fundraising, innovation, projects

saffron cassaday, on cross-generation connections

Last week a friend and I were talking about how technology transformed the way we communicate, we work, we entertain ourselves and how this is affects our social life and relationships. We both belong to the Y Generation, maybe the last one to remember what was life and working without email, or waiting for a letter to arrive or for a film to develop. We’re also the first generation to have shown our parents how to use Skype, and we might have set up their AOL Account. We reflected on the fact that while we’re tech-savvy, we are more aware of the growing disconnect than millennials tend to be. However, we agreed, we too had become more estranged from elder generations than our parents were at our age.

And yet, not long after this conversation, I stumbled upon Saffron Cassaday’s CyberSeniors, a Gen-Y filmmaker who documented her Millennial sisters’ initiative to pair teens with seniors and help them go online. This documentary is a comforting proof that we can still perceive technology as a means and not an end to real life experience. Saffron was nice enough to respond to my questions, so here goes:

1. Age, name & occupation

Saffron Cassaday, 27, Filmmaker

2. What was your dream job as a kid?

A painter, or a singer. I changed my mind a lot, but was always wanted to do something artsy.

3. Where do you get your support or motivation from?

I have an incredibly supportive family. My parents are both entrepreneurs who always went after their dreams and encouraged me to do the same.

 “I started my career as an actor but I hated waiting around for auditions, so I taught myself to edit so I could produce my own video shorts”

4. What sparked your motivation or need to make your own film?

I started my career as an actor but I hated waiting around for auditions, so I taught myself to edit so I could produce my own video shorts. That led to me working as a freelance video editor, which eventually led to me directing and editing a feature length documentary. I’m glad I took charge of my career by trying something new, otherwise I may have never discovered how much more I love filmmaking than I ever liked acting!

5. What were you the most afraid of when you started off?

It was really scary trying something new.  Being my first film, I constantly felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.  My two younger sisters started the Cyber-Seniors program when they were in high school and I immediately thought this would be such a great topic for a documentary film:  senior citizens who have never used a computer, being taught how to use the Internet by teenaged volunteers.  The comedic and heartwarming moments were there from the get go, and we found really great characters, both young and old.  But my fear was that I wouldn’t be able to turn the footage into a film with a story-arc.  We had over 120 hours of footage by the end and it was all a little overwhelming.  But the fact that I really believed in the subject matter gave me the confidence to keep working at it.

6. What were you the most excited about when you started off?

Getting the seniors online and seeing their eyes light up each time they learned something new.  Like the first time one 93-year-old woman Skyped with her great-granddaughter and tears welled up in her eyes.  You could just see that this was the best part of her day, being able to connect with family meant the world to her.  It was very exciting to know I was part of something that was making a difference.

7. What did you wish you knew before starting all this?

That nothing happens quickly, and there’s no straight path. Even though I knew it was unlikely, part of me truly believed I would land a great acting gig right out of school and become successful overnight! I’m still no where close to reaching my end goal, but now I understand that it’s the journey that makes it all worthwhile! I am thoroughly enjoying the journey.

 “I’m still no where close to reaching my end goal, but now I understand that it’s the journey that makes it all worthwhile”

8. Tell us what is was like to start from where you did

As for making a film with modest means, in some ways I think it’s more fun! While I was in the middle of the editing process and kind of losing my mind, I had an experienced filmmaker much older than me tell me he was envious of the position I was in.  He was used to working on bigger productions where he had several “higher-ups” breathing down his neck, voicing their opinions.  He said it felt like he was just a cog in a machine, doing a job for hire.  Whereas when you work on a smaller production, you have much more control to make the film you want to make.  There are positives and negatives to both sides, but I took what he said to heart and decided to focus on the positives and have fun with it.

9. What would you like to know about other innovators who answer this survey?

How many hours a day do they dedicate to their work. 

Follow @cyberseniors as it plays across North America

Learn more about the program, and how to get involved

Check out some of the videos made by the Cyber Seniors

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entrepreneurship, innovation

At the end of the day, regardless of how much I get paid at my job, it has to be creative. 

As a friend, Caterina personifies one of the things I love about Montreal – a “latin” anglo who speaks the languages of French and Arts. A West Island girl with an eye for nice things and an appetite for novelty, Caterina recently transitioned from the retail industry to the app/start up world by founding Breather,  along with her equally ridiculously talented friend Julien Smith. Breather will allow people like you and me to unlock carefully crafted creative living rooms and working spaces anywhere in the world through our smartphones. Oh, and it raised $1.5 million seed funding within its first year and just won the 2013 Canadian Innovation Exchange Award. Caterina is also the Creative Director for the SWAP Team, a North-American non-profit social enterprise that organizes clothing swaps for charity.

Here’s her take on my questions she was kind enough to answer over a Sunday tea on Park Avenue.

1. Age, name & occupation

Caterina Rizzi Co-Founder, 34, Head of Product & Experience at Breather

2. What was your dream job as a kid?

I am an only child, my mother kept everything, and early drawings showed I was doing colour theory without even knowing it as a kid, and for a brief time I wanted to be a vet too. I used to write bio profiles for myself, like the ones you’d read on the back of a book. Dream jobs varied, but it was always artistic. When I started working I said “I  make things pretty” and now I say “I curate things”. It was never a decision, I was born like this. I was able to explore all this thanks to my mother’s support.

Half of the people tell us “this is the dumbest idea I’ve heard” and they come back a week later saying we had the best idea ever.

3. Where do you get your support or motivation from?

Half of the people tell us “this is the dumbest idea I’ve heard” and they come back a week later saying we had the best idea ever. Part of the excitement for me with Breather is that I just really wanted to work with Julien (co-founder) because we work so well together. Everybody at Breather has +10 years of experience, and while part of my work is similar to a retail launching operation which I what I used to do, everything else about Breather is new for me, making it that much more interesting.

4. What sparked your motivation or need to start your own thing?

I’ve been told for years that I should have my own company, but I didn’t want to . All I really want to do is paint or prototype but I have this leader personality that I can’t hide from. So I embraced  it – I never planned to own a company – it’s been a year and I’m still surprised.

At my previous jobs, I would look at the wasted potential, see untapped areas of improvement, and I would feel limited. At the end of the day, regardless of how much I get paid, it has to be creative.

This is also what got me involved in SWAP Team as creative director for the past 19 months. Everybody wants to be there and works real hard, all on a non-profit basis – it’s a great cause and that’s what boosts me. Money has never influenced me and it has never dictated my choices. I need uncharted territories, to figure it out for myself, I need to try something new. And as for Breather, we have an amazing team and it makes going to work really enjoyable.

5. What were you the most excited about when you started off?

I loved the idea of creating something from scratch – I LOVE prototyping, researching, traveling, taking things in, building mood boards.

Now I also get excited about creating and making. I love making something so it is exactly what I need – I create experiences, not just copy an idea or an object and hope that it will translate into the expected simulation. Breather is about inspiring and creating the right space, you need it to be truthful.

6. What did you wish you knew before starting all this?

We made a lot of good choices – maybe we were lucky, but you still need to pace your energy, a little at a time. Julien changed the concept 2 months in and I told him “do you realize we’ve changed everything and we barely started?” – but he was definitely right. Now we have to slow down, pat ourselves on the back, especially now that we have a team we want to keep engaged. We keep thinking we haven’t done anything so we need to stop and smell the roses to take it in and acknowledge how things are going.

Now we have to slow down, pat ourselves on the back, especially now that we have a team we want to keep engaged. 

7. Describe a day in your life as you’d like it to be in 3 years.

I’ve actually written this out – I read this book about changing your life the way you want it to be, the author asking you to write down your ideal day. For me, it would be one third of the day working on a thing i’m passionate about, the 2nd third about revenue making and the 3rd one about cooking and reading. I’m not a couch potato, on the contrary I’m quite active, even if I won the lottery I’d still keep busy and help people, you need to keep you mind sharp aaaand I need a lot of stimulation!

8. What would you like to know about other innovators who answer this survey?

I would like to know what their process is – where do they get their inspiration, how did you get to that ? How did the great idea came about? I read about Steve Wozniak in the book “Quiet: the power of introverts” and how he would arrive early at work to work on his idea and transform it into something real.

9. What would be the one thing you’d like your eulogy to say? 

I would like to hear people say that I was kind to others, that I liked to help people. I hope I’m accurately portrayed – that they remember the good things about me. You want to be remembered well, hopefully my family and the people I know will have some good memories and that I did indeed have a positive impact on them.

Breather just celebrated their one year anniversary, the launch of their app and their new Mil-End office space, complete with Caterina’s prototyping room. 

Spring 2014 update on this post:

Caterina has just finished opening up a space in New York City. Read more about Breather in Elle Decor and Refinery 29 which just voted Breather as a Top 10 NYC Apps.

caterina rizzi, on app launching and creativity

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