A: No. We’ve been self-funded from the start and have been able to grow. It isn’t always easy but it was the right choice for us. We have to watch what we do very carefully. We have a regular bank operating line and have also had financing through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) because they offer financing beyond what a chartered bank will lend. For a growing company like us, that can make all the difference.
Q: What makes your company better at what it does than other companies?
A: A lot of companies when they start off have more of a technology bent or a design bent, and you tend to see that reflected in the venue. User experience has really had its opus in the past couple of years, and I think that we were able to capitalize on that. Design and technology had an equal focus for us right from the beginning. We had a strong technical director and a strong creative director who could lead those efforts and keep them balanced as we grew.
Part of our success was timing – having the right skills at the right time. If we didn’t have that initial group and grow with that initial group, then we wouldn’t be where we are. They’re relatively young, but I can’t think of who I would hire to replace them.
Q: Did you have a vision for the company from the start?
A: In 2009 and 2010, we were just pursuing the opportunities that were in front of us. When you’re a team of five people in a relatively small room, it’s pretty quick for you to pivot and pursue an opportunity. It started off with some custom application development, and then growing the sizes of the projects we worked on.
The pivot we did last year was really focusing on two open platforms – our content management system Drupal (a leading platform for content management and social publishing) and e-commerce platform Magento – and then tying that in with a strong focus on user experience. A year-and-a-half ago was where we really recognized that ‘this will be big and we can be a top five player in this in North America.’ That was the first time I’d say we set a true vision.
I’m lucky in that, while at Ivey, I worked with almost 20 startups in a variety of different business. Not only had I started a few businesses myself, but I was doing the web work for others. Sometimes I actually built an online product and sometimes just a website to support their operations. I was able to see the common trends of what worked and what didn’t. What I saw was that the things they started off with, and what they thought would make money and appeal to customers, generally wasn’t the best thing in the end. In our case, we started off doing custom programming but what we really found was that expertise in a certain area would actually be our huge growth market. We recognized that and tried to narrow down to that as soon as possible and run with it. So being open to changing who you are, especially in those early stages, and having the ability to pivot around, is really important.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge with rapid growth in such a short time when you’re so young?
A: There’s all the standard things that you have to try to bring into place. You grow to a certain size and now you need marketing and a business development team to keep up with that. You grow a bit more and now you need a finance and recruiting process. A lot of it from my perspective is around capabilities building. Also, it’s a challenge to keep upping the bar on ourselves as we grow larger. I’d say the biggest challenge has been making sure that we can continue building the right team.
Q: What’s your leadership style?