When one of the world’s most successful corporations chooses you to represent them, you know you’re good. But when you develop a web application and they choose that too, you’ve got it made.
So goes the story of Halifax technology company Sheepdog Inc., which was selected to be an authorized reseller of Google’s new platform of web based messaging and collaboration applications, called Google Apps.
Sheepdog founder and president Brandon Kolybaba, and creative director Julia Rivard, saw the potential of Google Apps to revolutionize the way business operates, to save organizations significant amounts of money, and to simplify business technology.
“Google Apps is a web-based tool that enables organizations to run their e-mail, store their documents and collaborate across offices without physical infrastructure. Your entire network is situated online, eliminating the need for servers and software in-house, and reducing the requirements for IT support,” Kolybaba explains.
He says organizations can cut their costs to one fifth by switching to Google Apps, and that’s what drew him to the technology. There are currently two million businesses running on the platform and tens of thousands are signing up daily.
Kolybaba engaged in the Google Apps certification process and followed it through to become an authorized reseller, which means Sheepdog works with entry level clients get them set up on Google Apps and customize it to their business.
“The cost to set up and maintain a traditional IT infrastructure is expensive. You have to house the servers and software onsite and you need staff to run the technology and fix it if it breaks. With Google Apps, it’s all on one webpage. It’s a solution that never goes down, and it’s extremely collaborative.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Sheepdog is working to create new business applications that can work with Google Apps, as well as other platforms. Early in 2010, Sheepdog launched GTrax, a time tracking tool that enables employees to track their work, link it to job numbers, and automatically add components from their calendar.
“GTrax takes some of the onus off the employee by adding meetings to their tracked time, and by helping monitor how long it takes to do specific tasks during their work day. Not only that, but it can instantly link to client jobs. For people who have to track their time for work, this really streamlines the process,” Kolybaba says.
Sheepdog is a remarkable success story. Three St. Francis Xavier University graduates started the company in 2000. Originally called Norex, the company developed websites and software, but always maintained a strong focus on programming.
Calgary native Kolybaba met up with Rivard in 2008, when she was running Dartmouth-based graphic design company Queen Street Studios. Rivard has a background in marketing and graphic design and is a graduate of Dalhousie and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She was also a member of the national kayak team and competed in the 2000 Olympics in Sidney, Australia.
Kolybaba and Rivard joined forces under the Norex banner and built the business beyond web design, into a software development company. Kolybaba joined forces with another Antigonish IT expert, Shawn Wilkie, to launch Sheepdog as the entity to build the Google Apps capabilities, and Norex has recently been absorbed as part of the overall Sheepdog brand.
“The business has been evolving continually to build on our strengths,” says Rivard. “Our software development capabilities are extremely useful now that we’re focusing on building business apps for Google.”
Rivard and her team have strong software development experience on a regional and national level. They developed software for the 2009 World Canoe Championships that could deliver race results to global followers via internet and mobile devices. They also worked with the Canadian Olympic Commission to develop a medal counting widget that delivered medal updates to Olympic athletes on their mobile devices.
Rivard’s competitive background shows in her approach to business. She and Kolybaba are determined the company will make a name for itself in the global technology community.
“The level for entry to work with Google is extremely high. I think we can say we have one of the strongest development shops in the region because we’ve reached the level we have,” Rivard says, adding there are currently only 50 Google Apps developers in the world, and Sheepdog is the only Canadian company that recently launched an application for the Google Apps Marketplace.
Kolybaba and Rivard say Sheepdog had to invest a great deal in training to become qualified to develop applications for Google and become a reseller of the Google Apps platform. They explain that it’s not something just any company can or is willing to do.
“We put in a substantial effort to create this opportunity for ourselves. We had to prove ourselves over and over. It was a tough process to become certified with Google, but the potential rewards are worth the investment,” Rivard says.
Sheepdog recently opened an office in Los Angeles, and Kolybaba and Rivard foresee expanding their sales team to other locations, but insist it’s important to keep their developers under one roof here in Nova Scotia.
“We have a fantastic staff of 30 to 35 developers, designer and project managers. We have two PhDs on staff, and not many companies in our space can say that,” laughs Kolybaba.
Kolybaba says he and Rivard plan to take some staff members to the Google I/O conference in May 2010, which brings together thousands of developers for two days of intense technical learning. Sheepdog is one of only three Canadian companies presenting at the conference.
“It’s good to surround yourself with the best so you can see just how good you are,” Kolybaba adds.
Kolybaba and Rivard both feel that Nova Scotia is a good base to build their business because of its size, and the amazing people here.
“If you need to connect with someone influential, you can get a meeting relatively easily in this market,” says Rivard. “Also, if you’re willing to work you can probably grow your business more quickly here. Our staff is unique and they’re really happy working and living here in the province.”
Originally from North Bay, Ontario, Rivard says she finds Nova Scotia a great place to live. The pace of life can get to you in bigger cities but Nova Scotia is a bit more laid back. But she reinforces that no matter where you live, it’s hard work that leads to success.
“We’ve really done it all on our own. Our success is the result of hard work and the investment we made up front to achieve our goals. You have to work hard and be super highly motivated, but that hard work eventually pays off.”
And there’s nowhere to go but up. Rivard explains that there is currently more demand for Google Apps applications than companies to create the technology. Sheepdog is positioned to take advantage of that market.
“It’s up to us to be successful. We have a chance to get a piece of a very large pie. The pie is so large at the moment that we’re swimming in it.”