Nearly a year after it slashed its headcount to five people from 21 in a last-ditch bid for survival, the Ottawa-based tech venture is back on a “very nice staircase upwards,” in the words of co-founder Cassy Aite.
Already an Insider? Log in
- Critical Ottawa business news and analysis updated daily.
- Immediate access to all Insider-only content on our website.
- 4 issues per year of the Ottawa Business Journal magazine.
- Special bonus issues like the Ottawa Book of Lists.
- Discounted registration for OBJ’s in-person events.
“Going faster by going slower” might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s a philosophy that’s paying big dividends for digital gift-card provider Hoppier. Nearly a year after it slashed its headcount to five people from 21 in a last-ditch bid for survival, the Ottawa-based tech venture is back on a “very nice staircase upwards,” in the words of co-founder Cassy Aite. Its cash flow has stabilized to the point where it’s now breaking even – all it's all thanks to a fresh outlook that might seem counterintuitive to some but makes all the sense in the world to Aite. “We’re in year six, and now I’m finally realizing, go a little bit slower to go faster,” says the graduate of the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. “Before the mentality was growth at all costs. I think like a lot of other companies, we’ve realized, ‘Hey, we don’t need to grow so fast. It’s great if we can, but let’s do it in a sustainable way first.’ That was the big difference-maker for us.” Launched in late 2016 under the name Desk Nibbles, the company originally made a platform to deliver healthy snacks to workplaces. The startup raised $350,000 in seed funding from backers that included the Business Development Bank of Canada and the Capital Angel Network. Before long, it boasted more than 200 customers across North America. Three years ago, the company rebranded. Then the pandemic struck, shuttering offices around the world and forcing Hoppier to dramatically alter its business model. What was once a lunch delivery service transformed almost overnight into a stipend management platform to help companies control and track how much employees spend on fringe benefits. Today, Hoppier’s subscription-based software provides a range of applications that allow organizations in more than 60 countries – including household names like Amazon, Roots and fellow Ottawa-based tech firm Shopify – to send virtual gift cards to employees, process charity donations, manage learning allowances and more. Its vendor network includes global giants Starbucks, Tim Hortons and Ikea. Yet even as the firm’s revenues rose to about $1 million annually and its customer count grew, Hoppier continued to bleed cash. By the beginning of last year, Aite and his brother Emil – the company’s other founder and chief technology officer – knew they had to take drastic steps to rein in spending, including laying off most of their employees. “I think a lot of software companies are re-evaluating how many people they need,” Aite says. “We had no choice because we were just running out of money.” Rather than chasing every potential client it could, Hoppier now focuses on signing “high-quality” customers with staying power, he explains. “We’re adding fewer new customers every month, but our retention is much stronger,” Aite says, adding he’s hoping the firm can double its revenues in 2023. “Those customers that we’re acquiring are a much better fit. By being more focused and going slower, I think it’s allowed us to actually grow faster than otherwise.” In addition to getting leaner, the new-look Hoppier is diversifying its product offerings. In November, the company acquired Berlin-based Lunch Roulette, which makes an app that brings together randomly selected groups of employees for lunch or coffee meetups on workplace communication platform Slack. “Really, the idea is connecting a remote workforce that otherwise would never meet,” Aite says. While all but a couple dozen of Lunch Roulette’s 900-plus customers are currently using the app for free, the paid version aimed at companies with 25 employees or more is gaining in popularity, Aite says. The veteran entrepreneur says Hoppier is hoping to expand the platform’s capabilities to include elements like a survey-generating system and birthday and anniversary reminders. “There’s really a big opportunity to improve the software and grow that product a lot,” he says. Hoppier’s turnaround has made more than just the firm’s balance sheet healthier. Aite says that since the company’s fortunes began to rebound last summer, he no longer needs to wear the nightguard his dentist prescribed. “I used to clench my teeth when I would sleep,” he says with a smile. “I’m not stressed anymore. It’s night and day different.”