How did you and your co-founder, Calvin, meet?
I met Calvin through common UWaterloo friends. Just prior to joining him, I had been working at Blackberry for three years in different teams (after finishing my Computer Science degree at UWaterloo). But I was getting bored and was looking for a change.
I’ve always had an itch for building a startup from the ground level. Even during my Undergraduate at UWaterloo, I wanted to pursue some entrepreneurial projects. But because I was an international student, I had some work visa and financial limitations which didn’t allow me to take the financial risks during university. When I came across the idea about Palette from Calvin, I fell in love with it right away. I have been passionate about software user interfaces ever since I took the CS 349 course and Palette enhances the user experience of all other software. I knew I can contribute a lot to Palette and grow with the company.
I was looking around for new opportunities and interviewing for companies like Google in Silicon Valley, where I was trying to meet up with another UWaterloo friend. That friend is the one who eventually connected me to Calvin a few months later, knowing that I would be a good fit for a startup. It was a great coincidence.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve come across in Palette’s three years of operations?
As a startup, there are so many different types of challenges, it’s hard to pinpoint the most difficult one. In the early days, perhaps within the first year, most of the challenges were work conflicts. There were a few teammates in the early days who weren’t the best fit, and sometimes it would cause a lot of cultural issues. So finding the right team is extremely important — I can’t emphasize that enough. Just because your teammate is one of your good friends, or they have a strong skillset, does not necessarily mean that it will be a good work partnership. Having someone with whom you can communicate well with, trust, and is a good team player overall is incredibly important.
Over time Palette has improved a lot, and I think our culture is way better now.
How has your role changed in the past three years?
It changes every quarter. In the first year, I was doing a lot of software development, some business strategy, partnerships with Adobe, some product management, some hiring. Now I’m barely doing any coding — I’m more focused with high-level product management, weekly sprint planning and other business priorities. I lead most of the partnership efforts at Palette too. For Palette’s technical platform, we work closely with the SDK from a lot of other companies like Sony and Adobe.
Additionally, since our gear can give tactility to so many different apps, we get requests for a different app almost every day. So sometimes the challenge on the business side of things is prioritizing which projects to pursue first. So figuring out what to build and what to prioritize – that’s definitely what occupies a lot of my time and thoughts.
Has your minor in business helped?
The education definitely helped. But my experiences working in different teams during internships in undergrad, and then working for three years full-time in the industry – that helped a lot more. I was in different software development roles as well as partnership, app consultant (working with UX designers) and developer relations roles.
This what some entrepreneurs might not consider as much. Having proper industry experience does help a lot in your startup. If you’re going to a startup right from school, you might not know how the world actually works. Yes, you may have done 4-month co-ops before, but it’s quite different from a full-time role in an existing company — where you stay longer, get a lot more responsibility, and get much more depth in your work.
What’s the next step for Palette?
We started by selling primarily to photographers (e.g. Adobe Lightroom CC users). I think we have been very successful at it, given our small team size. But we’ve already started expanding to other markets verticals, such as video editing. This year, users of Photoshop and Premiere Pro are going to benefit a lot more from Palette hardware and software.
Our long term goal is to provide the ideal interfaces for all types applications — not just a few creative/editing applications. The current set of hardware modules is just the beginning. We believe quite strongly that for each software interface there is an ideal hardware interface. “One size fits all” keyboard/mouse/touchscreen is definitely not ideal.
What resources in the KW region would you recommend to young entrepreneurs?
For UWaterloo students, Velocity incubator is by far the most useful resource in the community. Velocity has helped us tremendously – I don’t think we would be here without their support and guidance. I’d recommend getting connected to Velocity through their website (http://velocity.uwaterloo.ca/) or through their other events (on campus or in the Tannery building).
How can other students connect with Palette?
We are actually hiring for quite a few different roles (full time/new graduate). You can check out the postings at palettegear.com/careers. We also hire co-ops from UWaterloo every term.
Learn more about Palette’s product development process with Rashid’s co-founder, Calvin, at Startup Chat with Palette next Monday.
Stay tuned as more UWaterloo entrepreneurs share their stories in EntSoc’s “Entrepreneurs of UWaterloo” series!