Written by Andrew Seale

When Google tabled an unsolicited bid for PostRank, the tiny Waterloo startup Carol Leaman was running in 2011, the serial entrepreneur was faced with a choice: walk into a role at the tech mega-corp or entertain an offer from a husband and wife duo to run their obscure learning platform 17muscles. 

For Leaman, the choice was simple – buy the employee learning platform. “(Early stage companies) are really my sweet spot, it's what I'm meant to do,” says Leaman. So that’s what she did, changing the name to Axonify and mapping out an aggressive product roadmap to take that nucleus and turn it into a tool used by corporations to train their employees through gamification.

“What they brought me was a very ugly looking product not scalable and built in a very rudimentary fashion (but) it worked dramatically to change behaviour in the client they implemented it with,” says Leaman. “I knew they were onto something.”

And Leaman’s intuition has rarely steered her wrong in the past. For over a decade, she has been working with early-stage companies, sometimes advising and mentoring, other times taking the helm as CEO. Her experience in the tech world spurred Communitech to tap her as the innovation centre’s first executive-in-residence (which is where she’d met the PostRank founder and eventually been asked to join the company).

But Axonify was pure timing. The original founders had reached out for advice right before Google came knocking for PostRank, so Leaman was able to go all-in after the sale.

And she says she’s glad she did. “We're just light years beyond where we started.”

Axonify boasts clients ranging from Walmart and Toyota to Bloomingdale's and Johnson & Johnson. At its core, it’s a micro-learning platform, using three-to-five minute daily games adaptive to each individual and type of business.

“It’s behaviour changing,” says Leaman. “(It) gets people to sell more, gets workers in dangerous environments to have fewer accidents – (it )reduces errors in claims processing.” 

And the platform can measure everything along the way to prove to employers it’s working.

Plus, it’s fun, says Leaman. Not to mention the intellectual fun for the serial entrepreneur which comes with building an early stage product into a frontrunner in the microlearning sphere with 130 customers in 95 countries around the world.

“I'm just thrilled, here we are five and a half years later and since the launch of the new platform it’s been a tremendous ride,” says Leaman. And a ride made possible by the support network in Waterloo.

“Waterloo has such a great combination of things – highly skilled developers, low cost of living, you can reach anywhere in the world from here,” she says. “There’s support here for early-stage like nothing else, there's capital you can raise… really there are no barriers to building a business in Waterloo.”

Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)