Written by Elena Yunusov
How did Raw Signal Group get started?
Just over a year ago, my partner and I started a blog, The Co-pour, about the things we wish we’d known starting out as people managers in tech. The response was overwhelming; we thought we were writing for a small group of tech workers, but non-tech people wrote to say they were struggling with the same problems. We decided to turn the blog into a book, and realized we could turn our side hustle into our main hustle. We both gave notice at our startup executive roles to start a business helping build better managers and leaders in growing organizations.
What are you hoping to achieve with this new venture?
Raw Signal Group builds better bosses. We work with organizations who are in high- growth sectors like tech or scaling quickly. Companies that must add a management layer in a hurry typically struggle with a common set of problems. For example, according to recent census data, Toronto is now a majority-minority city, where more than half of residents identify as visible minorities. Yet our ecosystem struggles with many of the same tropes that plague tech generally. Against the backdrop of one of the most diverse cities in North America, we build homogenous companies, we host all-male panels, and we worry that hiring for diversity lowers the bar. The entire tech industry has a lot of work to do on this front. Tech in the GTA is no exception. But we can be.
And then you wrote your book, which just came out earlier this year. Why did you write it? Who did you write it for? What kind of feedback have you had?
We joke that we wrote our book — How F*cked Up Is Your Management? An Uncomfortable Conversation About Modern Leadership — for ourselves 3-5 years ago. We took roles as tech managers but were never trained in best practices, so we started writing down everything we wish we’d known starting out. Fast forward to 2017 and we see organizations make the same mistakes over and over again. It seemed irresponsible not to write some of this stuff down to try and steer people toward better outcomes.
What kind of support and feedback have you have received from the community and clients of Raw Signal Group?
The Toronto tech community has been incredibly supportive of both Raw Signal Group and the book. Both Johnathan and I are lucky to have deep connections in tech both here and globally. Most of the companies we talk to are interested in ‘training up’ their managers; it’s important to them that their trainers come from tech and know what it is to lead in a fast-paced and often demanding environment.
What did it mean to leave Wattpad behind, and make the transition into starting something new?
I love the team at Wattpad and learned so much in my tenure there. The company’s founders were incredibly supportive of me as an entrepreneur. I had run a successful business years ago but really struggled with scale — I couldn’t figure out how to grow it. This time around, I knew I wanted a co-founder at inception. Having a partner has made me bolder and more strategic.
How is your business going so far? What are your plans for the next year or two?
We’ve been fortunate that all our client work has been inbound, which is unheard of for a new business. We chose to only take on work in the GTA. While we’ve been approached by companies in Silicon Valley, New York, and London, we love the idea of giving Toronto-based companies an advantage on identifying, developing, and retaining great leaders.
Why do you do what you do? What keeps you going?
I love technology. I was a kid who grew up reading the original Wired magazines. It’s hard to overstate how formative this was for me. Two weeks after finishing my undergrad, I picked up and moved to San Francisco because I couldn’t imagine working in any other industry. I could only imagine all the good that would come from a more connected world and more democratized systems. I still feel excited and optimistic about tech, but I’m also more realistic about the limitations of this industry. I understand what’s at stake and I romanticize it less, but twenty years in, I still love it.
What are some of the challenges you came across in your journey so far?
People have strong reactions when you found a business with a spouse. But I honestly don’t know how people found businesses when they don’t live in the same house. You spend so much time together. It’s such an amazing grind to get a business off the ground, but it’s very rewarding.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with other founders / entrepreneurs?
The second time around is easier. You’ll have a much better sense of what to expect, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what it takes to succeed. Find a cofounder you trust and a problem you love.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Tisdelle