Man or Woman, Tech Offers Opportunity for All, Says Canada’s Top Digi CEO

By: Lee Rickwood

January 6, 2014

Billions of monthly impressions. Millions of subscribers.

The numbers make BroadbandTV  the fourth largest multichannel Internet video network in the world. It attracted one of the largest private investments in a Canadian Internet company in many years.

And the numbers add up to make the company boss the country’s top tech CEO of the year!

BroadbandTV CEO Shahrzad Rafati

BroadbandTV CEO Shahrzad Rafati has been honoured as the Executive of the Year by the judging committee at nextMEDIA Digi Awards.

BroadbandTV is a fast growing media and technology company operating in the lucrative online video space. BroadbandTV is one of the world’s largest entertainment networks on YouTube with over 12,000 network partners amassing 1.2 billion impressions per month. If you watch video online, chances are you can thank this Vancouver-based content company. Among its many global content partners and video channels are KYR SP33DY, Woodysgamertag and Videogames.

Honouring the company’s achievements and its founder’s vision for the company and the industry in which it operates, CEO Shahrzad Rafati has been honoured as the Executive of the Year by the judging committee at nextMEDIA Digi Awards.

Rafati was selected among other prominent executives in the digital industry who led their organizations to new digital heights in 2013.  In addition to reaching over one billion monthly impressions this year, BroadbandTV secured a $36 million investment from RTL Group, one of Europe’s largest media conglomerate.

The Digi Awards are presented as part of an annual Canadian showcase to recognize the country’s digital elite, and throw a spotlight on some of the brightest innovators on the today’s media landscape.

And while she was of course honoured to be chosen over the other finalists for the Top Exec award, she was quick to note the work of those around her, including the 75 or so staffers at BroadbandTV: “The past year has been a time of tremendous growth and excitement for BroadbandTV, so this award is testament to the hard work put in by our amazing team.”

Still, the award is for the Executive of the Year, not the Team. Rafati is unique in that she is the first female to win a Digi in that category, and she was the only female nominated in the competitive category (top tech and digital media leaders like AOL’s International Head Graham Moysey, and Emmy-nominated media producer James Milward were among the nominees).


Digit Awards logo

The nextMEDIA Digi Awards honour the best in Canadian digital innovation, creativity and business accomplishments each year.

Rafati plays down any extra significance, however. “I think it’s important to point out that today, smart, driven, positive entrepreneurs will do well regardless of whether they are male or female; they just need to believe in themselves and make sure they are living their dream not someone else’s. If you are passionately living your dream, you will generate the enormous energy and commitment required to be successful.”

Given that internal drive and professional passion, the tech industry is – or should be — quite capable of providing good opportunities for women, she says. “Historically, it has been very much a male-dominated industry and it’s still quite lopsided, but it is changing,” Rafati maintains.

People in the tech industry are open-minded, and Rafati says that gender equality doesn’t feel like it’s as big of an issue in the tech sector as in some other industries.

Tech Industry Dominated by Men?

“The tech field is certainly dominated by men but I’m pleased to say that that it’s opening up and attitudes are changing,” and for the better. “I’ve never felt that being a female CEO has put me at a disadvantage. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I think there is a lot of support and respect for women in tech and that is continuing to grow. I’m a big advocate for empowering women and entrepreneurs in this industry and any other.”

Rafati recently won another industry award, being named one of The Women’s Executive Network’s (WXN) Most Powerful Women in the Sun Life Financial Arts & Communications category.

She noted a particular appreciation for that ceremony’s theme ‘What Glass Ceiling?’ and for the idea that eventually, rather than being thought of as successful female leaders, they’ll simply be successful leaders.

“Any young entrepreneur will face unsavory characters, male or female,” she summarizes, advising them to “grow a tough skin and keep moving.”

Certainly, business keeps us all moving these days. What’s important is to also find a balance between life and work, and to find a comfortable relationship between those two concepts.

“Personally, I think that if you consider what you do as ‘work’ you won’t be able to do as much of it as is required to be successful as a tech entrepreneur; it’s about the passion and commitment,” she underscores: “I don’t feel as though I really need to ‘work’ since what I do is a way of life for me. “

Having said that, Shahrzad knows these are all very personal decisions that each person needs to make.

“I’ve been laser-focused on developing the business and I think any young entrepreneur that is leading a business that has grown as quickly as BroadbandTV would tell you that it’s incredibly demanding.  You have to give it your all and make some sacrifices along the way.

“If you look around there are women leading some of the world’s top tech businesses that are moms too, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Ursula Burns at Xerox are great examples, along with Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook and Meg Whitman at HP.  Again, there are growing numbers of powerful women that show you can have a rewarding career in tech and be a mom too.”

Keep Moving, Stay Committed, Be Successful

So, keep moving, stay committed, and be prepared to prove yourself – man or woman, Rafati elaborates: “If I look at my experience, launching the business as a young woman there was a real need to prove myself. I had to prove that I understood the technology and market inside-out and really dive deep into the space.”

Even at a young age, Rafati was always good at math and inspired by technology, dreaming of a career in engineering. After immigrating to Canada alone, she studied Computer Science at UBC, and French at the Sorbonne in Paris.

“But when hyper-growth started happening in the Internet domain, I knew that I wanted to get involved,” she explains. “I became fascinated by the idea of using it to solve real issues.”

There’s that drive, again, and a personal connection to a professional path. But Rafati knew she had business gaps to fill, and that she also needed to prove that she could support the fundraising requirements and managerial burdens of building a start-up – which are not insignificant!

Where does a start-up company boss turn for help?

BroadbandTV logo

Canadian media and technology company BroadbandTV secured a $36 million investment from RTL Group, one of Europe’s largest media conglomerates.

“I’m lucky enough to have a great team of advisors, investors and managers, they inspire me every day and they support me in my decisions and help me navigate the opportunities,” she explains. “My advice is to surround yourself with fantastic people. Seek advisors and investors that understand you and listen to them. Have a ‘100k foot perspective’.”

Above all, “Keep going: if you’re smarter and work harder than others they have to pay attention to you.”

Acknowledging the complexities, Rafati nevertheless says for women entering the tech space, it is really quite simple: Work hard, remain positive and then work some more. Be prepared to really stand your ground, be confident in your views and prove yourself. A positive attitude and sheer determination are two ingredients for success that I think all young entrepreneurs need to keep front of mind.”

It’s clear Rafati and BroadbandTV will continue to work hard, and then work some more.

“The new year is already shaping up to be a great year,” she says, and the company is very excited about its announced expansion plans, including the funding of original content and the co-production of premium programming with some of its partners in the media, gaming and entertainment space.






 submitted by Lee Rickwood








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