Meet Denis Daigle – Co-Founder and CTO of Porpoise. He started his tech career in Lottery as a technology analyst and moved up as Subject Matter Expert in both the offline and online gambling technologies. This is where he cut his teeth with multi-million dollar projects, government regulations, big deadlines, and big mission-critical troubleshooting. During this time he also taught himself to code.
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Table of Contents
Tell us a little bit about your current projects. What exciting milestone would you like to share with our readers? (Don’t hesitate to delve into your achievements, they will inspire the audience)
Denis Daigle: Have you ever taken on a project that you feel will change the world, and you end up being changed in the process?
The underlying mission of our tech startup, Porpoise.com, has always been to help companies build community engagement through employee volunteering. We thought we would help the world by increasing volunteers in all communities, but in the process, we discovered something that opened our eyes and rewrote our script.
You see, part of the work we do with our clients is to help them discover what employees are already doing to volunteer in the community. Through that discovery process, true champions of giving back emerge. Managers knew their direct reports volunteered, but most didn’t know the true impact until they saw it.
In fact, while we thought we were going to unlock the potential for more and more employees to volunteer, we were schooled to learn that companies already have amazing employees that volunteering in the communities they live in, serve and love. So now what we now do is help employers shout that from the rooftops! It has transformed our mission and fuelled our desire to reach more and more companies to help them discover the power of sharing the altruistic hearts of their employees.
So after all, it’s not about us helping the world be better, but helping the world know of all the good is being done by the companies they know and love, and that is helping us see that our world is actually a much better place than we may think. And that’s worth getting up in the morning to keep pushing ahead!
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Denis Daigle: Taking on the role of CTO in a tech start-up comes with powers that can critically influence the company’s direction. Left to my own ambitions, I would have crafted such illustrious solution that would have rivalled any onlooker in the industry and beyond. And that would’ve been to the absolute detriment of our clients if it wasn’t for one very big hearted person on our team, Meghan, our first head of customer success.
She had the power to look me dead in the eye, at the peak of my grand speech, to remind in the best way possible that what I was planning was going to hinder our promises to our clients. After taking her wise and timely counsel, time and time again, she was right. Thankfully, I slowly learned how to think more and more about what we had won our client’s trust on, and needed to deliver. To be driven by it, to honor it.
It changed my view of the role engineering department, product management, and customer success. We changed the conversation to take in our past promises, current client conversations, and product vision. Engineers were connected as closely as possible to the customer, feeling their pain and wanting to help them succeed, even beyond the software they were building.
It became clear to me that focusing on our relationship with our client companies not only helped us make our platform better for them, but also so much simpler for us by helping us focus on the market that we had truly connected with. It was freedom, and we doubled down.
The outcome of this shift in thinking and action produced the most loyal customer base I’ve ever seen. And in hard times, our clients understood that we were there for them, and they were there for us. No technology can make that happen, it has to be relationship-based, service-first software development.
This lesson has forever changed my view on building a company, a team, a software-as-a-service. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her, a true leader of heart for what matters, and I’ll be passing on these lessons for years to come. She has since moved on to lead her own team, instilling her passion to help hundreds of other startups the same way she helped us. The world needs more Meghans.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Denis Daigle: Paul McCartney of The Beatles once said: ‘Okay! Today let’s write a swimming pool’. Coding software is not writing a hit song, so why do we believe we can sit down a write a hit software? It’s a mistake I’ve made and I’ve seen others make along the way. Pressure’s on, you have anecdotal evidence an idea might work so you dig deep and try to code your way to profitability.
As software builders, our instincts may be that if the world can only see what we see in our head, they’ll understand. We want to be visionaries and bring the future to existence. That’s not how it works, but love is blind and falling in love with your idea is a sad thing indeed.
A hard lesson learned that forced us to pivot, a few times, until we learned to build prototypes as a way to discover what the market needs and then double down with engineers and marketing in that direction, meaning that you can build a business model around it. Advice I’ve been given that I pass on is to build prototypes to help pitch ideas to your team and your target customers. Then, let the market tell you if it’s worth pursuing.
One of the best business models for a SaaS I’ve seen was a service that made money, a few hundred dollars, and the founder decided to build on top of this humble service. Now they have grown to making millions and have been profitable from day one. It worked because it was based on something someone was willing to pay money for. That sim
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Denis Daigle: To me resilience is a mindset.
The best examples of resilience I’ve seen is when a leader says “well, we haven’t tried everything yet, maybe now’s the right time to try what we talked about a while back”.
- It’s the ability to break preconceived notions and open up possibilities by assessing what’s happening and who/what you have access to to help take advantage of options to break through to the next step.
- It’s in the attitude of not being done, not throwing in the towel, and also a mindset that there’s always another option and having the mental flexibility to figure it out and see if it’s possible.
Notice that it’s not a knee-jerk reaction, it’s not an emergency, but a critical change in scenario. We all have our lists of what we would do if we were asked for direction. Sometimes it’s the right idea, but the wrong timing and a pandemic reality give you an opportunity to test your theory which may prove to be a really good option now.
If you’ve ever been an leadof any kind, you have practiced resiliency all along. The pandemic has been a challenge at every level, but to be in business is to face challenges every step of the way, and we get accustomed to thinking in an open and adaptable way. That’s true ownership thinking, that it’s up to us to find a way and bring others along who are willing to take on the journey. And that only happens if you’ve invested in relationships the whole way, but we’ll save that for another conversation.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Denis Daigle: I love this question. Without a doubt, it’s values. When we hire someone, we aim to find out why they want to join our company. As we go from company to company, core values come with us. The mission can change, the vision can shift, but core values are part of our innermost being.
It’s been my experience that if someone doesn’t share our core values, their motivation to give of themselves into their craft will be disconnected. You can’t fake it. It is the through-line that comes out in stories we tell our spouses, our friends, our colleagues, and our managers (if we’re honest), they will detect if what we say doesn’t match what we believe. It may very well prevent you from getting funding from an investor, a sale from a critical client, or getting team buy-in for an important project. It shows up where you might not predict.
Further to that, if the leadership team doesn’t share the same core values within themselves, it will be felt in the product or service as disjointed. Have you ever talked with a company founder and one of their employees and detected that motives didn’t seem to align? You can feel something’s not being communicated.
Now on the flip side, I recall having a conversation with an investor whose firm’s name I resonated with a great deal based on our similar core values. Maybe it’s something he heard in my voice or the amount of halo effect I gave him, but that simple conversation carried through to fruition. It’s almost as if he filled in words I didn’t need to say. It was a natural fit.
This is why it’s critical to make sure that we advertise our core values in our personal branding and company branding. As we set out to hire, fundraise, and work through a content strategy, those with similar core values will resonate deeply, and hopefully, take action.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Denis Daigle: Empathy, Listening skills, and follow-through.
If I’m a successful business leader, it’s only by the grace of God and what I’ve learned from others.
I learned an important principle from the CEO of WestJet airlines as he was on a serendipitous flight where he offered to answer any questions any of the passengers had. I had read how WestJet had won the best place to work for the 7th year in a row and I had a chance to ask him what was the number one reason he believes they have reached this master level. He said it was simple.
They conduct a company-wide survey every year and solicit feedback from every employee and make it their mission to follow through on what they receive. It took a few years but employees started feeling like they were genuinely listened to and feedback acted upon. It made them feel heard, that they mattered and started to really look around them at what could be improved knowing action would take place. People started being more engaged, caring more about their work, and feeling good about the company that cared enough to empathize, listen, and follow-through.
That powerful insight transformed my leadership capabilities and I started to embrace one-on-ones, advice from mentors, and even simple conversations with employees, colleagues, and clients. It’s what I seek to embody every day and work hard to improve. I’m not perfect at it, but also know that I need others to help me get better and better. All of that points to the biggest principle that encompasses those first three character traits, mindfully tending to your relationships, by being present, trusting each other, and helping each other.
That single concept has resulted in the most success in my career and my life. Nothing but the power of well-tended relationships that can predict a positive outcome, regardless of what happens to come your way, is the bedrock of business and life.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Denis Daigle: When I started my career, I didn’t really put much thought into who I worked for. I just took whatever job paid well with good benefits without much thought beyond that. After working there for a number of years, I came to realize that my core values didn’t match but my resume was locked in and after I parted ways with the company, I was cast into those core values. It took me a long time to break the mold and rebuild a personal brand.
Had I known this, I would have taken the time to figure out what my core beliefs were, and choose a company that best represents those values. This would have built my personal branding around what I stood for. Your company’s brand, tied to yours, speaks for itself if you share those core values, genuinely.
What this experience gave me was a deep appreciation for core values and tying a personal brand with a company brand I choose to represent. We’re all ambassadors of the choices we’ve made.
Now as I hire for any role, I make sure to dig in with candidates to figure out if they know themselves if they identify with our core values and if my personal branding matches with who they would like to work alongside. Especially in VP/C-Level roles, I’ve noticed that you seem to need to match who you are consistent with. I’ve observed this make of break new hires, it’s that important in my books.
How would you define “leadership”?
Denis Daigle: In my youth, I was taught that leadership was “the art of influencing human behavior in order to accomplish a certain task or mission” and it has shaped my approach ever since. That little word “art” underlines a universal truth, just like art, human emotion and relationship are at the core. Clearly, one can force a behaviour change and dictate the process, but in a business context, where relationships are everything, it takes emotional intelligence, tact and observation skills to learn how to lead individuals. Allow me to elaborate.
I can stand in front of a large team and cast a great vision, explain how important it all is, and how much this matters to the success of the company and our future. I can get people up on their feet cheering, open the door, and send them off on high emotion. To some, this is what leadership looks like. But what follows, in my experience, is only part of what it means to lead. Team members get to their seats and then think: “okay, but what do I specifically do for this? How am I making a difference in this mission?”
This is where individual leadership kicks in. It’s something that starts from day one with an employee. A nurturing of a relationship of learning a person’s core beliefs, capabilities, and goals they want to achieve. It’s clearly communicating where they fit in the company, what’s expected of them, and a plan to help them do their best work, in their role. By leading each team member individually helps transition team leadership to self-leadership, or using another word, accountability. This is why one-on-ones are, by far, my favorite tool in people management and how I weave a through-line of leadership.
Call it servant or service leadership, by being able to know how each person does their best work, has a vested interest to make it happen, and trusts that you are supporting them you can let them make it happen and provide what they need. All of which you’ll discover in one-on-ones, in my humble opinion. Outside of this, and this is something I’ve recently learned, leading leaders means they have their style of leadership that they have built their careers on. Some have a tough-love approach, others a very detailed management style, and others yet a coaching methodology. Whichever it is, part of the “art” of leadership is knowing how to communicate with a leader that they will resonate with and build upon.
Finally, on this last point, leading high performers can be more challenging since unless you can quickly figure out what kind of leader they need you to be for them, you may lose respect, or not be able to earn it in the first place. The same way a coach of top athletes needs to push a certain way to perform. It takes full intention and attention, but get this right and they will fly, get this wrong, and at best you will not see the skill you are paying top dollar for, at worse, you will need to damage control or let them go. There’s plenty of articles out there that explain this in detail, I invite you to have a look!
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Denis Daigle: “Don’t build it because you can, build it because you should”
Wise words a serial start-up entrepreneur once told me that has guided me ever since. You see, when you can code, you feel like you can build anything! A blessing or a curse unless you know, for a fact, that what you are building is valuable enough that your market will pay for it.
It reminds me of something a business leader passed on: “I was so busy climbing the ladder that I only realized once I got to the top that it was leaning on the wrong building.” Always take the time to lift your head up, ask tough questions and course correct all along the way.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Denis Daigle for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Denis Daigle or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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