The Climber

David Suydam of Architech discusses how advances in his company’s lean and agile methods have yielded unprecedented success

David Suydam got his feet wet in software development consulting while attending the University of Toronto.
David Suydam got his feet wet in software development consulting while attending the University of Toronto.

David Suydam’s foray into the world of software development began with his family’s first computer in the 1980s, and as a high schooler, he was a fledgling hacker spending his free time in the student computer lab. By the time he could purchase his own computer, he was more than proficient in programming, and the skill eventually led him to create his own start-up: Architech Solutions Consulting Services, Inc. Today, Suydam’s nine-year-old company specializes in building custom software for companies interested in maximizing their technology investment, and it was recently ranked 112 among Canada’s 200 fastest-growing companies, experiencing 412 percent growth in the past five years. Below, Architech’s president and founder speaks with Advantage about striking out on his own and the success he has had with his agile software development methods.

Advantage: When did you begin kicking around the idea of starting Architech?
David Suydam: I began consulting when I was a student at the University of Toronto. I spent five weeks in London doing database work before I even had my final exams. I like to say that consulting’s in my blood. My first job was working for Clearnet [acquired by TELUS], helping with their integration, but early on I started thinking of consulting on my own. In the software development field, you have a better chance of having an impact if you work with a strong team, so it made sense to form a company.

When Architech was first starting out, what were some of its biggest challenges?
We had one major client during our first three years of business. Having a single client is risky, so I decided to branch out and land additional clients. It was a critical early decision that really helped us diversify and find our identity. Another challenge we encountered was that clients wanted to meet at our office, but we didn’t have an office; we did everything virtually. I like to say that we became a “real” company after five years, with a real office and a staff and payroll—the whole deal. Starting a business can be a real roller coaster. For a while, I wished that I’d done an MBA, but now I’m glad I didn’t.

Through the Years

1998
Earns BS degree in computer science from the University of Toronto

1998–2004
Consults and performs software development for various companies

2004
Founds Architech out of his business partner’s living room

2008
Establishes Architech’s first commercial office space, with 13 staff members

2012
Places 112th on the Profit 200 ranking of Canada’s fastest-growing companies; lands in SPI Research’s list of the Top 10 “Best of the Best” Professional Services firms in North America; gets listed as the fourth-fastest-growing tech firm in Canada

2013
Occupies two floors of a historic building in Downtown Toronto, with approximately 85 staff members and growing

What are some of the most common reasons your clients seek you out?
Our clients seek us out because of our reputation for creating great custom web, mobile, and cloud applications. They know they can’t become world-class with a software product their competitors can buy off the shelf, so they go custom. We take a customer-first approach and apply agile, lean thinking to build great software.

How do you account for the massive amount of growth Architech has experienced in the past five years?
We chose “agile” as our software development methodology, and agile is causing massive
changes in the software world. The old waterfall method doesn’t work anymore, and in the midst of competitive pressures, there’s the expectation to build software quickly and to test it quickly. The traditional way of building software doesn’t work that way: the US government, the Toronto Airport, Intuit, Salesforce.com—the list of those adopting the new model is getting longer, and we’re on the right side of history with this. Our growth comes from our ability to embrace agile methods, build great custom applications that are cost-effective, and help our clients get better at what they do.

Your company website says Architech specializes in “Creating Software Joy.” What does that mean exactly?
It goes hand-in-hand with why we’ve been so successful; it’s about creating a great end product. It’s software that adds value, looks great, functions perfectly, and increases productivity. I feel strongly that this can be best accomplished with agile methods. I’ll use the analogy of building a house: In the end, you’ll find that the house is lovely, but the process was atrocious. You were over budget, building was delayed, the contractor was doing dumb things, etc. The same can often be said of the software-building process. So much software development doesn’t use common sense, especially when old methods are in use. “Creating Software Joy” is about having the opposite experience.

What do you like most about what you do?
Many of our staff members will tell you that they learned more in a couple of months at Architech than they did in a year working somewhere else. It’s great watching people grow and getting to know what people are passionate about and what drives them. On a regular basis, I have lunch with three different staff members. It’s amazing what can come out of this free time where we can talk about anything. That’s what I enjoy most: being surrounded by smart, inspiring, supportive people.