We chatted with Robert Furtado – teacher turned founder – to discuss his life! Robert is the founder and CEO of online education marketplace CourseCompare.ca and we discuss how his inspired his current endeavours and the surprises he’s faced along the way.
What’s your greatest internal motivator?
My parents immigrated to Canada from Portugal in the 1960s. They arrived with nothing, yet, through hard work and a bit of luck, managed to give my sister Christine and I everything. (Today, they run a successful manufacturing business.) I think their experience, their example, taught me to value autonomy. I’m deeply motivated to determine my own path in life, free from the constraints of a traditional 9-5 job. For me, that means dreaming up and implementing news ideas that have potential to make people’s lives better.
The other thing that drives me is lifelong learning. I’m still as excited as ever to learn new things, and I get bored if I’m not regularly at the edge of my “comfort zone.” When I was growing up, my dad used to say, “Education is something no one can ever take away from you.” Perhaps that’s one reason why I launched CourseCompare.ca: to give people a stronger sense of agency in a world that’s getting harder and harder to navigate.
What’s been the most surprising part of your journey?
I’ve always been impressed by people who take bold but calculated risks. They’ve taught me that it can in fact be risky to play it safe. Risky to not quit your job – imagine that! I believe one critical but often overlooked measure of success is how much learning you do in your career. So, I always recommend people keep the learning curve steep. If you’ve stopped learning, it might be time to move on.
What are you most proud of professionally?
I’ve had a varied career, with stops in politics, academia and business. In government, I helped bring cellular and broadband internet to rural and remote parts of Ontario, and I worked with politicians and civil servants to deliver an agricultural insurance program for farmers affected by fluctuating commodity prices. As a teacher, I’ve deeply enjoyed helping undergraduates learn skills that will set them up for success in the digital economy. And I’m proud of the consulting work I’ve done, which has helped companies find their “why,” scale their businesses and create new jobs in Canada and beyond.
But, honestly, launching CourseCompare.ca is my proudest achievement yet. It’s still early days, but the CourseCompare team and I believe we’ve created something that addresses a real unsolved problem. We’re excited about the potential of our education marketplace to help millions of people become lifelong learners and identify and pursue the country’s most in-demand job skills. We officially launched in June 2018, but, already, we’ve helped more than 2,000 Canadians learn digital skills and launch exciting new careers across the tech industry.
What do you do to maintain energy/sanity outside of work?
Time away with family – it’s that simple. My wife Alyssa and our two-year-old son Elliot are inexhaustible sources of happiness in my life. Travelling and exploring new places with them – especially if there’s hiking, surfing or kiteboarding involved – never fails to help me regain perspective on what truly matters.
Your question reminds me that it’s easy to let unconscious habits dominate your life, whether they’re physical (like mindlessly refreshing the Twitter feed on your smartphone) or mental (like seeking approval from the wrong people). Literally getting out of your physical environment and challenging yourself to try something new, even if it’s just biking along a new route to work instead of driving, is a great way to unlock creative energy you maybe didn’t think you had.
What’s the most exciting aspect of the Toronto tech ecosystem, in your opinion?
It seems Toronto’s tech ecosystem is reaching a tipping point, perhaps in tandem with the growth of Toronto itself as a global city. In 2017, the city created more tech jobs than SF, Seattle and Washington combined. What makes Toronto different, though, is how tightly knit its startup community is despite its growing size. I’m frankly astonished by the level of selfless interest and support CourseCompare.ca has received from startup professionals across the GTA, Hamilton and Waterloo. I just hope we preserve that sense of community as we continue to attract international investment and begin exporting more of our products, services and ideas globally.
Read more stories like Robert’s on our Humans of Tech page.