Calexis

Our company was the first agency in Canada to start building websites on the internet back in 1994.  We saw the opportunities and plunged forward. It took some figuring out, some investment and some staffing to organize into an area that was new to everyone.

We built sites for about 15 years and did a lot of other digital projects, all in support of clients communications needs.

But we sure missed a few chances to turn ideas into unicorns.  We were right there in the space and even did the work, but failed, big time, to see the huge opportunity.

Early on we declined clients requests to be an ISP. They wanted access to the internet by phoning us to access the web. We felt the ISP role offered little added value but would be more like a phone company with low rates and the need for volume.  Not us.  Turns out we were right and the phone companies and cable companies picked it up.

We were also asked to provide email addresses to go with their domain names. We promoted it because it brought attention to their sites. It occurred to us that many folks without websites would want email even though they had no site, so we registered “mailcentral.com” to provide web based email services.

What we didn’t do, was market the idea.  We were busy with our regular advertising business.  Time passed and along came Jupiter, Hotmail. AOL and many others. Soon the Mailcentral idea was redundant.  STRIKE ONE!  A total whiff!

By the late 1990’s, clients were asking us to send out mass email blasts to their customers, so our programmer solved the problem and developed a spooling program that would allow us to upload a list from a spreadsheet and send out a graphically enhanced message to all of the addresses in the spreadsheet.  Happy client.

We built in templates for each client division.  Then we set up other templates for other clients. It was a service for we could offer over and above building sites, an additional revenue source.  Clients loved it. But in reality STRIKE TWO!!  Mailchimp launched in 2001 and now owns the category with about 3 billion customers.

As an advertising agency, we earned our revenue by commissions and selling employees hours.  Commissions were easy to track for our accountants, it was mark up on incoming invoices.  Personnel hours were harder.  Getting people to fill in time sheets in a creative industry is a hard discipline to enforce and keep accurate.

We decided to make a web based project management portal for employees.  It allowed us to create projects, automatically alert everyone of the new project and provide a time sheet that tracked hours.  We also added scheduling for vacations and tracking of sick or personal days.  As each function worked, we added more functions such as billable supplies or equipment use.  Because the system was web based, employees could access it from wherever they were.

Our accountant would check each week to make sure people had entered their hours from the week before and remind them to do so.  It was easy to use and our accountants could create job reports with hours spent by project, by week or by individual at any time.  Invoicing could include an hours report by individual if we wished.

When we were investigating a merger quite a few years later, our potential partner was amazed at our system.  They had been paying thousands a year for the same kind of support software.  We should have been marketing ours.  STRIKE THREE!!!

Instead we created a website called Cangolf which covered Canadian golf pros on all the tours.  It got reasonable readership, about 35K per week, but that was not enough to make it a successful business.  It was before Google ads and selling the space cost as much as the revenue we received.  We bonused ad space to clients, gained a little revenue and a little good will; but, it was not enough to maintain.

There were other ventures we tried as the internet age dawned.  Sometimes we were ahead of the curve so people’s psychology was not ready to accept them, and sometime we were too late. Timing can be everything.  So many of the online stores would have gone broke for lack of customer confidence in the late 90s, as many online store ideas did – and I can think of many.

Let’s give credit to Amazon for understanding how and when to expand their online offerings from books, to CDs to everything.  Many of the early competitors didn’t time their offerings as well and went away.  Like our ideas went away.

The lessons are of perspective, timing and commitment.  You have to recognize the broader need than your own interest and that others will be willing to pay for what you have done.  You have to also be committed enough to the idea to package it up and begin to marketing it.

Based on these we never made it to first base.

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