What is it like to be the first startup in your industry? The first to disrupt? The first to see the problem and know that you can fix it? I’ll Go First, a podcast from The Globe and Mail, takes us on a journey to find out.
Amanda Truscott: It’s a little bit like being on Mars honestly. It’s mostly just been odd, you know, looking around a room of 300 people and seeing that only 10 of them are women. Even in tech it’s not as bad.
Takara Small: From the Globe and Mail, this is I’ll Go First.
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TS: I’m Takara Small, welcome to the show where we talk to entrepreneurs to find out what it takes to blaze a trail in the tech world.
When we talk tech and trailblazing, we don’t immediately think about mining. Some Canadian mines have been in operation for over a hundred years, and in an industry that old innovation doesn’t happen easily.
But no industry is immune to disruption.
AT: My name is Amanda Truscott, I am a co-founder and CEO of Rithmik Solutions. We build advanced analytics for predictive maintenance on mining equipment.
TS: Amanda Truscott’s company Rithmik uses artificial intelligence to predict and detect faults in huge pieces of mining equipment, saving companies millions of dollars in downtime and repairs.
So she’s disrupting a very traditional industry, but that isn’t the only reason we wanted to speak to Amanda. The trail Amanda is blazing isn’t just her company’s. It’s being a female CEO in an industry that’s heavily dominated by men. It’s being a journalism graduate in a STEM field. It’s applying creativity and communications skills to a very traditional, very technical field.
Because of that, our conversation was thoughtful and personal. We talk about AI and mining, but we also talk about internalised misogyny, running a company with your partner and being a reluctant CEO.
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TS: Tell me a little bit about what it’s like starting a business with your partner.
AT: I mean, starting any kind of a business is always stressful, right? It’s - it’s not for the faint of heart. And we both went through that, that sort of entrepreneurial journey. Even if I wasn’t involved in the business at all, I would have been going through it just because I would have been, you know, experiencing the emotions that he was experiencing. So in a way, I think that it has been helpful because we’ve really been able to always understand what the other person is going through. So it’s not like he has to come home and explain to me why he’s upset. You know, at any given time, because sometimes things go well and sometimes things don’t go well. It’s the nature of being in a startup. So being able to really understand each other has been actually really helpful.
TS: And Kevin is your partner?
AT: Yeah he’s my life partner.
TS: And your startup is working in an industry that’s predominantly male dominated. What is that like for you?
AT: It’s a little bit like being on Mars honestly, because I have never in my life before been in such a male dominated industry and I haven’t found it to be hostile at all actually. I think that there’s a real concerted effort on the part of mining companies to want to be more inclusive. They’re - I think they’re struggling a little bit with figuring out how to do that. It’s mostly just been kind of odd, you know, looking around a room of 300 people and seeing that only 10 of them are women. That’s happened before.
TS: Is that your first time experiencing that level of, I guess, disparity gender?
AT: Yeah. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Even in tech it’s not as bad.
TS: What was the thought process when you were asked to take on this role?
AT: I was like, are you sure? Really? Me? And the guys were like, yes, you know, we think that you can do this. And I guess I had been kind of performing a lot of the functions. I was really.
TS: Without the titles.
AT: Without the titles. Yeah. So pitching to investors and really helping them with strategy and telling the story of the business, I was doing all of that without the title.
TS: Interesting you didn’t innately think, OK, I should have the title that goes along with all this work.
AT: No. Because I am the least technical person in our company and I also have the least amount of experience in mining of anyone in our company and so it would have made more sense to me at the time that they wanted to promote me for there to be someone in charge who had those backgrounds but John Peck, actually, who’s a really important partner and mentor of ours. He runs Peck Tech Mining Technology Solutions. He said, you know what, it’s a non-issue. You bring something unique to the table and if people have a problem with the fact that you’re a woman or with your particular background, then... these aren’t the words that he used. I think he used something a little bit more salty, but he said basically they can shove it. So... And so that made me feel a lot better actually hearing that from him.
TS: It reminds me of something an adviser shared with me was that women will often only apply for a job if they meet 100 percent of the requirements, whereas men will sometimes or more likely to apply if they meet, for instance, half. Have you seen that yourself in your career?
AT: For sure. For sure. Yeah, I see a lot more hesitancy. And in women, young women in terms of stepping forward and saying, I can do this, I’m capable of this, even if they are. And I’ve definitely experienced it in myself. I was like, these are some serious boxes I don’t check. Are you sure you guys? They had so much more confidence in me than I had in myself. I was just like, well, OK, you know, if you want me to do this, then then I’ll do it.
TS: We’re going to jump into a couple questions I have just about yourself. OK, so you graduated with a degree in English lit.
TS: And you did a master’s in journalism.
TS: Now you’re in mining.
TS: It’s quite a, quite a career journey for you.
AT: Yeah, it’s been unique.
TS: And you decided journalism wasn’t for you. What was the reason behind that?
AT: It was the nature of the work. It didn’t sit well with me emotionally. I found the relationships with sources to be really hard because I had to find ways to connect with people in order to get the information that I was looking for. And then I had to pretend like those connections didn’t exist in order to write the stories that I needed to write. And I respect that those things need to happen. I have a ton of respect for journalists. It’s work that needs to be done. It just wasn’t work that I had the emotional flexibility really to pull off in terms of my own mental health.
TS: Mm hmm. And now you’re in an industry where I feel like it requires also so much confidence and so much personal connection as well.
AT: Mm hmm.
TS: How have you developed those skills?
AT: So I found that actually a lot easier weirdly, for a couple of reasons. One is that I have so much confidence in my team that for me really becomes a replacement for any kind of self-confidence that I might lack, because I know that I have them behind me. And so it allows me to project a lot of confidence. Plus, the relationships that I’m building are long term. They’re permanent. They’re not ephemeral. They’re not, you know, for for a soundbite or for an article. They’re really - these are things that should be in place for years. And so I feel like I can be a lot more authentic about that. And I actually really like that.
TS: Mm hmm. And growing up, did you ever think you would be an entrepreneur?
AT: No. No, I. Because I never would have had the confidence to strike out on my own. Wow, I never would have thought that this would be something that I could do. But the great thing about Kevin and this is something that Chris, our other co-founder, said about him the other day, is that he has a way of convincing you that you’re capable of things that you didn’t know that you were capable of. And, you know, whether it’s him convincing Chris that he’s actually capable of snowboarding over a jump that is way too high for him or convincing me that I can run a leg of the death race, which is this crazy ultra marathon. He gets you doing stuff. And so you then discover that actually you are capable of more than you thought. And he has that really amazing leadership ability. And if it weren’t for Kevin, I would not be where I am. There’s no way.
TS: There aren’t many women who are in your position, especially in the industry. Do you have any advice for others who are thinking, OK, I want to follow in Amanda’s footsteps?
AT: Yeah, I would say find people who can help you and who will take a chance on you, because too often we think that we have to go it alone. And you don’t. You really don’t. Mentorship has been so critical for me and for the guys as well. So we had a mentor from the venture acceleration program in British Columbia named Beth Gallup. Just being able to talk to her and talk about what was happening and get her advice was really critical at the beginning and having people like that on our journey, like Emanuelle from Next AI. Other women. Doing big things, it helps a lot. And very often they will be willing and excited to help you because they know what it’s like.
TS: Has your confidence changed? You mentioned that you never saw yourself as an entrepreneur or when you were younger and taking on this role, you had some hesitancy. Are you a little bit more confident now when tackling some of the CEO challenges or, you know, when pitching or negotiating?
AT: Yes and no, because the second something becomes a part of my comfort zone I find that I’m doing something else that’s harder. So I’m kind of always living in this place of err maybe this will work! But I’m certainly more confident about things that used to terrify me.
TS: Mm hmm. There was a recent study that was released by Dell and it said Canada was one of the best places in the world for women entrepreneurs. What’s your experience been like being a woman entrepreneur in Canada?
AT: There is a lot of support for sure. There is a real concerted effort on the part of a lot of banks and accelerators and governments to open things up for women. And I think. In a lot of cases, we are our own worst enemy because. There is misogyny out there. Absolutely, 100 percent. There’s also a lot of internalized misogyny.
TS: Oh tell me a little bit more about that.
AT: So I see in myself still as well, but in a lot of other women, we very often see each other as competition or we get really obsessed with things like our looks or we worry that we’re not qualified for things we don’t want to ask for raises, we don’t want to ask for help, we don’t want to apply for the positions that we don’t think we’re qualified for. I call all of that internalized misogyny. And if anything, I think that that is more pernicious and harder to deal with than the external misogyny that exists. And so I think that women really need to work together to help each other to deal with that problem as well.
TS: So how do you deal with your own internal misogyny? Is it a constant battle?
AT: Yeah, it is. It is for sure. I journal. That helps me kind of monitor my own thoughts, because when you see things on paper, it becomes a lot more stark. You realize, well, that’s ridiculous. You know, why am I telling myself that I have to be so smart and achieving all of these things that would be generally achieved by someone much older and more experienced than I am. While at the same time I’m comparing myself to this line free 20 year old in this tight skirt and that’s just not healthy. So when I write that down and I see that, I think, OK, let’s just kind of take a step back here and remember that I’m a human being doing my best. And that’s really all I need to be.
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TS: OK, so that brings me to Rapid Fire. This is when I ask you a bunch of questions, you have to answer as quickly as possible.
TS: No pressure
TS: What do you do for fun?
AT: I write.
TS: What motivates you?
TS: How many hours of sleep do you get on average per night?
AT: Not enough.
TS: Ooff that’s not good. What’s your greatest fear?
TS: What’s one word your friends would use to describe you?
TS: Favorite song.
AT: Oh, my gosh. The one that’s coming to my head right now is so embarrassing.
TS: No, you gotta say it.
TS: You have to say it! There’s no embarrassing answer. Honestly, I’ve heard everything. What is it? What’s going through your mind?
AT: Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette.
TS: OK. I love it. It’s not embarrassing. She’s Canadian. She’s amazing.
AT: Oh, she’s amazing. She’s amazing.
TS: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
TS: What do you do to de-stress?
TS: One thing you’ve learned this year.
AT: Don’t give up.
TS: Amazing, you did amazing. Congrats. Okay. So last but definitely not least we’re going to do what I like to call the big three and ask you three questions. This is the opposite of Rapid Fire. You can take your time or be expansive, give a little more detail if you feel like you want to. So can you tell me about one mistake that you’ve experienced in your career, but that ultimately led you to find success later on?
AT: Yeah so I self published a book.
AT: I did.
TS: I’m just finding this out now!?
AT: Before Kevin started Rithmik, he and I took a sabbatical, a world trip. We traveled to a lot of different countries. And during that time, I wrote a book called Creative Unblocking that was about my journey through the creative process and it combined some of the research that has been done in the creative process with interviews that I had done with my own experience dealing with artistic struggles and I completely failed at marketing that book.
TS: OK. Are you being a little hard on yourself, though?
AT: I think I sold like 50 copies. I don’t I don’t think it even paid for the money that I spent to get the cover designed and that sort of thing. And the reason that I failed at that is because I tried to do it too much alone. I didn’t have the community to support me. What I learned from that is that you need people and it’s better to work with experts in different areas than to try to do everything yourself. If I had it to do over - because I never even tried to get it conventionally published - I would try to conventionally publish because there is real value in having professional editors and professional cover designers and a professional marketing team. And what I’ve done differently now and what I am doing differently now is just really creating relationships with people and and looking at how I can help them and accepting all the help that they offer me. Because it’s hard to do anything big alone.
TS: Do you see yourself publishing another book in the future?
AT: I think at some point I would like to write about how that creative journey plays into the entrepreneurial journey because I think entrepreneurs don’t have enough respect for parts of the creative process that they maybe should. One of those parts is a step called incubation, which really requires rest. There’s a lot of work that happens in your subconscious when you’re resting. And that’s where the really groundbreaking original amazing stuff happens and if you’re just grinding yourself into the wall all day, every day, it’s really hard to come up with anything genuinely new. And I think there’s so much glorification of this culture of overwork that people don’t make that space for themselves to really create. I want to write about that in some fashion at some point. I definitely don’t have time now but one day I think I will.
TS: It’s interesting your comment about respect for the creative process because you have a degree in English lit. I would see a lot of the lessons learned would be transferable to working in a startup that’s always on the go, you have to have creative solutions to challenging problems and there isn’t a roadmap you can follow for success, has that degree helped your career?
AT: Yeah, both of them have been shockingly useful and practical in what I’m doing now. The ability to gather information from all different kinds of places, the ability to assess things critically, to synthesize, to communicate, all of that is really important for what I do now.
TS: And one more question about that, because I feel like sometimes, you know, in an attempt to be helpful, a lot of parents or universities or colleges will sometimes push youth and students to STEM but you’re saying there is an importance on the creative space and having that type of education as well?
AT: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s going to be the stuff that’s hardest to automate.
That’s gonna be the stuff that A.I. has the hardest time replicating or replacing. I mean, yeah, sure. A.I. is producing art now. It’s even writing novels. Terrible ones. Terrible, terrible ones. But anyway. There is a uniquely human aspect that really gets nurtured in the arts, and it’s important for technical companies to bring that in in order to achieve as much as they possibly can.
TS: Where do you see yourself in five years?
AT: Right now. I I see myself. In this same role, only working with a lot more people. And I see us having a really big, thriving, heart centered company where people feel seen and cared for and excited about what they do.
TS: And what piece of advice would you tell your younger self?
AT: Chill out, oh, just chill out, everything’s gonna be fine. I have wasted so much time in my life worrying and catastrophizing, you know, visualizing catastrophes. And even when things went horribly, it was fine ultimately. And so I could have saved myself a lot of stress.
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TS: That was Amanda Truscott, thanks to her for sharing her story.
So that wraps up this season of I’ll Go First, but we also want to hear your story.
You can reach me online @TakaraSmall on Twitter and Instagram or you can email the show at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re enjoying the show then leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps people find us so please do it friends!
I’ll Go First is a Vocal Fry Studios production. Our producer is Jay Cockburn, with research by Cecilia Keating. Our executive producers are Kiran Rana and Katie Jensen.
For more stories about entrepreneurship, visit theglobeandmail-DOT-com. Subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts.
I’m Takara Small, this has been I’ll Go First.