Setting stage for global growth, Ottawa’s Iversoft shifts executive ranks

Iversoft
From left: Iversoft co-founder and CTO Vicki Iverson, CEO Graeme Barlow and co-founder and chief relationship officer Matt Strentse. Photo by Craig Lord

After 10 years in business, Ottawa-based Iversoft is only now naming its first CEO – the firm’s attempt to maintain its momentum from a high-growth year.

Graeme Barlow, previously the firm’s chief marketing officer, will step into the chief executive role for the digital consultancy. Co-founder Matt Strentse will also shift from chief operating officer to a new position as chief relationship officer. Vicki Iverson, the company’s other co-founder, will remain as chief technical officer.

The shift in ranks is meant to formalize leadership processes for the fast-growing firm, which recently moved into a new office on Lola Street in Overbrook, just across the road from Canadian Tire and RCGT Park. Iversoft has made a name for itself helping major brands such as Audi and Tamarack Homes craft their digital presence.

Since Barlow joined Iversoft four years ago, he, Strentse and Iverson had typically come to a group consensus to make decisions without the need for a singular chief to shape the company’s direction. Now, as the company crests 40 employees – growing its headcount nearly 50 per cent since the start of 2019 – Iversoft can’t afford to maintain a loose leadership structure.

“This company has been growing in a way that it's not feasible to do that anymore,” Strentse says.

Moving pieces into place

The CMO and COO roles will go unfilled – for now. Barlow says part of the motivation to shift his and Strentse’s roles around was to open up positions for strong candidates to join the company as it takes its next steps.

As the leadership team formulated the company’s new management structure, there was also talk of putting Iverson into the CEO role. The technical mind behind Iversoft, Iverson has also been a prominent public face of the company. Her family’s rich computer science background inspired the company’s name – her grandfather is credited as the progenitor of the APL coding language.

Barlow says that Iverson’s technical skillset, which she honed as a developer at Apple, will be pivotal for the company as it establishes new lines of business as a digital consultancy.

“Pulling her out of that role, when we're trying to grow rapidly on multiple technical fronts, didn't make sense,” he says.

Barlow himself brings a diverse background to the CEO office. Over the past two decades, he has been a serial entrepreneur, founding companies in the gaming and digital marketing sectors and working for a few years in early stage venture capital before joining Iversoft.

While he jokes that he was never cut out for the CMO role at Iversoft, Barlow notes that his strengths lie in finding talented people and getting out of their way while they solve problems.

For Strentse’s part, he’ll be focused on Iversoft’s partnership strategy. The firm’s referral program has found success in recent months as Iversoft looks to partner with companies that have complementary services.

A prime example has been accounting firm Welch LLP, which has helped the company build its business in the Toronto market. 

Strentse breaks down how the referral partnership works: If Iversoft built its client a product that runs on a software-as-a-service revenue model, for instance, that customer might then have need for accounting services from Welch. A reverse example might see a Welch client need a boost on the digital side of the business, at which point an introduction is made to the team at Iversoft.

Gearing up for global growth

Partnerships such as these are key to Iversoft’s global expansion strategy. While the company is well-known in Ottawa, working with local brands such as Kettleman’s Bagel Co. and Farm Boy, Iversoft is looking to expand into growth markets such as Toronto and New York.

The new focus on Toronto feels more like a homecoming for Strentse, as he and Iverson first launched Iversoft out of the city 10 years ago. Though the company had strong prospects to start, Strentse says Toronto was a “precarious” market in which to set the firm’s foundations. High costs for both office space and residential real estate in the city pushed the co-founders to look elsewhere, and they ultimately settled on Ottawa in the summer of 2010. The nation’s capital was well-positioned between the Montreal and Toronto markets, Strentse says, and was generally more affordable in terms of overhead costs.

“Ottawa seemed like the best bet for us,” he says.

Now looking south again, Strentse says the company is close to locking down a few major customers based out of these markets. Recalling a recent dinner with a C-suite executive from one of these big-name brands, Iversoft’s new CRO says he was able to zoom out and see how far Iversoft has come in the past decade.

“He was just sitting at the table, mesmerized, like, ‘I have never heard of a company with your skillset.’”

In addition to the recent years’ successes, that conversation gave Strentse and the rest of the leadership team the perspective and confidence they need to push on the throttle to grow Iversoft into a global firm.

“We really think we're ready for it now,” Stentse says. “We're just kind of stepping into that role and making sure that we can execute on it.”