The Crack-Shot President
From space university in Australia to the Iditarod in Alaska, Bradley Farquhar BComm'07 is happy to be home in Nova Scotia at the helm of Purple Cow Internet By Jordan Whitehouse
Photo: Kelly Clark
Bradley Farquhar BComm'07 was up early, August 20, 2013. That morning, he had eaten a bowl of oatmeal and a banana, and was now standing on Shakespeare Beach in a black Speedo and white swim cap. It was slightly overcast, about 20 degrees Celsius, but the water was calm beneath the white cliffs of Dover, England. He waved for one last photo, looked out across the English Channel toward his destination, France, and walked into the water. Fifteen hours and two jelly fish stings later, Farquhar popped his head up. He spotted four lights shining on the French coast. His feet touched ground. “I can touch!” he yelled to the support boat that had his parents and girlfriend onboard. Soon, Farquhar’s hands touched the ground, too. Running and falling toward the shore, he cleared the water, turned to face the boat, and screamed at the top of his lungs: “Yeah!” That story is one of Farquhar’s favourite to tell, and what might be just as impressive as swimming the English Channel is that he had only started training for the swim three months prior. “It was just one of those things that people never take a crack at, but it’s within the realm of most people’s capabilities,” he says. That attitude tends to be a dominant one for the 35-year-old Nova Scotian. Farquhar graduated from Saint Mary’s University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, with a double major in finance and marketing. After about a decade away from his home province, he is back as the co-founder and president of Purple Cow Internet. Like the English Channel swim, Farquhar had no background in his venture when he decided to build a company that would offer cheaper internet to Nova Scotians than its competitors, Eastlink, or Bell Canada. However, three years later, that is exactly what Purple Cow has done. All of it is translating into rapid growth and accolades from the likes of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, which named Purple Cow its New Business of the Year for 2021. It had been a jagged journey getting back home for Farquhar, one filled with business successes and struggles in the US, space university in Australia, and races across Alaska and the Sahara. He is happy to be back. “I just wanted to put my feet somewhere I want to live forever. That had to be Nova Scotia.”
First cracks Farquhar grew up in the tiny hamlet of Ashdale, Nova Scotia, near Windsor, and his “just-take-a-crack-at-it” approach to life likely has its roots there, though it definitely took hold after his third year of university. He says that one of his biggest takeaways from his time at Saint Mary’s was the connections he made with friends and professors, some of whom became business partners and mentors. Of those, one connection took him and his future Purple Cow co-founder, Joe Power BComm'11, to California that summer of third year to sell security alarms, door-to-door. Their 12-hour days started with an hour of sales training, after which they would hop in an old, white van and drive to a random neighbourhood. “Imagine getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere, given a paper map, and told, ‘Here are your streets. Go knock,’” says Farquhar. “It was actually an incredible experience. You’re so out of your comfort zone. Those sales skills still come into practical use every day for me.” It was such a transformative experience that he and Power returned the next summer to lead a sales team of recruits from Saint Mary’s. Around the same time, however, Farquhar’s attention started drifting toward solar panels. He successfully pitched the idea of starting a solar panel division to his boss. Farquhar soon realized how important having ownership in a business is. “My mom saw it all,” Farquhar recalls. “She said, ‘Brad, you need to leave and do it yourself.’” It was good advice. Capitalizing on solar panel incentive programs in Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Missouri, Farquhar and a business partner built the company Sky High Energy, launched out of their apartment with a credit card. Within 12 months, sales were over $1 million, and six years later, in 2014, they sold the company after turning it into a $14 million sales machine. It was Farquhar’s first real business success. What was he going to take a crack at next? From space to sled dogs The answer, it turned out, was International Space University (ISU). Farquhar has been interested in outer space since he was a child, even completing the astronaut recruitment process with the Canadian Space Agency. While that dream didn’t happen, he has been forming a network in the space industry for years and plans to become a space contractor who builds hotels and other destinations where people can enjoy the cosmos. “We only have one life to live,” he says, with a wink. “I don’t want to look back and wish I had set my goals higher.” Farquhar moved closer to that goal in 2016 at the ISU’s intensive five-week space studies program, where he got an introduction to everything from remote sensing to robotics to satellite commercialization. His team even launched a high-altitude balloon 36 kilometres into the sky that captured vegetation information for a local winery. Back in the US, Farquhar met the owner of SpaceVR, which uses virtual reality technology to give users the experience of orbiting the earth in outer space. At the time, the San Francisco start-up was attempting to launch and distribute content from the world’s first virtual reality satellite. As the company’s Director of Business Development, Farquhar learned a lot about the start-up world. “It was a lot of fun, but as with everything in San Francisco, it had a sunset time, and we ran out of money.” Farquhar set his sights on Alaska. For two years, he had been training for the Iditarod, a long-distance sled dog race across Alaska, and by March 2018 he was ready. Taking off on a sunny day in Willow, it took him and his fourteen dogs twelve days to travel the 1,049 miles to Nome. At the finish line, his mother was there to wrap him in a Nova Scotia flag. It was the hardest thing he had ever accomplished, which says a lot, given his English Channel swim in 2013, or summitting Denali, the highest mountain in North America, in 2012, or his completion of a 150-mile footrace across the Sahara Desert, also in 2012. “I’m a sucker for a good challenge,” Farquhar says, when asked what draws him to endurance feats. “I’m that kid that did all of the sports growing up. I continued running and moving and working out in university, and to this day. I like having an overarching goal to work toward.”
The purple cow in the room After moving home to Nova Scotia, in 2018, it took Farquhar a few months to figure out what his next goal would be. It came to him after trying to get internet in his new home. He had heard about a smaller company that offered internet that was less expensive than Bell Canada or Eastlink, but the company had terrible customer feedback. Farquhar knew that if he could offer the internet at the same great price, as well as amazing customer service, he would have his next venture. He spent the next year putting that business together, eventually bringing on his old friend Joe Power BComm'11 as a co-founder. “In my entire story of ups and downs, Joe has been my buddy through a lot of it. He is just freakin’ awesome,” says Farquhar. By May 2019, Purple Cow was ready for its launch party at the Gorsebrook Lounge at Saint Mary’s. Today, the company has thousands of customers across the province, a rapid growth that has meant rapid procedural changes. “It’s like trying to repair an airplane as you’re flying it,” says Farquhar. Financing was tough. Start-up costs were well over $1 million. To get over the initial hump, Farquhar sold his house and cut out most of his extracurricular activities. Then, came the COVID-19 pandemic. Farquhar’s biggest challenge was figuring out how to install internet in homes without the help of on-site technicians. As a solution, Purple Cow mailed modems to customers, with customer service available if needed. Modem availability became an issue when some manufacturers shut down their operations. For a time, Purple Cow had to stop taking on new clients. Currently, though, the company has a few thousand extra modems in a warehouse. With most of these challenges worked out, Farquhar says the goal is to double the size of the business this year while not raising prices. As for personal goals, Farquhar has no immediate plans to take a crack at any other long-distance swims or mountain peaks, but he is still working toward becoming a space contractor. For now, Farquhar is simply thankful to be back in Nova Scotia. “Being around friends and family, just the feel that Nova Scotian brings, how much people want to support you and want for you to succeed — we’re super lucky to live here.”
“I’m that kid that did all of the sports growing up. I continued running and moving and working out in university, and to this day I like having an overarching goal to work toward.”
Graduating to New Heights
by Krista Keough
We look forward to sharing stories from members of the Saint Mary’s University graduating class each year in our spring issue of Maroon & White Magazine. These four new alumni have each faced their own unique challenges in their individual pursuits. However, they all share the same “Huskies” spirit and determination. We are confident in their futures to succeed in their academic, athletic and professional careers.
Yingjun Chen BA'21
"Language is more than a tool. I can help people understand each other and the differences, misunderstandings and discrimination that keep us apart."
Leena Roy Chowdhury BComm'21
"Saint Mary’s has taught me that we just have to believe that we can, and with the right attitude, there is no limit to how much we can achieve.”
Gena Dufour MSc'21
“None of the people in my family have pursued academics as a career before, and that’s a really important distinction for me.”
Alexander "Alex" Peters BComm'21
“I realized I had a great opportunity to continue chasing my hockey dream and get an education that’s going to serve me for my whole life.”
In Style, on Her Terms
by Tara Thorne
Photos: Reinaldo James
The fashion entrepreneur Chanda “Ceecee” Chilanga BComm’11 makes twice-monthly appearances on CTV’s Your Morning and Marilyn—the lifestyle programs call her their Style Expert—but there’s no difference between TV Ceecee and real-life Ceecee. And that’s the point. “I’m not trend-driven. I’m trend-aware, but this is very practical advice,” says Chilanga. “You should be able to hear something, go home, and execute it. It’s all about you. I’m saying, ‘How can we make this work for you?’” How Chilanga makes this life work for herself—network television panelist, personal stylist, community engager, CEO of Dapper Style Mint, all from COVID-19 lockdown in Toronto—is reflected in DSM’s motto: “Ignite confidence.” “There’s something so fulfilling,” she says, “in seeing people be happy with what they look like.” The first time Chilanga ever left her home country of Zambia was to travel halfway across the world to attend Saint Mary’s. Her brother, a cousin, and an old friend had already settled in Nova Scotia as students at the university, so for her it made sense to join them. “We were creating a family circle at SMU, and in Halifax,” says Chilanga. Chilanga lived off-campus with her brother while pursuing a general business degree with a major in psychology. Their apartment was on Ogilvie Street, near Point Pleasant Park. The ocean was a special attraction. “Zambia is a landlocked country,” she notes. “We have lakes but not oceans.” Now based in Toronto, Chilanga’s move into fashion was a slow one. Her friends in Halifax had always consulted her on their nighttime outfits, “whenever we were going to The Dome or whatever,” but it was a trip to Mic Mac Mall to help a Ugandan friend update his wardrobe that made her think “this could be a job.” After graduation, she spent a few years at Scotiabank in Halifax. “I had a big-girl job at a bank, and I was climbing up, so change didn’t occur to me,” she says. But as it often does, change found her: at the same time her longtime partnership broke up, Chilanga’s roommate became engaged and would be moving out of their apartment. There was little keeping her in the city. The American department store Nordstrom had just begun its expansion into Canada, and “within two weeks I had gotten in my car and driven to Ottawa,” she says. “In my head I thought: ‘If I’m gonna work retail, I’m gonna work for a company just starting out [in a new market] and they’re gonna send all their VPs up. I don’t wanna work on a retail floor forever. I’ll get immersed in what brands they carry and all of the decisions they make at the beginning.’” That plan worked like a charm, and within a couple of years Chilanga had moved from Ottawa to Toronto to open a pair of Nordstroms, gathering the training she needed for her current business: “Interacting with the brand representatives, the DNA of the brand, how things should fit—all the things I do today.” While still in Halifax, in 2014, she launched her personal agency Dapper Style Mint. “I was very influenced by men’s fashion,” says Chilanga, who grew up surrounded by the stylish men of her family, including her ex-military dad. “I love how it’s not so out there. It’s about construction, not the frou-frou. Dapper can be applied to women; style is about how somebody dresses; and the mint—money is the most valuable asset in the world, other than minerals, and it comes from a mint. When people work with me, they see their personal value, and they feel valuable.” The agency is focused on personal styling that features Canadian designers—local to Toronto when possible—and avoiding the environmental waste caused by fast fashion, encouraging clients to practice conscious fashion consumption and wear brands that align with their personal values. Dapper Style Mint’s partners include the semi-formal and luxury brand Zoba Martin; Nicole Bach, aimed at professional women; and fellow style agency STYLEARTIST—all run by women in Toronto.
"Knowing the obstacles and challenges of being a Black business owner, it was a need I felt my skill set could fulfill"
Chilanga is also one of a half-dozen founders of Afro Social Centric, a platform connecting Black communities in the Greater Toronto Area—on its site you will find a directory of Black-owned businesses in more than two dozen cities and towns. This kind of work is something she has been doing since her Saint Mary’s days as a member of the African Student Society and International Students rep. “I’m always about knowing what’s going on, being community-minded,” she says. “Knowing the obstacles and challenges of being a Black business owner, it was a need I felt my skill set could fulfill,” she adds about Afro Social Centric. “So, we created this platform.” The move into television happened by accident, which is a pretty tough thing to accomplish in a pandemic. A client of Chilanga’s works for Bell Media, which owns the CTV network—“I worked with her when she was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award”—and reached out in the fall of 2020, curious about whether the stylist was interested in being on TV. “I said, ‘No, I thought about working in TV. I thought about styling people for TV,” says Chilanga. By this time, the COVID-19 pandemic was six months in, and Chilanga wasn’t able to visit clients’ homes anymore—not that they had anything to dress up for, in locked-down Ontario—so she took the chance. She made her debut appearance on CTV’s Your Morning just before Thanksgiving, Zooming with lead anchor Anne-Marie Mediwake to discuss new ways to approach your work-from-home fashion, including well-fitting knits, a statement blazer, and lots of black. That led to gigs on other Bell shows like Marilyn with the icon Marilyn Denis, and a 2021 Oscars roundtable for eTalk. “Within six short months I was creating segments twice a month,” says Chilanga, who notes her experience changes from show to show. “Marilyn speaks to her guests prior to going on air, she’s really lovely—who you see on screen is who she is,” she says. “With Your Morning it’s a little bit different, my interactions are primarily with the producer. We brainstorm, I pitch an idea for a segment, and she says, ‘I think our audience would love it if you did it this way.’ It feels very collaborative.” Because of pandemic restrictions, Chilanga has yet to set foot inside CTV’s Queen Street West studio, shooting the segments from her own apartment with guidance from production staff. “I’m learning technical-ish skills,” she notes, laughing. Without the studio lights of Your Morning or live audience of Marilyn, Chilanga says it is easy to forget how many people are watching her when the show airs (to say nothing of the additional streams on the shows’ sites and her own Instagram afterward). “In the moment it feels like I’m talking to one person. I’m not aware of the viewership in the moment,” she says. “I’m so passionate about it, I don’t have to worry about it, because I’m telling you practical information. I never realized the number of viewers—oh shoot, it’s a few million people?!” Chilanga’s plans for Dapper Style Mint, once Toronto reopens, include something she has been working toward for years now: her own studio space. “The studio is mobile—we go to a client’s home,” she says. “When you start scaling toward a larger number of clients”—like the ones who start reaching out after they see you on TV, perhaps—“it’s not always feasible.” She also hopes to finally make it into the Bell Media building this year to shoot her segments—“I hear voices in my ears all the time, it will be nice put faces to them”—but she will not be starting a clothing line of her own. “I know how things fit and I know what I love. I often upstyle my own pieces,” says Chilanga. “But my superpower is people. If I can always work in a job where I interact with people all the time, that’s where I’m my best.”