Donna Litt realized on her honeymoon that she needed to make a major life change. Weaving through the culture and history in England, Ireland and Wales, Litt felt the time had come for her to leave her job and try her hand at her own startup — writing fiction.
This leap shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Litt. Entrepreneurship runs in her veins. Her brother, Joseph Fung, co-founded TribeHR, which was recently acquired by NetSuite. Her sister, Sheila Rutherford, owns a martial-arts dojo in British Columbia.
Litt recently joined another entrepreneurial family when she and Vidyard co-founder Michael Litt married last summer.
Until recently, Litt worked at her brother’s company. Starting in 2009, she worked her way through customer operations roles, eventually becoming product manager for human capital management at NetSuite.
While she loved the tech industry, this wasn’t always her plan.
“My education was in archeology, and I missed it,” Litt said. “[Michael and I] both knew that my time at NetSuite wasn’t going to be permanent. I had only come to TribeHR originally because it was my brother’s company. I didn’t expect to stick around so long. Five years go quickly.”
After graduating in archeology from the University of Toronto, Litt moved to Waterloo, partially on a whim. She needed a job, and wanted to be close to family. With the rest of her family scattered around Canada, and her brother about to have a baby, the city felt like a good fit.
Fung needed some help in his growing startup. Litt discovered she had skills in customer support and sales. She also met her future husband.
She began to think of Waterloo Region as less of a stopover and more of a home.
Fast forward to her honeymoon. It was her first time having a couple of weeks to sit and reflect with her husband and talk about how things were going. Mike was overseas to help Vidyard open an office in the United Kingdom, and he was fundraising for what would turn into an $18-million round.
“There’s a risk factor to both of us working in startups,” Litt said. “And at the same time we don’t have kids right now, so if there ever was a time to take risks, it was now.”
Litt had to decide what that risk would look like. She always knew she wanted to write novels. A passionate fantasy lover, Litt lights up when she talks about diving into her favourite series growing up. She lists Guy Gavriel Kay, Mercedes Lackey and Robert Jordan as beloved, inspiring authors.
Litt’s main inspiration for writing, though, is her niece and nephew.
“I was thinking about how, when I was younger there were books and characters that you fall in love with and grow up with, and a book that you read a million times,” she said. “And I thought how wonderful it would be to create an experience for them, where the characters were created specifically for them.
“So I decided what I wanted to do was create a novel, or a series of novels.”
Litt has been writing full time in earnest since December. She is currently finishing the first draft of her book, and has plans to develop side stories and multimedia to complement it. She hopes her readers, especially her family, will grow with the characters.
Although she now works from home and in local coffee shops, Litt’s days haven’t changed much since leaving the tech world. She still puts in 10-hour days, except she’s focused on creating a world of her own.
Litt puts her education to use as she builds her fantasy series. While the past influences her work, Litt looks to the future, when her young niece and nephew can read her books on their own.
“Archeologists are storytellers,” she said.
Cold, snowy February nights are made for storytelling. Why don’t you make your own stories this weekend? I see and hear that . . . Waterloo’s annual winter festival, Winterloo, runs this weekend, Feb. 14-16. Head to the Waterloo Public Square at 75 King St. S., Waterloo, for family fun, including ice-carving competitions, skating, and sledge hockey . . . The University of Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab is launching Yoga for Plugging in (to the body). Taught by a PhD student/ yoga instructor, the free yoga class is aimed at tech workers who spend hours in front of screens. Sign up for the class, which starts at 6 p.m. Tuesdays in the Critical Media Lab, 44 Gaukel St., Kitchener, directly across from the Charles Street bus terminal . . . Hackademy is launching its winter coding session for children and teens. The CodeCrafters series will teach kids in grades 3-8, and teens in grades 8-12, new skills designing games, building websites and exploring technology. Times vary, but classes will be held Wednesday afternoon and evenings at THEMUSEUM, 10 King St. W., downtown Kitchener.
Photo: Donna Litt working from home on the first draft of her fantasy novel.