MEET CANADIAN CLOUD COMPUTING
In the ’80s, Wally Kowal spent his spare time in the university computer lab, learning about technology. “The geeks would say, ‘You’re doing a business degree. What are you hanging out down here for?’” Kowal recalls. His typical response: “Someday computers are going to be big for business.”
With that in mind, Kowal spent three decades working for tech companies—including Rogers Communications Inc., which is now Canada’s largest wireless provider—during the cell-phone upsurge. In 2009, he turned entrepreneur as the president and founder of Canadian Cloud Computing.
1. Be faithful to the customer
In IT, there’s too much religion, says Wolly Kowal, president and founder of Canadian Cloud Computing. People swear by one technology to the exclusion of others. But customers simply want the best option. That’s where Kowal’s MBA training comes in handy. “I’m not a devout follower of any technology,” he says. “I just want the right solution for the customer.” For example, his company adopted commercial software when open-source options failed to offer adequate support.
2. Incubate to proliferate
Small-business incubators provide a “rocket ship” of support, says Kowal, who moved into the Communitech Hub in September 2010. “Not only does it offer beautiful, modern office space in a rehabbed tannery building, but it also houses government assistance programs and major law, consultancy, and accounting firms,” he adds. To boot, Communitech connects entrepreneurs to angel investors.
3. Seek knowledge first
Before investing, talk to colleagues, competitors, and potential clients. Kowal spent a year researching within the tech community and ended up recruiting his partner, Phil Leighton, to manage operations. To keep a pulse on trends, he maintains contact with most customers, although his team has grown to five members. He also organizes the local Cloud Camp, an “unconference” for early adopters of cloud computing.
4. Be human in a world of machines
Answering the phone in person can be a big differentiator. “That might not sound like a big thing, but try to find a phone number for Google, Amazon, or Azure,” Kowal says. Large incumbents cannot offer personal service because of low pricing, or cannot offer affordable service. “Our staff makes us successful,” Kowal adds. “Even though we are fundamentally a technology company, it is the people who drive the technology and serve customers.”
5. Customize to mass produce
Global players either offer a limited range of services that customers must integrate on their own, or they focus on large, complex deployments at a very high cost. “When we develop custom projects for small and midsize companies, it helps us understand their needs—which virtually no one is doing,” Kowal says. “We can then build templates and packages that suit the entire segment and sell them widely.”
6. Serve the underserved
Successful businesses offer a solution to a problem, Kowal says. He launched his company as a remedy for those looking to store their data within Canada who were frustrated by the shortage of local providers. He found that certain industries, such as finance and medical services, require domestic data storage by law. Moreover, Canada is viewed internationally as a safe zone with fewer privacy concerns than the United States.
“We try not to compete with the large players but find market segments they cannot serve efficiently,” Kowal says. “Our strategy is to be what they are not, sell what they cannot offer, and serve the markets they ignore—namely, small and medium-sized business.”
7. Pace growth
Kowal recommends a sustainable business plan that avoids massive up-front investment. For him, that means keeping a small sales force for better customer service and integrating products as needed, just as he advises clients to do. (“We look at the cloud as a journey, not a destination,” he often says.) While expanding, instead of rolling out several products at once, Kowal put the customer-centric Trusted Cloud Vault backup service first. “We plan to introduce desktop virtualization, but since it is still evolving, we have opted to wait for rollout,” he says.