When Greg Burwell and Tyler Eyamie were laid off as part of a purge at Ottawa tech firm Protus in 2010, they found themselves with plenty of time and a “little bit of a nest egg” to start the next phase of their lives as entrepreneurs.
But as any astute businessperson knows, time and money aren’t enough to build a successful company – you need to have a marketable solution to a problem that customers want solved.
As it turns out, Mr. Burwell and Mr. Eyamie figured they had that, too.
They’d seen firsthand how Protus, which invoiced more than a half-million customers every month, employed eight full-time staffers to manage its archaic billing system – a “slow-moving Titanic-type beast,” in the words of Mr. Eyamie.
There had to be a way to make recurring billing more efficient, they thought. And if they found it, they could put Ottawa on the map in a space that was ripe for disruption.
Their search for an answer led to Fusebill, which now employs more than 30 people and is a fixture on OBJ’s annual list of fastest-growing companies. The Kanata firm’s cloud-based platform has won hundreds of customers in Canada and the United States, even though the company has devoted most of its efforts so far to perfecting its technology rather than marketing it.
That’s about to change.
Fusebill announced earlier this month that it has landed $6 million in fresh venture capital, which it plans to spend on beefing up its sales and marketing team in an effort to take the business “to that next level,” says Mr. Eyamie, Fusebill’s CEO.
Toronto-based ScaleUP Ventures is leading the latest round along with Washington, D.C.’s Langdell Investments, with additional participation from past investors OMERS Ventures and BDC Capital. ScaleUP managing partner Kent Thexton, a former managing director of OMERS Ventures, will also become chairman of the Fusebill board.
Mr. Eyamie calls Mr. Thexton a “billing domain expertise beast” and says he couldn’t have asked for a more experienced industry veteran to help guide the company through its next stage of growth.
“It all kind of came together perfectly,” he says in a chat with OBJ at Fusebill’s head office on Herzberg Road.
The company has also brought software industry veteran Rob Sutherland on board as its chief revenue officer.
Mr. Sutherland, a former vice-president and director of international sales at local human resources software firm Halogen, says he sees a “fundamental shift” toward a subscription-based billing model in the software industry and believes Fusebill is only scratching the surface of its potential.
“It is a completely underserved market,” he says. “There are very few companies globally that understand the secret sauce to be successful in that space.”
Like Halogen, Fusebill is setting its sights on the small and medium-sized business segment, particularly in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. It is targeting customers with annual sales of anywhere from a half-million dollars to $100 million that are struggling to efficiently invoice customers, chase down past-due accounts and manage the overall billing process.
“They either have humans or they have some kind of homegrown (system) that they’ve put together to get them to where they are,” Mr. Eyamie says. “It’s a real greenfield opportunity right now. There are no real solutions in place.”
That segment, he says, could be worth up to $8 billion and is there for the taking. That opportunity caught the attention of Mr. Thexton, who is also chairman of the board at Toronto-based Redknee, which makes converged billing software used by such telecommunications giants as AT&T and T-Mobile.
“The market likes (Fusebill’s) product,” he says. “I knew Fusebill from my time at OMERS Ventures, and Tyler and the team have done a great job of going through that valley-of-death period, the hard times of establishing your product market fit, and they’re really starting to hit some strides.
“Tyler and Greg did a great job of buckling down and making it work. That fortitude, that just-get-it-done attitude, impressed me a lot.”
While the company has devoted most of its sweat and toil so far to developing what it feels is a market-leading product, it’s now time “to put the pedal to the metal” in its sales and marketing efforts, Mr. Eyamie acknowledges.
Mr. Thexton agrees. He notes the firm does face a heavyweight competitor in Zuora, a cloud-based subscription billing platform made in northern California that tends to target larger customers than Fusebill.
He says Fusebill needs to focus on its system’s strengths – simplicity and ease of use among them – and get its growing sales staff in front of more potential clients.
“There’s lots of opportunity right now,” Mr. Thexton says. “The market potential is huge. In a lot of markets, you can have a No. 1 and a No. 2, and they’re both very successful. I think the opportunity is to really ... differentiate from Zuora, beat out the other competition and fill that void.”
Mr. Eyamie sounds like he’s up for the challenge, predicting Fusebill will be at nearly 60 employees before the end of 2016. He says other Ottawa firms such as Shopify and Halogen took years to become “overnight successes,” adding there’s no reason why Fusebill can’t join that list. The company has yet to turn a profit, but Mr. Eyamie believes it will be breaking even by 2018.
“The short-term strategy is to build an awesome company,” he says. “Obviously, there’s pressure to grow it, but we want to grow it at the right pace. The long-term play is to build another great Ottawa success story and kind of let the rest happen for itself.”
FAST FACTS ON FUSEBILL:
Number of employees: About 35
Number of customers: Hundreds worldwide
Revenue growth: 328.57% from 2013-15