6 Questions: One-on-One with Michael J. O'Farrell, founder, The Mobile Institute

Mobile for business gets its move on.

‘If you’re not doing what you love, you shouldn’t be doing it,’ says Michael J. O’Farrell. His passion is mobile technology. It started when he learned how to code in high school, before going on to study commerce and engineering at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University. After 15 years working for a variety of technology companies, he founded The Mobile Institute, an organization dedicated to the advancement of mobile-based business. (He’s also a co-founder of the Mobile Marketing Association.) His current project is Mobile Innovation Week, an expansive, week-long industry event which kicked off in Toronto on September 13. O’Farrell, MIW’s founder and co-chair, says, ‘Canadian companies have budgeted to send employees to other countries for events like this for too long. People love Canadians, and we’ve got some of the strongest and brightest minds in the world when it comes to mobile technology, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we invite people to our home?” We asked O’Farrell six questions.

What is the greatest challenge currently facing the mobile space in Canada, and what is The Mobile Institute doing about it?

Only 5% to 10% of businesses have a mobile strategy. Most business leaders simply don’t understand how mobile can fit into their company, whether it’s internally used to make employees more efficient, or through other strategies like mobile coupons. Mobile Innovation Week will feature over 160 speakers and over 100 interactive sessions, each dedicated to different topics related to mobile technology. If you’re a beginner, you can take the Mobile Biz Bootcamp, which is intended to empower business leaders by helping them understand how they can take advantage of mobile technology.

Who else — person or company — do you feel is doing innovative work and in what way?

I would say the late Ted Rogers. He was and still is an inspiration. He pushed the envelope when it came to breaking down boundaries, and creating — from scratch — a platform that never existed before. He was the pure entrepreneur, always ahead of the curve, and one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met in my life.

How would you describe your leadership approach or style?

It takes a while to teach people about mobile, but once they catch on, I can see the light switch on in their head, and that’s a rewarding experience. I like to challenge and empower people at the same time. I try to get people to push the limits and step out of the box. I love what I do, so I try to use my passion to motivate and encourage everyone to harness their energy and work together as a team. I try to find the passion in people, and see if I can light their fire. It’s not easy.

As mobile technology develops to enhance/expand services like web browsing and GPS, many consumers are seeing their mobile phone bills increase. In the future, do you see consumers paying more or less money for their mobile phone usage?

I consider myself a long-tail user. I use a lot of data. If you add up the monthly cost of Internet, cable and home phone, it can be more expensive than my one device that does everything.

Should Canada have a national strategy to protect its telecom industry?

Absolutely not. We’ve got the best quality of services worldwide, and we’ve got the best talent. We need to look beyond our own backyard. There are just under 30 million mobile subscribers in Canada. There are hundreds of millions in India and in other countries. Canada will never be able to sell that much because of our population. We need to be working on exporting strategies. We should be capitalizing on the international market.

Among the interests listed on your LinkedIn account are golf, fishing, tennis, art, music and theatre. If you were to come back in another life, would you rather be a pro golfer, fisher, tennis player, artist, musician or stage performer?

I’d be doing the same thing I’m doing now. I love what I do. If I had to choose something different, it’d probably be in the art category. I enjoy all aspects of the arts: poetry, painting, creating, sculpting, anything that creates an experience for people to enjoy. I like to experience new ways people express themselves. I’ve seen everything from Cirque de Soleil to a one-person stand up, everything from basic to bizarre. And I’ve loved it all.