Weekend Warrior: How Olympian and Trulioo executive John Smythe connects hockey and business

John Smythe talks penalty shootouts, Tokyo 2020 and his role as a business development executive

It was at one of his older brothers’ field hockey games that John Smythe remembers getting really lucky. He watched with the kind of eagerness and wonder that only a four-year-old could possess as somebody, in a fit of rage, threw their stick in the garbage.

“I went over to my mom and dad and asked if I could have that stick,” Smythe says with a laugh. “It was the very first thing that I owned. I was attached to it from there on out.”

That attachment is what led Smythe to his first game action at the age of seven. He now follows a strict regimen that sees him training and playing four to six times a week with the Canadian national team, but it’s all a balancing act with his role as business development executive for local regtech company Trulioo.

“Teamwork is a huge part of my life,” he maintains. “Being with a club for 11 years now, I’ve just learned the different dynamics of how to work on a team. It taught me the importance of diversity and inclusion and effective communication, as well as when to ask for help from your peers.”

A few years after earning a psychology degree from UBC—where he became the captain of the school’s varsity field hockey team—Smythe joined the RBC Olympians Program in 2017. The program helps athletes gain career experience and learn business fundamentals while on a vigorous travel and training schedule. As an RBC Olympian in branding and communications, Smythe facilitated partnerships and events like the RBC GranFondo and RBC JCC Sports Dinner.

“Each athlete has a really unique story to tell and it’s very inspiring,” Smythe notes. “I did my fair share of events as well.”

However, it was his interest in all things tech that drew him to Trulioo last year. By partnering with data verification entities around the world, the company helps authenticate the identities of people registering for businesses online. As its business development executive, Smythe helps source, negotiate and contract those partners, but he’s more of a weekday warrior in that his work schedule is sidelined by his athletic ventures: “Whenever I have my downtime, I’ll do my work for Trulioo, usually late at night.”

Smythe’s debut with the national team in 2014 was a particularly special moment for him. It was in Kuantan, Malaysia, and it was his first time representing his country alongside his older brother Iain: “We ended up placing second and getting a silver medal,” he says of the Champions Challenge.

And yet the road to becoming an Olympian was long and full of detours for the Vancouverite. From battling Crohn’s disease to being among the last cuts for the Rio Olympics in 2016, Smythe was fighting to keep his determination.

Just three years later, in 2019, he found himself a drag flick away from scoring his biggest dream.

“It was a beautiful Saturday in October,” Smythe recalls of his favourite game to date. By then he’d been playing midfield and defence on the senior team for five years, and he was about to play a two-game series against Ireland in West Vancouver. It was the moment of truth: the Olympic qualifier.

“The first day we went out and ended up losing by a score of 5-3.”

Whichever team had the most goals at the end of the two days got their ticket to Tokyo. Thanks to a penalty shot by Team Canada in the last few seconds, day two came to a head in a fierce shootout.

“They went up 3-0 on us in the shootouts,” says Smythe. “We ended up coming back 3-3. It was crazy. We went into sudden death shootouts.”

In the end, Canada scored the final goal. The crowd went wild and Smythe was left speechless. “Just a rush of adrenaline, excitement, happiness… everyone that I knew, watching at that moment, in Vancouver, my home… it was a very exciting day.

“People still come up to me like, I’ve never seen a field hockey game in my life, but I watched that and it was the best sporting event I’ve ever been to.”

He remembers that feeling following him all the way to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021: “The first anthem of the first game, there’s a great picture of me just smiling the entire time, because I knew that was the moment that I was going to be an Olympian.”

Warrior Spotlight

Vancouver-based regulatory technology company Trulioo acts as the middleman for its clients to confirm whether the people signing up for their digital services are legit. With partnerships around the globe, Trulioo verifies identities and addresses of people and businesses online. “The way we do that is through an [application programming interface],” explains business development executive John Smythe. “We send a signal to our data partners, and they’ll tell us whether or not it matches their records.” With investors from the likes of Goldman Sachs to American Express, the global verification outfit scaled from less than 10 people in 2011 to over 400 employees today. It currently offers real-time verification of five billion consumers and 330 million businesses worldwide.