When Eric Chouinard decided to start a company from scratch 16 years ago, he never dreamed that today he would be leading a $50 million business. While in university, Chouinard could see the dawning of the digital age, and he also saw an opportunity to bring services to the new, exciting market.
“It was the right time and the right business—digital media was just starting, and it has only continued to grow,” Chouinard says. “It’s central to how the current generation plays, works, and communicates.”
Managing Quick Growth
Ensure your customer service remains consistent
Slow down the hiring process to ensure you hire the right people
Admit your mistakes, correct them, and move on
Worry too much about the competition—provide exceptional
service, and your customers will grow with you
Let the growth overwhelm you—develop a strategic plan and follow through
The core of the company—iWeb Inc.—is focused on scalable Internet hosting infrastructure solutions with dedicated servers, managed hosting, cloud computing, and colocation services. With more than 240 employees, the company serves 26,000 customers in 150 countries around the globe. And even though iWeb was named one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies, approximately 80 percent of its business is outside Canada.
But the picture at iWeb hasn’t always been so rosy. Increasing competition and severe growing pains have presented the company with numerous challenges on its path to success. The company also experienced some financial growing pains as well, choosing to go public in 2004 and then taking the company back to private in 2011 to preserve its liquidity and financing strength.
One of the company’s ongoing challenges is standing out in an ever-crowding field of peers. So how is iWeb different? “Our infrastructure centres around one dedicated server per customer,” Chouinard says. “This setup allows our customers optimal control, flexibility, and power.”
Chouinard also keeps the company’s customer-service philosophy simple: Never go down. “More and more income is generated through the Internet and social media,” he says. “You simply cannot go down, so we invest a great deal of capital into infrastructure and understanding our customer’s business so we can continue to provide the best solutions for their business.”
iWeb’s customer base centres around small to midsize companies with the majority of new business being driven through the Internet. Chouinard found out, however, that while growth is good, it brings its own set of issues. When the company went public in 2004, annual revenue hovered around $1.3 million; however, between 2008 and 2011, revenue doubled from $25 million to $50 million—and the amount of work along with it.
“Our growth did not come through acquisition or new customers but through our base of customers experiencing tremendous growth and, in turn, trusting us to support them as they grew,” Chouinard says.
Tremendous growth also means a need for more human capital, so iWeb found itself also doubling staff while it doubled revenues, and, as time went on, Chouinard made sure iWeb’s staff had the skills to run a bigger business. “I found myself really focusing on making sure we were hiring the right people to do the right thing, starting with top management,” he says. “We really took our time with the hiring process and ensuring the people we hired also supported our culture and vision.”
Managing the culture and vision—particularly from a customer-service perspective—presented another challenge to Chouinard, who had to effectively manage the brand and culture of the company while managing the growth. “Some customers felt when we were smaller, they received better service, so we had to figure out how to operate like a smaller company within the structure of a bigger corporation,” he says.
Chouinard is quick to admit he has made mistakes along the way. One lesson he’s learned is letting someone else do some of the work. “For a while, we were developing all our applications internally and spending millions of dollars doing so,” he says. “Now we outsource those needs to application development companies, which are specialists in their various areas and are continually refining their product.”
iWeb now hopes to take the lessons it learned over its three years of growth and forge ahead into new, developing markets, including Latin American and the Middle East. “We just approved our three-year strategic plan with a goal to be at $75 million by 2016,” Chouinard says. “However, my personal goal is to be the guardian for shareholders, customers, and employees, making sure each group understands their value to the company while we maintain our vision for the future.”