Excerpt from "Interviews with Alumni from the 1990s and 200s by Tim Smith", 2011 Department Newsletter.
Jess Joss has a busy year ahead of her. On October 15th, she is expecting her first child, a boy. On that date (“or possibly a bit later!”) she begins a term as QUAA Alumni President, Queen’s University. With two stepdaughters aged 12 and 18, Jess says that “one is off to university and the youngest is about to be born!” Jess (History, 1996) founded a website design company called “Jesslin Services Inc.” in 1997, while she was earning a Diploma in Internet Business and Technology from the University of Toronto. “What sorts of hurdles did you have to clear as a very young entrepreneur,” we asked? “Actually, my youth was not considered a hindrance. The assumption back then was that if you were young, you must know about the Internet, and how to use it. I wasn’t seasoned enough to strike out on my own as a formal or traditional business consultant. I had interviewed with the big management consulting firms, but decided that I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny, I wanted the chance to be creative right from the start of my career. As a business owner, I do everything from sales and marketing to business development and project management.”
Jess likens her path to success to “a long and winding road as opposed to an expressway straight along predictable channels.” Jess’s father had worked as an executive at a large corporation and upon leaving it, had founded a successful software firm. “I had seen the challenges and the benefits of entrepreneurship. I had no illusions about the risks I was taking. But I was young, and I had no mortgage, no kids, no assets. I had nothing to lose-- except some pride. I had everything to gain. I saw the creative side of the entrepreneurial lifestyle and I decided I would throw my hat into the ring. I had some luck. It was a sort of onwards and upwards process. I took risks and things worked out.”
In her early 20s, Jess joined Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade. “I knew that I had to make connections.” Jess had done plenty of that as a Queen’s undergraduate. She was a Gael, a Coordinator for ArtSci Orientation, a Deputy Commissioner in the AMS, and Vice President University Affairs in the AMS. Somehow Jess also found the time to work at the Queen’s Telethon, the Department of Alumni Affairs, and the AMS Walk Home service.
“In 2002 I expanded my business, merging my internet company with another company which had different areas of expertise, to form Insiteful Solutions, based in Markham, Ontario. Today we do website design, database and e-commerce development, social media and online marketing. In 2003, I bought out my partner and ran the company on my own. Today, one of my business partners is also…my husband!” At Insiteful Solutions, Jess has worked with over 500 companies in almost 100 industries. She helps businesses to target and attract customers on the web. She helps companies set up websites and provides them with a wide range of support, from marketing to graphic design through customer relationship management.
Jess’s best memories of Queen’s “are of the people I met, whether it was fellow students, professors, or staff. The lasting friendships are the most important thing I got from Queen’s. Queen’s is the perfect undergraduate student size, in the perfect-sized city. Most of us were living away from home—we weren’t commuters—and it was a closeknit environment. Professors took an interest in students. We didn’t get lost in the shuffle; we weren’t numbers. The Residence system was a great safety net for first-year students. My sense is that the profs had chosen to be at Queen’s; they had not ‘ended up’ there. Everyone—the students, the profs—really seemed to want to be at Queen’s.”
We asked how a History degree may or may not have prepared Jess for her life as an entrepreneur. “I think I learned a lot about distilling a vast amount of information into something that made sense. Going through mounds of info and getting the kernels out of it, was, I think, fundamental to my success, later on, as a business owner. History was fundamental to the development of those skills. I loved the variety of courses on offer. I liked the flexibility, the opportunity to take courses in what interested me. I also have ‘fond’ (maybe that’s not the word!) memories of the Reserve Room readings ordeal and I can’t envision that current students are deprived of this rite of passage! I imagine that students raised in the digital age can’t begin to realize how cumbersome it was to read all that paper, to find it, to return it on time to avoid fines, and to plot the best possible time to hit the Reserve Room and to actually get the books or articles you needed. Gladly, the internet has changed all that.”
When Jess is not running her business she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, cottage life, photography, and volunteering as a Board Member at the Toronto Don Mills Rotary Club.