What they do: Mobile Technology
With 15 years in the books, LIXAR is one of the more mature software companies in the city. They specialize in mobile solutions for a variety of sectors, with clients throughout North America and abroad. Quietly building its portfolio, it’s chosen to stay under the radar. That’s now changing with their new workspace. As CEO, Bill Syrros says, “It’s even the first time we’ve had a sign on the building”.
Over a year, LIXAR has completely transformed a warehouse in Ottawa’s east end (They have affectionately coined the term Eastboro) into a vibrant, yet professional environment. Using music genres as a theme, furniture has been handcrafted to resemble old 45 LP’s or a set of turntables. Their main board room table has quotes from acts like Elvis Presley, BB King and Aerosmith, engraved into the surface. Even fedoras have been recycled as lamp shades. Mix in whiteboard tables, brick walls, steel beams, polished concrete, draft taps, a $7000 espresso machine and a giant graffiti installation; and you have a serious contender for Ottawa’s coolest office.
Syrros spoke with Invest Ottawa about why they chose “Music” as a theme and how they want to support their new community.
How do you describe what LIXAR does for people not working in technology?
I take a very practical approach. I grab their phone and say, “You see these apps; we build them for larger companies.” You know a mobile app isn’t something that’s just sitting on a phone; it has a huge array of component pieces. We build the cloud infrastructure, the backend or any other pieces that speak to the app.
What’s the core problem you are solving for clients?
We’re living in an era where people are used to going into work and watching their computer boot up. Now we are taking people’s work and mobilizing it, giving them tools to take on the road.
Although we are building software, what we are really pitching, is innovation. We ask, “What’s your problem?” Then we figure out what the solution can be and expand on it. For some clients, it’s hard to see that far out, so they’ll just stick with a mobile solution. But others ask, “What’s happening in the world of wearables? What does it mean for me?”
If we were going to spend another 15 years doing this, we wanted to create a place that completely represents our culture and vision, for the rest of our working days. So this place is representative of a place where I’d want to hang out the rest of my working career.
How did you choose music as the theme?
When we started out the company, we’d always be listening to music. We would talk about trends and go to a lot of concerts together; we were the goofs in the front row waiting for the guitar pick to be thrown at us. So for most people in this company, if there is one consistent thing that we can get together and enjoy, it is music.
What I find interesting about your space is that the trend for technology companies is to create a space with a young feel. However, this space has a more mature feel…
Well…yeah! We call it “Mature Tech” (laughs). We are not a startup company and we don’t need to act like a startup in order to be innovative. And we have a mature staff with families to go home to. They won’t be here all night working their butts off, going down slides, drinking beer and playing ping pong – cause’ that’s not what they want to do; but they still want to work hard, connect and have fun.
But a social environment is obviously still a key component of your culture….
Because we out-grew our space so quickly, one of the biggest complaints at our old office was “We don’t have spaces to be social; we don’t get together anymore.” And with nobody interacting, I realized it might be impacting our ability to collaborate in terms of technology. So in the first weeks here, I saw stuff being done, I hadn’t seen in years. I have staff that have been with me for a decade, suddenly saying, “Bill have you thought of doing it this way!” and I say, “No, but I want to hear about it!”
…I keep thinking, my god, I can’t believe we screwed that up.
You are engaging the local community at a very hyper-local level. Talk a bit about what you are doing?
LIXAR has always had a social conscience. We were supporting a village in South Africa, and we sent orphan kids to a World Cup game. When we decided to move here, we thought about getting more local. So we are hosting a ball game as part of our grand opening event, where the LIXAR Lightning will face off against the Ottawa Champs Boys and Girls club team. We are also looking at other ways to help the Boys and Girls club; whether it’s reading with the children or playing sports or doing whatever it takes.
What do you see happening in the Ottawa Ecosystem?
We build up huge companies and when things go south, these companies disintegrate into a thousand startups. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for high-tech companies now, as technology is constantly evolving. And there is a lot of VC money out there, in my opinion. People can build companies and flourish in Ottawa, no different they do in Silicon Valley.
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