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Kijiji founder Janet Bannister (HBA’92) connects people – from buyers and sellers online, to entrepreneurs looking for financial backers for their ingenious ideas. As a venture capitalist, Janet spots the potential in people and their ideas, helping to launch and grow Canadian businesses. Her passion for entrepreneurship started at Western.

Biography

Janet Bannister’s keen sense of adventure and willingness to explore the world was born at Western with an exchange in her fourth year that later landed her a position at Procter & Gamble in Brussels, Belgium. It was an opportunity to be immersed in a place with history and culture. It would not be her last international experience – it was just the beginning.

Bannister was later offered a position with McKinsey & Company. With projects in the United States, Montreal, Vancouver, Ireland and Poland, Bannister explored parts of the world while building her business experience.

After a brief stint in Boston, she connected with Meg Whitman, then president and CEO of eBay. Whitman convinced Bannister to move to Silicon Valley to work with her.

“It was really the heyday of eBay” she said. “When I joined there were 2,500 people worldwide and when I left there were 25,000. There was such huge growth. I feel very fortunate to have that experience.”

As a proud Canadian with a yearning to be back on native soil, Bannister asked to be moved back to Toronto so she could start a family with her husband. When Bannister came back she noticed eBay was doing a great job of getting people to the website but their conversion rate was half of what it was in other countries. She tried to make changes to their approach but soon discovered it wasn’t going to close the gap.

“I realized this was a bigger problem. Canadians spend a ton of time online but they were very reluctant to purchase online.”

It was then she explored different models that might work in Canada. “I thought maybe classifieds would work better where you buy research online but transact in person.”

And that’s when Kijiji was born. She convinced the executives at eBay in Silicon Valley to let her launch Kijiji in Canada. After successfully launching in Montreal and Quebec City in French, Bannister convinced eBay to roll it out across the rest of the country. With all her success in Canada (Kijiji quickly became one of the most visited sites in Canada), Bannister was promoted to head global Kijiji business. She tripled revenue in one year and launched the site in the United States, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria. Despite much success leading the global Kijiji business, Bannister found the travelling and long hours meant too much time away from home and her young son.

The decision to walk away from her success with Kijiji became an easy one. “I thought if I really want to stay at home full-time, now is the time to do this. I wanted to be there for my son. I wanted to drop him off and pick him up from school.”

From there, she started her own consulting business helping large companies develop their online strategies, working with Indigo, ING direct (Tangerine) and Starbucks. It was a way to do more of what she loved while allowing her to make her own hours.

After four years, she felt the entrepreneurial itch once again. “I wanted to get hands dirty again as an entrepreneur, building a business,” she said of her decision to join a start-up company called The Coveteur, an online fashion content and commerce site. Not long after, she heard from the founding partners of Real Ventures, who were looking for a Partner to launch their Toronto office. While she had never thought of a career in venture capital, that quickly changed.

Working at Real Ventures, Canada’s largest early-stage venture capital firm, allows Bannister to marry her love of mentorship and entrepreneurism. She has led investments in over a dozen early-stage tech companies and spends her time working with these companies, evaluating potential new investments, and being an active member of the Canadian tech start-up community.

“I see myself doing this for a very long time. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I think I have the best job in the world. I get to work with smart, passionate, driven, entrepreneurs and help them build great businesses and achieve their dreams. What could be better than that?” 

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