Rewind's backup plan succeeds as low-key Ottawa software firm earns its time in the spotlight

Rewind team
Rewind co-founders James Ciesielski (left) and Mike Potter founded the fast-growing Ottawa software firm five years ago. File photo

Rewind’s cover has been blown.

Until recently, the five-year-old Ottawa software firm had managed to maintain a low profile despite being in hyper-expansion mode. But that’s changed since Rewind was named to a highly publicized list of Canada’s 400 top-growing companies published last week in the Globe and Mail.

“We’ve been able to fly under the radar so far,” CEO Mike Potter says, describing himself and Rewind co-founder James Ciesielski as “low-key” individuals who didn’t want to make headline-grabbing predictions about building the capital’s next great tech company and then fail to deliver. 

“We were happy to be a secret that only those ‘in the know’ knew about. We were confident in what we were building. We didn’t need to shout it from the rooftops.”

But Rewind’s secret is now out, and it’s not hard to see why. With eye-popping revenue growth of more than 1,100 per cent over the past three years, the company placed 49th on the Globe’s top 400 list and was the only Ottawa-based business to crack the top 100. 

Rewind’s coming-out party was really only a matter of time. Named one of OBJ’s Tech Firms to Watch going into 2020, the company that provides a backup solution for e-commerce merchants posted record sales in January and February and was on pace to do even better in March when the pandemic struck.

"We were confident in what we were building. We didn’t need to shout it from the rooftops."

Any loss in momentum for Rewind in the early spring was temporary. The company has continued to add new employees throughout the COVID-19 crisis, boosting its payroll from 30 at the start of the year to 40 today, and it’s got another dozen or so job postings it’s trying to fill as it scrambles to meet surging demand for its software-as-a-service offering. 

Originally launched specifically to cater to stores on the Shopify platform, Rewind has seen its growth trajectory mirror that of its much larger e-commerce software cousin. 

The company now backs up data for individual merchants who use two additional online services – BigCommerce, a Shopify competitor based in Austin, and accounting software giant QuickBooks. Rewind serves 11,000 customers in more than 100 countries, storing their data on protected servers in Canada, the United States and Europe.

But that’s just a fraction of the total number of merchants and clients who use those platforms, Potter adds, noting that QuickBooks alone has 4.5 million accounts while more than one million merchants have storefronts on Shopify.

In addition, he says, Shopify, BigCommerce and QuickBooks are just three of thousands of platforms that serve potential Rewind customers. The firm’s CEO feels like an explorer who’s just discovered a new continent that’s ripe for settlement. 

“We have big plans for this company,” he says. “The amount of opportunity ahead of us is almost incomprehensible.”

While Potter credits the explosion in e-commerce during the pandemic for much of the firm’s recent growth, he also points to other steps Rewind has taken over the past year to beef up its management expertise.

'15 and five' updates

The firm brought Sam Wehbe, the former vice-president of marketing at Ottawa-based online grain marketplace FarmLead, on board last year to kickstart its sales and marketing efforts. Meanwhile, controller Alamin Mollick – another ex-FarmLead employee who joined Rewind in 2019 – introduced a key management tool, the “15 and five” update.

So named because it’s expected to take 15 minutes to write and five minutes to read, the “15 and five” exercise is a weekly routine for all employees except developers, who provide managers with daily updates. Staffers are asked to write a short post that’s shared throughout the company, outlining what they've accomplished that week, what they learned over the previous five days and what they expect to achieve before the next update.

“It really helps you understand what’s going on in the rest of the company and what other people are working on,” Potter says. “It helps you stay on track with what you’re trying to get done.”

In addition, former Invest Ottawa and Pythian recruiting expert Kirsi Maharaj has joined Rewind as head of human resources. 

As precious a commodity as top tech talent has been the past few years, Potter says the pool is starting to deepen a little as other firms downsized during the pandemic.

“There’s some really high-quality people who are working at companies that aren’t as fortunate as we are,” he explains, noting a couple of years ago he was “almost begging people” to come work for Rewind. “The level of talent that’s available to us now is head and shoulders above what it was two years ago.” 

Ironically, Rewind’s biggest source of customers is also its toughest competitor for the best and brightest tech minds.

“There’s so many high-quality companies here – especially Shopify,” Potter says. “They’re just like a vacuum (for) talent.”

As a result, Rewind has been forced to look farther afield to fill key positions. The firm employs developers and other experts who work remotely from B.C., Alberta and Waterloo, and recently hired a marketing manager who lives in Montreal.

Potter says the remote-first work trend that’s swept the country over the past six months was already old hat for Rewind. 

When the company’s lease at its office on Somerset Street West expired earlier this summer, he didn’t bother renewing it. Potter says the company might look for new digs next year, but for now he doesn’t see the point of renting real estate.

“The location (of employees) is kind of irrelevant now for us,” he says. “The transition to (remote work) was extremely easy for us because everybody was already set up to work from home.”

Maintaining culture

Potter has plenty of other issues to think about besides who to hire. 

The path to rapid growth is riddled with potential pitfalls, he notes, including employee burnout and an erosion of company culture. The firm regularly checks in on every worker to keep tabs on their mental health, and Potter constantly frets about integrating new staffers into Rewind’s growing team – especially when face-to-face interaction is off the table.

“As you scale at that level, how do you maintain the culture?” he says. “That’s stressful for me. By the end of next year, most of the employees will have never met each other in person. It’s a lot different to meet somebody in person than it is on Zoom.”

In keeping with its founders’ low-key mindset, Rewind has generally shied away from big funding announcements. 

Potter says the firm recently landed a follow-on round of seed financing from several well-heeled angels as well as a group of institutional investors that includes Ottawa’s Mistral Venture Partners and FundFire, Union VC out of New York and San Francisco-based Bessemer Venture Partners. He expects to finalize a series-A financing round as soon as the end of the year.

“The financials of the business are very, very strong,” he says, adding the company isn’t turning a profit only because management has opted to invest heavily in R&D, sales and marketing in a bid to scale up even faster.

Five years ago, Potter says, he and Ciesielski figured they’d probably wind up working directly for Shopify one day. Instead, they’re authoring their own made-in-Ottawa success story. 

“If we execute and do a good job, this could be a really, really, really big company,” Potter says. “That’s exciting.”