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Spaces spotlight on Emilie Cushman

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Meet Emilie. She’s the 28-yr-old Founder and CEO of Kira Talent who was recently named 2019 Forbes Top 30 Under 30. Her company got its start through an accelerator program, and now boasts the lofty goal of making higher education admissions more fair all around the world. Since setting up shop in Toronto’s Spaces Yorkville, productivity among Kira team members has spiked by 40%.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m the founder and CEO of Kira Talent. Kira is a platform that makes admissions equitable. We do things like timed video interviews, timed written responses, additional assessments that can add into a school’s online applications. Admissions teams are looking at more than grades and test scores and transcripts — which we all know are not really proven to measure the success of a student.

Can you tell us a bit about your business’ journey at Spaces? What’s inspiring about it for you and your business?
Previously we worked at the DMZ (Ryerson University’s business incubator, based in Toronto, Canada), which we loved. It was a beautiful space, floor-to-ceiling windows, right at Yonge and Dundas in downtown Toronto. The space was ideal for teams 10 and under, and we had extended our stay until we were about 15 people. So, we found a townhouse, which would have been cool for a 3-week retreat, not for a 3-year office. We were all separated on different floors and it was not very collaborative. It was very dark, and the street itself was kind of unsafe. We decided it was time for a refresh. I’m a firm believer that your work environment really affects your productivity, your mood, and how the team works together. My priority for 2018 was to get us out of that old office. Then we found Spaces, which had wonderful people, great culture, and was right in Yorkville (one of Toronto’s most prestigious neighbourhoods) — what more could you want?

In terms of space, we were looking for a really professional environment. Because we sell to universities, we don’t identify with ‘startup’. We’re 7 years old, so we are still technically a startup, but schools don’t like to buy from startups. They see them as risky and not sustainable. We’re a growing company that needs a professional work environment, and Spaces was the perfect fit.

What are the essentials you need to do your work? Are there apps, tools, or software you can’t live without?
Our client success team uses a software called Ada. They’re a very fast-growing startup in the Toronto tech community. Fantastic company. They produce an AI chatbot that’s been critical for our support efforts. And for our sales team, we use Salesforce; which is the lifeblood of our organization. In terms of other apps, we use Zoom a lot for all of our meetings, and I use Evernote.

How do you stay motivated and inspired throughout the day?
I get energized by my environment in so many ways. I love the fact that our team is all here together, all in the same room. I’m looking around and I can see everyone. It’s so easy to collaborate with people — hop into a room, hop into the common space, whatever it is. And I set things up around me that I like, that keep me motivated. But at the end of the day, I think the biggest thing is being in a space that is conducive to productive work. I can’t stress that enough. Upon moving to this office, we saw a 40% increase in people’s productivity, which is insane.

Can you describe the ‘Kira Talent’ style of working?
We’re super collaborative, probably thanks to the fact that we’re all in this open environment. We’re a growing company, about to hit profitability this year, so we’re not playing the venture game anymore of raise, then raise more. We’re very fiscally responsible. We like to come off polished, but there’s a scrappiness to it as well — we think like a bootstrapped company. And radical candour is something that we talk a lot about. We’re very open and honest. We’re a small team and we’re all in the same room, so there’s just not really any room for secrets or passive aggression. When those things come up, they get squashed pretty fast. So I’d say we’re open, honest, professional, and try to be frank. But everything comes from a place of caring.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Everybody loves a comeback. Especially when you’re starting a company, there are so many downs, as opposed to ups. The ups are great, but they’re few and far between, compared to the hard work and everything that goes into it. Sometimes you feel like you’re failing over and over, and some people will relish in that. But as much as people around you like to see you fall, they’ll cheer for you that much harder when you get back up. So don’t get stuck on the fact that you failed; if you can come back that much stronger, they’ll be your biggest fans.

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