How do you start and grow a virtual marketing communications company in Ottawa into one with an international client base, nine full-time employees and revenues reaching seven figures?
According to Scott Williams, you do it by starting at the top.
In 2000, Mr. Williams was heading up corporate communications for MBNA Canada in Ottawa. Like most would-be entrepreneurs, he found working for someone else – especially a Fortune 100 multinational – to be too confining. So he left to start his own shop, becoming a vice-president of marketing and communications for hire.
"I knew from the start that to work for large clients, you have to have a portfolio of large clients. If you don't have any, you're not likely to get any," says Mr. Williams.
He fought for a marketing contract with North American value-added distributor Interwork Technologies, knowing that if he helped the firm increase revenues through strategic marketing, he would also impress the company's more than 25 vendors.
"As it turned out, my plan worked," recalls Mr. Williams. "Within the first quarter, I'd added about 18 global corporations to our client roster."
That's how EyeVero Marketing Communications Group was born. The company, now known for its expertise in behavioural science-based marketing, believes in measuring everything.
Company executives understand concepts such as how to turn cost centres into profit centres, and that building a brand creates trust within target markets. Trust creates the opportunity to make a sale.
Mr. Williams sums it up this way: "Creativity without process is useless. We're all about science and hard numbers. We steer clear of basing marketing decisions on emotion or reaction. If the science isn't there, the marketing doesn't work. Even though art is important, it isn't enough — marketing has to be qualifiable and quantifiable."
It's an approach that has led EyeVero to relationships with hundreds of clients, including OpenText, Hewlett-Packard and Symantec. However, this means the company must balance its growth while maintaining consistent results. Mr. Williams says he does it by surrounding himself with exceptional people.
"I have a great group of peers around me and I take full advantage of their business prowess," he says, giving the examples of RjR Innovations CEO Robert Beauchamp, Nitro IT CEO Larry Poirier, bluArc's Rick Koenders and StoneShare CEO Keith Carter.
"Spending an hour at lunch with these guys is like a year's worth of business experience."
As for his staff, Mr. Williams keeps his friends close. EyeVero's director of IT services, Colin Elliott, has been best friends with him since they were kids.
So what was the EyeVero chief executive like as a kid?
"He was always a rebel who did pretty much what he wanted," recalls Mr. Elliott.
This sounds suspiciously similar to other entrepreneurs I have interviewed over the years.
Turning back to Mr. Williams and the topic of his company, I ask: "Does not having a central office make EyeVero less synergistic?"
He laughs. "If we had a head office, we would all be sitting there with our doors closed anyway. That's the way all our people work, (but) we're not big on water-cooler chat."
That said, everyone collaborates constantly all day – just in a virtual setting.
"I know when everyone is sitting at their desk, and I know I can talk to them in a second – faster than I could if we were physically in the same building."
Is EyeVero going to be a 100-person shop? Mr. Williams answers this way:
"We're careful and strategic about growth and, while success is important, I have no plans to be that next personality on Dragons' Den."
Professor Bruce M. Firestone is entrepreneurship ambassador at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management; founder of the Ottawa Senators; executive director of Exploriem.org; and a broker at Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc. Follow him on Twitter @ProfBruce.
Full disclosure: In 2011, EyeVero rebranded not-for-profit Exploriem.org, where I'm executive director, and donated half of its normal fee back to the organization. The company also created cover art for my new novel, Quantum Entity | We Are All ONE and built the website brucemfirestone.com.