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.