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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 Proctor & 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 felt 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 online but you 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 in French, Bannister convinced eBay to roll it out across the rest of the country. With all her success 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 international division of Kijiji and travelling the world, Bannister had a young son at home. She was missing too much of his life.

The decision to walk away from her success with Kijiji became an easy one. “I thought if I really want to be a stay-at-home mom, 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 my hands dirty again in terms of entrepreneurship,” she said of her decision to join a start-up company called The Coveteur, an online fashion and commerce site. Not long after, she heard from the owners of Real Ventures asking if she would be interested in becoming a partner. Surprisingly, she didn’t think she would ever be interested in venture capital but that quickly changed.

Working at Real Ventures allows Bannister to marry her love of mentorship and entrepreneurism. She currently leads 10 investments and spends her time evaluating and sitting on the boards of her mobile- and Internet-based start-ups.

“I see myself doing this as long as I’m working. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It just really makes me happy. I feel as though I have found my true passion.”

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