Ross Simmonds sure has come a long way since his school days.
The self-starter wasn’t super comfortable talking with people back then. Things have changed.
“My nickname in high school was Shy Ross, so it was a challenge that I gave myself to learn how to do public speaking and get myself out of that shyness,” the digital marketing strategist said during an interview.
“I’ve been able to use that to do quite well,” Simmonds said.
“I spend a lot of time on planes. I’ve spoken all over the world.”
Simmonds is the founder of Foundation Marketing, and speaking to and motivating crowds is a big part of his life. As chair of the Black Business Summit taking place Friday at the Halifax Convention Centre, he was tasked with bringing a 21st-century focus to the program.
“One of the key pieces as the chair was kind of guiding and providing a little bit of oversight around ensuring that the content that is being delivered through the summit is related to technology, since that’s kind of my background,” said Simmonds, who highlights the latest trends in the digital world for clients.
Foundation has helped companies come up with marketing initiatives that reach millions of people through channels like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Besides running Foundation Marketing, Simmonds stretches his entrepreneurial muscles with a range of businesses, including Hustle & Grind.
“That’s an ecommerce site dedicated to entrepreneurship,” he said.
“It started as just an Instagram account that I wanted to use to inspire people, and then from there it’s kind of grown into a real sounding board where a lot of entrepreneurs spend a lot of time.”
A theme of the Black Business Institute’s summit is creating businesses without boundaries, and that’s something Simmonds can talk about. Halifax is his base, but the 31-year-old from Preston has an extensive reach.
“We’ve got a team that’s spread out. I spend a lot of my time on the road but my family’s here so this is definitely home, and everybody works from home, everyone is remote, and that’s spread out across Canada, the U.S. and even into Australia,” he said.
“We have a head count of around 15 people.”
Simmonds said he’s been interested in business for a long time.
“In high school, I kind of started my entrepreneurship journey selling do-rags out of my locker. Over time that evolved, and when I got into university I started a fantasy football blog and that opened up my eyes to the fact that I could be a kid living in my parents’ basement and reach all over the world.
“I then turned that same blog into a marketing blog where I talked about technology trends, talked about marketing and how things were changing in that space and then from there my career just kind of continued to follow along and I’ve been writing publicly my thoughts and opinions on trends around technology and growth and business and entrepreneurship, and the world has responded well to it.”
Simmonds, who went to Saint Mary’s University, didn’t have a lot of technology-driven mentorship to help him get started.
“I had a lot of business mentors over the years who generally understood business and provided an amazing amount of guidance.
“But from a technology standpoint, it was a lot of self-education, going into various forums online and spending entire weekends in the library.
“I could have been out having a good time.”
Since the technology space is constantly evolving, Simmonds has to stay on top of things. He said one of his key messages to companies is encouraging them to embrace experimentation.
Meanwhile, he said, looming impacts on culture and business include the decreasing costs of producing content, especially video, and the positive and negative aspects of artificial intelligence.
“There are a lot of technologies coming out that are offering people the ability to do things that were once seen as impossible, and we’re going into a world that’s going to be very similar to what many would have called science fiction,” said Simmonds.
“We’re going into some semi-scary times but also cool times, as it relates to artificial intelligence and the machine-learning world.”