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Cory Michalyshyn – Embracing the Uncomfortable

Cory Michalyshyn’s idols are the titans of the tech sector. Like those game-changing visionaries, this CPA is all about disrupting the status quo. That means taking risks, being adaptable and, as he explains, being comfortably uncomfortable.

If you ask Cory Michalyshyn who his heroes are, he’ll tell you it’s the Elon Musks of the world. Those who challenge the status quo and ignore the naysayers. The visionaries.

So when the opportunity came to join Solink, a tech startup that was disrupting traditional video surveillance systems for businesses, Cory didn’t think twice. He wanted to take that risk and bet on himself. To dig in at one company and make an impact from the ground up. To chase that exponential dream that only the tech sector seems to offer — just like his idols.

“It didn’t really matter to me what the title was,” Cory explains of joining Solink in 2014. “It was the responsibility that I was taking on, which was to run finance and operations for the organization, and the challenge to really flesh out what that product was going to be as we started to take it to market.”

And as CFO and COO at Solink, there’s no question about the impact he is making. During his three and a half years at the company, Cory’s financial expertise has been instrumental to get the business on track. One of his proudest professional accomplishments? Taking a company that was declining and helping it reach its current level of positive growth.”

“What I’m most professionally proud of is getting it into a distributive, scaleable product that customers could see value in and want to pay for,” Cory explains. “When I first joined the company, it didn’t have the value-prop that we have today. We’ve built that up as a team. And now, we’re three-and-a-half years in and an end date isn’t looming.”

As one of our Emerging Leaders, Cory took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about why he’s attracted to the tech industry, the value of speaking another language (or four), and why we should never get too comfortable.

Cory Michalyshyn on…

On the romanticism of the tech industry

I’ve always had this romantic view of the tech industry. I think it’s the ability to potentially profit in an exponential way from something. In development or many other areas, so much is based on how much capital you have access to. Technology is not tethered that way. If you build a product, like an app, that suddenly goes viral, there’s no way to model what the potential of that company can be. It’s completely untethered from any restraints of distribution or capital requirements. You have a chance to build a company out of a coffee shop. And with the potential of that, you never really know where that next technological breakthrough can come from. It’s more likely to come from a company like a Facebook or Google that has how many tens of thousands of developers working on these things. But there is still the chance that it can come from that guy or girl working in a coffee shop that no one’s thought of. So what excited me are those possibilities and the way it lends itself to exponential growth.

On risk versus reward

Being a CFO at age 33 at a relatively small organization isn’t the same thing as taking on that role at a much larger organization. One of the reasons for joining a startup, especially when there is a high risk associated with it, is that you have the opportunity to take on more responsibility than you’d get at a more stable organization. So that’s really the trade-off: being in a more precarious position at a company that isn’t profitable yet, but being able to take on a lot more responsibility in that role.

On bringing your skill set to the table

Anyone who’s doing executive-level strategy is always going to bring their own framework to that analysis. So the framework that I bring to the table is a financial framework from my CPA training. My CEO brings an engineering framework. My head of sales brings a sales-based, more emotional and psychological framework. Every facet of that goes into the company executing on a strategy. People respect me for my financial background and I respect other people for their specific skill set background, but each of us are valuable to the company in our own way.

On the makings of a good leader

I think it’s ownership. You can have leaders at every layer of the organization, but a good leader is somebody who understands the scope of their role and owns every aspect of that. They can handle outlier scenarios when they come up, they know when to bring in help, and they know their own limitations. A good leader also leads by example without being a micromanager. They let employees own their roles and be accountable while holding them to a macro-deliverable. I don’t want to know, for example, how my finance team gets the month-end done. However they go about that should be up to them, the people who know the ins and outs of a month-end. I just want to make sure it’s accurate and done within a timely manner. It’s up to them to get it done within that framework. That, I think, makes an effective leader.

On the value of speaking another language… or four

I wouldn’t say I necessarily speak four languages very well. French and English: Definitely. Spanish: I can get by. Italian: I’m working on. I’ve used my French quite a bit, especially when I was travelling for work in West Africa. I think my French was very useful to Deloitte. You never know when certain skills, like language, might be useful to a business. It’s not going to be too many more years until Solink is opening up offices overseas, and my ability to speak another language there might be useful, whether we are opening a new office or hiring people. There are a number of ways that skill could be leveraged.

On being comfortable being uncomfortable

One of the valuable skills at a start-up is to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Early on at Solink, we were selling our product into a market that we always sold into, which was banking. And we were too comfortable just waiting for our channel partners to sell our product. So the CEO and I got into a room one day and thought this is too comfortable. This is not working. Let’s shake things up. Let’s start selling direct. And we ended up turning that into our fastest growing market segment. Everything changes all the time at a start-up, so being able to move with that — constantly pushing yourself to be better, constantly pushing yourself to be uncomfortable — is very valuable.