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The Story of Delvinia: The First Five Years


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The Story of Delvinia: The First Five Years

  1. 1. The story of Delvinia1998-2013
  2. 2. Introduction
  3. 3. 3 The story of DelviniaWhere do you start when you want to reflecton 15 years of running and building a busi-ness? Taking a moment to look back, I realizethat it is important to reflect, learn, celebrateand look ahead – but never second guess. Ifeel blessed that I have had the opportunityto pursue my own path for 15 years, followinga dream, adapting to change, buildinga team, creating jobs, servicing clients,achieving goals, meeting lots of new peopleand building relationships that will go wellbeyond my working days.I have spent my entire career following apath driven by passion and a vision thatinteractive technologies would changethe way we communicate, work and play.Looking at the world from a user-centricpoint of view, you know that it’s not simplyabout creative, technology or content.Rather, it’s about how you apply all of theseto create better digital experiences that arerelevant to the user.I always knew that the power of interac-tive technologies gave the user choice andcontrol. But until there was a critical mass ofusers to make the innovation associated withtechnology secondary to their behaviours,the realization of its potential would be justthat – a concept. We knew that we would beevangelists – preaching the gospel of whatthis could be, and living on the bleeding edgeof innovation.When I knew that we would be reachingour 15th anniversary this year, I realizedtiming was everything. We had just comeout of the second brutal economic downturnsince I started Delvinia, and we were seeingthe business growth that made the pain ofmanaging through the last recession feelworthwhile.A vision is not static – it is constantly evolvingand changing. When I started my business,I equated my vision with simply knowing inyour gut what the opportunity was. You couldsee the silhouette but you couldn’t exactlymake out how that opportunity would berealized. You knew you had to take this path,because you felt it deep in your soul, but youwere also frustrated that you couldn’t clearlyarticulate what “it” was in one sentence.Since then, I have discovered that main-taining my values and integrity are key tolongevity in business – for me anyhow. Inbusiness you have to make many tough deci-sions. Some of those are not popular ones,people get disappointed or even hurt. Theychallenge you even when it is the necessarychoice. Other decisions are easy and giveyou hope that all the pieces are falling intoplace. For better or for worse, you have to bewilling to make decisions and be accountablefor them. At the end of the day, any choicesI have made have been based upon beingable to look at myself in the mirror afterwards.While it hasn’t been easy, I can honestly saythat I can live with all my business decisions.Over these past 15 years I have learnedhow to run a business. I have learned howto manage cash flow. I have learned thatyou can’t control economic downturns – youcan only foresee them and try to managethrough them. I have learned what it meansto be an entrepreneur. I have learned toIntroductionWe knew that wewould be evangelists –preaching the gospel ofwhat this could be, andliving on the bleedingedge of innovation.
  4. 4. 4The story of Delviniaface scenarios where I thought there wasno way out, but somehow find a way to pullourselves through when we thought wewould surely collapse. I have learned thatour approach to creating customer experi-ences works. I have learned to promote ourbusiness. I have learned to hire people, tofire people, to build a team. I have learnedto trust my instincts. I have learned to pushmyself out of my comfort zone, because itis here that you really grow. I have learnedthat when I push others out of their comfortzones – some can handle it and others can’t– they all learn. I have learned to trust people,even though they may disappoint you. I havelearned to build a culture based upon mypersonal values of transparency, authenticityand loyalty. I have learned that with a strongsupport system around, you can work throughany challenge. I have learned humility. I havelearned to listen – okay – well I’m still learningthat one. I continue to learn from everyonethat I work for or with. I have learned to giveback. I have learned to never stop learning.I have learned that being passionate aboutwhat I want to achieve, that never giving up,that accepting that the path I am on is notstraight, has allowed me to look back at whatI’ve accomplished so far and to clearly seewhere I want to go.After 15 years, my passion has not dimin-ished. I am as excited about the digitalcustomer experience now as I was 15 yearsago. Probably even more so. I am exactlywhere I should be, with the right people, inthe right business, on the right path. Thefog has lifted and my vision has never beenclearer and the path to get there seems muchstraighter.Fifteen is a good number. It exudes longevity,but not being passé. Taking this time to reflecton the past 15 years gives me the opportunityto remember why I started down this path inthe first place. Sharing my story is only justthe beginning. My hope is to have otherswho have been part of my journey share theirthoughts as well. Together our stories will putfurther context to the business, the entity,the brand that I have spent the past 15 yearsstruggling to build.
  5. 5. The First Five YearsAugust 1998 to December 2002
  6. 6. 6The story of DelviniaMy company was founded in August of1998. July had been largely spent in meet-ings sitting in a booth at Bar Italia on CollegeStreet with my fellow founding partners,Sam Punnett, Bill Sweetman, and WarrenCoughlin. If you have ever sat in a booth atBar Italia, you may have noticed that thereare electrical outlets on the ledge above thebooths. You can plug in your computer and sitthere all day, which is just what we did. We allhad visions of running our own business inthe digital space, and that summer was allabout strategizing.Six months earlier, I had made the decisionto leave Braxton Associates, the strategyconsulting arm of Deloitte where I hadthe opportunity to work on some excitingconvergence engagements. I wanted topursue building my own business in thedigital space. I was still part of the InteractiveMultimedia Arts & Technologies Association(IMAT), at the time the largest digital mediaassociation. My involvement in running IMATduring the ‘90s, and providing input into digitalpolicy in Canada, was a great way to take onsome consulting projects as I figured out thebusiness I wanted to build.Sheridan Scott, who, at the time was theChief Regulatory Officer for Bell Canada,was representing the Stentor Alliance, whichwas mandated by the CRTC to create a fundto support the “next generation” of content– being digital. Sheridan wanted to consultwith digital producers from across the countryabout their needs for funding digital content.Given my involvement running IMAT, sheknew I could pull together the right peopleand she hired me to hold a series of round-table discussions in various cities across thecountry. This was my first engagement after Ileft Deloitte.Sam, who I had gotten to know through IMAT,was available to help out and we worked onthe project together.Around the same time, the CRTC was holdinghearings on whether it should try to regulatethe Internet. Sheldon Levy, now the dynamicand forward-thinking President of RyersonUniversity, was the President of SheridanCollege at the time. Sheldon asked Sam andI to help prepare a position to the CRTC onbehalf of the college. That project, along witha number of others involving clients who werealso making submissions, meant I was busyfrom the start.At the same time, the dot-com boom was infull swing and there wasn’t a week withoutanother IPO coming out of Silicon Valley,Seattle or Boston for not only pure-playtechnology companies, but for new onlinebusinesses that were going to displace thetraditional brick and mortar ones.I wanted to tap into this with more than just apolicy and research firm. And so did Warren,Bill and Sam. Warren, who had worked withSam and I on a small engagement, had lefthis career as a lawyer and was looking forsomething new. Bill, who I had also gottento know well through IMAT, and who built theMultiMediator website—the first resource forthose in the digital industry in Canada—wasjust leaving a partnership in a digital PR firmand was also interested in doing somethingmore exciting in the digital space.So, Sam, Warren, Bill and I went through aseries of five strategy sessions, each buildingon the other. We first discussed what we didNOT want to be, which led into a discussionof what we DID want to be and do.We all knew we had services that the marketwanted and a combination of skill sets ofWe first discussed whatwe did NOT want to be,which led into a discussionof what we DID want to beand do.
  7. 7. 7 The story of Delviniawhich the sum was greater than the individualparts. There was so much opportunity.We decided that if we were going to be astrategic digital firm that we needed to workdirectly with clients, since working throughanother company would relegate us to simplybeing a production shop. We listed our coreattributes as a group. It’s interesting to lookback at it today, because it really hasn’tchanged. These core attributes were:We defined our service focus, which wasbased upon two areas. One was our fee forservice consulting and the other area wasour venture side of the business.Our fee for service business was split intotwo service lines. The first was the policyand research side where we tracked whatwas going on in the digital industry inCanada, informed policy makers as to thepotential of digital media and advised clientswho were trying to understand their role inthis new digital media landscape. The secondwas to provide consulting services that wouldhelp companies that were trying to determinewhether they even needed a website, to buildone in a way that was both relevant to theirbusinesses and relevant to the customersthat they wanted to interact with.The venture side of the business was morelong term – and our real passion. We wantedto be set up to conduct our own R&D anddevelop our own products. Consulting wouldbring in the profits and retained earnings,and then it was our goal to leverage ourconsulting services to finance our innovation.Helping clients solve their digital challengesand develop interactive products would leadto identifying and spinning off someinteresting ideas that could be incubated asfuture business opportunities.We initially launched our business as theMultiMediator Strategy Group (MMSG)since we had not yet developed the namewe wanted, but we liked the MultiMediatorname and what it represented in the market-place – a guide for those interested in digital.In 1999, through a visioning exercise todecide what name would best fit our busi-ness, we came up with Delvinia. Delvinia wasthe perfect name. It presented an image of“delve in and dig deep” which was how weapproached developing digital experiences.More importantly, we had not seen the nameDelvinia anywhere, and www.delvinia.comwas available. Our brand vision was focusedon “a fascination and drive to solve businessproblems using the power and potential ofinteractive digital technologies.”Our brand identity was about creating interac-tive solutions driven by knowledge to help ourclients make better, more strategic decisionsabout their digital activities. We also wantedto demonstrate that we were driven strate-gists and passionate about the digital space.This hasn’t changed.There were many organizations that wereemerging as strong digital firms. While thetendency in most digital firms was to build aproduction capability in house, we wanted tofocus more on the strategy behind what we• Analysis• Vision• Expertise• Relationships• Strategy• Experience• Independence• Profile• IntegrityOur brand identity wasabout creating interactivesolutions driven byknowledge to help ourclients make better, morestrategic decisions abouttheir digital activities.
  8. 8. 8The story of Delviniawould eventually build. In my mind, building alarge production studio would handcuff us tosell production work to keep the engine alive.I wanted to be able to focus on the strategyas our core competency, and then buildand launch website and digital marketingcampaigns after we had worked through thestrategy process. We kept only the designcapability in house, and we scaled our tech-nical production capability using variousfreelancers. This business model made senseto me.We had landed some major clients andworked on some very interesting and highprofile projects. Some of those projectsincluded helping to promote the launchof, CBC’s first foray into the digitalspace and developing their e-merchan-dising strategy. 1999 was when we beganour 14-year working relationship with RBCRoyal Bank, to launch their online bankingpilot by working on their digital marketingcampaign. It’s hard to believe that onlinebanking was only launched in 1999. We alsohelped Harlequin Enterprises build its NorthAmerican website – – andincrease their online audience of romancenovel readers.The digital media industry was still in itsinfancy, and after spending most of the 1990’spromoting this industry, we founded andlaunched the Canadian New Media Awards(CNMA), in order to build recognition forthe companies, individuals and products inthe Canadian digital industry. In the digitalindustry we were always the poor cousin tothe television, film, advertising, and consultingsectors. The CNMAs became the pre-eminentawards program in Canada for the digitalindustry, building profile for digital on its own.In 2009 we merged the CNMAs with Next-Media and Achilles Media took it over fromus. During its 10th anniversary in 2010, theCNMAs were rebranded as the Digital MediaAwards (Digis) which are still running strongtoday.Our digital strategy and marketing side of thebusiness grew very quickly and it wasn’t longbefore we had 40 people under our roof.In November 2000, I was asked to be thekeynote speaker at the Canadian Associa-tion of Broadcasters national convention,providing a glimpse into what the futureof broadcasting would look like. We reallythought this was going to be the turning pointfor the growth and presence of our businessand the Canadian digital media industry. Littledid we know that a week after the convention,the dot-com bubble would burst.This was the first time where we had to facewhat I called, “looking down the shotgunbetween my eyes.” Like most of our industrycolleagues, because the earnings of the newIPOs had failed to realize the promise of whata dot-com IPO would deliver, investors werepulling their money from these companies,companies were shutting their doors all overthe place, and the traditional industry playerswere praising themselves that this “Internet-thing” was just a fad. I didn’t know we wouldgo from feeling like we were on top of theworld, to seeing our dreams evaporate beforeour eyes.I still remember June of 2001. I don’t think Islept a night that month. We were faced withagonizing business decisions, potentiallydevastating our dreams and all that we hadinvested, and constantly feeling like we wouldget crushed under the weight of everythingthat was going on. The terrorist attack ofSeptember 11th threw the world into a deepstate of fear and depression and everyonewondered how it could possibly get worse.We all believed theInternet was not goingaway, and that it wouldbecome more ubiquitousin everyone’s lives.
  9. 9. 9 The story of DelviniaDuring this period, we had to look hard atwhether there was a future for this business.We all believed the Internet was not goingaway, and that it would become more ubiq-uitous in everyone’s lives. Consumer choiceand control through the use of digital tech-nologies would be the future. We all held tothe vision that once the dust settled the lastcompanies standing would not only survivebut thrive.Somehow we made it through this period.We could finally exhale and decide where wewanted to go next. We had survived the mostdevastating correction in the digital spaceto date, and the first economic correctionsince we had launched the business. It is stillhard to believe that we made it through thiseconomic downturn. Looking back, I couldn’thave made it through this period if I had nothad the partners I had at the time. We reallypulled together to manage through the mostdifficult period of all of our careers to thatpoint.By the end of 2002, we were battle worn,and at a crossroads for the company. Bill,Sam and Warren decided that they wantedto pursue other ventures and leave Delvinia.I believed that there was still value in ourbrand. We entered into a negotiation forme to buy them out of Delvinia. While thedot-com crash had taken its toll on all of us, Iwas still passionate about where the businesscould go. While I was disappointed that ourdream was not going to be realized together,I appreciated that my partners were willing tonegotiate with me to retain the Delvinia brandand allow me to continue on with my dream.At this time, I had a three year old and a oneyear old at home, and my wife Sharin wasdeciding whether she would go back to workor stay home with the kids. I remember sittingdown with Sharin to tell her about the deci-sion my partners and I had made. She lookedat me and said, “You have been through a lotover the past couple of years, we have ourtwo kids, our mortgage, maybe you shouldjust get a job.” I definitely had some toughdecisions to make, and I had to ask myselfwhether I could carry this vision forward onmy own.The best thing about starting the entrepre-neurial part of my career with partners wasthat I didn’t have to make any decisions bymyself; it gave me a sense of confidence tomanage through difficult situations. We madealmost every decision by consensus, and thisworked for us through our good times andparticularly during our challenging period.While negotiating the buyout of a businessfrom partners is not always pleasant, I appre-ciated that though the partnership had takenits course, I had met three very honourablepeople that I still have respect for today. Theyall left the business in a manner that allowedme to continue the path we had embarked onfive years earlier, without compromising theintegrity of the brand we had built.However, the real question was whether Ihad the self-confidence to make decisionsby myself going forward. It was one thing topossess the intestinal fortitude to pursue anentrepreneurial career path, but having totrust my own instincts, that was different.Ultimately I had to and it was then that Irealized I was cut out to be an entrepreneur.Looking back now, although I was nervous, Ihad a sense of calm and I knew I could do it.Throughout 2002, while we were managingthrough our recovery, I had started to spendmore time with Steve Mast. Steve joinedDelvinia in 1999 as the Director of ClientService for our Digital Marketing business.He had become an important person in ourorganization. I realized that we shared a greatBy the end of 2002, wewere battle worn, andat a crossroads for thecompany.
  10. 10. 10The story of Delviniadeal of the same vision of where we could gowith the business. He had the same drive andpassion as I did, and he was also intriguedwith the idea of developing our own innova-tive products and services.Steve and I spent a lot of time talking aboutwhere the industry was going and where thebusiness could go. I told Steve that I wantedto keep the Delvinia brand.As the next chapter of our journey began, Irung in 2003 with only Steve and Craig Tothill,our technical specialist, and the determinationthat I had no choice but to succeed.
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