Imagine starting a web design company in the mid-1990s when not only was there no social media and no e-commerce, most people did not know what a website was, yet alone own a computer. I was spending my days in front of my house, drawing pictures on the road with sidewalk chalk while Shaul Kuper founded Destiny Web Designs. “It was difficult. No one knew what a website was. It was way ahead of the curve”, recalls Shaul in an interview with Sramana Mitra, “I had an instinct that this was where the future was going. I remember my father telling me that I was crazy”.
Shaul Kuper is an AceTech Ontario CEO member and is the founder and CEO of (what is now) Destiny Solutions. What set Destiny Web Designs out from the crowd in the early days was that they did not provide textual websites – their sites had a real purpose and an ROI. One of Shaul’s first big clients was the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and in 1997, they became the first university in the world to do online enrollments. However, the company still had its work cut out for them. Shaul explains how in any new market with a product that’s ahead of its time, you’re going to have innovators (people who are willing to create the product) and early adopters (people who are willing to buy it – in their case, University of Toronto), “they see the value themselves and they see it as a strategic advantage. Finding them is difficult, and it may be only 5-10% of the market in the beginning, but then it becomes the followers who will start using the product once they see their competitors using it”, says Shaul. However, this did not happen overnight.
Shaul recalls how the difficulties did not lie in building the software, but trying to sell it, “people felt that it was unnecessary perhaps or the market wasn’t demanding it, or it was something that they would really love to have but couldn’t afford it”, Shaul explains to AceTech Ontario. This resulted in sales cycles that lasted 10-15 years. In cases like this, you must not only have dedicated sales people but sales people who will continually show prospective clients why they need the software, why it will make a difference for them and what new facets you are continuing to develop. “Whatever business you build, you base it on your customers need, and you continually strive to show that you’ll be there for the long run,” explains Shaul, “they have to feel that you as a company are not just in it for the money, but that you’ll be there for a long time to support them and show how they can improve”. Shaul adds that it’s important to never make assumptions about your customers and to never take them for granted – it is crucial to keep the lines of communication open and find out what is and is not working.
One of the biggest aspects that saved Destiny Solutions in the early days was that they did not blow a lot of money on marketing. They recognized that the market was not there and they spent accordingly. Instead, they put their efforts into making sure their customers were truly happy and they were not in a rush to grow. Their patience paid off as they are now close to $10 million in revenue. Shaul’s ongoing goal is to understand the market better than their customers, “we’re not just building what they’re asking us to build, we’re building ahead of them and trying to figure out where the market is going and where our customers need us to be”, explains Shaul, “and hopefully we’re doing that before they even realize that they are going to have that need.”
In addition to understanding your market better than your customers, Shaul advises his fellow CEOs to always be transparent with your clients, keep them (and your employees) looped in on your roadmap, and remember that often you’ll end up in a place you never expected – and that’s okay.