TFS 004 - Philippe Telio


The man who lives his dream.

Photo: Pierre Guité. Philippe Telio, the founder of Startupfest.

Photo: Pierre Guité. Philippe Telio, the founder of Startupfest.

I’m meeting Philippe Telio at the Hôtel Gault in the Old Montreal.

Photo Pierre Guité

Photo Pierre Guité

We are at the beginning of April, the air is still cold and crispy outside.

Photo Pierre Guité

Photo Pierre Guité

In a little more than two months, a few streets from here, the International Startup Festival will bring thousands of entrepreneurs and investors to the Old Port of Montreal. The air will be much warmer in mid-July during the Jazz Festival where people will come from all over the world to listen to the best musicians. I can assure you that seeing people from all ages dancing in the streets is enchanting. You have to come in Montreal, at least once, to experience this.

Photo: Pierre Guité. Hôtels Gault, Montreal.

Photo: Pierre Guité. Hôtels Gault, Montreal.

But this morning, it is much calmer. I'm waiting for Philippe Telio. I'm very curious to know more about the founder of Startupfest.

From our conversation this day, I made two episodes for the podcast of They Make Me Smarter. In this first one, Philippe told the story who brought him where he is today.

As a creative exercise, I combined his storyline with the famous commencement address done at Harvard, in 2008, by J.K Rowling, the best-selling author of the Harry Potter series.

Why this strange combination? Because Philippe Telio illustrates perfectly what J.K. Rowling explained to Harvard graduates: Failure can be an important ingredient in achieving your dream later in life.

Let’s see what we can learn from their experiences.

In 1982, J.K. Rowling was not accepted into Oxford University after taking the entrance exams. As a compromise, she graduated in Modern Languages from the University of Exeter. Twenty-one years later she gave one of the most famous commencement address at Harvard students. Her speech immediately went viral online. In 2015, it was published as a book: Very good lives, the fringe benefits of failure.

J.K. Rowling divided her speech into two parts:
1) The Fringe benefits of failure.
2) The importance of imagination

For my little exercise, I will associate the first part of her speech with the first episode with Philippe, let's see the result.


It's all started nicely. The young Philippe was very inspired by his math and science teacher. "When you're a student you're looking for guidance, you're looking for help. It is certainly not the person who pushes you in a direction but rather the person who is extremely open to listening and hearing you out. I guess it's a little like a psychologist. The goal is not to tell what your problems are but have you dive into your reality."

But after a nice start with an inspirational teacher, everything changed dramatically. Philippe had traumatic experiences during his study, mostly his first year in Engineering and Computer Science at the Western University of Ontario. As it was for many students then, going from an extremely structured and disciplined private school to a university where you were on your own was very demanding for him. He hadn't been prepared for this kind of freedom. "I failed computer science three times."

During his studies, failures helped him to discover what he didn't like. "I learned so much. I learned the things I did not like to do. I did not like the repetitive tasks. I realised it’s not where I will shine." He suffered from a lack of precision which was a significant weakness for an engineer. At that time, in the nineties, systems were not automated as they are today. 

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates.
— J. K. Rowling

J. K. Rowling said that what she feared most, at that age, was not poverty but failure. This gave her the knack for passing examinations and succeeding in her studies. For Philippe, he was confident because of his first teachers, so failure took him by surprise.

Failure is traumatic, always.
— Philippe Telio

J.K. Rowling explained that her parents came from impoverished backgrounds and neither had been to college. She had wanted to write novels, since the age of 6 but her parents, who were hoping that she would never experience poverty, were concerned that she would never be able to pay a mortgage or secure a pension. But as she said: "There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you."

After numerous traumatic experiences during his study and hard work, Philippe finally got his degree. He was now a Civil Engineer but again, life had other surprises for him.

I didn’t know they will be no future, no construction and no opportunities in engineering at the time.
— Philippe Telio

Even if Philippe's first dream had been to practice civil engineering, he never had the opportunity to get a job and practice in that field. What Philippe didn't know then is that adversity was probably his good luck. If he had been a civil engineer, he would probably never have found Startupfest.

I studied in engineering with the original intent to be a bridge builder, I never end up building physical bridges but I like to believe that I built my fair share of virtual bridges.
— Philippe Telio

You should welcome and embrace the obstacles that appear on your road with an open mind and heart. What seems to be bad news now may become your greatest lesson in life and your best opportunity. You can dream of something when you're younger and yet finally, realise something completely different. You may, in fact, be pursuing the dream ingrained in you... you're just not seeing it yet.

Philippe Telio had no idea, at that time, that connecting people would become the core of his business and success like J.K. Rowling, who, after an imploded marriage was a jobless and single parent struggling with poverty. The best-selling author said that, in the nineties, she was as poor as it was possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. 


The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
— J. K. Rowling

Both, Philippe and J.K Rowling had no clue of what their future will hold.

I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution.
— J. K. Rowling


How could have she imagined that she would become one of the best-selling authors of all time? In 2016, J.K. Rowling worth was evaluated at $1.2 billion. (1)

The best-selling author reflects on her experiences of failure and understands now that it was a part of her success.

Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.
— J.K. Rowling

Becoming an author of fiction was ingrained in J.K Rowling just as becoming an entrepreneur was for Philippe Telio.

This is something I always wanted to do from very young. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, my father was an entrepreneur, it’s something I felt was ingrained in me.
— Philippe Telio

After working as a software engineer for Public Multimedia Technology and a marketing expert for Locus Dialogue, the company asked him to move to Seattle. Philippe didn't want to leave his city, he took the package and decided to create his own opportunity.

I saw it as an opportunity to do my own things. Necessity is the mother of invention, I ended up by creating my own opportunity. It’s all happened very organically, I was hired by an old colleague to work on a business development stuff... snowball into a consulting practice and then eventually to the business that I have now.
— Philippe Telio

Suddenly everything becomes crystal clear. We can see the paths their lives have taken! 

Whenever you have these underline desires, they manifest themselves if you’re lucky.
— Philippe Telio


There is no magic in these two life stories though. Luck exists, of course, but as Philippe said: 

Entrepreneurs need to recognise luck and sail on that.
— Philippe Telio

Determination and hard work are also part of the equation. Even if it was ingrained in him, got into entrepreneurship was his most difficult challenge. "Recessions", explained Philippe, "are the perfect opportunity to create entrepreneurs since they cannot get a job, they have to create their own job."

Difficult moments in entrepreneurship are when you are trying to scale, to get off the ground is relatively easy actually, scaling is the difficult part.
— Philippe Telio


The founder of Startupfest thinks that we can teach entrepreneurial behaviours and values but at a very young age:

We can instil in our children an ability to think critically and to imagine problems and solutions to those problems. We can build in children this notion of risk. Teaching entrepreneurship later in life is much more difficult but sometimes you have no choice, you have to create your own job as I had to do.
— Philippe Telio

What happened to Philippe when he was younger would not be possible anymore. A dramatic self-learning and self-teaching shift has happened since. The time when teachers held the knowledge has passed. Learning is no longer the teacher's responsibility or the parent's responsibility. Learning is the responsibility of the learner. Now students have the opportunity to access to almost any kind of knowledge online. It's their responsibility to go and search to know more about what they are curious about. It's their responsibility to learn. 

When I look to my children today they hunger to go online and learn things because they can. They are no longer constraint by me to have to give the knowledge, they can choose to learn on their own.
— Philippe Telio

As J.K. Rowling told the graduate students of Harvard:

Your faith is in your own hands.
— J. K. Rowling


Curious to know more about Startupfest and how to become a great entrepreneur? Don't miss our next episode with Philippe Telio and our vlog during Startupfest. 


Rule 4: Finish the creative work you have started.

Sylvie's Best Book:

Rowling J.k., Very good lives, the fringe benefits of failure, Hachette Group and Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2015
To purchase in:
U.S. and U.k.:

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