Fenix Solutions, an Ottawa-based web development firm, knows what it takes to design an eye-catching website.
But when you work with Fenix, you get so much more than just an optimized site that stands out in a crowded online marketplace. You also get a truly personalized, hands-on service. Building long-term relationships with their clients, the crew at Fenix makes it their business to understand everything about your business. With a diverse set of clients that include Nokia and the Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Fenix team also build apps, portals and ecommerce solutions. We sat down with their Executive Director, Chelsea MacDonald, to learn more about Fenix's unique approach to modern tech problems.
Tell us the Fenix story - how did the company get started? How many employees did you have at the beginning?
Fenix started in the midst of the ‘dot com bust’ in Ottawa in 2001. Nortel had laid off 10,000 employees. The web company our CEO, Jennifer MacKinnon, was employed at was also downsizing.
After being asked to stay and help rebuild the company, Jennifer thought, “Why not build something of my own?” That something became became Fenix Solutions.
We first opened our doors in 2001, from a modern office space on Bank Street in Ottawa. We offered web and interactive development, so even way back then we were a technology-oriented company.
The team was modest: Jennifer was in sales & client services, and we also had a designer, a programmer, a project manager, and a handful of clients. Growth really only happened 10 years in to our adventure. 2011 onward has been the highest growth years and stability for us so far.
Now, in 2018, we exclusively offer web technology and software development. We work with companies looking to leverage the limitless opportunities of the web to run their businesses through online automation and workflow consolidation.
The tech industry is very male-centric, but we’re happy to see that Fenix has a female CEO and several women in management positions. How has the industry evolved over the past few years in this regard?
It’s evolved in the sense that more women are becoming aware of the technology industry as a career choice, whether through a STEM perspective or the many non-technical - but business critical - roles available in these companies.
Also, the industry is slowly shedding its image as a male-only domain due to the efforts of organizations that are supporting women in tech careers and providing education and training.
In my opinion, the greatest impact has come from the women who are running tech companies and building their VP and C suite level careers in tech. They are leading by example and inspiring others. The more we share their stories, the more it inspires and informs other women to consider tech as an option for themselves.
Jennifer has met and profiled over 50 women in Ottawa alone in the last 4 years through her online column Ottawa Women of Wonder. When women share their stories it inspires others and shows them that they, too, can make a career in tech or start their own business.
When a new client comes to you, how does the design process begin?
Often, what a client says they require needs to be interpreted to discover the true pain point they are trying to resolve or achieve. So the process beings for us by asking questions and practicing active listening.
Our technology vision is fuelled by a strong, complete understanding of our clients’ goals and what they hope to achieve at the end of the project.
We are highly customer focused; the entire team plays a role in client satisfaction, which means everyone on the team has ownership and accountability for the project’s success.
Why did you choose Rebel for your VPS hosting solution?
Two big reasons: service and location.
If we have an issue, a question, or just need advice, there is always someone at Rebel to address it. And the price for this service is exceedingly reasonable; this is a cost all our clients can absorb.
The ability to always reach someone at Rebel is further complemented by Rebel being located in Ottawa. Although location shouldn’t matter, it is nice to have someone in our city and timezone to resolve hosting issues. We’ve been to the Rebel offices, we are not far from your headquarters and this provides a more personal level of service.
Tech evolves quickly. What changes do you think we’ll see in the next 5-10 years in terms of how we use the internet?
There are two areas we are keeping our eye on: privacy and artificial intelligence. And although they may seem contradictory, they are actually quite complimentary.
The advances we expect to see in AI over the coming years make privacy regulation all the more critical to regulate. Essentially, the need to establish a universal set of conventions and laws for AI usage, adoption, and implementation worldwide.
The general public will benefit from AI through automation and profiling to help solve specific problems, match interests, build algorithms and patterns of behaviour, and the creation of seemingly intuitive computers.
For online software builders like ourselves, it means re-thinking how systems are architected, how our clients can use AI technology responsibly and leverage the opportunities it offers.
However, this comes with a price on privacy. With GDPR, we expect other countries and continents to adopt similar privacy regulations, which requires companies to be more responsible about the data their websites collect and store.
What advice do you have for businesses who are just starting out? How should they build their online presence?
Start smart: Start your business off right by incorporating properly, establishing a Shareholder Agreement (if you're in a partnership, this is essential), setting up the share structure, and so on.
Although it takes 10 minutes to incorporate online, it’s important to think through your partnership arrangement from the start to have options later. It will save you time, money and headaches later on.
Run a fiscally responsible business: This means not spending money you don’t have and/or spending all the money you do have. Instead, it means running the company for longevity and years’ worth of financial returns vs. one good year and going out of business.
Hire professionals: Hire a bookkeeper and a lawyer. Right. Now.
A lawyer is essential to develop your Shareholders’ Agreement, Employment Contracts, and so on, which protect you and your company. You may not need them often after that, but having one you know and trust is helpful in an emergency situation.
A bookkeeper is 100% essential for the day-to-day running of the company, including payroll tax, HST remittances, corporate taxes, and more.
A bookkeeper will work closely with your accountant as they prepare and submit annual corporate tax filing, tax planning, and other accountant related strategies.
Hire well: Every hire has an impact - positive or negative - on your company. Someone who helps your business is worth their weight in gold.
What’s next for Fenix?
We have never aspired to be biggest company. But we do want to be the best at what we do. This means hiring the best employees, putting our best effort forward with clients, raising our standard for programming excellence, and continually improving.
This means Fenix will continue to offer innovative technology solutions with a highly personalized experience for our clients, while continuing to develop the careers and skill sets of a highly passionate group people.
And finally, we will be focusing on giving back to the community in which we live. We are ready to build up the social enterprise side of our business to make a more meaningful impact on the world in which we live.