What’s your background in the it industry in canada?
I’m a technical engineer by training. My first job as a software developer in Montréal.
Then, a colleague of mine and myself left the company and started and Internet service provider called Inforamp back in 1994 when no one knew what the Internet was. We grew that to be the largest dial-up service provider in Toronto before it was bought in 1995.
After that, I co-invested and worked for Isolation Systems, which made virtual private networks and we sold that.
Then I worked for a venture capital firm and got involved with Q9 as a VC in april of 2000. In January 2001, I officially took the job of CEO at Q9. I like the company so much I accidentally recruited myself.
Question: Your business has expanded quite a bit in recent years. Can you talk about your strategy for managing that growth?
Different companies are affected differently by growth. We certainly had tremendous revenue growth. We didn’t have a tremendous number of employee growth. So, we’re about 100 employees now, which you could argue this is a sizable amount, but it’s not 1,000.
That’s just because of the business model where we leverage our assets, which are the data centres. The revenue doesn’t have to grow linearly with the number of employees, such as in a professional services firm.
That’s not to say we don’t have challenges. Any company that goes from a handful of employees to 100 has challenges. We manage them — we’re a very process-oriented company. We have very solid systems in place.
What is the fastest-growing area in the your business?
We’ve been doing pretty much the same thing over the last five years. The entire business is growing, and we still sell the main revenue streams, which is co-location, bandwidth and managed services. The percentages have changed slightly over the last five years.
What’s the biggest misconception about handing an area of your business over to a service provider?
In our business, the biggest misconception is that this is a commodity product. You get the same thing whether you go to Q9 or any one of its competitors. I think this is an educational process on our end, and once we educate the customer, it becomes very clear this is not a commodity business.
This is a business where there are high variations in the level of customer service you get and there are high variations in the infrastructure that you’re buying into.
In August of last year, your company experienced a router failure that resulted in about an hour of downtime for some customers. Can you talk about how you manage the relationship when something like this happens?
You have to put the event into perspective. In the grand scheme of things, we’ve been operating for more than five years with a fantastic track record. I like to give the example of going to an airline CEO and saying, “Are you sure you’re never going to have a plane crash?” They’ll tell you they’re doing everything in their power not to have one: “We buy the best equipment, we do the best maintenance, we train our personnel, but we can’t guarantee.” This is the premise we operate on. We believe we have the best design, the best people, the best processes and procedures, but we can’t foresee everything. In this case, due to a bug in some vendor’s software, we got caught off guard and it caused an unfortunate incident.
So we communicated to the customers and informed them of what was happening. Post-incident really customers are looking for two important things: What happened and what are you doing to mitigate the risk of it happening again? We know these are the two most important questions. We were very forthright.
What recourse do customers have when something goes wrong?
We have service level agreements in place that stipulate a certain financial penalty for the amount of downtime. (That incident above) resulted in a non-material financial penalty to Q9.
What are the next growth steps for Q9?
We have a two-pronged approach: The first part is organic growth, which has been keeping us quite busy for the last five years. We also have a great balance sheet and lots cash where we can look at opportunities. A couple of years ago, we bought our Brampton centre for a fraction of the price. We were able to capitalize on that because we were the only guys around who understood the business and who sat there with a cheque book that could write a $12.5-million cheque.
What are the qualities that make an effective leader?
Someone who surrounds themselves with really good people. The effective leader is one who recognizes they are more of a coach than a player. Using the sports world analogy is appropriate. The coach usually can’t throw a ball if their life depends on it, but they get guys who can and their role is to assist them in doing their job and making the team cohesive. That’s how I view myself.
Are there new areas of business companies are looking to outsource?
In the last couple of years a few things have happened. We have this whole power density issue that’s come up with blade servers. They’re becoming a fire hazard. Lots of companies are realizing they can’t have a little server room in the back of the office. It’s time to go into professional infrastructure.
The second thing we’ve seen is disaster recovery starting to be taken a lot more seriously than it has in the past. This has been driven by being a public company or a supplier to a public company.
The last trend we’re seeing — it’s in the very early stages — is the whole convergence onto IP networks, voice over IP, which is turning big centres such as Q9 into the central office of the future.
What keeps you up at night?
I sleep very well, but my 17-month old son sometimes keeps me up.