BroadbandTV CEO Shahrzad Rafati | BCBusiness

BroadbandTV CEO Shahrzad Rafati | BCBusiness
BroadbandTV CEO Shahrzad Rafati, which was named B.C's most innovate company last year.

This year’s Entrepreneur of the Year finalists in tech set the bar for creating success on your own terms

This year marks two decades of Ernst & Young’s annual awards and the talent is as impressive as ever, especially in the tech space. For example, there’s Jeff Booth and Robert Banks, whose firm BuildDirect was in business for 10 years prior to receiving venture capital funding; Igor Faletski, John Boxall, Peter McLachlan and their Mobify, a bootstrapped startup brilliantly riding the coattails of the mobile revolution; and Shahrzad Rafati, the entrepreneur behind BroadbandTV, which recently received an investment of $36 million from European broadcaster RTL group.

BuildDirect, an online manufacturer and wholesaler of building materials, was founded in 1999. But the company didn’t start raising venture capital until 2012, at which point it raised $20 million-plus from OMERS Ventures and the BDC IT Venture Fund over two funding rounds. And Jeff Booth still claims his company is just warming up.

“Our goal at BuildDirect is to become a billion-dollar company... We see ourselves on the Fortune 500 list of companies in the next decade,” Booth explained after raising $4 million from BDC. It’s a commendable degree of ambition not seen by many Canadian entrepreneurs.

Mobify, on the other hand, is a newer company. The founding trio launched an open beta of their mobile-optimizing service in 2009. That was a good year to launch a mobile-focused startup. In fact, Faletski, Boxall and McLachlan’s company has done so well on its own that it hasn’t raised a dime from investors—a rarity among today’s tech startups.

And then there’s BroadbandTV, which has been one of Vancouver’s most interesting startups to follow. It was founded in 2005, in between the launches of Mobify and BuildDirect. For a while it was quiet, and then it wasn’t. In 2011 Shahrzad Rafati was the only Canadian—and one of just a few females—to make Fast Company’s list of the 100 most creative people in business.

Once on the radar, Rafati and her company earned numerous accolades. BCBusiness named BroadbandTV B.C.’s most innovative company last year. PwC dubbed it one of 10 Canadian tech companies to watch in 2012, and the entrepreneur behind it all was honoured in May with YWCA’s Women of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurism.

If there’s a common theme among tech finalists in this year’s Pacific Canada Entrepreneur of the Year finalists, it’s good old-fashioned trailblazing. Have you ever had a recipe handed down to you from another generation, but when you tried to make it yourself, it never tasted quite the same—probably worse, right? Content creators often like to think there are recipes for success. Conference attendees like to believe it, too, as they listen to entrepreneurs on stage explain the extraordinarily specific circumstances through which they achieved success, as if their situations could possibly be replicated by anyone in the room. Spoiler alert: there is no recipe for success. And no one will make strawberry rhubarb pie as well as your grandmother.

This year’s EOY finalists have always known this. That’s why BuildDirect took 12 years to raise venture capital. That’s why Mobify is bootstrapping. And that’s how Rafati is defying so many odds by succeeding as a female entrepreneur in the technology space. Each entrepreneur is doing it on his or her own terms.

Ernst & Young played up the theme of job creation at its World Entrepreneur of the Year awards gala in Monaco in June, noting that the 47 companies gathered at the event represented 59,000 jobs created in three short years. Everyone loves job creation—and they should. But to me, the real story lies in how these entrepreneurs are creating jobs: by growing their companies not according to a generic playbook or template, but based on their instincts and acumen. After all, success doesn’t look for people who fit into a certain mould—it’s found by those who seek it with the fervency only true entrepreneurs possess.

Robert Lewis is president of TechVibes Media Inc. and editor-in-chief of