December 4, 2018
Meet Bryn Knox, Head of Finance at BenchSci; a successful start-up that uses Artificial Intelligence to assist biomedical researchers in conducting more successful experiments. In his fourteen years since graduating from university, Bryn went from working at a small marketing start-up headed by a close friend to managing the financials of a company with the potential to impact the way medical research is conducted world-wide. It’s an impressive feat; having built a successful career in marketing that in every way indicated he would land among some of the top in the industry, Bryn made a sudden switch to finance. Instead of derailing his growth, this change only seemed to have motivated it further. So how did he do it? When looking back at Bryn’s history, a clear pattern can be discerned. Bryn’s success can be attributed to his ability to extract specific skills from his experiences and apply them in new situations.
Growing up in the small town of Midhurst, Ontario (Population: 3,000), Bryn was drawn to the University of Toronto because of a desire to experience living in a major city. “[Midhurst] was so rural that you wouldn’t hear anything at night. Toronto was a shock and it felt like it never stopped moving.” After four short years, Bryn graduated from Rotman Commerce and immediately joined a close friend’s marketing start-up in Waterloo. Building websites for online communities, Bryn found the work challenging and competitive, but ultimately decided that Toronto was the spot to begin his career. He gained entry to the Toronto marketing scene first through Nike running room, a purely promotional storefront. It was here that he learned to tailor the skill of consumer connection. “I [got] grassroots marketing experience, community engagement, and [learned] to build momentum behind a brand instead of just trying to sell something in a transactional way.”
Bryn’s experience at Nike led him to 20th Century Fox where he worked on film publicity and promotion, and eventually to Disney where he was tasked with creating partnerships for revenue with no budget. “We were told… don’t pay for them, use the brand to create cross promotional opportunities. It leveraged my background from Nike where I was trying to create a grassroots movement.” A memorable project for Bryn was 2010’s major motion picture, Alice in Wonderland. “Our team collectively, without spending a dime, got space on Tetley packaging to promote the film. They were everywhere and it was a big hit for both Tetley and Disney.”
It was here that Bryn began to learn the value that could be built through partnerships and was where he got his first taste of finance - working with budgets and eventually supporting the finance team. “By supporting them, I began to understand how much we should be spending, [and] on which initiatives in order to get a return. I did well in finance at school and now I was making the connection to see how it can drive a business.”
Once Bryn had this revelation, he discreetly earned his CMA designation and began to explore a permanent move to finance. Through a personal connection, Bryn was submitted to ole Media Management’s Acquisitions Team for a Financial Analyst role. He was hired not because he was the most qualified candidate, but because of his ability to frame his story and connect the dots in his background. “In hindsight, all of the things that I did in marketing with Nike, Disney, and Fox gave me the ability to convey my background and my relevance. The SVP of Acquisitions said that I was able to take a story and tell it back to [him] in a way that other people couldn’t. The acquisitions team wouldn’t just crunch numbers, they would also have to defend their decisions in our boardroom which required strong communication skills.”
With his foot officially in the door, Bryn made a successful transition to finance and began to hone his new industry skills. He was promoted to Senior Manager Digital, a newly created division at ole Media Management. After three years of finance work, received a call from Clarity Recruitment with a new opportunity at Wave, a tech start-up that provides financial services and software to small and micro businesses. Finding a great fit with his boss, Bryn made the move to Wave as a Finance Manager and took on the challenges that come with a start-up business. “I definitely learned to deal with uncertainty during my time at Wave because you are in a start-up and you are managing capital burn to build product and scale. You had to build a story around your product and growth, always understanding the key drivers.”
For Bryn, creating a story was a skill he had been refining since his early days in marketing. After three years of learning the ins and outs of a start-up company and landing the role of Senior Finance Manager, Bryn was approached by the CEO of another start-up, BenchSci, where he currently works as Head of Finance. “Over the last year, I have definitely become more interested in AI and the impact it can have on the world, so finding a company using it to aid scientific research with the ability to help scientists find cures was a perfect fit and opportunity to continue growing while making a positive difference.”
So what’s next for Bryn? For now, he is excited about what the future holds for his current role and the team he is working with at BenchSci. “The Head of Finance job is a new test and it builds on everything that I’ve done. You should never feel truly and completely ready. You need to make yourself uncomfortable.”
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