Men of Vancouver is an editorial series featuring stylish and professional men in Vancouver. MofV producer and stylist, Jason Sarai of Style by Sarai, recently interviewed Diraj Goel of Vision Critical for this exclusive in-depth photo editorial.
I’m the VP of Business Technology at Vision Critical, a Vancouver tech success story. We started with a strong pedigree in Market Research and have evolved to a world class cloud-based Customer Intelligence company. Our platform allows brands to connect with the people that matter to them and discover what they want and need.
I have the pleasure of working with, and managing, bright individuals in our corporate technology team in our collective pursuit of innovation and collaborative solutions. It’s a fast-paced organization where every day is unlike any other and you are continually challenged to present your best self while gaining valuable experience in how to take a company from zero to a billion.
I have been in technology for as long as I can remember starting with my first tech gadget; a TI Speak and Spell. My dad, being an engineer at Texas Instruments in Singapore where I grew up, introduced me to all things technical. From building home kit computers as a preschooler to working with him in a PC retail company in my teens. With that foundation and an innate desire to tinker with the newest and greatest, a career in tech was already paved.
Our people, affectionately called VCers. People are the lifeblood of any company and at VC, we have a collective desire to change how brands engage with the people who work for them, buy from them or who want to participate in the conversation. Being a world class tech company born and bred in Vancouver is also a feat few share, making VC an amazing place where there’s never a dearth of passion, persistence and ambition to surround and press you forward.
My true passion though lies in data and the possibilities therein. We collectively now have an immense opportunity both in the collection of data that measures the people and the world around us, as well as the understanding and insights that data provides. VC’s Customer Intelligence platform is an amazing vehicle for leveraging data to further that understanding of the human condition.
My career trajectory is hopefully destined for the C-suite as either a CIO or CTO at my current tenure, or of another great Vancouver tech story. However, my entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and kicking and I wouldn’t count myself out of the startup game and building a world class organization in my own vision.
Every time you are part of a rapid growth company, challenge is the word of the day every day. Though, there have been a few challenges that I would notch as being significant enough to give me pause and question the path I was on. And in all cases, they have always involved the human element more than tech, and learning how best to manage expectations when delivering a product.
This is tough to answer as I believe my greatest business accomplishment is yet to come. I have worked with many great organizations and leaders in my career, and the ones that stood out were where the camaraderie and culture of those organizations fostered great accomplishments for the teams I was part off. I have been lucky enough in a couple of instances to be part of teams that took young companies to world class organizations.
Go for it, especially when you’re young and have less to lose or recover from. Even if the startup doesn’t lift off, the lessons you gain in seeing the business world more holistically, and caring about how everything connects together, will take you to greater heights than if you jumped right into a nine to five.
An unrelenting desire to see the fruition of a vision, be that within a company through intrapreneurship or starting out on your own. Your desire and vision are key ingredients that will take you through the rejection and challenges you will inevitably face on your path to success.
If you have a vision that you believe in, ensure you have the desire and ambition to match your enthusiasm. Great ideas are thought of every day, however it always comes down to execution. If you’re not willing to put your own money on the line and make personal sacrifices, you’re likely not as sold on your idea as you think.
I used to be terrible at managing a healthy personal life, generally engrossing myself in my work to the point where the personal line started when I went to sleep and ended when I woke up.
I have matured to a healthy regimen now, for good or bad, my calendar is now my best friend. Scheduling everything I need to do or where I need to be allows me to stay focused on what’s important to me during a period, be that personal or professional. It likely sounds like such a sterile way to live. However given how easy it is to get distracted or get pulled into work at any point with the supercomputer in my pocket, defining a schedule allows me to zero in on where my emotional and mental energies need to be.
First and foremost I love to sweat, there is nothing like starting your day with spinning, running or just a killer routine at the gym, to reset and get ready to win the day.
Keeping up with the bleeding-edge technology. I gravitate to anything new and am always interested in how innovators around the world are using technology to solve big and small problems we all face. I frequently back Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects, though my wife is getting upset about my failed projects graveyard.
I enjoy reading about history, business and biographies; I’m perpetually fascinated in learning why people do the things they do. Music is another love; favourites are reimaginations of popular ’90s hip-hop and emerging artists Kiiara and Kacy Hill who are masterfully delivering a new take on hip hop and electronica.
I have not always been into fitness; in fact being an introvert, I don’t play or watch any team sports. I was a late bloomer to fitness, starting in university where pushing weights in the gym was a welcome respite to the heavy academic and work schedule.
Then life and business took a forefront where fitness dropped to the bottom of my priorities and my body suffered gaining 40lbs in a couple years; easy to do when doing 14 hour days. It took an unfortunate comparison to a character on a favourite TV show for me to realize I had really “let myself go” which then immediately led to the longest 5km run I’ve ever ran. Since then I have evolved to a Quantified Self nut, with my passion of technology and my obsession with data, its afforded me a new facet in pursuing my fitness goals.
My wife and I donate to several charities, primarily ones that are close to heart; BC Cancer Foundation, Canadian Cancer Society and the Aga Khan Foundation.
Mentoring young professionals, recent grads or professionals looking to move into tech or management is another way I give back. Mentoring has gifted me more returns than the time I put in, primarily because it has introduced me to fresh ideas as well as allowing me to further explore the concepts I share with mentees.
Most of my weekends involve some elements of hanging out with friends at one of the local watering holes in Yaletown, catching a movie be that on the big screen or my couch, reading, some fitness activity which generally involves the seawall, my dog Clicquot and a pair of sneakers or checking out any one of the new restaurants profiled on Vancity Buzz.
Though I love having a relatively small carbon footprint, living and working downtown limits the amount my wife and I need to drive so we welcome events that gets us out of the city where the drive itself is sufficient to feed the soul.
Growing up in Southeast Asia, I have been accustomed to all types of Asian food so my go-tos are usually in the same vein; Miku, Union, Bao Bei, Phonm Phen or any one of the Pho restaurants in the city. If you know of a great Pho joint, tell me.
And I can’t discount the breadth of culinary options in our city, some with amazing views that remind me why Vancouver tops lists yearly as one of the greatest places to live. Lift Bar & Grill, Blue Water Café, Glowbal, Italian Kitchen, Salmon House on the Hill, Fable to name a few. There’s so many places popping up weekly and so many great restaurants that its sometimes hard to keep up but the wife and I will endeavor nonetheless.
If you’re up for Japanese, you can’t go wrong with Miku. Their Aburi Chirashi Tart is the culmination of everything you can imagine ordering at your favourite sushi restaurant and then some. And their signature Salmon Oshi Sushi is my all time favourite.
If you’re just up for trying something more varied, Union will do just fine serving dishes from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India and Korea to name a few. Try the Crispy Pork Belly Bahn Mi or the Hawker Thai Chicken Wings.
A simple vodka soda. Well, not so simple; single in a tall glass with a couple of olives.
The technology sector pioneered bucking rigid corporate style with great examples from visionary leaders; Mark Zuckerberg and his sweatshirts, Steve Jobs and his turtleneck/jeans/sneakers combo, or Mark Benioff (Salesforce) for his eccentric sneakers at conferences. Style equates to a minimalist look more akin to loungewear than corporate attire. Premise being that the less mental energy you spend on picking your clothes, which normally would lead to decision fatigue, the more energy you have for complex technical decisions.
I believe there’s a happy medium though, as someone who lives in tech and in a corporate setting, since you’re not exposed to many opportunities to expressing your creativity unlike earlier points in your life. With the liberal opportunities of choice afforded by the tech community, my expression of style through my attire has the mutual benefit of feeling like my best self while projecting professionalism in my work ethic.
Style doesn’t have to stop at what you wear and can continue in the branding of your work; be that in your daily communication, your presentations or your holistic approach to how you connect with people. Style though only sets the stage, your work ultimately is your performance.
Style is a form of expression that provides a perspective of your personality before your audience hears your voice or sees your work. Your style can portray facets of your self; your work ethic, uniqueness, creativity, personality and approach completing the picture of your presence. It’s your visual language when you communicate, as much as the tone of your voice and the words you state.
I received this book from a peer who recently came back from the Salesforce Dreamforce conference. Leading Digital posits that all companies are now digital companies, whether they have realized it or not. In today’s world where everyone has a suite of personal computing devices to power their lives, companies who are not embracing and leveraging their digital world will be the ‘also ran’ of tomorrow. The message in Leading Digital isn’t ground-breaking but the research on companies who do digital well is, and their onslaught in their particular industries are not to be ignored. If your company is not digitally or data driven top-down, you might want to raise your hand.
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. A great treatise on the resilience of historical figures who thrived in the face of obstacles, where those same obstacles became the beginnings of their path to success. The learnings this book has given me has served me well, especially in the darkest times when the obstacles seem insurmountable. If you’re facing a great personal or professional hardship, a book likely isn’t your first option but if you can muster the strength to get through the first chapter, you may just get your answer.
Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz. Not a book for everyone but if you’re a dog owner, then this book may just be what you need to build a closer bond with your unconditional friend. You may think that you have figured out all your dog’s nuances and her reactions but this book gives you a different perspective making you realize how little you actually know.
Great by Choice by Jim Collins. If you’ve read Good to Great or Built to Last, you know Jim Collins and his style. This book focuses on companies that were able to buck the challenges in their industry and still thrive, called ’10X’ companies as their stock prices outpaced their competitors by that measure. Through case study examples, the primary premise being a company focused on the long-term strategy with fanatical discipline, empirical creativity and productive paranoia has a greater chance of not just surviving but thrive in the face of adversity than their peers.
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