Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hip + Urban Girl Of The Week: Carolyn Van

Carolyn and I connected instantly after meeting last year. We are both geek girls with big startup dreams! It's hard not to be inspired when you are around this "Head Shark" and that's why we just had to make her HUG of The Week.

What made you want to become "Head Shark" and start your own communications agency instead of going the traditional employee route?

As a child, I was known to ask “why” – constantly. In fact, so much that it likely got on people’s nerves. Now, constantly questioning business and marketing methodologies makes me good at what I do.

Before starting thirdocean, I found myself in situations within organizations where the responses I got to “Why?” were “That’s just the way it is” or “We’ve been doing it that way for 15 years” To me, these type of answers don’t fly. I started creating newer and better processes, building best practices and becoming a thought leader to senior level management and C-Level executives.

I like fixing messes and I like drilling down to the root causes of things and have found that at some organizations employees with this this skill set are not always embraced and accepted. I knew I needed to be in or create an environment where people are not afraid of feeling uncomfortable if it meant working towards organizational change for the better and innovation.

Before gaining experience in the corporate world, I already had a hunch that I was better suited for the start up world. However, I needed to turn that hunch closer to a “know”. No matter how many of my closest friends, colleagues and family described the corporate vs. start up world to me and no matter how many readings I did and workshops I attended, I still wanted to suss out both sides of the fence myself.

Before diving in to thirdocean, I ammo-ed myself up with a valuable amount of experience from both the corporate world as well as being on management team for a start-up marketing agency. The lessons I decided to take from a previous start-up and from my corporate experience are invaluable – and I intend on continuing to apply it to thirdocean and whatever else is in store for me up ahead.

What is a typical day in the life of Carolyn Van?

There really is no “typical” day. On some days, the only time I have time to myself is when I’m waiting for the streetcar to and from back to back meetings, when I’m in line for coffee and when I’m sleeping. Other days, I’m glued to my laptop for 12 hours+.

Today was one of those days:

8:00am- 9:00am Wake up, get ready
9:00am – 10:00am Out the door, commute to office, On the way respond to emails and grab a smoothie breakfast
10:00am – 11:30am Program Planning Meeting for a client account we just won
11:30am – 12:30pm Finalize and send off a Post Mortem/Review Report for client
12:30pm – 2:30pm Look in to Client Requests, Address Media Emails, Confirm meetings, Follow up on unaddressed requests to clients
2:30pm – 4:00pm Check in on client accounts, deposit payment checks from clients
4:00pm – 4:45pm Write up complaint letter to vendor
5:00pm – 5:45pm HUG Interview
5:45pm – 6:45pm Work on The Remix Project collaboration terms
6:45pm – 7:15pm Driven Accelerator and Lean Startup Machine Montreal – Advise/ Meetings
7:15pm – 8:45pm Dance Session
8:45pm – 9:30pm Commute home, On the way respond to emails
9:30pm – 10:15pm Prep for next day
10:15pm – Lean Startup Machine Montreal Call

What are things you love about being part of a start-up and things that make you pull your hair out?


The hustle
The speed of which things move. It compliments my lack of patience and my “just get it done” attitude
The support from the start-up community
Building and structuring an organization
Feeling uncomfortable
The constant fight


The difficulty of maintaining my health and sanity
The cliques and “boys clubs” in the start-up community
Having trouble turning my brain off when I need to
Feeling uncomfortable ;) It’s a love-hate relationship

Tell us more about thirdocean!

thirdocean is a digital communications agency. We train organizations on how to weave social media in to marketing and business development efforts, create social media marketing strategies and execute them. We understand the power of strong communities and aim to build and maintain them for the brands we work with.

XConnect is media platform that explores how new media and applications of technology are impacting various industries. We cover a variety of industries and through this we have the pleasure of getting to know game changers and learning about overall challenges, successes and opportunities that lie within the specific domain.

What did you study in University/College? Would you have done anything differently?

I have a Bachelor of Commerce from Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management and I majored in Marketing Management. I would not have done anything differently because I do not believe in regrets – and I think I turned out ok ;)

I was involved in various business leadership roles within the post secondary community for the first 2.5 years – and then found myself branching out beyond University to helping the growth and development of an organization (or “start-up” before start-ups were ever a thing) while continuing to be full time student. Gaining real life experience at the time meant that as I was learning material in the classroom – I was able to immediately able to practice it and see how it applied (or how it did not apply) to the real world business ecosystem.

Favourite places to shop in the city?

For clothes and accessories? I don’t really have favourites (and I’m not a big fan of shopping around/browsing) but if you take a look at my Path or Foursquare, you’ll likely discover that when I do shop, I tend to frequent the following spots:

Banana Republic, Zara, Top Shop, J.Crew, some of the vintage shops along Queen Street East, Courage my Love, Joe Fresh. I am a sucker for buttery leather, well- designed and smart packaging and local Toronto designers.

Tell us about your neighbourhoods and what you like best about it.

I appreciate all of our Toronto neighbourhoods for different reasons - Queen East for vintage finds, The Junction for coffee and industrial home furnishings and Kensington for snacks and sunny days.

The Esplanade for fresh produce, King East for modern furniture and home design and everywhere for restaurants – Toronto is a great food destination and the list goes on...

What advice do you have for hip + urban girls that don't have a tech background but want to be part of a start-up?

First off, get over thinking that you need a tech background. So long as you are looking to build sustainable and innovative organizations, there will always be room for great visionaries and great business leaders – amongst other non-technical focused roles.

I do however recommend at the very least having a solid understanding of what technology is capable of and developing enough technical knowledge to be able to effectively manage those in your organization with tech backgrounds.

Follow Carolyn on Twitter and visit her foodie blog.

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