Techopia Live: Ottawa’s rising and established software stars light up SaaS North

If you were at the Shaw Centre this week for SaaS North – the annual gathering of software-as-a-service companies and entrepreneurs in Ottawa – you may have seen Techopia Live across from the long escalator delivering people to the show.

We were set up to interview a couple of the capital’s SaaS players to get the scoop on what it takes to build a software company in Ottawa.

Returning to the show was Mike Potter, the CEO of Rewind, which provides small businesses with easy access to a cloud backup of their storefronts and other integral data. The 20-person company began targeting Shopify merchants on the fellow Ottawa firm’s app store and has recently raised more than $1 million in financing to help it expand to platforms such as QuickBooks and BigCommerce.

Potter told Techopia Live that being in the same space – and city, for that matter – as commerce giant Shopify has helped the company grow alongside the recognized global leader.

“Our revenue is closely linked to their success, and it’s closely linked to the success of the merchants themselves,” he said

Hitching Rewind’s wagon to the Shopify “rocket ship” can be a risky gambit, Potter acknowledged. That’s why the company has been diversifying its services as of late with other big-name SME service providers.

While a year ago Rewind’s revenue flow was almost exclusively tied to Shopify, today it’s closer to 75 per cent.

“The total pie is going up but the relative percentage of how much we’re dependent on them has gone down,” Potter said. “We’re hoping that it goes lower.”

Keeping things fresh

As Rewind attempts to establish itself as the next big player in Ottawa’s software scene, Klipfolio has been proving its place for nearly two decades. The dashboard developer recently brought in Owen Sagness to lead as CEO, a role held by co-founder Allan Wille since Klipfolio’s inception.

Wille dropped by Techopia Live to talk about the decision to hand the reins of his company to Sagness after 17 years.

“A lot of companies should look at this and evaluate it on an interim basis,” he said.

In Wille’s mind, every founder needs to consider the fact that the visionary who started the company might be better suited in a product-based role rather than steering the entire company’s direction. He said Sagness complemented his leadership style and was the right person to step in at the right time.

The failure to make shifts when needed can sink even the strongest of startups, he added. Success today doesn’t mean success tomorrow, and companies should always have one eye on what’s coming around the corner to ensure the product is ready for swings in the market.

“Many companies don’t think about innovation and build it into their culture as much as they perhaps should – us included.”

Wille recommends trying to make your own product obsolete whenever possible. Finding a bit of traction in the market can make companies complacent; the real innovative solution could still be out there if a firm is bold enough to keep looking for it.

Year-long value

Asked to step out of his shoes and put himself in the mindset of an entrepreneur just starting out in the software space, Wille told Techopia Live that he’d come into SaaS North looking for a couple connections to contemporaries that could add value to the company after the conference ends.

“It’s not how big your network is, but if you can make one or two connections here that can then turn into local advisers … I think that would probably be the most important thing,” he said.

For Rewind, Potter said there have been a number of learning opportunities for the company’s employees attending the show’s panels and talks on topics such as pricing strategies in SaaS. He said he’s also been making connections to potential investors in the crowd as the firm might look to raise another round in 2019.

“(It’s) one of the best conferences I think I’ve ever been to and the location is fantastic. We haven’t had to travel anywhere to get all that benefit,” Potter said.