As product endorsements go, NASA’s seal of approval likely ranks right up there with the best of them.
So when prospective clients find out Epiphan Video's technology is used to help capture and transmit video of experiments on the International Space Station, it can be very useful selling tool – to put it mildly.
“You don’t put something in the space (station) unless you know it’s going to survive the mission and it’s going to work every day,” Epiphan vice-president of marketing David Kirk says in an interview with OBJ at the firm’s Kanata head office. “It helps to speak to the robustness of the product.”
The Ottawa company’s equipment was again called into service on the space station last month, when it helped capture video of space particles as part of the European Space Agency’s Plasma Kristall-4 research mission. It’s the fourth ESA mission to use Epiphan’s technology, with up to 11 more expected over the next three years.
"If we book a meeting with a new channel partner … and at one of those meetings an astronaut who happened to be a commander of a space station is going to be present, suddenly the president of the company wants to be in the meeting."
NASA and the ESA are but a couple of Epiphan’s 30,000-plus clients around the world. Founded in 2003 by former Nortel executive Mike Sandler, the firm has managed to fly under the radar despite maintaining a constant presence thousands of kilometres above the Earth.
But Epiphan has begun to step out of the shadows, thanks in part to its connection with agencies such as NASA. Among Epiphan’s most enthusiastic champions is former U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao, who spent six months on the International Space Station in 2004 and 2005. He now serves as a consultant for Epiphan, and, on occasion, an unofficial celebrity spokesperson.
“It definitely opened some doors at some of the aerospace companies,” says Mr. Kirk. “If we book a meeting with a new channel partner … and at one of those meetings an astronaut who happened to be a commander of a space station is going to be present, suddenly the president of the company wants to be in the meeting. He opens a lot of doors that otherwise take a little bit more time to get through.”
Over the past decade and a half, Epiphan has continued to add marquee names to an impressive roster of customers that includes Harvard University, IBM and Microsoft. The 60-person firm makes durable, lightweight devices that capture, stream and record video – typically from “closed” sources, including medical devices such as ultrasound machines or office equipment such as video cameras that isn’t directly connected to computer software.
Users can then connect Epiphan’s video “grabbers” and streaming devices to smartphones, tablets or computers via USB cables for easy playback and sharing on a variety of platforms.
Among the company’s biggest fans, Mr. Kirk says, are promoters of live events such as business conferences who use its social media streaming devices to broadcast video of keynote speakers and seminars, for example, to a much broader audience via their Facebook or YouTube channels.
“It’s kind of a fun space to be in,” he says.
After years of “steady-as-you-go” revenue growth, Epiphan is now on a bit of a tear, Mr. Kirk explains. When he was hired five years ago, he essentially was the entire marketing department. Today, his group numbers 10 employees and counting.
Like many private companies, Epiphan doesn’t reveal its annual revenues, but Mr. Kirk says they are in the eight-figure range and the firm is profitable.
“It’s definitely curving upward,” Mr. Kirk says of Epiphan’s revenue trajectory. “And most of that is just the prevalence of video in almost everything that we’ve got our hands in. They’re all growing very, very quickly and that’s pushing our growth.”
The firm works with a network of channel partners around the world who resell and distribute its products in more than 100 countries. Mr. Kirk says partnering with agents who are already entrenched in foreign markets is a much more efficient path to growth for the company than trying to build a sales network of its own from scratch.
“We’re competing against some much larger companies that are well-established,” he explains. “Part of what we need to do is get our fingers in a lot of places (such as trade shows) and talk about our products. It’s just a much better way to scale.”
Three years ago, the firm opened a sales office in the United States, a market that now accounts for about 50 per cent of Epiphan’s revenues. Mr. Sandler now works out of that office in Silicon Valley, a move that has paid off handsomely, Mr. Kirk says.
“That’s really helped us a lot,” he says. “We’ve leveraged that into very good connections and partnerships, and now we’re trying to do something similar in Europe (where Epiphan does about a third of its sales) and then we’ll move elsewhere.”
Accelerating that growth is a constant challenge, Mr. Kirk says, as is keeping up with constant changes in technology.
“Video is moving so quickly in so many aspects, whether it’s virtual reality or 3D,” he explains. “Cameras and video devices have come such a long way so quickly. The good side is there’s way more opportunity than we can possibly address. It’s more a matter of choosing the best things to do rather than looking for something to do.”
Epiphan will keep focusing on its current product lines, he says, and happily let others stake their claims in emerging fields such as VR.
“There’s lots of guys jumping into VR,” Mr. Kirk says. “We looked at it and said, ‘OK, that’s an interesting market and we might play on the periphery of that market, but we’re not going to be a VR (company).’ It’s not our bread and butter.”
Meanwhile, the firm is also in expansion mode here in Ottawa, with plans to add another 3,000 square feet to its current footprint on March Road as well as embark on an aggressive hiring spree – which leads to yet another hurdle.
“We’re quite picky,” Mr. Kirk concedes, noting the company likes to take its time and find employees willing to buy into its corporate culture. “You can’t grow super quickly if it takes you six months to hire everybody. The market’s pushing us to grow more quickly, but we’ve got to get the right people to help us get there.”