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The Write Stuff

Lindy Ledohowski, CEO, Essay Jack (Photo provided)

 

Lindy Ledohowski was on a conference call when an “angel investor” started screaming at her. He was furious because she had declined his offer to buy stock in her company, Essay Jack, after she realized she had enough friends and family eager to invest in her company.

“It was absolutely insane,” the CEO recalls during our Zoom interview, using her hands to animate the wild story. “Shouting is not a way that I would ever invite you to invest in this business.” She characterized him as a tech “dude” so “ full of his own self-importance,” he thinks budding entrepreneurs such as Ledohowski should be groveling for their support.

This incident earned her a reputation for being “prickly” in her business relations, although her cheery attitude recounting the incident makes it hard to believe. Clearly, she has no problem with that label, even embraces it as a woman navigating the fiercely male-dominated start-up tech industry. 

“One of the great things about turning 40 is that you care less about those things,” she says. “I know that the people I care about, my friends and family, if they decide that they don’t like me or I’ve done something wrong, I’ll take that very seriously. But you know, strangers or randos, I don’t care.”

It surely helps that Essay Jack has caught the attention of edu-tech investors and won a bushel of accolades and awards. The software program she helped develop provides tips, tools and video resources for writing essays. She came up with the idea after spending years as a university professor teaching students who were incredibly intelligent, but struggled writing essays. “Essay Jack provides that structure so that you can start writing,” she says, “writing faster and with greater confidence, and going from ‘I have lots of ideas’ to now ‘I’m refining and spell checking my ideas.’”

Instilling greater confidence is a key component, according to Ledohowski. “There is a crisis, especially at the higher education level, with confidence, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy.” She says the program can reduce that suffering by offering tips and techniques so students feel encouraged and empowered to write faster and better.

The application can help any student improve academic writing, but is especially useful as a remedial tool, for those who did not grow up studying in English and last-minute starters as the program provides 24/7 support.

Her company, which launched in 2015, had 12,000 users in 2018 and more than doubled to 30,000 this past spring. During the pandemic lockdown, from March through May, as universities and colleges went online, usage soared by 50 percent, with users around the globe and B2B distributors in Australia, Asia and Canada. And the ceiling is still far off.

Individuals pay $9.99 a month for the service or $99 a year, while bulk buyers such as institutions can lower the per-person fee. The typical user is a keen university student who is willing to put in the work to improve writing skills. Ledohowski says that while the platform is gender-neutral, based on anecdotal data, there are more female users than male. And buyers are more often mothers, who are key decision makers in their children’s education.

The company also skews female, with all the senior positions occupied by women. “When you have a large number of women decision-makers working together, there is a great degree of generosity, collaboration, and a can-do attitude—not just about gender things, but about diversity as a whole,” says Ledohoski.

She and her husband, Rueban Balasubramaniam, a tenured law professor at Carleton University, each own 40.5 per cent of the company with family and friend investors holding the rest. She says her husband doesn’t have an executive role at the moment, but supports her through high-level strategic discussions. 

Their most exciting project at hand is a new partnership with the Ogemawahj Tribal Council, to digitize learning and retention resources for teaching standardized Anishinaabemowin languages in Ontario, with the council retaining ownership of the content.

This new project is one of the many indicators that Essay Jack is growing beyond its initial writing platform, with the potential to support and expand diverse initiatives. Ledohoski expects an upcoming rebranding will include a change in the company name to reflect that. “Essay Jack the name, we’ve kind of outgrown it. A super-duper-writing-platform of awesomeness is kind of what we are now.”

This would be the third name for the company, after starting as Essay Hack—marketing the software as an easy way to improve your writing and “hack” your way into an A+. Conversations with investors and schools prompted that name change.

Growing up, Ledohoski never imagined a life as an entrepreneur though she had an example in her father, who left his position as an economics professor to start a hotel business in Manitoba. Her sister and brother currently run and own the family business, but Ledohowski was determined to carve her own path, aspiring to a life in literature.

She obtained a BA in English from the University of Manitoba in 2000, taught high school for two years, added an MA and PhD in English at University of Toronto by 2008 and, after a post doc then a stint teaching at University of Waterloo, returned to University of Toronto as a tenure-track professor. 

In her 20s, she says her self-worth was wrapped around academic success. With each new degree feeling like another pat on the head, she found that entrepreneurship helped bring her sense of self-worth back into her own hands. 

And that journey has been “gratifying and exciting.” She once thought the reach of her professional career was limited to students in her classes. But Essay Jack has enabled her to help countless students.

“It’s endless how many people can learn to have power over the written word, and then achieve their own goals. There’s this skill set that I’ve been able to develop and translate into software that can now touch millions of people.”


Publishers Note:  Essay Jack is a participant in Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for womxn in digital media, Fifth Wave Labs. The Fifth Wave is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner. 


LiisBeth Media is a 100% womxn-owned and led, reader supported media enterprise. If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more, please consider becoming a donor subscriber today!

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Related articles

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/04/26/where-are-the-women-in-canadas-women-in-tech-venture-fund/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/11/26/homelessness-theres-an-app-for-that/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2020/02/25/how-to-be-in-the-right-authentic-relationship-with-entrepreneurship/

 

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LIISBETH DISPATCH #39

VIEWPOINT

This year I ended up celebrating the winter solstice at Kensington Market in Toronto for the first time with new friends.  Paul, the initiator, described it to me as a sort of “mini-burning man”. It was an apt description. After a brief parade of giant puppets, pagan costumes and a few hundred urban revellers of all ages carrying homemade lanterns, the colourful, lit collective gathered with others in Alexandra Park, where a 20-foot high purpose-built sculpture was thereafter set on fire. The red embers floated up towards the sky while white snowflakes fell. There was drumming, dancing, and hot drinks.  The diverse crowd cheered while also stamping their feet and rubbing their mittened hands together for added warmth on this dark, minus 20 centigrade December night.

While watching the flame devour the papier-mâché and chicken wire animal god sculpture, I noticed the togetherness that the fire aroused in all of us. I was also struck by the fact that while the source of holiday light varies for different cultures and backgrounds—Christmas trees, menorahs, lanterns—there was a certain universality to how people practice the season; It almost always involves acts of generosity, goodwill, healing, and reconnection. Participating in the season in this way leaves you with a sense that renewal is not only possible-but on its way.

It was a welcome feeling that night.  And it still persists on this New Year’s Eve day.


THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH

Winter Solstice Playlist: Beginnings, Endings, and Bridges

LiisBeth is pleased to bring you this smoldering, contemplative and appropriately named new year playlist curated by Aerin Fogel, Toronto musician and founder of Venusfest, a Toronto-based feminist music festival.

The collection features some well-known artists like Bjork, as well as emerging artists like Lido Pimienta (below), a Columbian-Canadian musician and human rights advocate who won this year’s Polaris Music Prize for her album, La Papessa.

The Polaris Prize is based on artistic merit without regard to sales history or label affiliation. Winners are selected by  “a Grand Jury of 11 music media professionals drawn from the greater Polaris jury pool of almost 200 writers, editors, broadcasters, DJs and personalities from across the country.

You can listen to the playlist by clicking here.


It’s here!  The LiisBeth 2018 Feminist Entrepreneur Reading List!

After the entrepreneurial feminist forum in November, many attendees asked for a list of recommended readings to help them dig deeper into the concepts and topics introduced at the November 11 forum held in Toronto at the Ontario College of Art University.  We thought “Good idea!”  So here is the list which includes 20 books and five readings.

You can download it here.  Oh, and I think it goes without saying, don’t try to read them all at once!  S–p–a–c–e it out.

We hope it will give your feminist business practice what you need soar in 2018.


LiisBeth is Now on Patreon!

You may not realize this, but LiisBeth runs on passion diesel and volunteer time, plus the paid contributions of over 20 freelance contributors, editors, and visual artists.

Grants are hard to come by given what we do. (Feminist business practice is for some, still too niche or too scary to contemplate!). We are working on recruiting angel investors who are passionate about the cause. No luck yet. But we’re not giving up!

In the meantime, it’s really up to us, entrepreneurial feminists, to keep this conversation going and growing. 

This is our humble ask: If you have read, benefited from, shared, attended one of our events, heard us speak at a conference, or talked about LiisBeth’s work at least once, we would love to see you deepen your engagement with us by supporting this work not only with your attention and praise but with donations as well. 

We have lots of options. Our subscriptions range from $3 to $10 per month. Or, you can make a one time $5 or $100 donation. It’s up to you to determine what level of support works for your budget.

LiisBeth is open access regardless of how much you donate—and will remain so.

If cash is not an option, you can support us in other ways:

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To donate now, please click here or visit our Patreon site here. We are sincerely grateful for any and all types of support.


Are We Making A Difference?  Is Our Work Helping to Advance Gender Equity and Equality?

We have published over 129 articles and have hosted over 500 people at our various events, salons, and forum since we began in February 2016.

But are we having an impact?  Are we contributing to advancing gender justice through our work?

In December, LiisBeth decided to take stock, reflect and publish our findings.

You deserve to know if your contributions are helping us make a difference.

We need to know if we are using our resources in an optimal way given our mission.

Watch for the final report in early January.


In case you missed it!

CAN’T MISS EVENTS
  • Jan. 20: Innovation in Craft & Design
    A talk presented by Interior Designers of Canada.
    3:00PM–5:00PM, C536-43 Hanna Avenue, Toronto. Free. Register here.

  • April 10–11: Diversity Procurement Fair
    Presented by The Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC), Beanfield Centre, 105 Princes’ Blvd., Toronto


That brings us to the end of our last newsletter for 2017

Again, we hope you enjoyed it as well as our deeper reads at www.liisbeth.com.

Again, we could also really use your support. Please consider a donation, either as a lump sum ($5, $10, $100, anything will make a difference!) or monthly subscription between $3 to $10 dollars. Remember 100% of our dollars goes towards paying writers, editors, and creators a living wage rate for their work. You might even know a few of them!

The next newsletter is scheduled for mid-January.

Until then, we wish you a very happy, prosperous and generous new year.

Petra Kassun-Mutch
Founding Publisher, LiisBeth