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"You don't have someone patting your back and giving you a gold star every time you do something great."

Talking Start-Up Communications with Nicolina Savelli of AskforTask

AskforTask is a start-up that allows users to crowd-source skilled labour or work. You can browse tasks, and when you find one you think you can help with, suggest your fee! Or, post your expertise and people can make YOU an offer to avail themselves of your services. It’s a company that’s based on bringing people together, and for that you need a great communications person: Enter Nicolina Savelli.

SDTC: What does a typical Thursday look like—from waking up to heading to bed?

Nicolina Savelli: Communication never stops, ever, especially in the startup world—so Thursdays (or any other day for that matter) usually look a little like this:

7:30 am – Anxiously wake-up 30 minutes before my alarm goes off—once the morning light comes through my window it’s basically go time for me— however, my body usually disagrees, so I check my phone about 10 times before actually getting out of bed. Answer any early morning e-mails that require immediate attention, check the news, check Twitter, see if anything major has happened we need to address as a company

8am – I’ll shower if I have time, run out the door, catch the streetcar, send out/answer e-mails during the bumper-to-bumper ride to work.

9:30am – Arrive at the office, do a morning huddle. I try to keep it motivational so everyone feels like they have a mission for the day.

10:05am – Check my e-mail, check the news, check all social media for trends that may relate to us—strategize any immediate replies to the e-mails, news or trends.

11:30am – Grab a quick breakfast which typically consists of an everything bagel and a large double double.

12pm – I schedule conference calls with journalists, event coordinators (for an upcoming conferences we’re participating in) or anyone else from 12-2.

2pm – Take a lunch and do a midday recap, re-motivate the office, get things moving for those who have lost focus or feel side-tracked.

3pm – I schedule most in-person meetings between 3-5pm. For instance, today I’m meeting up with a woman who had a task completed on AskForTask to see how the whole process was for her. I use midday to build in person, one-on-one contacts and relationships.

5pm – I’ll scoot back to the office and meet with our CEO and my team to develop ongoing strategies for the coming weeks and send out any final e-mails.

6:30pm – I attend community, tech, or general meet-up events from 6:30pm-930pm most nights. It’s a good way to talk about the company and build both personal and professional contacts.

10pm – Get home, send out any e-mails I want people to see as soon as they wake up in the morning, write press releases or strategies I need to work on for the next day—check social media for any changes.

12am – I try to head to bed around 12am but sometimes I lose track of time planning and e-mailing and before I know it, it’s 2 am.

SDTC: What was your first job out of school?

NS: I pushed school non-stop for a while. I went from high school, to university, to postgrad then a Masters all within six years. Throughout that time I worked at The Beer Store to pay for my tuition, residency to complete my Masters abroad. By the time I was ready to enter the workforce outside of The Beer Store, I was 24 and lacked a lot of professional experience, so I took on a job at a marketing firm, which I later regretted. I had to go out and showcase products at Canadian Tire. According to my boss, I was great at it, but by nature I overanalyze a lot, so convincing people to buy something when I couldn’t even convince myself was extremely draining. I quickly left and told myself I would never take on another job where I didn’t believe in the company or the product—soon after I met the founders of AskForTask.com and knew they had an idea I could get behind.

SDTC: Tell us a little about Ask for Task—what makes the organization unique?

NS: We’re a company disrupting markets, which is always fun. Collaborative consumption is a concept starting to really take shape in North America and AskForTask is putting Toronto on the map as a shareable city. The other great part of AskForTask is the youth culture behind the company—all of our employees are under 30. We are literally growing along with the company, learning everyday with an energetic and innovative outlook on life. We have a very resilient team committed to each other, working closely together and creating amazing things, every single day. The fact that we conceive these ideas and put them into motion personally is amazing and rewarding. It’s hard work but when you see something come to life that came from a random idea while you were riding the bus home one day, it’s worth it.

SDTC: What are three things you require to do your job well?

NS: 1. Patience. Sometimes things don’t happen right away, you have to keep pushing and working hard to make them happen
2. Energy. It’s impossible to encourage the people around you if you’re not lively or motivated. I always have to bring my A game—you can only control so much with communication, things happen, situations change and you need to be quick to adapt.
3. Creativity. We are constantly trying to create new ways to connect with people through campaigns, events and even in our writing. Being able to think quickly and develop new ideas off the cuff is crucial.

SDTC: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?

NS: Sometimes no matter how much you prepare for something, things don’t go as planned. And sometimes no matter how much effort you put into something, the results may not add up. You have to be able to handle lukewarm reception—not everyone is going to think your ideas are amazing. You have to let your ego go and roll with the punches. Also, you don’t have someone patting your back and giving you a gold star every time you do something great—you take a second to rejoice when you accomplish something but successes can rise as quickly as they fall. You have to be constantly hustling to gain respect in the eyes of your superiors and your stakeholders.

SDTC: What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received?

NS: Good question! In the context of career building, AskForTask’s CEO Muneeb Mushtaq once said to a room full of budding entrepreneurs, “Don’t sleep on ideas, make them happen.” That resonated with me because sometimes I’ll think of a great idea and then I’ll push it aside or I’ll think about working on it tomorrow and suddenly I’ve run out of time to make it happen or someone does it before me. As soon as something clicks, I recommend working on it right away before that idea is no longer relevant. In all fields of communications, you’re always trying to stay ahead of the trend and predict what people want before they ask for it.

SDTC: What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about?

NS: I’m very excited about our upcoming app launch. We’ve been working tirelessly on perfecting a brilliant application for iPhone and hosting an event in April that will get people pumped about it. Secondly, we have been selected as one of 150 startups from around the world for Collision Conference in Las Vegas this May. The opportunity to hear from impressive startups like Hootsuite, Stripe, Uber and Next will be an eye-opening experience and also to connect with massive VCs in the startup industry.

SDTC: What advice would you give to young women hoping to start a career in communications?

NS: First, network, all the time. Meet people from every walk of life and make connections. You’ll be surprised how they can contribute to your success in the long run. Second, it’s not as glamorous as it may appear. Be prepared to get your hands dirty, work long hours and put aside all other commitments for your job. If you love it enough, it won’t feel like work, but your friends and family might wonder where you’ve disappeared to. I like staying busy and I like the people I work with, which makes it easy to dedicate myself. Leading me to the last thing: find a company you’re passionate about. It’s impossible to communicate on behalf of someone or something that you personally don’t believe in.

SDTC: Looking back, what’s one thing you’d do differently with regards to your work-life?

NS: I have struggled and still sometimes struggle with diving into things head-first and putting all my eggs in one basket, letting opportunities pass me by. We recently had an event for mommies at the AskForTask headquarters and I got to meet all these incredible women, balancing their careers, their families and side projects all at once. You can focus on your career without jeopardizing relationships and visa versa. I’ve previously neglected career goals for relationships or neglected relationships for work—I would have liked to have found a balance sooner because I know it’s possible.

SDTC: What do you love about working for Ask for Task?

NS: I love being able to collaborate with my peers in a way that gives everyone a voice. I don’t feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel, I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, which may seem scary at first but at the end feels extremely invigorating. Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo, but I love a good challenge, the harder something seems, the more I want to achieve it. Working in a startup environment, you are literally trying to do make most people consider the impossible, possible. I feel valued for my contribution and I see the immediate results of that contribution big and small.

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