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Meet the 34-year-old CEO of BroadbandTV

Shahrzad Rafati grew up without a computer. Today she’s running one of the top technology companies in the country and turning YouTube videos into major money-makers.

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Shahrzad-Rafati-of-BroadbandTV

Shahrzad Rafati, CEO of BroadbandTV. Photo, Peter Holst.

Occupation: Founder and CEO, BroadbandTV

Age: 34

Lives: Vancouver

Hometown: Tehran

Education: Bachelor of computer science, University of British Columbia

Q: How did you get your start?

A: I founded BroadbandTV right out of school. The online video space was still very new then [2005], and media organizations didn’t understand how to manage their content . We’re now the fifth-largest network on YouTube. Basically, our technology helps your YouTube video get more viewers, which means more money from advertisers.

Q: What is the pivotal moment that led you here?

A: It was definitely moving to Canada. I left Tehran when I was a teenager and arrived in Vancouver with one suitcase and some very basic English. I studied computer science because I had a strong math background, but I had never owned a computer in my life. I didn’t even have an email account! Those first few years were really challenging, but I couldn’t achieve my dreams in Iran.

Q: What was your proudest career moment?

A: When the company became profitable enough to hire and we grew from three employees to 74. Having more people means more innovation, more technology and more jobs. I feel proud to be a part of it.

Q: Has being a woman in technology helped or hurt you?

A: Thankfully I’m pleased to say that some of the difficulties that previously existed around being a woman in tech are evolving. When I set out with the business in 2005 there was certainly a feeling that I had to prove myself and that I were really being tested. Ultimately it made me work harder and close the deals that I was chasing at the time.

Today we have great female business leaders in the tech space such as Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and Susan Wojcicki to name a few; they’ve set a great example for other up-and-coming female entrepreneurs.

Q: What’s the best advice you were ever given?

A: Always do the right thing — personally and professionally. It may not be easy, but you’ll never regret it.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: Working with people I like. It takes a different kind of person to work at a start-up. They know there’s an upside but also realize it’s not nine-to-five. I work with very driven people who share my zeal for innovation.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: Staying ahead of the curve. Right now I’m thinking about how to better monetize mobile video content.

Q: Did you always know you’d work for yourself?

A: Absolutely. Both my parents and my brother are entrepreneurs — once you see people around you do it, it seems achievable. There are great start-up stories in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we need more of those stories in Canada. I’d like BroadbandTV to be one of the largest tech companies in North America, not just because it will create jobs, but also because I hope it will promote a greater spirit of entrepreneurialism in Canada.

Q: What personality traits do you need for your job?

A: Passion and tenacity. They’re what kept me from giving up in the first few years. Being humble is also important. If you have an ego, you stop listening. And if you don’t listen, you’ll repeat other people’s mistakes.