Connector Spotlight: Simon Tolkin

Connected

Q. What trends are you seeing in product development today?

It’s an exciting time to be helping product teams build software products because lots of companies are currently looking to accelerate their digital capabilities and focus on impactful innovation. However, in my role working closely with many organizations, it’s clear that there’s a lack of specialized talent, which is causing strain as they move toward becoming digitally native.

Q. What’s the most interesting trend you’re seeing today?

What’s interesting is the number of companies that are recognizing the value of product-specialized partners. Product teams can be so deeply embedded in solving user problems that outside partners can sometimes be perceived as unwelcome additions. But as the product development services category grows, the value of an external eye with product expertise is being accurately acknowledged as having great potential to help organizations increase market share or disrupt their industry.

Q. Where did you work prior to Connected?

Prior to Connected, I worked for another Toronto startup called QuickTapSurvey as a sales development representative. During my time there, I learned a tremendous amount, not only about sales but also about the software business/tech industry after we were acquired. Working for a smaller company, in the same room as the product team, also gave me vivid insights into software development and innovation as well as how—if done correctly—they can supercharge a business.

Q. What achievement are you most proud of in your career to date?

One of my proudest achievements was actually during my university days. In my final year, I noticed the massive numbers of wasted textbooks, which sparked an idea: why not ship used books to places that lack educational resources? Instead of creating my own program, I decided to join a B corporation called Textbooks for Change, which properly recycles textbooks, resells them to students at lower prices, and donates them to partner universities in East Africa. By the end of that year, I had helped facilitate the collection of over 12,000 books, half of which were sent to East Africa and 2,000 of which were properly recycled, saving 145 trees. This endeavour allowed me to be part of a team that tangibly improved access to education and economic equality. The experience also kick-started my career in business development and marketing, which I’ll always be thankful for.

Q. Do you have a mantra you live by?

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Q. What do you love to do outside of work?

My favourite things to do outside work include going to Raptors games, watching Arsenal, and attending concerts. In addition to being addicted to sports, I’m a foodie and love new food experiences. One reason I love Toronto is its unlimited food options. Though I’ve visited countless restaurants, I still feel like there’s tons to discover.

Q. If you were stuck on a deserted island, what album, movie, and book would you take with you?

Jay-Z – In my Lifetime, Vol. 1

Zoolander (I’d need a laugh)

The Book of Basketball – Bill Simmons

Q. Describe yourself in three words.

Inquisitive, determined, optimistic.

Q. And finally, what’s your favourite product and why?

Google Maps. There are many reasons why I love the Google Maps app. As an analytics nerd, I think it’s incredible how it leverages data to save users’ time and make life easier. But I think an underrated benefit of the app is that it provides a platform for discovering new experiences. One of my favorite activities is discovering new restaurants, and Google Maps makes it easy to scroll through the map and find the best restaurant in any area. 

Few apps understand the user experience as well as Google Maps while simultaneously and consistently evolving. Recently, the app added a new feature that uses AI to provide route options that decrease one’s carbon footprint. I also hate being late, so its accurate travel times are another Google Maps bonus! 

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