Making healthy connections
High-tech entrepreneur Galya Westler is at TEDxStanleyPark on May 28. (photo from Galya Westler)
The social media available to help us connect with one another are ever-increasing, but they are not always effective. In fact, they often have the opposite effect – when we realize the relations they engender are illusory, we experience feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. So says Galya Westler, a local high-tech entrepreneur, who is creating a simpler, more intimate solution to connect people with their respective communities.
In keeping with the theme of “Ideas to Action,” Westler – along with 14 other local thought leaders – will take the stage at the third annual TEDxStanleyPark on May 28 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. She will deliver a talk entitled Social Media Obesity and Loneliness. She will discuss the growing phenomenon of social media addiction, recount her personal experiences in trying to connect with others during a particularly traumatic period in her life and explore how to use technology to overcome a social media addiction.
According to Westler, too many people suffer from what she terms “social media obesity,” or an addiction to social media, and are “pigging out on selfies of attention.” Moreover, in their effort to be noticed, social media addicts often lose appreciation of how they act in the online world – and exaggerations serve only to enhance the gap between online personas and reality. The ultimate consequence: feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, depression and loneliness.
Westler examines the subject from the point of view of a social media developer with a decade of experience in creating or enhancing online communities. This summer, she will launch Plazus Mobile Social App Builder, her most ambitious social media application platform to date.
Born in Montreal, Westler grew up in Ra’anana after her Israeli parents returned home upon her father’s completion of his PhD at the University of Montreal.
She served as a commander of a radar post in the Gaza Strip during her mandatory military service with the Israel Defence Forces. She describes her experience as “amazing” and “life-changing.” Introverted and lacking confidence in high school, she said her army service – carried out in a male-dominated environment – enabled her to blossom into an outgoing and hardworking soldier who rose to challenges. She would carry this learned lesson with her as she pursued higher education.
Despite an affinity for the humanities, Westler enrolled in Shenkar College’s four-year software engineering program. She had been counseled to do so by her father, a senior high-tech professional in Israel, who told her: “If you study software engineering, the doors will open for you.”
The program was challenging and Westler struggled – not only with the material, but also with the pressure from those around her who suggested she give up and drop out. This discouragement only strengthened her resolve and she persevered to finish the program. Of the 40 students who had enrolled with her, only 11 completed their studies. Westler was the only female graduate.
After a year of working in Israel’s high-tech industry, Westler decided to move back to Canada, settling in British Columbia. She worked for a number of tech companies before opting to incorporate her own, giving her the independence she sought. “I did the corporate-ladder thing, but never quite fit in,” she said.
Since incorporating her first company, 2Galvanize Ltd., in 2008, Westler has built close to 100 websites, mobile applications and backend systems for different companies, including the Yellow Pages. She specializes in creating private social “ecosystems,” or networks, that enable people to communicate on an “authentic” level, unlike other social media sites that she describes as too big and overwhelming to navigate and digest. Her mission is to create systems that support efforts that enable people to communicate in a manner emblematic of times past: “more intimate, more humbly and, very importantly, in small groups.” This led to her involvement with Bazinga, an app that connects building residents to their strata councils, and Wag Around, an app that connects dog owners and facilitates interactions offline.
Simplifying genuine communication between people and their respective communities is what motivates Westler to develop new tools. “The reason I do the work I do is because I truly want to connect people, and the best way to do that is to give them an excuse to connect based on common interests,” she explained.
Westler’s newest commercial development, Plazus Mobile Social App Builder, applies the principle of connecting people in the business realm as a means of facilitating dialogue or enhancing brand. The name combines the words “plaza” and “us,” a tongue-in-cheek homage to more traditional ways of communicating.
Set to launch at the end of June, Plazus is a B2B (business to business) social media tool that will provide a company or organization with an easy, structured and relatively inexpensive way to connect with their customers and communities in their own social ecosystems. It seeks to do this functionally, interactively and in an esthetically appealing manner.
Westler is filled with anticipation as her two seed investors, a team of 10 techies and more than 60 early-adopter customers, eagerly await the launch of Plazus Technologies’ beta product.
Westler credits many of her entrepreneurial successes in Canada to her Israeli chutzpah. Although she misses Israel, particularly Tel Aviv’s culture and lifestyle, and acknowledges that research and development thrives in Israel because of wonderful talent, she said that her seven years in Vancouver have been “amazing … it’s paradise.”
Westler’s goal is to continue to grow her business and open offices in both Vancouver and Tel Aviv, which would enable her to travel regularly between the two places in the world she loves most.
She said it is important for her to stay connected to Israel for both personal and professional reasons, and she has spoken in Israel about her work and her entrepreneurial path on more than one occasion, including to a women’s Lean In Circle at Google’s office in Tel Aviv and at StarTAU, Tel Aviv University’s Entrepreneurship Centre.
True to her commitment to connect individuals with like-minded community members, Westler herself is involved in a number of different groups and causes. She serves as president of the Vancouver Entrepreneurs Toastmasters Club and is active in several other local business organizations.
Alexis Pavlich is a Vancouver-based freelance writer.