Heather Anne Carson: From PR Perfectionist to Startup CEO

Heather Anne Carson (Image: Denis Duquette)

Heather Anne Carson is still learning how to be the wearer of many hats. A computer nerd since childhood, she worked in PR and marketing before finding a way to combine expertise with passion through the less than one-year-old gaming analytics startup Repable.

Carson now runs Repable with her co-founder Sean Power and splits her time between her native New Brunswick, where she has built a life with her family, and Toronto, where life is fast and business is bustling.

Carson says she’s always been deep into video games and internet culture. At 10 she was building websites and in high school when her friends were out partying, she was at home chatting with people across the world and learning the next big game.

“I went through high school, did all the computer classes, was the nerd in charge of the computer clubs,” she says. “Then I went to college and branched out a bit and recognized that I wasn’t ever going to be a career developer. That wasn’t something I was interested in doing so I decided to figure out a way to be the business arm of people who work in technology or who maybe are more technically savvy than they are business savvy.”

After a few years working in PR for New Brunswick companies, Carson co-founded Onboardly, a PR agency catering to startups. As she got more of a taste of startup culture and developed a love of the creative atmosphere startups create, Carson realized she wanted in.

“The exposure to brilliant people and the exposure to people who are changing different aspects of business, changing different aspects of the way our lives are managed, it’s so inspiring,” she said. “It’s the most inspiring thing in the world, to work with and be around startup founders and I got the bug.”

“I realized that the next evolution of my career was to take all the skills I’ve learned and all the observations I’ve made over several years working directly with startups and apply it to building one of my own … you wake up and realize ‘shit, it’s my turn and I’m ready to do this for myself.’”

Carson says the transition from a professional offering a service to a startup founder has been a challenging one. As a PR professional, Carson was a perfectionist. She expected everything she delivered to be as near to perfect as she could possibly get. She says that as a startup founder, things have changed.

“I rely on a ton of people, a much broader network for input on what we’re doing,” she said. “Today I’ve got to ship products to customers when I know 25 things are broken. I have to have them come back to me and tell me what needs to be improved because the little flaws that I see, they may not necessarily see. I’m learning that shipped and in the hands of customers is better than perfect.”

Carson has also faced the challenge of no longer having a single job description. She says she’s constantly refocusing her attention to where she is needed.

“As the CEO of a startup, you have a million jobs,” she said. “You wear dozens of hats. One minute I’m fundraising. The next minute I’m trying to figure out whether we do a press story or not. The next minute I’m negotiating an employment agreement with an employee … It’s one of those things where you pick up everything that needs to be done and run with it.”

After being in close contact and working with startups for years before taking the plunge herself, Carson knew she had to find out if the idea for Repable was even viable before trying to get it off the ground. She recommends that anyone considering getting into the startup game test their idea on as many people who aren’t friends or family they can find.

Before launching Repable, Carson and her co-founder went on what was basically a two month roadshow to find out what people thought of their idea before they even wrote a line of code.

Carson says that this gathering of different opinions and viewpoints was why it was important for her to get out of New Brunswick. She stepped out of her comfort zone to get access to a more diverse area with a more diverse network.

Clearly they’ve done something right. Carson says things are going well with the company and the product is coming along. By the end of the month they will have a distributed team of eight employees.

Even while spending a little over half of her time in the big city, Carson says New Brunswick is still her favourite place in the world.

“If I look back in five years time or ten years time and say anything, I would love to be able to say that I was one of the people that helped build a bridge between Atlantic Canada and the rest of the world and was one of the people who helped inspire other people.”

“I think everywhere in the world is special for its own reasons but today I get to say I have two homes. I have the beauty and the serenity and the calm of New Brunswick and my home there and I have the excitement and the bustle and the broader, larger, more aggressively growing network here. I have the best of both worlds.”