Interview with Alex Snider, Toronto, Canada & Bali, Indonesia
Hi Alex, what's the first thing people perceive about you?
That’s such a difficult question. People used to say, when they first met me, that I came across quite standoffish or intimidating. I was always really surprised because I used to be shy and very often the youngest in a professional setting. I'm talking serious impostor syndrome kind of insecurity. I don’t think I’m perceived that way anymore. I've heard things like helpful and exuberant.
That's a long way from shy to exuberant. Are you more of an introvert or extravert?
certain archetypes of people who energize me
The most helpful definition of an introvert I've seen was “Where do you draw your energy from, being around people or alone time?” If we use that, I think I'm more introverted. However, there are certain archetypes of people who energize me. Those tend to be people who are really driven, possibly even competitive, problem solvers, and those who are worldly or just have seen and done a lot. Groups of people I don't know or don't have something to contribute to, I find more difficult. That’s probably when I go quiet. But I've lived in different places and over the years went from being shy to being pretty good at navigating different social norms.
What do you love about the places you've lived in or traveled to?
You tend to have strangely deep and meaningful conversations
I've just returned from living on Indonesia's southwest coast -- Bali. There are elements that are prevalent in Balinese culture and also Moroccan culture around collectivism and community that I love. The Balinese people are super caring, warm, very kind, and open. They’re very interested to learn about you and will share their story with you. When I travel, I don’t buy anything anymore, but the conversations I’ve had with shopkeepers have been just faaascinating! Even the expat community have taken on the elements of the local culture. These are people who are achievers in some way. Everyone is hustling, but everyone has time to say "Hi" and ask about you. And the questions aren’t typical or superficial. You tend to have strangely deep and meaningful conversations with people whom you haven’t known very long. Both Bali and Morocco have more communal and less individualistic norms and ways of seeing the world. The lack of that is what I have a bit of a struggle with when I ’m back in London or Toronto. And this is coming from someone who is considered “stand-offish" and "less friendly" by Canadian standards.
Where did you grow up?
There’s something about New York that I friggin love
I grew up in Canada. I was an amateur athlete, training horses. Since I did not come from a family with unlimited funds, I worked on a farm, trained horses for other people and for investors. I absolutely loved growing up in Canada with a lot of freedom and opportunities. I actually think Canada has a lot of the communal elements I so appreciate. That's probably why we’re perceived a little different from folks in the US. But today, what I see in the bigger cities is people really wrapped up in themselves. Everyone is more busy or at least more and more into their phones. It's as if the hustle is forcing them inward, to become more self-interested in order to survive. When I lived in London, I took the tube to work. You can be standing there, facing someone’s arm pit for 45 minutes, but if you look them in the eye, you’re a crazy person! One day coming out on Canary Wharf, I was knocked to the ground by this big guy who didn’t even turn around. I mean it took some force, I’m not easy to knock over. New York is different though. There’s something about New York that I friggin love, and I can’t put my finger on it.
What kind of work took you around the world?
the deal was as long as you get straight-As, you can work 2 jobs and train 7 days a week
After finishing grad school in 2009, I worked in a strategy consulting firm that had clients around the world. It wasn't a straight road for me. In Canada, I was training with olympians and had Equestrian Junior Team Canada aspirations. I grew up in a family where the deal was as long as you get straight-As, you can work 2 jobs and train 7 days a week. The olympics didn't pan out but that discipline and strategic thinking served me well. After University, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I worked in construction, then for a team of surgeons. I heard about consulting, which seemed to me basically problem solving as a job. I applied for my MBA at McGill and didn’t think I was going to get in -- imposter syndrome going strong. Turns out the woman interviewing me had a partner on the rugby team in South Africa and I've always been a big rugby player and captain of my teams. We really hit it off, and I did get in. My MBA was the first time I took on student debt, but it was worth every penny. After that my whole life changed. I was lucky to come out of school after the '08 recession and accepted a Sr. Consulting role in a strategy consulting firm. They were big in natural resources, which I was interested in, and had projects in North America, Africa, Europe. That's how I ended up working all over the world until about 2 years ago.
What happened 2 years ago?
the larger the client, the smaller the impact our work was making
When I started consulting, I was passionate. I worked across multiple teams on things that really mattered, built relationships, saw the impact we were having and was exposed to so much. Throughout my consulting career, I was in a learning mode, just soaking it up, doing my best to execute and deliver for clients. I worked with larger and larger clients, especially in the UK after we were bought by a large consulting practice. Paradoxically, I started to see that the larger the client, the smaller the impact our work was making. There was less urgency and desire to change. I felt like I was pushing my team to deliver things that were never going to land an impact. I just wasn’t getting the passion and satisfaction that kept me going through what was a terrible lifestyle. I was moving toward the partner track, and realized that what I valued was building vs. fixing organizations, and working with smaller teams who really want to be there. Smaller organizations have a better shot at being driven a little more by purpose, and a little less by politics. And I really wanted to control my own schedule. I call this period my quarter life crisis.
As a life-long consultant, I completely relate to everything you've described. Did you have a direction in mind when you left?
being connected, inspired and wellness were my goals
I’ve always had an interest in social ventures, sustainable enterprise like Microfinance in Africa. So that interest turned into a feeling of need and urgency. I left without a job lined up, sold everything and gave myself a budget. I wanted a few things: to feel connected, to be inspired and to focus on wellness. During the last two years, I explored a lot of things. I went nomadic for about a year, surfing in Morocco, networking and volunteering in Europe and North America, worked in NY on a social impact conference, and eventually ended up working in and on the Board of a technology start up and co-founding a second start up.
Tell me about the company that you co-founded.
uses computer vision to provide information about a scanned cannabis products
Scanna Corp - a technology platform that would play a role in the legal recreational Cannabis sector. Scanna describes the function. Users can "scan" their "cannabis" packages. The main purpose is to create a way to educate consumers on a cannabis product or brand. The technology is similar to "Vivino," a wine app. It uses computer vision to provide information about scanned cannabis products, like reviews, terpene profiles and price points. Consider that wine has been around a long long time, and has long been socially acceptable. And yet, for many people it's still tough to understand the differences between wines, flavors, pairings and price points. Is expensive really better? And if you think about Cannabis it has a huge history; it's been used medicinally forever; but it still carries massive stigma and significant misinformation. It's being made available and could be used to replace prescription medicine and self-medicating that people do as well as alcohol. There's both an opportunity and a need to create a platform that would inform the consumer and help make decisions. Our platform would allow you to use computer vision to recognize a product, it would allow the brands to connect with consumers in an educated safe environment.
Have you seen interest from the investor community?
VR triggers emotion and empathy, and produces, what I call, the "HSW" Holy Shit, Wow! factor
Yes, we saw a lot of interest in what we were doing, but we've faced some headwinds, too. The Canadian cannabis market has seen a lot of challenges and a couple of really bad scandals. Introduction of edibles increased the complexity, and COVID is causing tremendous disruption. As as a result, we've put Scanna on hold to focus on PATIO Interactive, our digital reality and immersive technology agency. At PATIO we design and develop virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) content; also other interactive and immersive experiences. Some are highly interactive physical or digital experiences, some use AR holograms; others provide VR tours of remote or high-security facilities for either training purposes or to, say, provide an experience for investors. VR triggers emotion and empathy, and produces, what we call, the "HSW" Holy Shit, Wow! factor.
What does it mean to be a "founder" of a company? How did that happen for you?
We are both, to some extent, those "unemployable types."
Well, for starters, you can check every other priority at the door. Then do everything they tell you you shouldn't do, like forgo your salary -- don't pay yourself. My business partner and I went to grad school together. He likes to say I’m the one who paid attention in school. I'm not sure about that, but I did go a much more structured route into consulting and corporate environments. He founded PATIO Interactive in 2014 when I was still working in strategy consulting. He’s on the marketing side, and the creative director of our company, and I do development and strategy. We are both, to some extent, "unemployable types." We started having these long distance, middle of the night conversations about PATIO when I was still in London. Our conversations gave me this amazing energy. I eventually accepted a seat on the Board of PATIO as a non-executive director, came to some board meetings, did strategy work, wrote grants. Eventually I contributed to meetings with cannabis clients, where my background in health helped with the challenges of educating doctors. After a few months of work in Toronto, right when I was getting ready to head to Bali, we started dreaming up Scanna and discussed co-founding it. So spending time together, working on a wide variety of challenges, is how I became a founder
What did you mean by being "unemployable types"?
we are not always great at following the rules or other people's visions
There's an observation that entrepreneurs tend to be unemployable, not for lack of skill, drive or intelligence. It's just that we are not always great at following the rules or other people's visions and directions. Entrepreneurs tend to do better when they do the designing and are allowed to chase their own vision. Every single job I've had has been a firefight where I had to figure things out. For instance, I’m a partner in a tech agency, but I’m not a technology guru. I joke that my job here is "everything but the tech." The tech, in many ways, is such a small part of a successful vision. You need an understanding of psychology and sociology and marketing and business and finance and everything else.
Do you need to bring a bag of money to a start-up as price of admission?
You don’t need to bring a lot of money if you’re ok to hustle and live a modest life for a while. There’s a lot of sweat equity and there are times you'll need to use your savings or maintain another revenue stream to stem the cost of a startup. The reality is that, at this stage, both my partner and I earn considerably below our potential in a free market, where we might even have a more balanced life.
These are significant sacrifices. Why are you making them?
freedom; I can go and live in Indonesia for a fraction of what it costs to live in Toronto
I really enjoy what I do, and find it fulfilling. I believe in my business partner and our model. There are sacrifices, and you need to reassess what you really need. Know what’s important to you and believe in what you’re doing. My former consulting job and lifestyle created expense. I figured out that if I could control my time, I could live for 30% cheaper in the same East London flat and general lifestyle. Now, I have even more freedom; I can go and live in Indonesia for a fraction of what it costs to live in Toronto while still building the business and supporting the team. This is the kind of freedom that I wanted. But I know it won't always be possible. We are building a larger, sustainable business. I don't always expect to be living this way.
Being an entrepreneur can be a humbling experience? Did your ego take a beating?
"Seeking insecure overachievers, and we'll teach you the rest.”
Well, I did work in management consulting. I joke that when you’re writing job descriptions for management consultants, all you really have to say is "Seeking insecure overachievers, and we'll teach you the rest.” I'm fortunate that my early competing experience left a mark on me. When you compete, you take nothing for granted. You need to go out and you walk a physical course, and you measure distances, you make a plan, and that way you'll know where to take chances and where not to. Then you watch other people jump and you adjust; and as conditions change, you adjust again. It helps when the world keeps shifting to never make assumptions and lean on a discipline.
You've just confirmed a wise maxim, "The map is not the territory." But with COVID keeping the world on hold, it's hard to grasp the new territory. How are you coping?
you don't need to go off the grid to understand that there are different types of wealth
Look, this is a tragedy on a global scale, there's no denying that. And we've had our share of challenges this year. Scanna is on hold, and many PATIO's customers have had to shift focus in the past couple of months. But I've doubled down on my mindset. Mindset is important because no matter who you are or where you are, it's very easy to give in to what others value and become separated from your own. Over the last 2 years I've had the opportunity to step away from the race and to see how people in many parts of the world live their lives and respond to difficulty. I've observed my own shift from growing up wanting to be an athlete, never wanting a traditional lifestyle, to being driven by success, status and even acceptance. I'm working on undoing all of that and recalibrating my internal compass. But you don't need to go off the grid to recognize what drives you or understand that there are different types of wealth-- physical wealth and time wealth vs. financial and status, for instance. For me, coaching helped, podcasts like Creative Rebels, reading books like The 4-hour Workweek and many others that highlighted alternate paths, evolution vs. socio-cultural norms, etc.. also helped. We are all grappling with the uncertainty that what we've planned for and worked for may or may not happen. But recognizing that you can't control the outside world, only your own actions, is most crucial. If you can't imagine it, believe in it, then how can you plan to achieve it?
I'm going to give you 5 questions, which you have to answer very quickly with one or two words. Ready?
What offends you?
What’s one lesson do you feel most qualified to teach another person?
What makes you cringe?
Seeing someone suffer from unkindness
When you're at your best, you're...
What change are you working on?
Understanding my narrative to be able to manage my mindset.
Thank you for a great conversation, Alex. Where can people reach you?
Hologram (3-D) of Alex:
Visit PATIO Interactive at: