Ottawa entrepreneur projects ‘Shopify trajectory’ for revolutionary software firm

Craig Fitzpatrick sat down one night and decided to reinvent the web.

After 20 years in charge of product teams, he kept running into the same issue: marketing teams would always steal away his software programmers for days at a time so they could fix the company website, which was run on an often clunky and nitpicky system.

“The building of websites has always been the domain of developers, and for all of their skills, developers aren’t always the best designers,” he says. “That was my frustration for years, and I just assumed that someone else will solve it ... and 10 years later, nobody solved it.”

He found some solace in Apple’s iWeb, which allowed for user-friendly and visually inclined web publishing. It was far from perfect, but he bent it to his will.

Mr. Fitzpatrick had hoped Apple would someday come out with a pro version that would fix the problems he had with it. Instead, the company discontinued it in 2011.

“I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. I am not going back to hand-coding HTML. I just refuse,’” he recalls.

He went home and started writing code on evenings and weekends, aiming to create a solution that would bring the usability of desktop publishing to web design.

And so he did.

He created PageCloud, software that lets users add photos, text, videos, and other elements to web pages using drap-and-drop movements and keyboard shortcuts. The result is an “evolutionary” way to design a website and comes with a hefty portfolio of patents pending, says Mr. Fitzpatrick, CEO of the five-month-old startup that’s set to launch its product in February.

Greg Evans, PageCloud’s vice-president of business development, concedes he remained skeptical about the idea for a while.

“Hasn’t this been done before?” he thought. But when he and Mr. Fitzpatrick went to San Francisco to get a temperature check from a number of Silicon Valley pros, they got the reaction they had been looking for.

“When their eyebrows went up, then I knew we were on to something special,” he says.

The trip also led to a $1-million September investment round that included Silicon Valley notables Avanish Sahai of Demandbase and Sam Zaid and Jessica Scorpio from Getaround.

“First reaction was, I didn’t believe it. And for someone who’s been in the software business for a long time, that’s not a reaction I would normally have,” says Mr. Sahai.

An expert in growth-driven marketing, Mr. Sahai says a company like PageCloud needs to apply a concept called “delight your customer.” That means making a great and simple product that clients will love so much they’ll spread the word.

“It’s not about building a big sales team,” he says. “It’s not about spending millions of dollars on marketing and advertising. It’s about making the product experience so compelling that the customer walks away delighted.”

Local investors in PageCloud include Tobias Lütke of Shopify, Frédéric Boulanger of Macadamian and Peter Sandiford, founder of LPI Level Platforms and Netstone Technologies.

The company also held a second financing round that raised another $1 million this month.

Now a six-man operation working out of a temporary space on Rideau Street, the company will move into a 1,250-square-foot office at the other side of the building by the end of the month. Mr. Fitzpatrick says he expects to more than double the firm’s head count and be on “a Shopify trajectory” by the end of 2015.

“I see this as sort of the next big Ottawa hit,” he says.

The company will release four versions of its software one at a time, beginning in February and continuing through the year. Mr. Evans says the key will be finding good partnerships to help with distribution, scale and support as the firm grows.

“I like to look at technologies that are so good that you can have a monopoly,” he says, offering Google as an example. “I think about what we need to do … to keep being that good as we expand.”

Mr. Fitzpatrick says content management systems such as WordPress and the like were revolutionary at the time, but they’re only the first half of a journey – and PageCloud is the other half. It’s time to “democratize” web publishing, he says.

“Everyone who can use e-mail should be able to do this,” he says. “The endpoint is complete creative freedom for everyone.”