Year founded: 2003
What they do: Hosted PBX Software as a Service
From Alexander Graham Bell to Steve Jobs, there has been a lot of change in the telecommunications sector in the last 140 years. Ottawa has had a hand in contributing to this innovation by being the first city to lease telephones for commercial use to Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie in 1877, followed by the first common battery telephone system in Canada installed by Bell in 1900. Now, a local company called Versature has decided to continue tradition of evolving technology by creating a business phone service that is accessible over the internet. Their “Hosted PBX” phone service facilitates a localized atmosphere by allowing employees the freedom to connect from wherever they are in the world. With this, companies are no longer faced with the limitations of using a physical server (which resides in a single place) by allowing users to make and receive phone calls on the web.
We met with CEO Paul Emond in the Versature’s newly renovated home base to discuss his company and his thoughts about living and growing a business in Ottawa.
Explain what your company does to someone who isn’t in the tech industry.
Our company provides phone systems for business, but we do it in the cloud hosted model. All that the company gets from us are phones, and we do everything else. The intelligence in the system happens up in the cloud.
When you say “up in the cloud”, it means there’s universal access to this?
Yes. This works really well for companies that have multiple locations because they can all talk to each other through 3 digit extensions. It also helps mobile workers, or people who are working remotely, to be a part of the same system that people in the main office are part of. For example, if an executive goes on holidays in Mexico, he can have the same kind of connectivity (as long as there’s Wi-Fi or Internet) that he could have back at his office back at home. He can take and receive calls as if he was in the office and nobody would know the difference. It makes collaboration much easier.
As you have been expanding and building over the years, what made you decide to remain in Ottawa?
Ottawa is a great place to build a business; and not just build a business but also to raise a family. It’s a great size, the commute times from one side to the city to the other is virtually nonexistent compared to big cities. The nicest thing is that we are close to Montreal and Toronto, so it is very easy to get to those major centers. The only knock on Ottawa was that the nightlife is poor, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. With the market, Elgin Street and now Lansdowne, it’s a great city all over.
Do you find yourself hiring a lot of local talent in Ottawa?
Yes, part of that is the bilingualism that we need. We are servicing all across the country, so more than half the people we have are bilingual. We can switch back and forth pretty easily to service the customer in their native language, which is a huge benefit.
What companies excite you?
We model a lot of our stuff internally based on Salesforce.com out of the US. A lot of things they do, we think they’ve got it right in a number of ways. We think Shopify is doing an amazing job in being ambassadors for the city. We also like Esight, [a local company] which makes visors for legally blind people. They have very interesting technology in Ottawa.
What do you think about the ecosystem in the ICT sector, do you feel that we are in a growth period?
I see some really innovative and exciting companies in Ottawa that are just getting started. There’s a lot of potential in Ottawa, we just need one or two of these companies to hit and we will have some really exciting times ahead.
Why do you think Ottawa is a great place to grow a business?
Ottawa is a great place to grow a business because there’s a lot of support in the community. There are other business owners who are willing to share best practices, there are organizations in town that do a great job of giving us the support we need to build and grow. We put a lot of effort into growing this company; we are trying to make it a shining star in Ottawa.
One thing never to underestimate?
The thing that I watch closely, even now, is cashflow. I am watching to make sure we don’t run out of cash. Early on, I had a lot of lessons and I couldn’t make payroll and I had to dive into my credit card. Cash is going to burn you if you don’t watch closely.
Paul Emond, President & CEO of Versature
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