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Thinking big

Manitoba app-maker gets bolder

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/9/2014 (1073 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Compared with the Apple App Store's candy-shop feel -- all sorts of sweet, cheap fun for less than a buck -- the Shopify app store is more like a tool shop that will help your online retail operation make more money.

Retailers will be willing to pay much more than 99 cents for those apps, meaning there's a good business to be had making Shopify apps that help online retailers boost sales.

Bold Innovation Group partners Eric Boisjoli (from left), Stefan Maynard, Jason Myers amd Yvan Boisjoli will launch a photo-sharing social-media platform called Picticipate.

WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bold Innovation Group partners Eric Boisjoli (from left), Stefan Maynard, Jason Myers amd Yvan Boisjoli will launch a photo-sharing social-media platform called Picticipate.

Ottawa-based Shopify is the largest e-commerce platform in the world, with more than 100,000 customers. It's growing by about 80 per cent every year.

It lets mom-and-pop operations making hand-knitted baby hats in their basement have an online storefront. It's also the e-commerce platform for some of the largest Fortune 500 companies.

Shopify has built a fantastic platform -- it's a true digital-era Canadian success story -- but it's left it to independent developers to come up with customized tools that enable more functionality just like the iPhone app developers.

Blair Beckwith, Shopify's app store manager, said the company never imagined companies dedicated to developing Shopify apps would spring up -- until Bold Innovation Group Inc., based in Île des Chênes, came along.

It was the first, the most successful and still the most prolific.

'Someone once said when the gold mine starts, don't run for the gold.Instead, start up a shovel-making company'

The company moved from Jason Myers' Winnipeg basement less than two years ago when it had one employee along with his three partners.

It's first Shopify app was Product Upseller -- a feature that pops up when customers are at the virtual checkout with their virtual shopping basket filled and are prompted to buy some batteries for their camera or a leather-treatment kit for their leather jacket.

It's retailing 101 and Myers says the thousands of retailers who pay between $9 and $59 per month for Bold's Product Upseller directly make an average of $1,500 in additional revenue using the app.

"If you have sales, that app will increase sales," said Beckwith. "It's virtually a fact."

Myers, 34, grew up in his family business, Heartland Archery, and helped it start its own e-commerce site that was very successful for a couple of years

But he realized a Canadian-based e-commerce site just couldn't compete with American ones. When he was winding it down a few years ago, he discovered Shopify and its app store and realized how great it worked.

"Someone once said when the gold mine starts, don't run for the gold. Instead, start up a shovel-making company," Myers said. "I thought I would start making apps that would help these e-commerce stores. We've never looked back."

He started Bold Innovation Group Inc. with his longtime friend, designer Stefan Maynard and developer brothers, Eric and Yvan Boisjoli, a couple of years ago.

For the past year, the firm been hiring every month, and it's now up to 33 staff.

With 14 Shopify apps on the market -- the company is launching four more this month -- the plans are to launch one new app per month for the next 12 months.

Bold is now Shopify's No. 1 third-party app developer and expert and its reputation is growing.

Zendesk, the web-based help-desk software used by 40,000-plus organizations worldwide, called Bold to make apps for its platform.

The company now has to weed through and prioritize about 100 queries and solicitations a day to develop new apps and tools for Shopify customers.

"My sales team would not be offended when I say they are more like project managers than salespeople," Myers said.

With business booming -- the self-financed, debt-free company already has annual revenue of about $3 million -- they are smart enough not to put all their eggs in one basket.

At an open house next week, Bold Innovation Group is going to launch its own social-media platform called Picticipate, which is designed to share photos privately, download and print in high resolution and safely back up photos online.

"We have adopted Google's philosophy (of) spending 20 per cent of our time and resources on projects not related to core activities of the company," Myers said.

It's already spent close to $500,000 on the project and has no definitive revenue model, but Myers said the company is very excited about the launch.

"Right now, we are only concerned about getting users," he said. "We have about five different monetization strategies for it, but none of them works until we have a large user base."

Kevin Hnatiuk, the executive director of New Media Manitoba, said after staying off the radar -- that's what happens when a company is not looking for lenders or investors -- Bold is now one of the fastest-growing software companies in the province and is becoming a formidable force. And they may just be starting.

As successful as they are at developing lucrative apps, taking a stab at their own social-media platform could put the company in a whole other league.

"This is what (venture capitalists) are looking for," Hnatiuk said. "They are looking for platforms, stuff that others can build on, just like Shopify is a platform. Whether Bold knew it or not when they were creating it, they are positioning themselves favourably if they want to go bigger."

Myers said they are not building the company with an end game in mind. They are still having fun. Recently, they held their first internal "hackathon" and Myers said staffers are still buzzing.

"We don't have to worry about monetizing Picticipate right away," he said.

But on the other hand, Myers remembers Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion before it was generating any revenue.

"It's all about the user base," he said.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Martin Cash.

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