Nicole Verkindt, founder of OMX and Dragon on the Next Gen Den is the latest talented Canadian to be featured in FLARE’s How I Made It feature. The profiles aim to showcase driven women and some of the stories that got them to where they are today and, in Nicole’s case, is adds a few rarer tidbits like the fact her first job was slinging ice cream, and that her first big break came before she even had a bank account number.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to Western University. I started in international politics, but moved over to the Ivey Business School and finished with an honours in business administration. But, I just want to say that I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was in school. I was interested in a lot of different things and always feeling confused about my future, because all I knew was that I didn’t fit into a traditional career path.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
Scooping ice cream, then cleaning horse stalls during high school. Then in my field, I worked on commission selling press coverage to governments for the Big Media Group out of Belgium.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
One of my first big breaks was landing our first big angel investor, Rob Segal. I marched into his office when he was CEO of Virgin Gaming, totally empty-handed. I had no sales, no code written, no investor deck or PowerPoint presentation, no name and actually not even a bank account number. He heard my story and idea, we went out for lunch and he had to write a cheque to me in my personal name. That’s what kick-started OMX. I always think about that moment and just wish I could go back in time to tell myself five years ago that things would work out OK. I was freaking out inside.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
There has been a lot of ups and downs. In the beginning, just remarks I would hear from people could send me up or down. I had a very good (but always skeptical and never comfortable) feeling that things would work out when we landed our first big deal from Lockheed Martin. They are the biggest government contractor in the world, and their support of our little upstart made us who we are today.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
I heard a lot of rumours about me and my crazy idea, OMX, in the early days. I remember hearing from a large potential client that a senior government official had made fun of me and OMX. She had referred to us as the “eyelash-batting business” when we were getting started. I’m not going to lie, I went home and cried hysterically that night, because I figured she had the power to bring us right down and I had everything on the line.
How did I bounce back? The thing about entrepreneurship is that you don’t have any other option but to move on. If you don’t make sales, you go out of business. And when you have borrowed money from friends, family and angels who believed in you, you just do whatever it takes to make it work. You find other options.
There are people who are helpful and people who are harmful and you can’t let the harmful ones take up any space in your mind. You just don’t have that luxury.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Just work harder than everyone else. Young people especially are always looking for the short cuts, but it is a long grind, with long hours. If you are pitched a “get rich quick scheme,” it’s very likely a scheme.
Read the full interview there.