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  • Writer's pictureNiv Lobo Gajiwala

Immigrants of Tech - Fatima Zaidi

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Meet Fatima Zaidi! Fatima is the Founder and CEO of Quill, a full-service podcast hosting platform. In this interview, we dove into what inspired Quill, what led her to choose Canada as the place to build her company, and advice for newcomers looking to integrate into the local tech ecosystem.

Tell us a bit about your current role at Quill.

Quill is a two-factor company: first and primarily, we’re a full-service production agency where we work with Fortune 1000 brands to launch their branded podcasts - companies like Microsoft, Expedia, and PWC. We work with them to get their audio shows off the ground and market them. We also have a product called Cohost, which is an analytics software for brands and agencies that are podcasting. We're not just an agency, we're a tech-enabled agency, and we collect data from podcasts around the world and then feed it back to customers and consumers.

What's your story - what led you to Canada? And how did you end up in the podcasting space?

I moved to Toronto in 2007 and like many of my peers and colleagues, I came here to go to university. I went to the University of Toronto, and after I graduated, I joined the startup circuit to help organizations scale revenue sales. Before launching Quill, I was running sales for another marketing agency, and I noticed that there was a gap in the market for brands that were interested in creating audio format shows. This was before podcasting was a household name, way before the pandemic when the industry blew up.

In March of 2020, due to COVID, I decided to launch Quill. I think a big part of our success is being at the right place at the right time. I think working hard, having hustle and grind, and having the skill set and business acumen to scale a company are all baseline metrics and requirements that are needed to make a company successful, but I think a big part of success is driving value at the right time - and luck! COVID ended up being good for this industry and podcasting was given a life of its own.

That’s likely one of the reasons why we made the Globe and Mail's fastest-growing companies list this year. 

What led you to choose Canada as the place that you wanted to build in? 

I’m originally from Muscat, Oman. When considering university, I wanted to move to the US and go to NYU, but unfortunately, I couldn't afford it. The tuition was very expensive so that's the reason that I ended up in Canada and I'm so glad that I did. Hindsight is 2020. There were a couple of reasons that made it an easier decision - the University of Toronto was willing to provide a lot more financial aid than NYU was. You can also work in Toronto as an international student living in an international student residence. I was also able to get domestic tuition because I was born a Canadian citizen. I held three jobs during my time at university which I wouldn't have been able to do in the US. So finances played a big part in why I ended up in Toronto.

I think because I went to an international school in Muscat, I had a leg up in terms of being able to adapt and acclimatize to different nationalities and different people from all walks of life. And then when I moved here, I lived in the international residence at U of T and I was able to interact with people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. That was a really interesting life experience.

I'm so glad that I moved here because once I did, I realized that although we glamorize the American dream, the same opportunities are available to Canadians. I've argued that there is access to even more here in Canada - public health care, tonnes of grants, and subsidies for female, BIPOC founders. I don’t think I would have gotten those opportunities in the US.

While it’s true that the US is a big growth market and our customers today are 95% US-based, I would say that I haven't offshored the company from Canada because the country and the government have given me plenty of opportunities and support.

What advice do you have for newcomers who are looking to break into the Canadian tech ecosystem? 

I have a lot of empathy for new immigrants, especially if you're moving here without a Canadian university degree or a job lined up. Canada and the US are notorious for not validating foreign work experience. So in some ways, you’re starting from scratch. I would say first and foremost for people who are starting their careers over, especially women, advocate for yourself. I find that oftentimes it's the women in my network who are scared of putting their hand up and taking credit for their ideas, thinking that while they can do the job and they have the experience, they're worried about being too opinionated or assertive. At the end of the day, we are CEOs of our brand. If you don't advocate for yourself, nobody else will. When you are just starting your career, your brand is going to matter. And you have to ruthlessly prioritize that by advocating for yourself. 

The second piece of advice is something that I was given when I first graduated and was looking for my first job. One of my mentors said to focus on the Rule of Three – do three things every day to keep your network warm. I still follow this advice 17 years later and this mindset has snowballed into the network and opportunities that I have today. Those three things can be inviting someone to go for coffee, reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, or writing an article. It can be anything that you want it to be, big or small. Make it a habit. It does snowball your network, opportunities, and momentum.

Thank you for sharing your story, Fatima!

Niv Lobo Gajiwala is our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Strategic Initiatives Lead at Artemis Canada. Niv authors our Immigrants of Tech Series, and founded our Recruitment IDEA Toolkit. Niv has always been interested in ways to redistribute top talent - she's currently working on The Bridge Project - to educate and integrate newcomers with tech experience into the Canadian tech ecosystem.


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