When Sahand Seifi, originally from Tehran, Iran, moved to St. John’s to further his studies at Memorial University, he did not envision himself starting a company, let alone three.
Twelve years later, Seifi, and the ventures he co-founded, have become key players in St. John’s booming innovation ecosystem.
“I did not come to Canada with what I thought were the right conditions to be an entrepreneur,” says Seifi, who had already embarked on a startup journey back in Iran, and knew from his first-hand experience what reaching success entailed.
“My savings were only $5,000. Considering that I was a student, I still had to keep my expenses low, so spending money to start a business was, at least initially, out of the question,” he recalls.
As Seifi progressed through his studies at MUN, though, he started attending conferences and events related to entrepreneurship, which reignited his sense of possibility. This was bolstered by some of the mentors he encountered while at Genesis, the university’s innovation hub, including Chris Gardner, co-founder of biotech firm Sequence Bio.
“Chris encouraged me to think bigger,” remembers Seifi, acknowledging that, after connecting with more fellow entrepreneurs, he built up his confidence to become a startup founder again, now in a new country.
Seifi’s first venture was HeyOrca, a social media scheduling platform that he co-founded with Joe Teo — who still runs the business, which is still going strong. The road to success, however, was not straightforward.
Initially, HeyOrca created a platform connecting business owners with students. The goal was to assist small businesses in adapting to the digital landscape while providing students with exposure and hands-on experience.
“We realized that most businesses needed help with their social media presence, and that’s what they were asking students to do,” says Seifi, adding, “So that is what sparked the idea for an automated scheduler, which could help our students save a considerable amount of time when managing accounts.”
To scale up, HeyOrca successfully raised funding, however, Seifi realized that creating a digital product from scratch and then leading a venture-backed company were two completely different games.
“I prefer launching products and solving problems and focusing on that, rather than having to push a product only to reach certain growth targets,” Seifi says, mentioning that this fact eventually led to his departure.
But every ending is a new beginning, and soon Seifi went on to partner up with Jan Mertlik. Since then, they have been working on Get Coding, a coding school revolutionizing the tech education scene to elevate Canada’s tech talent pool.
According to recent reports, Canada will need 250,000 additional workers by 2025, and the country has already taken steps to lure tech workers from other nations.
However, these efforts might not be enough to satisfy Canada’s demand. And while many professionals would love to transition to tech, they do not always have the time or the money to go back to school and get another degree.
“Tech is a very specialized field, therefore, conventional education programs are not always the best choice. For me, and now for my clients, going to an institution that was led by tech professionals and focused on the skills that the tech industry needs was the way to go,” says Fernando Saenz, a Digital Transformation Success Officer who used to work in hospitality and transitioned to tech, and now helps others navigate the tech job landscape.
The Get Coding program has a few distinctive features. First, it is taught by seasoned professionals. Second, it involves one-on-one sessions to ensure that it is adaptable to every student’s learning style and that the outcomes are accomplished. Third, it involves building a real project, like an app or tool that makes the process practical and applicable right away. Last, but not least, part of Get Coding’s payment only occurs when the student finds a job.
The school’s graduates are already working at major NL-based tech companies, including HeyOrca, Mysa, and Verafin.
For Andrew Reynolds, who was previously working as a corrections officer at a St. John’s penitentiary, enrolling in Get Coding helped him make a much-needed transition.
“If I could only choose two words to describe Get Coding, they would be ‘life-changing’,” says Reynolds, who now works as a Software Developer at NetBenefit Software, a St. Johns-based tech company that helps businesses measure the socio-economic benefits generated by their projects.
Third venture focused on product development
Get Coding is not the only company that Seifi is actively involved with. Because the training activities were initially conducted entirely in person, the school took a temporary hiatus due to the 2020 pandemic. During that time, Seifi and Mohammad Asahi teamed up to start NotificationAPI, a software company that recently graduated from Genesis’ flagship program, Enterprise.
“Notifications, for users, feel like a seamless process, but in the back end, they are not, so we are simplifying that process so developers can focus on more pressing issues,” Seifi says.
As of now, NotificationAPI processes over a million notifications per month, and it is working with publicly traded companies. Based on his experience with HeyOrca, Seifi opted to reject a venture capital offer. “We are focused on product, and prioritizing it over growth,” he says.
Balancing his time between Get Coding and NotificationAPI, Seifi seems excited about the prospects of his ventures, and when asked about the advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are new to Canada and new to St. John’s, he reminisces of his early days, and what gave him the confidence to get started. He then smiles, and brings up a quote from The Office that sums up his thoughts.
“There are a million reasons not to do something. All you need is one good reason.”
Story and photos produced in partnership between New Canadian Media and SaltWire.
Javier Ortega-Araiza has multiple global experiences as a storyteller and social entrepreneur having travelled to over 30 countries. Now based in Toronto, he is a published author in both English and Spanish."