make it a great place to build a company?
You know, it’s really funny. I don’t think I fully appreciated what it meant to be Canadian until I lived overseas for a while. It’s everything from intellectual freedom from the ability to determine how you want to live your life, to the incredible technology infrastructure, to the fact there’s a very vibrant community of entrepreneurs in Toronto and across the country that support each other.
So all of those things really lend a lot to the fact that it’s easier to build a company in Canada than it is just about anywhere else.
And tax credits. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Where do you see Squeeze in the next five years?
So hopefully it is the content marketing measurement platform of choice. We would like to dominate that space, and ideally we’d like to evolve into a platform that any customer to understand the digital behavior of their audience by using Squeeze. We want to become the insight engine for customers to understand where their audiences engage, what they do, how long it takes to acquire a customer, what they do once they’re in your database and infrastructure. What does the digital narrative of each customer actually look like?
So we want to be the content insight engine to the world.
Where do you see yourself, personally in the next three-five years?
Doing more of what I’m doing right now. You know, one of the most exciting things about this space is the ability to come up with new ideas, test with customers, and find ways for them to do their jobs better. And hopefully that’s what I continue to do.
Jordan Sowunmi is a writer and editor at the Toronto Standard. He is on Twitter: @jordanisjoso