Intelex’s Mark Jaine: Toronto will succeed if it’s serious about diversity
Mark Jaine is the CEO of Intelex, a position he grew into after bringing the company back from the brink of bankruptcy nearly 15 years ago. An immigrant to Canada, he’s now an advocate of Toronto tech. Read on to see his global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I’m originally from San Diego and worked for a dot com company in my late teens/early 20s. I was 21 in 1999 and wanted to get out of San Diego. I came to Toronto to work as a junior Commission Salesperson for Intelex, which, at the time, had three employees and was not in a good place.
I came thinking it would be a six month trip, touring the world a little bit and then heading home. Instead, I stayed long term and have been in Toronto ever since.
The company was founded in 1992, so I’m not the founder, but I founded “v2.0” of the company. When I joined, we were in debt and about to go bankrupt. I got the job ‘by default’ since I was the only one around. I took the reins, becoming President in 2006 and CEO in 2009, and now we are over 400 employees and going strong.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
I think for me it depends on who the person is and where they are at in life.
If you’re in your 20s I’d take you to clubs and bars on King West; we have amazing nightlife.
If you’re in your 30s with kids, we’d go to Beaches and golfing at Hunt Club. I’d want to show you the amazing beach area and waterfront.
If you’re my parents’ age, we’d go to the theatre area and to the shows to see the more sophisticated entertainment regions of the city.
The thing about Toronto is that you can never argue that Toronto isn’t a world class city that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with NYC, London, or SF in that it offers everything you could want for a high quality of life – sports, entertainment, dining, etc.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
I care most about #DiversityIsOurStrength.
However, I think Toronto is great at caring about diversity but perhaps are not as diverse as we like to think if you look at most tech firms. Caring about diversity, and having potential in diversity, is our strength. But I’m not sure diversity itself is our strength just yet. We have to be serious about the fact that it’s an issue to solve and not something we’ve already crossed the finish line on.
This leads me to #ItsOurTime, perhaps by default. This resonates with me because there’s so much excitement and passion in Toronto around tech. There’s also visibility with the mayor and the Prime Minister talking about tech, so now is our time to grab hold of the potential energy and turn it into something.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is ensuring more global mobility of senior talent so they can move around the world – and to Toronto – to help build huge companies and seed home-grown talent.
Toronto, for instance, is full of people who are passionate and excited but have never done it before. If you want to build a huge company here, you’re ultimately looking to the States for senior talent.
We should also be looking at revenue rates and talk about how many companies have $1 billion in revenue, not just $1 billion in valuation. If we want to talk about tech being an industry that rivals financial services or mining and metals, we have to build companies that match the scale of those industries.
I think we are outside our zone in terms of pounding our chest about how big of a tech hub we are. The reality is we don’t have enough pedigree companies that have seeded our ecosystem with phenomenal talent, yet. But we have a great city that people love living in, with a great ecosystem, so there’s a lot of potential for growth.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
There’s a lot of energy and excitement here to build up startups and organizations. Diversity certainly can be our strength, it is inexpensive to live and build a business here, and Toronto is perhaps more accessible to the world’s markets than the United States is.
I struggle to put my finger on one thing that differentiates Toronto massively from other tech cities except to say it’s a combination of things: economical, talent, momentum, community building, and a burgeoning focus from city and federal government to make it work.