The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Marie Chevrier, CEO and Founder, Sampler, a technology platform that assists consumer packaged good companies in distributing product samples.
Name: Marie Chevrier
Job Title: CEO and founder, Sampler
Years in the Industry: 10+ Years
The Quote That Most Inspires You: “Que Sera, Sera.” This quote is from a song my grandmother used to sing to me when I was young. The song goes “Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que Sera, Sera.” (Ed Note: The song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and sung by Doris Day in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. The origins of the quote date back to a 16th century an English heraldic motto.) I remind myself of this simple saying whenever I am faced with both opportunities and challenges. The saying reminds me that I’m on a journey and that every moment in that journey was selected for me with a greater purpose.
What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?
While in college, I began working with experiential firms where I distributed product samples in grocery stores and on street corners. That’s when I realized that product sampling could be so much more targeted and measurable. When distributing samples to whomever walked by, we truly had no idea who was taking the sample and whether or not that consumer went on to love or hate the product.
I had no specific STEM experience, but I had studied digital marketing in university and I knew that product sampling could be so much more powerful if it was properly digitized. In August of 2013, with nothing more than a few rough mock-ups of the technology I envisioned, I was able to sell my first client and had two months to make my idea come to life. From there, Sampler was born.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
I have encountered numerous instances where I was underestimated or treated differently because of my gender. From VCs asking if I would rather stay home and have kids to having questions being deferred to my male colleagues during pitches. It has not always been an easy road, but I like to think that the journey has made me more resilient.
I am lucky to say that for every one person who could have discouraged me, I met two people who lifted me up. This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about giving back to our community.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
The women leaders that I have the chance to have in my network all have one secret ingredient: empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand someone’s thoughts or feelings. It is my personal opinion that the secret to a strong company is its people. And in today’s world, people want to work with people who are aligned to their values and respectful of their opinions, beliefs or needs. I believe that women leaders have a natural ability to deliver on that.
Technology is historically a male-dominated industry, yet the use of tech is fully embraced by women, and many studies even suggest that females are the primary buyers of tech in the home. What do you feel the technology industry needs in order to attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?
I believe that we need to encourage our women entrepreneurs with more support to go “all the way.” While we’ve done an incredible job at supporting women-led businesses in the early stages of business with funding, mentoring, et cetera, the reality is that we have not had a lot of examples of women-led businesses that go all the way to IPO or to a unicorn-like exit. I believe that this is due to lack of women-specific resources in those later stages of development. We need a few examples to lead the way so that we can see it’s possible, and the government and our community can help support high-potential businesses so that they get the push they need to go all the way and eventually inspire others.
Another opportunity is to support founders in some of our policy making. When I went on my maternity leave, Canada Revenue Agency ended up declining my application for parental benefits although I had been paying into the program for years and ultimately had been creating jobs for so many years. I was in shock. The rationale was that as a business owner “I would not truly be able to take a maternity leave.” They audited my e-mail signature, my voicemail greeting, and asked me several questions over the course of two interviews to evaluate that my business was heavily dependent on me. I didn’t realize what the questions were about, therefore I spoke passionately about what we’d accomplished and the verdict was: Nope! I was left with no government support during my parental leave, the first “real pause” I had planned to take in over seven years of company building.
If you had to sum up what it is like being a woman in this male-dominated technology industry in just a few words, what would you say?
Today, I’d say it’s rewarding to have had the chance to see the change. I am lucky to have women investors like Michelle McBane (StandUp Ventures), Shelley Kuipers (The51) and Michelle Scarborough (BDC WIT Fund) just to name a few.
Are there women in the tech industry who inspire you?
I am so lucky to work with so many amazing women every day at Sampler. For example, Shonezi Noor, our Chief Operations Officer, is the strongest business operator I know. Together we have been through so much. Her dedication to our mission, to her team, and to her craft inspires me every day. With Shonezi, nothing is insurmountable. She has a unique ability to turn any problem into a succinct series of next steps. A strength we are so thankful to have on our executive team.
Another example is our Board Director, Alexandra Panousis. Alex’s resume speaks for itself as the CEO of well-known agencies like Dentsu Media Canada, Publicis Media, and Havas Village. But her superpower is her ability to understand the key trends happening around us and to leverage them to guide business strategy for her own businesses and her clients. In an industry that’s been going through so many changes I am truly blessed to have her on the team.
What are some of the misconceptions/myths about women working in the technology space that you’d like to dispel?
It’s possible to build a family and a business at the same time!! My husband and I welcomed our son to the world two years ago and while it’s a little busy in our house, we make it work and wouldn’t change anything.
What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
One of my pet peeves is when people coin certain business ideas as “Women problems.” For example, when I started pitching Sampler, I had many male VCs say “Oh samples…my wife would love your site.” I always felt that was quite the discount from the multi-billion industry we’re going after. With women being responsible for the majority of purchase decisions in the household, you’d think we’d realize that “women problems” equals massive industries.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
Absolutely. Whether we get more help on the way or not, women-led ventures are making big waves and are building resilient companies that I believe will have a large opportunity to shine during these more uncertain times.
In fact, many of my peers have recently closed Series B Financings, are making acquisitions, are closing big deals, et cetera. The future is bright for women-led ventures. I’m so proud of all of them and feel so fortunate to build alongside them!