By Joseph Mathieu
Andrea Baptiste, a seasoned telecommunications executive, gladly shared lessons learned during her career working exclusively for startups at Carleton University’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) lecture on March 22.
In recognition of National Engineering Month, the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) co-presented the lecture with the TIM program to give engineering students a glimpse at a successful engineer turned CEO.
“Engineering is all about problem-solving,” said Baptiste. “We are analytical, creative and curious, and those are super valuable in a startup.”
Edwin Morton, council member at the IET, introduced Baptiste as someone who had many adventures to get where she is today.
Seven years ago, she joined Ottawa’s Benbria Corp. as president and CEO. The private company develops the messaging tool Loop that helps consumers engage with brands through mobile apps, and it is the sixth successful business in which Baptiste has been involved.
Baptiste opened wide her CV for a crowd of students and professionals, and she encouraged all to glean insight from her triumphs as much as her failures.
Her career began in 1988, three weeks after graduating from Queen’s with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, when she joined the R&D department at Newbridge Networks. Back when startups weren’t nearly as prevalent, Ottawa’s Newbridge was just over a year old and already 200 employees strong.
The open management philosophy of the company that was acquired by Alcatel in 2000 encouraged fresh hires to learn more about the business, and Baptiste was able to interact with customers, senior executives and even operations. There, she witnessed circuit boards she had designed being manufactured.
“Work for a company that will give you that exposure,” said Baptiste. “There is never much training in a startup, so your experiences will be an education in themselves.”
At TeleSat Mobile, she learned about product testing from a management perspective, and, in 1993, she joined telecoms management software startup CrossKeys Systems as their first product manager. Four years later, she tried her hand at marketing and business development for Cambrian Systems, a company that specialized and excelled in optical networking. Cambrian, which was acquired by Nortel in 1998, recognized that local and metro infrastructures were underdeveloped, which was a major key to their success.
“Landing early customers for validation and revenue is essential for every startup,” said Baptiste, “but getting out there and talking to consumers right away to identify needs is extremely critical.”
Within these four startups, she’d seen the engineering, product management, and marketing side of things and felt confident enough to co-found her own company in 2000.
Atreus Systems began in a garage and went from consulting for Internet service providers to a multimillion-dollar network monitoring platform in a year and a half. As the dot-com bubble burst, Atreus had just achieved financing of $4 million.
“Sometimes it’s all about luck and timing,” Baptiste said with a smile. “But perseverance and a hard work ethic, in my opinion, trumps everything.
“Remember, you have to know how to solve problems because you’ll have a heck of a lot of them heading your way.”