Helpful’s Farhan Thawar: Toronto is ready to compete on a global scale
Farhan Thawar is a technologist-turned-entrepreneur on a mission to make communications more human. Currently, he’s the co-founder and CTO of Helpful, alongside Rypple co-founder Dan Debow. Read on to see his global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I’ve been involved in tech most of my life. I got a Vic20 computer when I was 11 or 12, and my first PC when I was 14. As a kid, I’d take apart any electronic I had to learn what was inside of it and how it worked, and then I got interested in writing my own programs.
I had a situation one time where my screen cord broke, so I had no screen and could only code things that made sounds. I would write out the whole program, then type it into the computer, and try to make a sound.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I went to University of Waterloo for Computer Science, which felt like a logical next step.
I worked at various small and large companies, including Achievers, Trilogy, and Microsoft, then I joined Xtreme Labs and Pivotal Labs (after it acquired Xtreme).
I met Dan Debow, my co-founder at Helpful, around 2007 at an event. He was about to go on stage and I walked up the stairs with him just to say hi. I eventually got to talking with his co-founders at Rypple, eventually bringing them on as a client of Xtreme Labs.
We built a relationship from there, so when I wanted to start my own company, Dan’s name was at the top of the list of people I wanted to work with. He had just left Salesforce, so we got together and founded Helpful.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
I’m a big fan of going to the park, so I’d take them to Trinity Bellwoods. It’s a big open space, there’s a waterpark, there are tennis courts, ice cream shops and bakeries nearby – everything.
Then we’d continue along Queen Street West for roti. Everyone who I’ve ever taken for roti in Toronto has fallen in love with the food itself and the people in Toronto.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
I don’t really think Toronto has changed all that much in the past 10 years in terms of having ambitious people here, but the recognition of what’s going on in Toronto certainly has – and that’s bringing more people into the ecosystem.
When I moved back to Toronto from Texas in 2001, I noticed people were ambitious and there were startup activities going on… but now everyone knows about it. Before, people didn’t know we had a startup community or that you could raise money here.
Now that these things are being recognized, it’s our time to talk about it and capitalize on it.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is to be more empathetic in workplace communications.
We spend a lot of time at work and are in “peak typing mode” – we are on email, Slack, and text all day – and we are losing empathy for each other.
This is a huge issue for innovation because the human brain is designed to understand facial nuances, tone of voice, and recognition of who a person is that’s speaking. We cannot use this part of our brains when we stare at text, and our creations suffer as a result.
We should take a cue from the consumer world and see how they are using video and other more human ways to connect at work.
I believe technology should be used to make work more human, so we avoid things happening online that would never happen in the real world all because of a lack of empathy.
If someone wanted to get a coffee with you to ask for advice, what would they need to come prepared with?
If you want advice from me about a decision you want to make or want feedback on a question, you should come prepared with the answers to three questions: 1) Are you learning? 2) Are you working with the smartest people you know? And 3) Are you having an impact where you are?
When you know the answers to these questions, we can compare what’s going on to your other opportunities and evaluate what’s the best decision for you.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
The world should know that the talent is as good, or better, than any tech city in the world. In the past, however, we lacked ambition. We’d aspire to getting a comfortable job and not worry about competing on a global scale.
That’s just not true anymore. The Canadian ethos of lacking ambition is going away, and with that we will move to compete on a global scale.