Skip to Main Content
The Leaders

Re-writing the code of education

Nov 17, 2020

Payne shares her quest to disrupt the skills development industry and build the educational institution of the future as her team continues to grow the Juno College of Technology.


Don’t underestimate the will of an entrepreneur starting a brand new venture during a recession. Forced to be creative, and inspired to hustle, Heather Payne, HBA ’09, found a market need aimed at women learning to code. Payne shares her quest to disrupt the skills development industry and build the educational institution of the future as her team continues to grow the Juno College of Technology. Our conversation explores topics such as being personally vulnerable as a leader, brand evolution and the importance of sleep.


Insights and wisdom lie within every business decision. Welcome to the Leaders by Ivey podcast, where we discover hidden narratives in unlock key learnings for our own leadership and career journeys. Hi everyone, I’m Matt Quinn, we're happy to drop this episode during global entrepreneurship week today we welcome Heather Payne HBA’09 and the CEO of Juno College of Technology, formerly HackerU. In this discussion we cover hustle, evolution, and the importance of sleep enjoy thanks very much for joining us today and spending some time getting to know you, your organization and your path to leadership and how you got here. So, thanks for taking the time yeah thanks for having me, let's start off with a little bit about yourself, and what's your relation been with Ivey? How did you? How do you continue to be involved? Sure, yeah so well my name is Heather Payne and I’m the founder and co of the Juno College of Technology, a business that I started back in two thousand and twelve just a couple years after I graduated, Ivey actually. I was in HBA’09, so graduated actually into the last recession and spent some time afterwards as part of the Ivey alumni association in Toronto, doing social media for that group- and I also was, I think, the first group of winners of the Ivey emerging leaders award a few years ago. Could you talk a bit more about Juno and its evolution since you found it yeah totally? So Juno College of Technology is the business that I started in to thousand and twelve and we are a private career college, helping people switch from unrelated careers into the tech industry. So we train about maybe fifteen hundred or two thousand people a year, a number of whom come to us for a vocational program, so they might come to us with sort of beginner level coding skills and we will help them over nine weeks transition into becoming. You know ready for a web development job. When I started the business in two thousand and twelve, we were called HackerU, so it was a different name back then, and over the years that name started to feel less and less like the right name for the company. I think it was because you know my vision really grew a lot. I would say around two thousand and eighteen. I really started to have a big vision for what this company could become and it transcends coding. It's not just about coding. It's about. You know emerging careers in every field, and so the word hacker. In addition to being a little bit like you know, sketchy or whatever just started feeling a bit limiting and then also the you part of the name. You know was funny when we first launched because we were sort of were a university but we're not, and that was sort of the joke and then in two thousand and sixteen we actually became registered as a college. So now we're you know, working to innovate education from the inside and it felt a little childish to have this. Like you reference in our name, so we changed the name officially last year to Juno College of Technology and I think it positions us really. Well, you know it to me. I wanted something for the new name that could sit beside. You know Ivey or Harvard or Stanford, but feel fresh and that's you know what I think it really represents, and you know what we're ultimately trying to do is we're working on creating the university of the future, so I’ll be working on this for many decades to come. This is my life's work. It will take a long, long time, but you can expect to see a lot of really cool innovations coming out of Juno over the coming years. What made you first start to want to start, your own company start your own organization. What was the fire that got started for you there. Yeah when I so during Ivey, I definitely felt like a little bit of a black sheep. I wasn't interested in becoming a management consultant. I wasn't interested in becoming a banker. The becoming an accountant didn't really appeal to me. So I just sort of thought- I guess marketing. You know, I guess that's where I’ll go and when I went to IB my third year internship was at Kraft Foods and sales actually, and my plan was to when I graduated, join a fortune five hundred company and work my way to the top. So entrepreneurship was not something that was. You know something that I was thinking about, or something that I felt I was meant to do. It really wasn't on my radar at all, and then you know, graduating into the recession, caused a lot of challenges for a lot of people back then- and you know I understand where students today our feeling because I’ve been there- and let me just say I hopefully I’ll get to talk about this later, but like there's a lot of good that can come out of graduating into a recession, and you know I think my business is proof of that. But right after Ivey I actually decided to remain in Asia. I got on exchange for my last semester of Ivey and loved it there and decided that you know what I’m just going to stay in Asia for a little while, so I stayed in Asia for about an extra year and upon returning to Toronto, had to figure out how to get a job had a couple different random jobs, and eventually, though, I had this sort of growing interest in coding, you know I had been learning to code. Even when I was in Asia. I'd started learning how to code, and I just thought to myself. You know there should be a group in Toronto for women who want to learn how to code bring people together, make it a little bit easier, and I pretty much just tweeted that idea out and it was instantly popular. This was this would have been like may of than a eleven or so a couple years after graduating. You know, after these sort of random jobs here and there tweeted this out, and it was like everyone loved this idea. I got like all these messages. People wanted to help. Someone sent me three sand dollars to get the whole thing started, and you know it wasn't like I had a big twitter following back, then I had four hundred followers, so it was all you know a little bit sort of too good to be true in a lot of ways, and I just was like okay. I guess this is what I’m doing now. So my career at that point became about helping people learn how to code and I’ve grown that from you know, first working on a non profit which is now you know a nationally known as a non for profit charity actually called Canada Learning Code funded by the federal government with about eighteen million dollars. So that's my first baby and then I turned that idea into my business that I run today, which is Juno College. So it really sounds like your openness to you know receiving new ideas wherever they come from your willingness to try. New things was a key, and you mentioned you graduated during a recession and there's a lot of things that are similar. Now, let's dig into that a little bit more for students that are listening that are coming out of school. What else was valuable for you coming out in a recession to find success. Let's, let's talk about that. Yeah I mean to answer your last question very directly. The reason I am an entrepreneur today is because I couldn't make a lot of money doing anything else. That was just the fact of it. So you know: graduated from school had a couple different random jobs, but the job I like the best probably was working in sales for a start up, and I got paid thirty seven thousand dollars a year. That was like the sort of best I could do back then in the recession and at a certain point I started thinking to myself. You know I could probably figure out how to make thirty seven thousand dollars a year working for myself instead of working for somebody else, and so for me, entrepreneurship was really about salary replacement. I didn't have a big idea. I didn't have a vision. I wasn't like I’m going to go and get venture capital. I was literally just like you know what I can probably do this myself and I’m going to have more fun. You know doing something for me than doing something for somebody else, so I think that that's really the opportunity that you know is presented today. You know, obviously we wouldn't wish this pandemic on anyone, but you know, given that it has happened. You know a lot of companies get started in recessions and get started when there's a downturn, because in good times I could have gotten a job for 60k or 80k, and then I would have a completely different life and I’m really grateful for the fact that my options from an employment perspective were a little bit limited because it forced me to be more creative and it ended me. You know resulted in me being in you know, situation. I am today which I wouldn't trade for anything. So creativity is another thing that comes up finding the gold in in the midst of maybe some challenging times. What else do you see as opportunities right now, because you already said that there's some cool opportunities for some cool things happening from your perspective? What do you see? Yeah there's a lot right now I mean I’m obviously in the in the education field, with my business, and you know what a time to be in education. As you know, students are deciding whether they want to go back to campus or not, and is the online learning option suitable for them? Is it going to achieve their help them achieve their goals or not? So I have been like in an a really deep and intense period of creativity right now for sure thinking about the future of my business and what this could all mean for society. So that's really exciting, but I also think there's a lot of like micro-opportunities available that could probably turn into big things. You know, I think, about all the parents who have kids at home and the learning pod opportunities that exist. You know if I was, if I was a teacher something like that. I think I would be very interested in in maybe building a learning pod. You know build the learning pod, start it and then maybe figure out had a franchise, a learning pod. I think that would be really interesting. I think there's something really interesting in you know: food service delivery. Is it optimal that you know we're always ordering through Uber eats, and is taking such a big cut from these restaurants? Probably not, and so I think there might be something around like you know, going door to door, and I love like anything that goes door to door, I’m like super into those kinds of ideas. I think like hustle, you know if you're a young person and you're trying to figure it out like just knock on people's doors and find out the things that they need. I, but you know if someone came to my door and they were like hey. I've got this activity kit that I made for kids. Would you like to buy one for twenty bucks? I'd be like? Oh, my god give it to me yeah for sure you know that would be super convenient for me and very helpful, and maybe the same thing goes with other staples other products, cleaning supplies like just to reduce the amount of times that we have to all go to the stores. So I just yeah, I think, there's so much right now, and many of them wouldn't require any specific expertise. It just is about looking at what consumers problems are today and solving them in a small way, looking to replace your salary and then over time. Hopefully, that can turn into something bigger. And hustle you've got you've mentioned a few times your interest in those that hustle and you obviously hustle a great deal. Who do you take inspiration from right now that inspires you to continue the hustle and continue to find new ideas and challenging times yeah I mean if we're talking about hustle like I definitely worked really hard in my in my 20s. I sort of you know realized that I’d made this choice to go and figure it out on my own and there wasn't really a safety net, and so you know I was very focused on work. The first three years of building my business were very challenging. You know you're, just you don't make a lot of money in the first few years and there's a lot to figure out and I’m a solo founder. So I’m doing this on my own without any co founders to help me as the business has matured, and you know I now have around thirty five full time employees. I have a leadership team. You know there's different challenges that come with that, but one thing that's been a really nice result of it all. Is that, like I mean I don't truly hustle like I like I used to it's nice, I mean I’m thirty three now I have two young kids and so what's great about starting a business when you're so young. I started when I was twenty four. Is that you know by the time I got to being in my ties like this business is eight and a half years old like this, is a very established business. We've got a leadership team. We know what we're doing. We have. You know decent annual revenues, and so you know I hustle in a different way. It's like I need to make space for having ideas and for thinking and that's like a different kind of hustle than I had to do in the past, but still very important. So you've convinced me you've convinced he, the students listening to follow that idea or maybe explore what a business might look at. If I have no idea how to start, where did you go? What did you do or was it simply left foot in front of rightful and just keep moving ahead? Yeah, it's tricky I remember being like HST number like what is that like? Is that important it is really tricky to figure out exactly what the steps are and what I found it to be really helpful to focus on is just you know. What can I get someone to trade me money for, like that's just the ultimate question, and how can I facilitate collecting that money? A lot of things can be figured out after the fact you know these are good problems to have if you're, like whoa, I’ve got ten sand dollars and I didn't put it in a business bank account like. I think we can pretty easily solve those problems by like hiring the right person with this. You know ten thousand dollars that you that you ended up with, but I think a lot of people in the very early days get a bit caught up in. You know the strategy of it all and like the big picture of it all, when really what you're trying to do is see what consumer need exists that you can solve and if you can do that and get someone to trade you money now, in my case, we sold a JavaScript grip workshop for thirty bucks. That was the first thing I ever sold and we sold thirty tickets for that basically instantly like the moment we put them on sale. You know nine hundred dollars in our pocket and I was like okay like well. What can we do that again tomorrow and then can we do that again the day after that? You know, and it took us some time to ramp up into it, but within about three or four five months, I had actually quit my job and was able to take sort of a half salary from the nonprofit which helped me and I just sort of freelanced for the rest. But you know you can start to see how that path can make sense and how you can get there once you have someone trading you something for money. So keep solving the problems, either your own problems or someone else's problems that they're willing to trade. You mentioned that you were a solo printer and one of the benefits of having somebody with you. As you know, I guess a shoulder to lean on you've got somebody to you know, maybe share the challenges with one of the challenges to being an entrepreneur is rejection. How did you deal with rejection when you were? You know going this alone and what suggestions do you have for the listener about how to manage that? Because it could be challenging yeah I mean I’ve always had you know people close to me in the non profit. Actually, I had three co founders and that was super helpful in those in those very early days and they were involved in getting the current business up and running a little bit as well. But you know really it was. It was on me largely pretty early on and I you know. I definitely know that they're people who have co founders would say you know I would never do it without a co founder. But from my view, I’ve loved my experience. It's very efficient, you know and when you have a co founder you're having to constantly convince someone else of your idea and of course that can be good because they'll, you know, find holes in it and find problems and pick those out and, of course, there's a lot of benefits to that. But I don't know I’ve just found that you know everyone knowing and the company that, like ultimately it's my call, there's nobody else's call who it is, is very clarifying and I’ve just had to have had to learn how to adapt to. You know that role of being so low- and you know being on my own, my husband's, also an entrepreneur. So where there's a lot of like mutual understanding of what that means, he has a partner in his business. So the one thing that I’m finding challenging today and I’m actually looking to you- know sort of move away from feeling. So much like a solo entrepreneur is, you know. Often, businesses that are successful. Have two people at the helm. They'll have a visionary type of person who comes up with all the ideas and then they'll have like an integrator type of person who you know integrates those ideas into the business. You know maybe manages the leadership team executes the business plan make sure that the business is performing according to projections and that sort of thing and in my business I do both of those roles and they're very different rules having to imagine the future and set the direction for the company, while also making sure that you're hitting your monthly sales targets is, is a lot. It's a big job, and I am I’ve, put it on our three year road map that I would like to separate those two roles and the only the visionary and have hired someone as the intermate or bring up one of my leadership team members as the integrator. So that's something I’m looking forward to were probably one to two years away from making that change, and that will be like an exciting phase. For me, as I sort of enter into the tenth year running this business, which will bring new challenges, and it's almost like a new not only of you for you at the business, but how others view you in the role. So there be lots of challenges that come up absolutely. Are there other significant challenges that you faced in the last? Let's say two quarters that that you've had to overcome either personally as a leader or for you as a business, and how did you respond to that challenge? Well, I mean, if I go back a little bit before then I would say end of last year was a really probably the most challenging time for me in my career so far, and I sort of attribute it to two things. One is that the company was at this inflection point between having less than twenty employees or so and then switching into having more than twenty employees, and this is a sort of documented hard time at companies, especially for us. You know I’ve been running this business for so many years like seven years. At that point, it was a time when it was no longer the right thing for the company to have basically every person in the company reporting to me. So it's when I started to establish a leadership team, and that meant that people that you know previously had reported to me now had someone in the middle who they reported to, and we had to learn a lot about how to communicate, how to make sure that everybody here is the message when you can't all sit around a table easily any more, and so that was a really challenging time, because I think I wasn't exactly prepared for how challenge challenging it would be. And then the second thing that made a challenging for me was just that. I had a lot of learning to do to be a good manager and leader, and I somehow because the company was previously smaller, had sort of gotten away without really honing those skills and it kind of came to a head last fall when it was clear that, like I really needed to put a lot of work into this and improve the way that I manage people and lead people, so last fall. I you know hired an executive coach. I started going to therapy for the first time to understand some of my weaknesses and work on them and it was a tough quarter because the company, I think was you know culturally, like not where I would ever want the team to be. Luckily, though, like the leaves or team- and I like put in all this work- and you know- we really listened and we hired some r consultants to help us and when we came back earlier this year, it was like a totally new company every you know. Everything has been great and we do weekly engagement scores here and we've basically been hovering between. You know eighty eight and ninety two percent since the beginning of the year. So it was like a very tough time, but I you know listening to our team- and you know by me doing some reflection and some work we were able to get through it, which sets the stage for you know this year. Obviously coved hitting at the end of February early march, was very hard for us were in person school. We had always been an in person school and so and we actually had you know we had opinion opinions about online learning. We didn't like it. We thought it wasn't as good and soi very quickly. In march we realized okay, so we're now going to be either out of business or we're going to be an online school, and so it was amazing to see the whole company come together and you know help us transition to online and- and you know there was a time just because of the uncertainty that I didn't know like. How much are we going to shrink? You know what is our budget going to be this year, and that was a really hard time. I did end up like crying in front of my whole team at like a town hall meeting, just being like, I don't know, what's going to happen, and you know was feeling really overwhelmed and upset about that fact. But in the end I mean my team is so amazing and we ended up getting through it and we're an online school now. So we offer online courses which are truly incredible, turns out that what we do translates it's not about the medium for us, it's like what we do is just good, whether it's in person or online, so we've been really happy to see. And you know people are still getting jobs all through the pandemic as developers, and so it's been really exciting. That's so great to hear that that, through the vulnerability that you had as a leader and vulnerability as an organization to take a hard look in the mirror about you know what are we, what do we do and how do we do it that you're coming through it having learned a whole bunch of things? If you don't mind, I want to go back to that and ask you as a leader, and you say that you had a therapist, which is amazing. We've heard that from some other leaders the importance of that and having the ability to talk through certain things. How do you maintain that now, with the stresses of your business, evolving with being so busy evolving the business and getting new clients? How do you maintain that presence or the is it carving out time every day to do it? What are some of the things you do as a leader to keep that vulnerability and make sure that you are still on track as a leader? A few things come to mind. One is that, like, I am super honest and direct, sometimes to a fault. So it's something that I have to keep in mind as well, but you know I just I just like to tell people the truth and I like to tell people what's going on and I don't like to hide anything, and so my team knows that if they ask me a question like they're going to get a direct answer, so may be careful what you ask some of the time you know, but I think that helps people feel trust because they, you know, they know that you know I really don't have an interest in hiding anything we're very transparent about our financials. We share our results quarterly. We share profit targets and all that kind of stuff with the whole company, so that that really helps people to trust me. I think because they know that I’m sharing that information and then we have a policy I guess you'd call it. Basically, everyone at Juno has a one on one with everyone who reports to them once a week, and this is just like important. You know it might be a little much. Some people would think once a week is a little bit too much, but you know every single week I spend an hour with every single person who reports to me, which is you know, six or seven different people, and I just get to hear what's going on with everyone and for me, like you know, are always firing in the back of my head, as I’m like hearing different problems and different teams and figuring out like what the root cause might be and how another team could solve it or could work with them on it, and so that's really important. I think I wouldn't have the same understanding of how the business is doing. If I wasn't like putting the time and energy into those meetings, I will say that, like having time is a challenge you know, Juno is a is a self funded company, we did go through stuff last summer and we did raise a small amount of money, but for the most part you know, we've been here eight and a half years, just like profitable on our own. Just doing our thing- and you know that means that you know we don't have a bunch of venture capital pouring in allowing us to hire. You know more roles than we can afford like we get to hire, who we can afford to have based on our revenues and based on our profit targets, and so the team is, you know overall, you know a bit stretched, that's sort of like what the culture is like at. You know it's like you. People have a lot on their plates, and so that's how it is for me as well, but I always look toward the future and I’m like how is this going to change in the future, and I know that it is, and I see the light, and so I can sort of tell that to everyone and talk to everyone about that and make sure that people see that you know how it is today is an necessarily how it's always going to be yeah, and you just spoke of a role that you're looking forward so that you can be the visionary. Well, that's going to give you more times. You've got those steps in place. Now here's a tricky question, but I always love hearing this. What would you do differently? Looking back at the last you know half of a year to a year you've talked about things that you would definitely do again. What would you do differently? Hmm, I mean I have something I do differently. That goes back a little farther than that sure yeah. So, I think, because I was you know when I graduated I was like okay, I’m going to do this on my own and really started coming. You know I became an entrepreneur and had to figure everything out on my own. I really regret not staying in closer touch with my like Ivey classmates. It just was like felt like we were in different worlds at the time you know people were like you know, having their great banking jobs and like living this like banking and consulting life and traveling everywhere, and I was just sort of toiling away on my own thing over here, like you know, had no money to go out or go it for dinner, or anything like that, and- and I regret that now because for two reasons one is that I think we just all have more in common today than we did back. Then you know everyone is a leader you know today, and everyone is running teams and everyone's thinking about the future of work and all these kinds of things, and I think it would have been nice to you know. I'm sure I could reach out again, of course, and build those connections again, which I you know do and but, but I wish I’d maintained it a little bit more through rather than having to do all this work today to like to get in touch with everybody again, and the second reason is like I just I have stuff to sell these people, and you know these. You know my amazing colleagues are like working at. You know, banks and working at you know different big companies, and you know I’d love to train their staff, so that be always easier to do. If I, you know, had stayed in touch the whole time, so I wish I’d been a little bit more like future oriented back then just to see that you know it's really about your whole career and your whole life in front of you and not just be so like focused on in the moment. So, let's a pivot a little bit, we've talked a little bit about the business. We talked about you as a leader and as things grow and evolve as to people's passions and you've mentioned. You know the not for profit that you work with. I always love hearing what you'd like to leave the audience with either a cause or a problem or an initiative that you'd like them to look up and get involved with. You now talk a little bit about that. What would you love to task our audience with? I mean if you're asking me to talk about something, I’m very passionate about outside of work. I would choose sleep. I am so passionate about sleep any time someone has a problem, I’m like that annoying person who's like well how do you sleep last night, you know and sleep could be a big challenge for a lot of people. I've really prioritized it over the last few years, obviously harder when my kids were, you know really young, but as they've gotten a bit older, it's gotten easier and I use a bracelet called a whop bracelet and it basically tracks your a few different things, but one of the things is that it tracks your sleep score every night. So I tells you know it calculates the sleep need for you and then tells you how you did in terms of achieving that cool, and I find that really like a really tangible thing that I can use to you know have a goal for myself of making sure that I’m getting enough sleep and you know inevitably, any day like I mean I have so much energy at work. The day flies by, like I love what I do so much any day where I have a kind of pang of like not being into it or something. I look at my sleep score, I’m like! Oh, that's. Why, like I just didn't, I just didn't sleep while so that bracelet, combined with I have a manta sleep mask, it's a brand called manta and it's like raised sleep mask that makes it like fully blackout. I cannot sleep without it, I’m completely addicted to it, and so between those two things like I just wish more people would take more of an interest in their sleep and their sleep patterns, and you know feel like it is something that you're in control of and that you can influence, and you know it can be hard, but there's a lot of sleep habits that we can undertake that can make it easier like leaving your phone. You know outside of the bedroom or not using your phone. After a certain hour, I gave up caffeine completely, just specifically to help my sleep, so I’ve been a caffeine in almost two years so anyway, that's my thing that I wish more people would care about, especially students. You know the mental health crisis on campuses, I believe, is driven by lack of sleep, and so you know if we can help teenagers and people in their twenties understand that they need to prioritize sleep. They need to build a good habits in this area. I think we're going to have a happier and healthier society, and you know we're hearing stories all the time what's happening during the pandemic with sleep there's a great book called “Why We Sleep” by PhD Matthew Watt's so great, like a great tips, and it's just all the little things that we can do to help us so encourage the listeners to check that out. How did how did you come across? This? Was this something in in working with your therapist that that you came across it? Was it a personal interest that just kind of grew out to something else? How did you stumble upon this. Yeah good question I hadn't thought of this before, but it's extremely typical of me, which is, I will have some kind of eureka moment, and then I will become the most intense person about that I ever in the world. So for me what it was is March 2019. I guess I had. There was something really stressful going on in my in my personal life and I had two horrible sleeps in a row like even worse than when my kids were babies like truly the two wore sites, and I was like okay, I’m giving up caffeine and I’m learning everything that I can about sleep and I’m never looking back, and so that was sort of the point where everything changed for me and I just started. You know I got that book, read that book kept reading books, books, books, books, tools, you know, and now I’m not annoying person. You just always talks about sleep so just following it going down the rabbit, hole, yeah exactly he's great before we wrap up, I want to give the listeners an opportunity to connect with you to follow thing on LinkedIn Instagram connect with your organization and the not for profit. Where can people go to get in touch with you or learn more about you and your organization yeah, so the best place would be the Juno website. So it's and we also have Instagram every Tuesday we feature a graduate of ours in our Instagram stories and you can sort of follow along their journey and they answer questions and you can kind of learn about the people that come to Juno. So I definitely recommend checking that out. We're also pretty active on Twitter and then for myself. Personally, I’m at Heather Payne on Twitter and also on Instagram, as @HeatherPayne, you can go and twitter to see more sort of work related things and then on Instagram. It's like some pictures of my kids, the Juno office, which just got a renovated like a half million dollars right before covid. So when we come back on campus here, it's going to be just gleaming and ready for everyone and yeah some nature, photos and stuff on there, too. That's great Heather! Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and more over sharing insights view personally, as a leader some of the challenges and the things that you found that have helped you out in your journey. Thank you so much for continuing to be a part of Ivey. My pleasure, thanks for having me! Thanks again to Heather for join us on the Leaders by Ivey podcast. It's always great to hear the things that worked. The things that were challenges in the life of an entrepreneur. Be sure to rate review and subscribe, see you next time.