California dreaming

Two Athabasca University alumni talk collaboration and camaraderie in the Silicon Valley.

By Shelley Williamson

Blaine Mathieu

Despite his humble beginnings in Peace River, Alberta, it’s no coincidence that Athabasca University (AU) alumnus Blaine Mathieu landed in Silicon Valley with a growing Internet technology consulting business to his credit. With a background at heavy hitting IT giants from Gartner to Adobe, the 30-year veteran has earned his place. And he started young.

“At the age of 14, I started my own company called Turning Point Software and I wrote software applications to help large enterprises and accounting firms in Canada track clients’ assets,” says Blaine, a 1999 graduate of AU’s MBA for Executives program. “Ever since then I have been into technology sales and marketing management.”

When his peers were focusing on pep rallies, Blaine was taking out Financial Post ads, initiating direct mail campaigns, and having his mom field his business calls. Even then Silicon Valley called.

With the Internet’s surge in the mid-1990s, Blaine says he realized his future in IT would depend on large tech companies, so he enrolled in MBA classes at AU, with a focus on Internet strategy. He also started a blog and caught the eye of some big names in the industry with his posts.

“Just as I was getting near the end of my MBA, literally the same week, I got a call from Amazon and a call from Gartner,” says Blaine, who within a week took a job with the latter in 1998. By the summer of 1999, he was headed to San Jose, California for a post as one of Gartner’s first Internet analysts. From Gartner, he moved to Adobe before returning to Canada, to Ottawa, for a stint as vice president of marketing for Corel. It was here he met Derek Sidebottom, who had his own Silicon Valley dreams.

Derek Sidebottom

“I was heading up global programs (at Corel) and he was climbing the ladder quite nicely,” says Derek Sidebottom, who has recently co-founded HR consulting firm Squadley with his wife Jennifer, and now boasts employees in Alberta, Ontario, and the San Francisco Bay area. Sidebottom hopes to launch the company’s affiliated software soon.

Derek, who grew up in Milton, ON, was also mulling an MBA, and Athabasca University ranked high among his options when he and Blaine worked together. “There was no way I was going to sit in a classroom while I was really out in the world doing real stuff,” says Derek, who’d previously attended the University of Ottawa for his business degree, and Humbar College for HR. “I really enjoyed the technology platform collaborative learning environment. I have always said that the tech platform communication is the great equalizer.”

Now that fellow AU alums Derek and Blaine are back in the San Francisco Bay area, they have begun collaborating again, this time as founders of their own startup companies each on a similar path.

“I am one of his ‘gurus’ (in a company) where he is building a network around himself,” says Derek. “We see down the road where we are doing a co-webinar. We are definitely talking each other up in other areas. We are really two peas in a pod.”

Both men put weight in their MBA programs having buoyed them toward their successes, especially as entrepreneurs. To this end, Derek likens his AU tenure to what has become the norm for business in the 21st century: “We live in an officeless, always-on world. That’s the Athabasca University MBA. It’s a classless, officeless, time agnostic, geographically agnostic way of working. It’s interesting that it’s played so well into entrepreneurial life.”