Moving beyond the classroom as a budding entrepreneur

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Throughout his years at McGill, Jeff Kelisky never forgot his father’s advice, “Leave the world better than when you arrived.” Now, as a global business builder, Kelisky continues to strive to make his mark in the world of business and computer science.

Kelisky graduated from McGill in 1988 with a B.Sc. in mathematics and computer science. Since then, he has been involved in multiple start-up and corporate foundations, including his current position as CEO of the company Picsolve—a company specializing in image capture and distribution. Kelisky attributes much of his success to the strong foundations he acquired at McGill.

“The power of the written word is not to be underestimated,” explained Kelisky, when asked about his experience studying at McGill. He elaborated that the writing courses he took outside of his mathematics and computer science degree really enriched his education.

“You learn to think logically and very early on learn to specify everything as precisely as possible, and care for a wide range of possible scenarios,” Kelisky added. He explained that the combination of computer science and writing courses equipped him with a set of tools from which to use in the business world.

There were some skills, however, that Kelisky acquired after graduation.

“I underestimated the power of raw confidence,” said Kelisky, “People are looking for answers, in terms of companies trying to sell something to customers or putting a proposal together [….] The [situations] where I accelerated the most […] were when I felt confident enough to say, ‘this is what I think needs to happen.’”

To him, the point where he moved on from being a student to an entrepreneur was when he gained the confidence to bring to the table a well thought-out solution.

In an earlier talk this year at McGill, Kelisky explained how his journey as an entrepreneur involved a balance between working towards a long-term goal and leaving some things to serendipity.

“You need to actively manage the role between them,” Kelisky said. “I absolutely would have a direction for myself [but those who work hard] tend to be luckier than most.”

“The more you try and stick to a core [goal], the more you seek these opportunities out and the more you find such things to be serendipitous—they wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t [as] focused.”

One of the problems computer science graduates are facing is the decision whether or not to become involved in pre-existing corporations or try their luck at starting up their own company.

Having had experience in the world of start-ups, Kelisky acknowledges that there is a tremendous amount of learning that comes from the experience. However, he cautions graduates to carefully analyze all the factors that will go into a start-up. These include market demand, potential for future growth, and most importantly, whether or not investors back your idea.

“One of the most powerful things is translating what you know into solving real-world problems,” Kelisky added. “When you make the handshake at the end of the deal, that is when you know you have transformed something that was just an intellectual construct to something that matters and the world has acknowledged.”

In the end, Kelisky says he believes that perseverance is the key to being successful as an entrepreneur.

“In most cases, the difference between success and failure, whether it is a retailer creating a new concept [or] a techie starting a new software platform […] the distinguishing character is that they don’t quit.”

Kelisky explains that entrepreneurs will be told over and over again that their idea won’t work. He advises students to listen to these criticisms and analyze what they are talking about. The important part is to be able to learn from this process of rejection and create a better iteration of the product.