Rob Bennett

  • Article
    Immigrants develop software and IT firm with 50 employees - AOT Technologies see more

    Source: Times Colonist 
    Author: Andrew Duffy



    Praveen Ramachandran, left, and George Philip of AOT Technologies: Expertise across the applications spectrum.

    Foreign brain drain huge gain for Victoria tech
    Immigrants develop software and IT firm with 50 employees

    Greater Victoria’s technology sector has been blessed with world-class post-secondary institutions, research facilities and a climate and setting that helps to attract both workers and companies.

    It’s also evident the sector has inadvertently reaped benefits from the U.S. immigration system.

    Citing the number of hurdles to clear to just study or work in the U.S., to say nothing of the length of time it takes to become a citizen, several young tech entrepreneurs have opted for Canada, and the shores of Victoria for a chance to spread their wings.

    The young Indian men behind early-stage start-ups Pani Energy and HRG Infrastructure Monitoring are here because the U.S. presented problems. The rapidly expanding Freshworks Studio — also founded by Indian-born entrepreneurs — is headquartered here because visas, immigration and being able to start a business would have been much more difficult in the U.S.

    It’s a story George Philip and Praveen Ramachandran, who went to school together in India, know too well.

    The 37-year-old friends and collaborators founded AOT Technologies in Victoria seven years ago, after both worked separately in the U.S., but saw long and difficult paths to citizenship and a chance to start their own businesses.

    In Canada, they saw a chance to once again work together, and seven years along their company is about to take flight.

    AOT Technologies started with the idea of establishing a consulting and software development firm that would provide services to other companies.

    This year, AOT, which first hit the $1-million revenue mark in 2015 and hit $3.3 million in 2018, will hire 20 people, bringing its payroll to 50 employees, and will have established offices in Vancouver and Seattle.

    Sitting in their new Sayward Building offices — 2,000 square feet in the 1200-block of Douglas St. in the heart of their adopted city — the two founders say it’s an exciting time, and that after seven years of working to establish their business and their reputations it’s time to flex their muscles.

    “We both had an idea of developing our own products and we are both passionate about software development, so we wanted a platform that would fund our ideas,” said Ramachandran. The business model includes IT consulting, contract product development for other companies and producing their software applications.

    “We feel we are really on a growth track,” he said.

    Rob Bennett, chief operating officer at the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council, said he’s not surprised AOT is taking off.

    “Their growth rate is phenomenal. I’m not surprised they are able to do it because of the sorts of individuals they are,” he said.

    Bennett saw them first hand when AOT went through VIATEC’s accelerator program with a software product.

    “Both AOT and Freshworks were in the accelerator and both at one point faced dire circumstances, a turning point. Their tenacity got each of them through it,” Bennett said.

    “When the tough got going, they got tough. They are both rocketships and they have numbers of people both here and [India] and have the flexibility which ends up allowing them to do all sorts of contract work.”

    He noted their market timing has been good.

    “This is the age when everyone wants a customized app on every platform and people don’t want to ignore the web,” he said. “Well, these companies have the expertise across that spectrum.”

    AOT’s growth has been paced by a steady stream of government work. Philip said the province’s new procurement strategy has opened the door to smaller firms to bid on complex and interesting projects.

    That has done a couple of things for AOT, he said.

    “That’s’ really helped us to grow,” he said of a firm that specializes in integrating large enterprise IT systems.

    It has also enabled AOT to attract and keep top-end talent, which has been known to leave either for more money or for more interesting work.

    The company has a program, again designed to keep top talent, that allows all employees to pitch a project each month. The one that gets the most votes will be funded by AOT.

    “We are still in our early stages, but we have a proven business model and proven we can make high quality software ... and that we can compete and win government contracts and deliver on time and on budget,” said Philip.

    He said that’s brought them to the point of serious expansion, which he looks at as an opportunity to export the Victoria advantage — collaboration.

    Philip said the collegial nature of the tech sector allows small and mid-sized firms to partner to go after bigger business in places like the U.S.

    “As we go outside of this market to bring [those companies] together at the table to other markets. It’s a Victoria capability we can bring,” he said.

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    Without having looked at the app, Mod responded that he had found a few bugs and would be willing... see more

    Source: Times Colonist
    Author: Andrew Duffy

    After-work networking has been a blessing for a new local software firm that was just recognized as one of the best mobile application developers in Canada.

    FreshWorks Studio, named by technology research firm Clutch to a top-10 developers in Canada list based on market presence, portfolio and client satisfaction, can trace its early success to a few networking meetings and a beer-inspired social media conversation with one of its new contacts.

    “I just wanted to catch his attention,” Samarth Mod says of a late-night note sent via Facebook to tech veteran James DeGreef, founder of ChatterBlock. Mod and business partner Rohit Boolchandani had been struggling with their company, AirSenze Solutions. Mod responded to DeGreef’s social media request for feedback after ChatterBlock launched a mobile app.

    Without having looked at the app, Mod responded that he had found a few bugs and would be willing to share his findings with DeGreef, who he had met briefly at a VIATEC networking event.

    The ChatterBlock CEO offered to meet and provided an incentive — a pint or restaurant item — for each bug Mod could find.

    For Mod and Boolchandani, it was a case of having nothing to lose, but knowing they had something to offer to the Victoria tech scene as application developers.

    The pair did manage to find bugs, had the meeting and the pair ended up working on ChatterBlock’s app for Android devices. DeGreef was impressed and invested in what would become FreshWorks.

    “It was the jockeying, not necessarily the horse,” he said. “Rarely do you find more than one guy who is really awesome [in a company], but I found two who had worked together a long time and had complementary skills. Both were very smart strategically and both were hustlers.”

    DeGreef also saw opportunity in mobile applications, and the fact Mod and Boolchandani had a stable of engineers they could source work to in India, while keeping the design and project management in Victoria.

    The bet has started paying off. Apart from recognition by Clutch, which Mod said immediately translated into clients and new business leads, the nine-month-old firm has more than $500,000 in work booked this year and has grown to a team of eight employees.

    Some of the mobile apps created so far include work for the City of Victoria, B.C. Highways, Vancouver International Wine Festival and provincial ministries.

    It all seems to have started with a few beers.

    Mod and Boolchandani came to Canada, and the University of Victoria, to do their MBAs.

    Boolchandani, chief operating officer and co-founder, was the first to come in 2012, choosing UVic because of the climate, affordability and the people.

    “[In India], we were making an application for RBC Royal Bank and for Bank of America and Barclays, but there was always something nice about talking to Canadians,” he said of his old job.

    So when the pair decided they would leave India to establish their own firm, Canada moved to the top of the list. That was solidified, said Boolchandani, when they realized visas, immigration and being able to start their own business would have been much more difficult in the U.S. Mod came to Canada a year later.

    He said most of the advice he was given suggested he needed to immerse himself in the tech scene. That meant networking whenever possible.

    “My first email was to Rob Bennett at VIATEC and he said come down to an event, and that he would be the tallest guy serving beer,” said Mod. Bennett, an industry veteran who is as well connected as anyone in the city, introduced Mod to a few people. One of them was DeGreef.

    Mod said the networking sessions showed him there was an opportunity in mobile applications, and that there was a shortage of software developers. “We thought there was a real opportunity.” While the pair admit they made plenty of rookie mistakes, they also kept learning from other company leaders. “And we didn’t quit. We just started to listen more,” said Mod.

    Their eyes are on serious growth, defining a niche within the mobile application space and cracking the U.S. market.