By John Craig
The importance to emerging Canadian companies of being focused on winning deals outside of Canada.
As the co-founders of Purple Forge, Brian Hurley and I placed a significant amount of emphasis on exporting to the U.S. and around the world to get our business started. For those of you who don’t know Purple Forge, we develop and sell mobile applications as a service for politicians, event organisers, governments and interactive marketing firms. We are headquartered in Ottawa, Canada with offices in the U.S. and resellers around the world.
In 2009, we had a very simple idea — developing mobile applications for community engagement. The idea was to allow organisations to reach out to their key constituents to broadcast their news, events, social networking feeds and other information. These constituents would then share this information using their own Facebook and Twitter accounts, and then the organisations would ask these people to perform activities to the benefit of those organisations.
Cool, right? We thought so – and we wanted to prove it. So where to start? Well there was always the Government of Canada, which was in our own backyard. We knew the sales cycles are 18 months or more, and it was very conservative about adopting new technologies that hadn’t been proven elsewhere. We needed to find a customer who was willing to take a risk. Better yet, was willing to take a risk and would pay us to do it. That way, we could prove the value of the idea.
Staking a claim in California
I had a connection with the Republican Party of California. I begged and pleaded and was offered an opportunity to sit on a panel session to discuss mobile technology as it was to be applied to political organisations. The rest of the show was an opportunity to network with some of the campaign teams and sales teams. Fall 2009 was a very ripe time in the California political scene. It was the lead up to the 2010 governor’s race and senate race. The entire state house and senate was up for re-election.
I ended up meeting another panelist who was running Chuck DeVore’s campaign for U.S. Senate. Chuck was the dark horse in the Republican primary (he was up against Carly Fiorina) but he fit our profile; he was a risk taker, and was interested in the application of new technologies to his campaign.
Three months later we issued the first mobile application ever used in a senatorial primary race in the U.S. Four months after that we were awarded the American Association of Political Consultants Pollie award for the development of the most innovative mobile application applied to a campaign in 2009/2010. I was also named the top Republican mobile campaigner in the U.S. This U.S.-based start gave us the confidence and the experience needed to continue to sell in the U.S., as well as to return to Canada and start selling here.
My anecdote may not apply to every type of company out there, but if you are a Canadian company building something new with broad market appeal, you had better get a handle on selling to the U.S. California’s population is the same size as Canada, and the U.S. as a whole has 10 times the market size. It’s critical to establish a beachhead in that marketplace if you have plans for thriving. Canada is just too small and conservative a market to prove many new ideas.
Levering that ‘lighthouse’ customer
We did two things really well in entering into the U.S. market. The first was finding a lighthouse customer in Chuck DeVore. Chuck agreed to provide us with quotes and let people know he was dealing with Purple Forge. This paved the way for us to sign on Nathan Fletcher, who was a California assemblyman, and later Meg Whitman, who was running for governor of California.
The second thing we did was to establish resellers catalyzed around our customers. Chuck introduced us to RaiseDigital, a leading social media marketing firm he was using in the Washington, D.C. area, which subsequently signed on as a reseller and helped us land a congressional candidate. RaiseDigital also introduced us into the event space where we developed the mobile application for CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, held each year in D.C.
Resellers often have a wider scope of market understanding and influence and can introduce you into some very interesting business if the relationship between your product and their clients is well understood and lucrative for all parties involved.
The end result of this U.S.-first market approach was that we were able to take a leadership role in the application of mobile technology to U.S. political campaigns, which opened some doors into the event market as well. It also allowed us to come back and enter the Canadian marketplace with a U.S. pedigree. We are now able to directly connect our U.S. experience as the reason why we ended up winning business with the Green Party of Canada, the Calgary Stampede and, most recently, our work with the Canadian government on the royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
John Craig is the co-founder and VP of Sales and Marketing for Purple Forge (www.purpleforge.com).