#7: The Interview with Alison

Jack_NameSome of the great tech teams in history have been built on partnerships. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack. Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. Merge is made up of 3 co-founders with their own skills, personalities, and contentious issues.

Ryan Faust, who I met with in my first piece on Merge is the business co-founder and de facto CEO. Alison Redgrave is the software co-founder with a history for jumping ship after getting bored–her words not mine. And, Jasper Collins is the hardware co-founder who is the most seasoned on the team and the only married one of the team.

This week I had the chance to sit down with Alison to talk about her, Merge, and where she thinks Merge is headed.

I’m meeting with Alison at her loft in downtown Kitchener. Before I walked through the door I had to knock a few times. Alison answered the door clearly annoyed about something and also only wearing one sock. She threw on another ankle sock as she sat on one of the bar stools in her kitchen.

Alison’s apartment has huge bay window’s that overlook part of the downtown. The furniture is minimalist except for a half dozen mismatched bookshelves crammed full of books. Wall furnishings are made up of 4 or 5 movie posters, such as Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the 80’s classic The Goonies. I don’t see a desk anywhere in the loft, but her sample Merge device and portable monitor are stilling on the kitchen counter charging. The space is clean, quirky in decor, and not quite what I had expected.

Jack: Thanks for sitting down with me today to chat for a few minutes.

Alison: I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. You being here is tied to our VC money and I’m not really in a position to say fuck you to Jason Hamilton’s money.

J: Is money the reason you are helping to start your first company?

A: No. Money doesn’t interest me all that much. It’s a means to an end. Without money this ends and I can finish what I start with Ryan and Jasper. We’re here to create a platform that hasn’t existed before and keep moving Canadian-based technology forward.

J: I have to ask, where is your desk?

A: I don’t have one. They’re a waste of space for me. I work where ever I have a place to sit down. The couch is currently winning the role of where I set up shop when I work on the weekends here at home.

J: Do you work at home during the week?

A: No.

J: Why not?

A: I’m in a creative business. Sure, I deal in software and applications instead of paint and canvas, but it still requires creative thought and I learned a long time ago that you have to recharge your creative side or you’re going to burn out. When I leave the office at night to come home or out to a pub I disengage for that time to get myself back to center.

J: Is it important that you’re based in Canada?

A: There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I’ve done the Silicon Valley thing and it wasn’t for me. There’s a lot of money, activity, and hype. The problem is, technology is built on ideas, drive, and collaboration. You only really get money and ideas in the Valley.

Here in Kitchener-Waterloo you have a community. I hate to get all gooey on you here, but whether you’re in Toronto, Vancouver, or Kitchener-Waterloo you have communities who give a shit about you and don’t take you for granted. Kitchener is just the right place given the talent from the University of Waterloo, and with BlackBerry shedding talent that really helped Jasper on the hardware side. Half his team came out of the last big round of layoffs before the company started to level out.

J: You seem to have a lot of respect for your fellow co-founders Ryan and Jasper. Is there a reason you’ve hopped from company to company over the past few years?

A: I haven’t fucking hopped. I moved to where the action is. I’m 26-years-old, a woman, and have had to deal with a lot of shit over the years having usually been the only female developer on a team. I’m opinionated and shove the truth in people’s face. They kept me on because I’m good at what I do.

I have moved to each company for the same reason each time: I want to build something.

The problem 98% of all very successful startups is they have an idea, create a product with the idea of building a company around it, then they receive VC money and it all changes.

J: What changes?

A: The reason for starting the company. Money changes their priorities. Nearly every VC I’ve met hopes for a strategic exit in order to make money, not build a company. This mentality is eventually adopted by the startup’s founders and the product goes to shit or eventually disappears.

They choose increasing users over sustainable growth with strategic investments to grow. When that happens I see a shift away from what the user wants and towards what the investor wants. That’s when I walk away.

J: How have the past 6 months been since you started Merge?

A: The progress has been pretty impressive. Not fast enough in my opinion, but we’re making strides giving the recent lose of a few team members.

J: What makes Merge different in order to avoid this?

A: Ryan and Jasper make it different.

J: In what way?

A: Damn, I didn’t know you were going to pepper me with questions like this.

Ryan and Jasper are what makes this different for me. Ryan’s gone through the whole build a company and then sell the company when his company Shippd was acquired back in 2011. I think he’s done selling.

And Jasper, he’s a family man. A husband and father. He’s not looking for quick cash. You don’t relocate your family and your entire life to another country for nothing. If he was looking for a big paycheck he could be working for nearly any company in the world. I think he wants to build something for the long haul. Legacy and all that crap. He wouldn’t put an end to Merge unless it was the only logical choice.

J: If Merge were to ever end how do you see it ending?

A: With a bang…and a drink in my hand. Or, me throwing my drink at Ryan. Or at Jasper. I’d say it’s a 50/50 chance of either having a glass chucked at them.


Next Post – #8: Flaws in the Open Office Concept

Previous Post – #6: LinkedIn is Hell, Good Thing I’m Hitting the Road

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