In Dave Veale’s most recent Leadership Unleashed interview he talks to Rothesay entrepreneur Kevin Belyea, president of Spartan Systems and founder/president of paper42 about running his business from his home office. Here is the full interview with Kevin – published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, December 14th.
A NEW BRUNSWICK SOLUTION TO A UNIQUELY CANADIAN PROBLEM
Kevin Belyea, owner of Spartan Systems and founder of tech startup Paper42, is integrating work and family life while living his entrepreneurial dream.
A certified management accountant, Kevin was first a client then an employee and eventually the owner of Spartan Systems, a traditional IT consulting firm that provides outsourced IT services.
Being an accountant has been a perfect fit for Kevin when it comes to adding value to his clients. Spartan Systems provides IT support for businesses and they are also that second set of eyes looking at the business processes – they can help make strategic decisions not just related to IT but to the overall systems which ultimately helps improve their clients’business.
Kevin’s newest venture, Paper42, has been in business for one year. Also headquartered in Saint John, Paper42 is a Canadian cloud-based file sharing solution very similar to some of the American solutions in the market like Dropbox, SugarSync and Box.
Our conversation started with me asking Kevin about his initial jump from the corporate world into the life of being an entrepreneur.
A: There were certainly a lot of people that asked why I would leave to be self-employed. I always said that the worst thing that was going to happen was that I would get some really good experience.
[Tweet “The worst thing that was going to happen – I would get some really good experience. – Kevin Belyea”]
Q: Was there a defining moment where you decided to take the leap?
A: After mulling over it for years and years, I came to the realization that I was going to do it before I turned 30. I put a lot of energy into making sure that it happened and it all panned out. That was 10 years ago.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: When I was in my mid-20s I realized that I wanted to have that flexibility to set the course of my own career. To do this I would need to be self-employed and to have my own company.
Q: What was it like to reach your goal of owning your own business before you turned 30?
A: I’ll never forget it. The day after we had our first child I bought my first business.
Q: Spartan Systems is your second child?
A: Pretty much. It was long days on both fronts.
Q: What was the process of acquiring a company (Spartan Systems) versus founding a startup (Paper42)?
A: With Spartan there was an existing, very stable, client base. I was able to step into the ownership role by working with the previous owner for a couple of years and then transitioning him out of the business. I wouldn’t say it was seamless but it went quite well and according to the expectations I had. It certainly wasn’t a startup like Paper42 where I’m starting from scratch.
Q: How did Paper42 come to life?
A: Paper42 really came from some clients of Spartan Systems that were looking for a solution that I wasn’t offering at the time. I spent some time looking at the market and determining if there was a solution that would meet their needs and I couldn’t find one in Canada. One of the key factors my clients were looking for in a cloud based file-sharing solution was that their data did not leave the country. For various privacy reasons, certain industries are required to store their data in Canada – medical, legal and education, among others.
Q: So Paper42 was born from a gap you saw in the market?
A: After spending some time looking at the market and looking for a solution I realized I wasn’t going to be able to offer my clients anything – or to refer them to anybody else. This became an opportunity for me to see if the market would support a business offering this type of solution.
Q: How did you turn your idea into a business?
A: In July 2012 I spent five months looking for solutions,doing research,trying to get an idea of what size the market was, who the players were in other countries and what the competitive advantage was that I could offer by having a Canadian solution. By December of 2012, I launched Paper42, a totally Canadian-based cloud storage solution.
Q: Since the launch, what are you learning about this space?
A: We’ve had customers since day one. What I’ve learned is we have to alter how we’re targeting our customers. Initially, my thought was that we would find all of our customers online and we had to have a really good online presence, be part of social media discussions surrounding cloud security, file storage and data privacy. In the last four months I’ve realized that we really have to shift back to more of a traditional marketing model combined with an online presence.
Q: How has your customer attraction strategy shifted as a result of this learning?
A: We can’t expect to have all of our customers finding us – we have to go and find some of them and focus on verticals like private health care and professional services such as legal and accounting firms. It’s been great shift because we are growing. We are adding new customers all the time.
Q: How is the service offered?
A: Paper42 is a software service solution. The customer does not have to buy a bunch of equipment or hardware or storage space. We want them to come to us and engage us on a monthly basis to supply the service to them.
Q: How do customers get started?
A: It’s really easy. They just go to our website. There’s a ‘sign up now’ button at the top right hand corner.
Q: What differentiates you from American competitors?
A: We store all of our customer’s data in Canada so we can adhere to Canadian privacy laws. That’s our big difference.
[Tweet “We store all of our customer’s data in Canada. – Kevin Belyea”]
Q: Paper42 is a Canadian story but it’s really a New Brunswick story, isn’t it?
A: Yes, it is. My goal is to keep Paper42 a success story in New Brunswick. We have clients from coast to coast and we are able to service them very effectively from here. I want all my employees to be here for as long as possible. As we grow, this will always be our home base. We opted to invest in our own infrastructure and the data centre we use is owned by the City of Fredericton. It’s a tier-three data centre called e-Novations.
Q: What do you think of the entrepreneurial environment in New Brunswick?
A: I think that the environment in New Brunswick is great. There’s a lot of support for entrepreneurs locally and across Atlantic Canada. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better environment in the country.
[Tweet “You’d be hard-pressed to find a better environment in the country. – Kevin Belyea”]
Q: What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?
A: Probably one of the most challenging aspects is turning it off at the end of the day. Running your own company is a very rewarding job but I’m always thinking about ways that I can make it better or that I can grow it or that I can pursue a new opportunity.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence:”A leader’s job is to ”?
A: A leader’s job is to bring out the best in their team and encourage them to grow to their full potential
Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com A leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John.