Combining Inspiration and Digital Media

Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Dorrian Porter

Our graduates continue to amaze us with their success!  Dorrian Porter, graduate from the School of Political Studies has created a unique messaging tool called Vestaboard.  A tool that combines inspiration and digital media.

We are proud to note that Dorrian continues to support his alma mater as a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Alumni Council helping to champion and act as an ambassador for the University abroad.

Keep reading to learn more about Dorrian and what inspired him.

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in British Columbia and arrived at the University of Ottawa in 1990 as part of the Page Programme in the House of the Commons.  I studied political science and public policy & administration at the University, and worked for a Member of Parliament and the Prime Minister while attending. After graduation, I went to the University of Toronto for a joint LLB/MBA degree before articling as a lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault in Vancouver. I moved to the Silicon Valley in 1999 to work as an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a law firm with a focus on technology, and it was one of the craziest times to be a lawyer in tech. 

I was passionate about entrepreneurship as a young attorney, and I left WSGR in March 2000 to start my first company.  I've spent the last 20 years as an entrepreneur across three companies, most recently at Vestaboard. Vestaboard is a beautiful messaging display you can control from anywhere. We have big plans for our flagship and future products to inspire people around the world. 

I married a Canadian and we have three teenage children who have dual citizenship with the United States. Fortunately all three California kids share a strong connection with Canada, including their love for maple syrup, Smarties, snow and BeaverTails. I remember enjoying BeaverTails from one of their earliest stores in Ottawa (which was more a kiosk in the Market back then). It was a very nice surprise when the company’s Founder and CEO Pino Di Ioia purchased a Vestaboard for his own home earlier this year! Pino recently wrote in to let me know how his entire family, including three teenagers, are absolutely delighted with it. 

Tell us about your experience studying at the School of Political Studies.

I remember taking a broad set of courses to obtain my Bachelor of Social Sciences, from philosophy to politics to macro-economics to US history.  Studying US history at the University for the period from the late 1800s to 1940 was probably a significant contributor to my decision to move to the United States, as the fast advances of the Internet in the 1990s seemed to resemble a lot of what I had learned about the American industrial revolution one hundred years earlier.

Can you tell us about a course that impacted your career?

Peter Koppel's introductory course to business probably cemented my interest in entrepreneurship.  He would have us study a variety of large and small company case studies and in one assignment we had to come up with a product and marketing plan entirely from scratch. Our team's product was called SkateSharp which was a set of blade protection covers that would sharpen skates as you slid the covers off and on the blades. Hockey commentator Don Cherry had coincidentally visited Parliament when I was a Page so I was able to crop a photo of him next to me from that visit and use it for the unauthorized endorsement of the product in the class presentation.

Where did the idea for Vestaboard come from?

I first imagined Vestaboard about 2012 when I was sitting in Gare du Nord, one of Paris’s most famous railway stations, and watching its very large and mesmerizing arrivals and departure board. I thought about being able to send inspiring messages to my kids while traveling. I knew sending a message to a glowing digital screen would be easy, but thought it would be “just another message” among a sea of constant messages and notifications.

Vestaboard is not a digital screen and is built in the same spirit of those departure boards.  Vestaboard has 8,448 beautiful spinning flaps and makes a delightful sound.  We like to say it gets people looking up, which these days doesn't seem as obvious as it used to be.  Vesta is the Roman goddess of hearth, home and family, and it's been fun to create a messaging display for home or work that can help people feel connected more than say a constant stream of content on a cell phone. The idea of shared messages - whether it's the family calendar or messages of inspiration and love - is powerful.

How did your time at uOttawa influence your career path?

I wasn't particularly known for my French language skills as a page in the House of Commons. In 1990 Lucien Bouchard had just left government to form the Bloc Quebecois and I remember him calling me over and repeating the words "Verre d'eau." I kept hearing something I didn't understand, so he kept repeating the same phrase as I approached him until he finally blurted in English "A glass of water. I want a glass of water."

Attending a French-English bilingual university allowed me to quickly broaden my perspective (and dramatically improve my French). The most important lesson I took from the University was to think more universally about the impact my career could have, which was also driven by meeting a diverse group of students that came from all across Canada and around the world. Engaging with a diverse set of people taught me to view the world through a lens other than my own, and that’s been an important part of my personal and professional development even when there are language barriers!

One of the most rewarding aspects of Vestaboard is recruiting great people to the company, and in 2019 we were lucky to recruit a recent mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Ottawa Dominic Monette (2018) who still works with us today!

View the video to lean more about Vestaboard.


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