In an age of technology, when fledgling entrepreneurs frequently launch businesses while they’re still in school, Haivision Network Video founder Miroslav (Mirko) Wicha is a late bloomer.
After graduating in computer science and mathematics from Nova Scotia’s Acadia University in 1982, the company’s president, CEO and chairman initially spent 28 years working mostly in sales and management for high-tech companies such as Alias Research Inc., Silicon Graphics International Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Development Co., before becoming an entrepreneur. He partnered in a failed dot-com startup two months before the bubble bust in early 2001, but Haivision is the first company he’s built from the ground up.
After acquiring the necessary technology, Mr. Wicha, 52, came out of retirement in 2004, to found Haivision Systems Inc., now called Haivision Network Video after merging with Video Furnace in 2009.
Based in Montreal and Chicago, Haivision provides organizations worldwide with end-to-end solutions for HD video streaming, recording, management and video delivery, on premise, over the Internet and in the cloud. The private company, which has grown to 200 employees from 13, focuses on military and government, education, medical, enterprise, and the sports and entertainment markets. Haivision has been profitable since 2008, with nearly all of its approximately $50-million in annual revenue coming from businesses outside Canada.
Mr. Wicha fled Czechoslovakia with his family to Egypt in 1968, just before the Russian invasion. They immigrated to Canada one year later when Mr. Wicha was eight, first arriving in Toronto and then settling in Halifax, where he grew up.
Why did you pick computers back when the field was relatively unknown?
I knew I wanted to study computer science from the age of 10. I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded cool. Acadia had an amazing computer science program and from there I went to work as a programmer in Switzerland for a year. I speak pretty okay German, Slovak and Czech, English and a little French.
So how did you end up in sales and management for much of your career?
When I came back to Halifax in 1982, I got a job working for a U.S. defence contractor as a systems analyst. While I was waiting 30 days for security clearance, a friend of mine introduced me to Hewlett-Packard, which was pretty small back then. They convinced me to go into technology sales and it was the best decision I ever made.
I loved the technology aspect – I didn’t want to lose that – but I love working with people. I’m an extrovert. That job combined both and let me be with people to share ideas and solve problems. I became their guy for Atlantic Canada handling the technical computers and working with all the research institutions, military defence and research establishments. Halifax has much of that. I sold a lot of technology to these cool scientists and researchers, which I loved doing. And I did very well.
After I was transferred to Ottawa, I was headhunted to join a startup. So I went from working for a global company to a startup in 1987. The company was Silicon Graphics, one of Canada’s most successful companies, and I got to come in at the beginning. I handled all of Atlantic Canada and the federal government.
What was it like going from a big company to a startup?
Tough. In those days, I was working on my own from my house in the basement trying to figure out what to sell, with products that were just new and still being developed. It was a huge change from having all kinds of accounts and an office of 300. That really opened my eyes to starting to think like an entrepreneur.
The first year was very tough because you’re second guessing yourself about whether you did the right thing. I already had a young family to feed and our new daughter had just been born, so there was a lot of stress. But I learned a lot about relying on myself. We had a good team but I had to run my own show.
Did that help you develop as a leader?