Nicole Janssen

Q&A with Nicole Janssen, '02 BCom and Co-Founder & Co-CEO at AltaML Inc. and Co-Founder & CEO of Janalta Interactive.

Nicole Janssen ('02 BCom) is Co-Founder & Co-CEO at AltaML Inc. and Co-Founder & CEO of Janalta Interactive, both based out of Edmonton, Alberta. She considers herself to be a serial entrepreneur and also served as the Chair on the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta & NWT. Nicole gives us a glimpse into her life, businesses, and favorite business advice.

Nicole janssen

BAA: Tell us about your undergraduate experience at the Alberta School of Business. What are your favorite memories?

Nicole: Although my degree itself and the learnings I had proved to be very valuable in my future career, the part I enjoyed the most was taking part in a student group and networking through it even when I didn't realize I was actually networking! I participated in a student group in the Business Faculty throughout my entire Bachelor's Degree. To this day, some of my most valued business colleagues are people I met in that group. I also had the opportunity within that group to practice the business skills I was learning in the classroom, whether that be running effective meetings, collaborating with people who don't necessarily share your views, understanding financial statements, meeting with businesses as a representative of the student group, running conferences, and more.

BAA: Can you tell us about your journey since graduating from university? What opportunities and experiences have helped you get to where you are today?

Nicole: I had the opportunity to spend a week on Necker Island with Richard Branson (I still can't believe that happened!). There are two lessons he talked a lot about that I have taken and applied to my life. One is that there isn't work and vacation, there is just life. You shouldn't be killing yourself so you can take a few days off then kill yourself when you get back because your work piled up while you were away. I watched how he would play tennis in the morning, work for a few hours, go kite surfing for a bit in the afternoon, then work some more. Sometimes that meant he worked longer into the evening to get everything done he needed to but his day was very fluid. In many stages of your life, you can't operate quite like Richard Branson, but you can try to implement that strategy in other ways. I rarely have a day where I am completely shut off from my company, but I also rarely have a day that is only company related. I like to listen to myself and figure out how to make what makes me happy work. I also love what I do, so that helps too. The other lesson I took from Richard Branson was to always say yes to an opportunity, even if you have no idea how you will do it. For my personality, that is incredibly hard. I am a list maker and a strategy builder. Until I have explored every risk, I am not comfortable moving forward. I have been able to incorporate my personality though into this advice. I do say yes, then I immediately sit down and figure out how I am going to make it work - but I definitely say yes first!

BAA: Tell us a bit about your business. How did you start it and what was the inspiration behind it?

Nicole: We have two active businesses right now: AltaML and Janalta. AltaML is a machine learning software product company. We work with other businesses to solve their business problems to help inform our machine learning-based products. Janalta is a digital media company with niche audience websites in multiple verticals. Janalta started first. It was developed because my husband built Investopedia during University and sold it to Forbes a few years after graduation. We took that model and applied it to other verticals many times over. We realized that the digital media space was going to be disrupted by machine learning so sought out to hire a machine learning developer to help us figure that out. We were blown away by the talent coming out of the U of A so we hired four developers instead of one. As we began talking to other entrepreneurs about our plans, we discovered that there was a significant push to adopt machine learning in many businesses, but no one knew where to start. We used our team to work with a few of those companies on their problems and recognized the potential so we formed AltaML.

BAA: Tell us about your company's growth from when it started until now.

Nicole: Janalta will always be a smaller in-office team because we use writers, editors, and contractors from all over the world for all of our sites, but we currently have an audience of 4 million users per month across all of our sites. AltaML requires significant in-office staff and in just over two years we have grown to 87 employees across three offices.

BAA: Do you have any advice for others looking to pursue entrepreneurship?

Nicole: Make a small bet to validate your idea. Don't go full out into building the business until you have evidence that the world thinks your idea is a good one too.