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Q&A: John Kelsall, our New Director of Customer Success

This week, we’re so excited to introduce you to John Kelsall, our new Director of Customer Success. John joined our team early this month and we’re thrilled to have him. Get to know him a little bit better in the Q&A below!

What made you want to work at coUrbanize?

I was initially interested in coUrbanize because of the positive social impact the company is making by facilitating meaningful engagement around new developments, from members of communities that haven’t always had a voice. Many software companies are only focused on the financials; fundraising, growth and making an exit. I wanted to find a company where I felt like the work I was doing made a real, positive difference in the world.

Coming from a city (Toronto) with seemingly endless development and new construction, I never felt that my participation could shape what those changes to my city looked like. I was excited about the opportunity to be a part of this positive shift in communities across North America. I also saw that this was a ‘better mousetrap’ compared to the in-person engagement process. I saw that the company was well-positioned to grow and make an even bigger impact as the idea of online community engagement took hold.

What excites you most about your new role?

When I was first making the decision to join the team, the mission and the values of the company were major factors. Since I’ve started, I’ve seen how great the team is and that’s what excites me the most about my future here. Everyone is smart, hard working, welcoming and supportive. Great companies are built by great people. I’m excited about having a world-class team around me as I work on what the future of customer success looks like at coUrbanize. I know that as our department grows and develops new initiatives to serve our customers, the team will be bringing great ideas, sharing best practices and adding value collectively.

One initiative that excites me about my new role is introducing ‘Engagement Reviews’ to our customers. These will be regular meetings where we meet with customers to discuss their ongoing project, discuss the results they’ve been having so far, and strategize new ideas to increase engagement and help them reach their goals. I hope this can be another way to add value to our customers and ensure they get the most benefit possible from the online community engagement process.

What is the development scene like in Toronto from your perspective?

Toronto is a hot spot for real estate development. In my 12 years living in the city, cranes and construction barriers were a common sight, dotting the skyline. Condo developments are especially numerous as the city struggles with lack of housing and poor affordability. Residents seem to welcome expansion of condo developments because of these factors. Density has grown enormously in the last decade in the downtown core. Residential condo development has expanded in all directions, East, West and North as the city changes guidelines for building to accommodate the insatiable demand for housing. I have also seen the gentrification of low-income areas over the last decade, displacing longtime residents and replacing affordable housing communities with large-scale developments. These shifts drive home the need for a tool like coUrbanize to give these populations a voice.

What does the broader community really value in new buildings and redevelopments?

From my perspective, the community tends to value these factors in new buildings and redevelopments:

  • Minimal disruption to traffic/transportation – Torontonians are used to construction-related traffic bottlenecks adding time to their daily commute. This is a fact of life in a city growing so fast. The less disruptive a construction site is to the flow of traffic, the better.
  • Additional housing / affordable housing – As a city facing an affordability crisis, the solution is more housing and a greater proportion of that devoted to affordable housing. Communities want to see more housing, but with an eye on the affordability to the residents in the area.
  • Public/green space – As more retail and residential projects are built, the city loses green space and public spaces in general. Keeping open spaces available to the public is something else that is valued by Torontonians.
  • Preservation of historic buildings/facades – As a city with some beautiful historic buildings and our signature red brick houses and buildings from the past, the residents value historic charm and the preservation of houses and buildings that add to the character of the city.

You recently traded in city life for a more rural community. I’m curious if development and density are still topics of conversation where you’re living now.

Development is still a topic that is top of mind for people in this rural community. More in the context of saving the natural landscapes and traditional agricultural communities. There is strong local opposition to a proposed local Quarry. There are countless homes with ‘Say no to the Quarry’ signs. Another issue that is important to people in this area is wind farms and their impact on the landscape. There is a lot of NIMBYism on both of these issues.

Density and other developments haven’t been a major concern beyond those two issues, the town I live in still has about 5-6 local businesses and seems to have no plans for expansion. A local library is being built in the town and the community is supportive of it. I plan to mention coUrbanize to the team; it’s been a useful tool for several public library projects in Cleveland that are using our platform to inform plans for their new branches. As more development and density come to this area in the future, I know the residents will appreciate the opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions of the developers through coUrbanize.

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