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Working Geek: A diverse workplace creates conflict – and that’s the goal, says COO Nat Cartwright

When living in Geneva years ago, Finn AI co-founder Nat Cartwright developed a passion for “sabering” — the art of lopping off the top of champagne bottles with a saber. The act is now a part of company culture. Employees use sticky notes to write goals, such as revenue targets, raises, seeing their product expand, and post them on bottles. As they hit the milestone, out comes the saber to celebrate. (Finn AI Photo)

People talk a lot about building a diverse workplace with employees who vary by gender, race, socioeconomic background, age, abilities and life experience, and how those differences can fuel innovation.

But what happens if you actually achieve a wildly divergent mix?

“You are deliberately building conflict in a group of people,” said Nat Cartwright, co-founder of Finn AI, a Vancouver, British Columbia company. “That is the intent, that is the goal. And we see business value in that.”

As chief operating officer for Finn AI, which provides tools that help bank customers manage their personal finances, Cartwright is responsible for making her 4-year-old company of diverse employees run smoothly.

“We’re still learning as to how you empower that workforce to work together,” Cartwright said. The company has implemented policies to bridge the divides. Cartwright personally meets with all new employees and introduces them to Finn AI’s culture. It provides training to facilitate collaboration, and is looking for additional tools to help people productively communicate with each other.

Nat Cartwright, co-founder and chief operating officer for Finn AI. (Finn AI Photo)

Finn AI is working with banks on four continents and recently announced that it had closed an $11 million Series A round. Here, too, the business sought out diversity. The round was a female-led initiative spearheaded by Flying Fish Venture Partners and Yaletown Partners, with support from BDC Capital’s Women in Technology Fund (WIT), 1843 Capital, Comerica and angel investors.

“We see our investors as part of our team,” Cartwright said, “and you’re looking for people who share the same values and philosophies.”

Finn AI uses artificial intelligence to help banks use the data that they collect to provide financial tools for their customers. A current project in South Africa, for example, explains credit score information to bank customers, helping them understand what it is, how it changes and suggesting steps they can take to boost their scores.

In past roles, Cartwright has had plenty of firsthand experiencing working within dissimilar teams. She’s worked internationally on health issues, most recently as a program officer with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Working with disparate groups “is wonderful for different perspectives and challenging your own biases.”

We caught up with Cartwright for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Vancouver, B.C.

Computer types: MacBook Air — one for work and one for home

Mobile devices: iPhone 8+

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Screen time managers. I’m working on spending less time in front of a screen.

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I have a desk in our open office space with a small plant that was a gift. I am a minimalist and prefer clean spaces. You can tell I’m overwhelmed when my desk becomes overloaded with stuff. I have to clear it to feel back on top of things. I think I’m the only one at the office who doesn’t use any kind of external monitor.

Finn AI co-founder Nat Cartwright at her desk. If the area is clean, it’s a good sign that everything is flowing smoothly. (Finn AI)

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Be kind to yourself. It’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes I feel like I’m killing it at work-life balance and other times I feel like complete parts of my life have atrophied.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn is great for work connections and for keeping up with professional updates. As part of my attempt to spend more time living away from screens, I’ve decided not to be on any other social media.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 11

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 22. I was meant to be at a conference Monday to Wednesday that got cancelled last minute. It was a great week because I suddenly had lots of open space in my calendar to be able to focus on large pieces of work that need more time and concentration.

How do you run meetings? One-on-one meetings are very informal. I get to work with the best people in the world and I enjoy getting to catch up with everyone in our meetings. Larger meetings, I prefer to have either a formal agenda or at least a plan before going in.

Everyday work uniform? Jeans and a t-shirt or sweater.

How do you make time for family? My family has a cabin on a Gulf Island just outside of Vancouver and I love getting to hang out with friends and family there. When I go for walks along the water over the weekend, I call my family and friends to chat as I stroll.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Meditation. I was truly amazed at the impact that it had for me immediately. I go to a meditation center every Sunday for an hour and it is one of my favorite times during the week.

What are you listening to? I’m weird and listen to one song on repeat during the whole day at work. It doesn’t really matter what the song is, it just gives me background white noise that helps me stay focused.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? The Economist. I have a subscription, so they are laying all over the house.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood.

Night owl or early riser? I’m a night owl who has aspirations to be an early riser.

Where do you get your best ideas? When I am exercising I can process ideas the most clearly. My best ideas and clearest thoughts are always after a good workout or a long walk along the sea wall.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Mark Saalfeld of The Global Fund is the best manager I’ve ever had. He is an incredible combination of smart, hardworking, compassionate and hilarious. I hope that I learned a lot from him with respect to how to be in this world.



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