Social Impact Tech: Andrew Waitman Of Assent On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact
Our SaaS solution not only automates, centralizes, organizes and stores data and workflow to provide a permanent auditable system of record for a company’s products and parts, but also facilitates real-time transparency and the continuous mapping of a manufacturers global supply chain.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Waitman.
Since becoming CEO of Assent, Andrew Waitman has been integral to the company’s growth. He successfully took the company through a 2022 funding event, which saw Assent become a unicorn, achieving among the largest raises for any Canadian SaaS company at $350M USD.
Previously, Andrew was CEO of Pythian, overseeing its rise from a small business to one of Canada’s largest and fastest-growing global professional services companies. He also served as managing partner at Celtic House Venture Partners during its highest-performing years to date, when one fund produced one of the world’s top ten best venture fund returns ever.
Andrew has served on the boards of more than 30 technology organizations, including Shad, a STEAM and entrepreneurship program that inspires youth to create lasting social impacts. He is currently a board member at Assent and Fidus Systems, and sits on Genesys Capital’s advisory board. Since 1996, Andrew has served as a volunteer instructor at higher education institutions including Queens, Cornell, University of Waterloo, and Ottawa University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up as an adopted child in a family with five kids in the Ottawa area. I’ve always been intrigued by technology and as a teenager, I designed and built my own personal computer. I started out in vocational school studying auto mechanics, and I had the opportunity to apply my passion for using technology to tackle tough challenges at the University of Waterloo, where I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
My college experience helped me to see firsthand the ability of technology to drive positive changes. I enjoyed college, studied hard, graduated at the top of my class and gained a deep appreciation of the importance of working hard and not giving up.
I received my MBA at Ivey Business School, followed by a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification several years later. I held positions in I-banking at Citibank, Technology Analyst at a brokerage firm, and I worked as a Venture Capitalist during the first great Internet boom. In August 2009, I was asked to take on my first CEO and operations role, at Pythian, where I had a great five-year-run growing the company from $5 million to $50 million in about five years. I resigned from that role and found myself immediately, once again, being asked to take on a start-up leadership role at Assent.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I took up boxing at age 46, which actually led to my journey in leading the scale-up and scale-out of Assent as a purpose-driven business model dedicated to driving global sustainability and this important future for the world. I met Matt Whittaker, one of Assent’s original three founders, at an entrepreneurial panel I was leading at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, where I was a volunteer part-time instructor in 2012. In anticipation of the teaching panel, to get to know Matt better, I asked him to lunch. He told me about another organization he founded called Final Round Boxing, a gym in Ottawa. I asked Matt how a guy at 46 learns to box and we went from there. I learned and advanced in the sport at Final Round Boxing every Wednesday night from 2012 until 2020 when COVID forced the closure of gyms. I got to know Assent and was lured in by the company’s purpose to drive deep supply chain sustainability impacts by working with complex manufacturers across the world.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Most of my early career was defined by examples of folks abundant in intellect yet lacking in values important and aligned to me such as integrity, drive, work ethic and honesty. So, over time, I learned a great deal about building one’s professional network starting with values and only then an emphasis on capabilities.
As a result, I would say I have finally found in the Assent senior leadership team those rare individuals that I am grateful for their values, their authentic caring about others and their deep operational and market experience and hence have learned enormously from each one of them and continue to do so to this day. Everyday, I am grateful for the magic that is our Assent team.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have three, actually.
“Everything in moderation.” Never bend to the extreme or excess. Aristotle was a champion of this notion 2,500 years ago, citing the importance of striving for a balance between extremes.
“Worry is a misuse of the imagination.”
“Pursue life-long learning.” I am a huge believer in life-long learning — it matters so much. Every day, every moment, every encounter brings an opportunity for growth and development.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Ambition/Drive/Grit, Collaboration and Curiosity.
Like many other business leaders, throughout my career, I have experienced many ups and downs, and I have always strived for excellence. In my leadership roles at Celtic House, Pythian and Assent, I worked together with my leadership team to set goals — including far-reaching stretch goals — and we never stopped working together to exceed them.
It’s also essential to recognize the importance of collaboration with a team. I am a firm believer in the proverb “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”
I am also a life-long learner with a genuine curiosity. I read a lot about a variety of topics. The latest books I’ve read include: A Brief History of Earth: 4 Billion Years in 8 Chapters; A Thousand Brains; and An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?
Assent is delivering transparency and trust in complex manufacturing supply chains. We trust a company’s financial reporting in the Western World. Why? Because there are auditors. For non-financial topics — such as climate impacts, natural resource usage, labor rights or the use of toxic substances — there should be a trusted record of environmental and ethical behaviors from companies across our planet. Assent aims to be the “single source of the truth” for the manufacturing supply chain enabling the world’s largest supply chains to trust their suppliers through deeper transparency and credible data.
Assent is specifically focused on complex manufacturers, a subset of manufacturers in the industrial equipment, electronics, medical device, aerospace/defense and automotive verticals whose products have a long design cycle and shelf life. A single product is made up of thousands of parts with just as many supplier partners across their global supply chain. So, complex manufacturers have extreme supply chain sustainability management requirements. These companies need detailed data on all layers of supplier activity to manage business risk, gain competitive advantage and build sustainable businesses and products.
How do you think your technology can address this?
Like all SaaS solutions, Assent’s technology provides instant global reach through a cloud-based infrastructure to enable suppliers to share digital evidence of environmental and social practices.
Assent’s Supply Chain Sustainability Solution is a SaaS platform coupled with services and a global regulatory team that helps our customers stay ahead of compliance and regulatory changes across the globe.
Our SaaS solution not only automates, centralizes, organizes and stores data and workflow to provide a permanent auditable system of record for a company’s products and parts, but also facilitates real-time transparency and the continuous mapping of a manufacturers global supply chain. The technology gives companies detailed data on all the layers of supplier activities to manage business risk, gain competitive advantage and build sustainable businesses and products. Assent provides valuable reports to auditors, customers, and regulators seeking evidence of compliance with a myriad of laws, rules and sustainable practices for businesses to report to their stakeholders.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
The backstory is boxing, really, and my meeting up with Matt on the entrepreneur panel at Queens. This led to discussions about Assent’s business and I started by “helping out” as a business consultant volunteer of sorts. Initially, I just wanted to assist these young entrepreneurs with their start-up business. One of the first areas I assisted the Assent team was in hiring their first HR leader, Patricia Cotroneo. Patricia quickly became one of my most trusted partners critical to managing rapid growth at Assent.
I began to understand the purpose of the company and realized the complexity and challenges for companies to drive transparency into their supply chains. I identified with the global and noble cause and was excited to be a part of organizing a team to make the world a better place.
I realized that Assent’s digital SaaS technology could lower the barriers for complex manufacturers, including the difficulty of achieving impacts at scale, and enable better practices through disclosure to drive greater global attention to environmental and ethical compliance and ultimately changes in behavior.
How do you think this might change the world?
I believe greater transparency and accountability will drive changes toward more sustainable business practices. Assent’s technology is essentially a system of record for accountability by collecting, centrally tracking and reporting, continually mapping a range of data and details across supply chains on sustainability topics ranging from human trafficking and modern slavery to anti-corruption and environmental impact. We have 800+ customers and hundreds of thousands of suppliers now on our platform.
Assent’s technology can reveal what’s hidden, validates what’s good, and help eliminate unwanted surprises. Manufacturers can see where they need to hold their supply chains accountable to practices that they hold most important to build a sustainable future.
This is powerful for our world. Global supply chains make the products we directly use each day and those that shape our world. An accountable system for global supply chains can help drive business behaviors toward addressing critical global challenges and create businesses that are not only financially sound, but also focused on driving positive environmental and social changes.
With advancement, there can be tradeoffs with benefits and downsides.
The most obvious potential drawback is in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. It has the promise to automate so many processes in our world. It holds hope that it can enhance human decision-making, making it more accurate, faster and better. If left to work solo, with little human oversight, there could be unintended consequences. Science/Technology is on a forward trajectory and halting it or going backwards from its benefits, in my opinion, is far worse for the human condition than the threats they may seem to pose. In my vision of the future, I see thoughtful attention to sustainability with sustainable invention and innovation leading the way.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
From my experiences at Assent, where we are building a sustainability-oriented technology solution, here are five key considerations:
- Embed Sustainability in your Own Organization — Set the right example within your organization by making the right choices and business decisions about how you value our own people, team members, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.
- Leverage your Most Important Asset: people — As they say it takes a village. Technology that is purpose-built and architected for global sustainability adoption requires a lot of expertise to build, maintain, support, integrate and operate efficiently and effectively. Build and engage a team of diverse experts to continue to drive your solutions forward.
- Journey with your Customers — To scale the technology, capabilities, services to serve a broader group of customers and a broadening global footprint requires applying your SaaS/AI/ML and Network Platform expertise to address evolving sustainability standards and expectations. Continuous improvement to better serve your customers and support them on their sustainability journey is key.
- Be Impeccable with your Communications. Knowing the consensus around laws and norms across environmental and social justice issues are not always widely known or appreciated. Tools and technology facilitate great understanding, but only if people/companies/suppliers fully understand what is expected of them. Most companies will agree to more sustainable practices, but they need to clearly understand what the expectations are. Communication plays a crucial role in driving this understanding.
- Have Vision and Share It. Companies must strive to be more sustainable economically, ethically and environmentally. This requires balancing ALL stakeholder interests, including recognizing the global community and future of our planet as stakeholders, too. Vision can be powerful and can guide business decisions. For sustainability, the future must be entered into the economic analysis to ensure that profitability is not prioritized over addressing critical issues such as slave labor or using environmentally toxic substances, for example.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Practice empathy, be open minded and care.
Truly try to see things from the other person’s perspective. You don’t always have to agree, but you should always consider they are just like you — a person — with a somewhat different perspective.
When we learn new things, it has the power to change our minds and perspectives. Be open-minded toward ideas, perspectives and people.
There is a dark side and a better side of human nature. Choosing the better side requires leadership, courage, energy, engagement, enthusiasm, and caring to ensure the world attends to its environmental and social issues, while making positive progress for generations to come.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I’d like to have coffee with Angela Merkel, the former Chancellor of Germany. I believe we need more political leaders to act as positive, brave and bold role models, such as Angela, who was both applauded and attacked for her honesty, humbleness and approach. I would ask her to mentor/coach the next generation to be great global political leaders by teaching them how to achieve good governance through pragmatism, humility, empathy and integrity.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.