Tag Archive: Utopia Image Inc.


Advertisements

In September 2007 we, at Utopia Image, started to put together a team that was going to be supporting our technical support division for Videotron.  Our deployment plan was given to us by Videotron and required us to ramp up a certain number of agents by the end of October. Every technical support agent that was hired needed to follow a seven week training in which they had to pass all 4 exams before they could start working in a production environment and take customer calls. Failure to pass the exams meant they had to be let go. Therefore, it was important that our trainers were qualified and our management staff had the ability to hire great individuals in order to make sure that most of our hired agents would make it through. Initially, it wasn’t the case! Many agents were failing exams and the quality of some of the ones who were succeeding wasn’t great. We experienced many problems structuring our technical support division and training of our future technical support agents. The main reason was due to the lack of experience our team had in that field.  In October 2007, I received a visit from the general manager of Videotron telling me that if we weren’t going to be able to effectively structure our service within a week, our partnership was going to end.

During the prior 12 months, I worked very hard on building my credibility with many stakeholders at Videotron. Throughout that time, I was extremely transparent with my goals and my strategies with them. I wanted them to truly understand that my objective was to make them succeed in their respective roles at Videotron. During the months we worked together, we were able to establish a very strong relationship, which was much more than just a business relationship. Doing so, was the key for our early success! Things got really hard in October 2007 and if I wouldn’t have been able to establish that initial relationship, I would have never had the second chance I got in October. Many people within Videotron wanted us to succeed because they really got to know me personally and truly understood my values. They knew that my objective was to make sure everyone wins! They worked really hard in helping us structure our technical support department and together we succeeded. Today, almost three years later, we’ve become one of their most performing and reliable partner in helping them increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty!

I cannot stress enough the importance of establishing a strong and honest relationship with your customers. In every business, there will be good and bad times and we as entrepreneurs need to make sure our customers enjoy the good times with us and help us during the bad times. That is how I think we can build strong partnerships and successful companies.

To the whole Videotron team: Thank you!

Anthony.

Once our operations stabilized and were running effectively, I needed to start focusing on how I would finance my growth and future opportunities with Videotron as my personal line of credit was already invested in Utopia Image. I got to learn, pretty quickly, what I had been told for so many years, by so many people: You need money to make money!

During 2007, we didn’t really have any liquidity since most of our expenses were related to our bi-weekly payroll and our receivables came in on average every 45 days. Hence, the liquidity we had was to cover our short term expenses. One of my themes for 2007 was “Sleepless Nights”. We had tremendous financial pressure to support our payroll and our expenses with only our receivables because we weren’t able to get any financial support from our bank. Every pay week was a struggle, but we made it every time with a couple of dollars to spare. The particularity of our services, which was responsible for this financial pressure, was that as Videotron increased their demands for our services, we needed to hire additional people to support the demand and incur the expenses immediately, while receiving payments for our services at a much later date.

After meeting with executives from Videotron, in April 2007, and securing our technical support contract, we decided to negotiate a working capital loan with the BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) in order to finance our move to our larger office. With the help of the working capital loan and a couple of capital leases, we were able to finance the acquisitions of IT & Telephony equipment and office furniture.

Finally, after securing the technical support contract, we were able to transfer our financial accounts, in December 2007, to the RBC Bank and secure a larger working line of credit which helped us, in the short term, with our cash flow and growing operations.

Anthony.

During the summer of 2007, I had the opportunity to catch up with Alexandre Abecassis, an international patent agent for Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP. I had initially met Alexandre while working, during my university days, at a research laboratory at ETS University. We went for lunch in July and I took the opportunity to update him about my company. After our discussion, we agreed that the process developed at Utopia Image was innovative and we had an opportunity to file for a patent. There were a couple of strategic reasons why we decided to file for a patent so early in the company’s existence. The first one was that once the innovation is disclosed publicly, we only have 12 months to file for the patent. We had disclosed our innovation to Videotron in September 2006. Therefore, if I wanted to file a patent I had to do it before September 2007. The second reason was that by filing a patent for our innovation, I would be able to enhance the credibility of Utopia Image in a short time frame. Due to these reasons, I decided to file our first patent in August 2007.

Looking back today, filling for the patent, was a significant step taken in our company’s evolution which still has a great impact today when negotiating with financial institutions and potential future customers. If everything goes as planned, we should receive the official patent in the near future. Alexandre Abecassis played and still plays a very strategic role for Utopia Image, not only as an extremely intelligent patent agent but also as someone who is able to challenge ideas in order to make them evolve into strategic applications. He has great business sense with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Anthony.

UI_logo_002The year 2006 was when everything got started. The objective at that point was to successfully establish a real cash flow in order to give us some breathing room to grow our company. Our focus, in 2007, was to solidify our relationship with Videotron to increase our value in their eyes enabling us to increase our services with them. To do so, we needed to analyze where the growth opportunities were and position ourselves to win that business.

An important aspect that needed to be taken care of early in 2007 was the optimization of our survey software platform. In its initial development, it was not meant to take on high transactional volume and was starting to show some signs of inefficiency. Since we wanted to grow our survey services we really needed to enhance our software platform. Therefore, in early 2007, Abdel Toukebri, a senior software developer, still with us today, was hired to take over the development of our software, which we named UI Contact. I can sincerely say that the timing of Abdel’s hiring was crucial and, looking back, most probably one of the most important steps we took. He truly helped us stabilize and enhance our UI Contact platform, which in turn helped us effectively grow our survey services with Videotron.

After many months of discussions with key people at Videotron, we discovered an opportunity for growth, which was to offer them a technical support outsourcing service. Having already four other partners, offering them the same service, Videotron saw great value in partnering with us as our future call center division was going to concentrate exclusively on technical support services. Our current 2000 square foot office would no longer suffice the call-center requirements of our new project; we therefore decided to start looking for a new office space. We looked at many different options, from buying a building to leasing an office space. Out of all the options we looked at, all of them but one would have made us fail if we had chosen them. Thankfully, we chose the right option. Once again, that decision was due to a great coincidence. Before having made our final decision, we were looking into purchasing a building. This is when we met Martin Vallée, a great person who really looked after our best interest and who I would recommend to anyone. As the negotiation for the building purchase moved forward, we began feeling doubtful that it was a good fit. At that point, Martin mentioned that he had some office space in Laval for rent that was not publicized because he was mandated by the government and that it would have been possible to negotiate good leasing terms. We finally decided to lease the 8000 square feet of office space recommended by Martin. Looking back, choosing that option was another critical decision we made, which still plays a major role in our success today. The terms we got in our lease were extremely advantageous and enabled us to expand our business without too much risk.  Had we chosen another avenue, we would not be where we are today. The move was in September 2007 and by the end of that same month we started offering technical support for Videotron’s consumers.

To conclude, 2007 was a big year for us all at Utopia Image. We went from 13 employees in 2006 to 27 at the end of 2007. We developed our outsourcing technical support service and moved to a new office. Another milestone was achieved in August 2007 when Utopia Image was finally able to pay a 36,000$ salary to its President. 🙂 Finally, as a team, we were slowly putting pieces in place to ensure long term success for us and our partners.

In retrospect

When we were looking at office spaces, we didn’t really put emphasis on proximity to public transportation or location. I didn’t really understand the dynamics of running a call center, having come from a telecommunications background. It was with a little luck that circumstances led me to lease the perfect office space for our needs, located in Laval, and close to public transportation. This enabled us to have a call center in a region with few’ competitors,  creating low turnover, and providing access to a pool of great individuals who preferred not to make a long commute to the city.

One of the lessons learned was the importance to analyze all the possible internal and external factors that can influence the success of a project. In our case, the location of the call center was crucial to our success and had a direct impact with the level of quality we were going to be able to offer our partner. Coincidence and/or luck should not dictate the fate of our project. Although, as much as I believe that extensive planning and hard work play a major role in success, I still believe that positive coincidences happen when our intentions are good and we are steering in the right direction.

Here is a quote I got from Ken Morse, my MIT Mentor:  “Luck favours the well prepared”

Anthony.

UI_logo_002Utopia Image finished the year with a slim profit and a total of 13 employees. Even if I was heavily indebted and my personal income was very minimal, I was extremely grateful and excited of having an opportunity of possibly creating the next Cirque du Soleil! Who knows where this great experience will bring me… I guess we will all find out at the same time! Whether I help develop Utopia Image as the next great Quebec based company or simply enjoy the accomplishment of creating a company from the ground up, one thing is for sure, this opportunity has given me and will continue to give me the privilege of meeting and building great relationships with extraordinary individuals while enjoying a great sense of self accomplishment.

Next: Utopia Image’s second year (2007)

UI_logo_002After receiving my initial contract from Videotron, I began working with my brother David Lacopo, a digital artist, (who also designed this blog’s great banner) to design the initial corporate branding and website. This is where I came up with “BRIDGING THE GAPS” as our first tagline to describe the concept behind the company’s name, the contrast that exists between our Idealistic views and what we know as reality. Here are the results of our initial work.

Utopia Image Initial Logo

UI Initial Logo

UI2006splashUI2006main

UI2006splash002UI2006main002