At the dawn of the iPhone era, self-described “super geek” Jason Flick had a dream of building a world-leading software firm that would make it easier for consumers to interact with devices from TVs to tablets.
The Ottawa entrepreneur’s brainchild, You.i TV, has since gone on to work with some of the world’s biggest media brands, creating easy-to-navigate user interface platforms for customers such as AT&T, Warner and Fox. The company Flick affectionately refers to as his “third child” ultimately landed more than US$50 million in venture capital as it grew from an infant business in a nascent industry into one of Kanata’s best-known companies.
Now, the proud parent is moving on. Flick, who co-founded the company in 2008 with Stuart Russell, announced on social media Monday that he has left the firm.
“I will be forever grateful to the entire team that helped me to build such an amazing world-class company,” the 50-year-old wrote in a LinkedIn post. “I have so many fond memories of the people, places, and projects. In our own way we have made a mark in the world.”
The move comes a month after You.i was sold to U.S. media giant WarnerMedia in a deal reportedly worth US$100 million.
Warner was already one of the Ottawa firm’s biggest investors, and Flick said You.i will now be focused largely on building platforms to deliver Warner’s streaming services, including HBO Max, on even more devices – whether it’s cars, video-game consoles or set-top boxes.
That means the aspects of growing a business that Flick loves – expanding into new markets, landing new partnerships – are no longer part of the job description.
Streaming services changing the market
“We had something like 18 active projects going on with (Warner),” he told OBJ on Monday afternoon. “That’s going to be their priority. You don’t need an entrepreneur for that.”
Flick said he could see the industry evolving over the past few years as the meteoric rise of streaming services such as Netflix forced other big-name content producers, including Warner, to step up their games.
He explained that while You.i used to make software for dozens of platforms that delivered content for dozens of media companies, it’s now focused on helping a handful of clients stream their content on hundreds of devices.
“If you buy a piece of hardware with a screen on it, the only thing you know for sure that’s going to be there is Netflix,” Flick said. “Everything else, who knows? If I look at the market in general, for the next couple of years at least, it is definitely going to be about the streaming wars. There are five or six major (media producers), and they want to get (content) on every piece of glass.”
You.i’s former CEO said pushing out software at that scale required a bigger financial warchest, and management ultimately decided joining forces with one of its largest backers was the best option after its pursuit of a Series-D funding round failed to gain traction.
“We were not able to package ourselves properly (to potential investors),” he explained. “D-rounds in Canada are difficult.”
When asked if he’d considered taking the company public, Flick said You.i’s top line wasn’t yet robust enough to catch the market’s attention, and it would have taken more VC funding to get there.
“You’ve got to be a $100-million-a-year business, and we weren’t there yet,” he said. “We were well on our way to getting to that, but we needed a D-round to get to an IPO.
"We were a stone’s throw from cash-flow break-even, but that’s not really the business I wanted to run. We wanted to change the world."
“We were a stone’s throw from cash-flow break-even, but that’s not really the business I wanted to run. We wanted to change the world.”
Now, with the company he founded in foreign hands, Flick said he has no regrets. After nearly two decades in the trenches, he is proud of the role he’s played in the emergence of a new generation of thriving Ottawa tech enterprises.
“Shopify came along, and that really helped us,” he said. “But I do feel there was a window of time there where we were breaking new ground, post the whole Nortel meltdown. I spent a lot of time on the road educating people on Ottawa.”
He remembers going to meetings of an informal organization called the Venture Capital Group back when he was starting out as an entrepreneur. A few tech execs would gather upstairs at an Ottawa soccer club, swapping stories and advice.
“We would just have a beer and chat,” Flick said. “There was very, very little support.
“Ottawa was still a telecom town back then. I was a bit of an anomaly being (head of) a mobile software services company.”
'A great place to work'
The longtime tech leader said he’s also proud of the culture he built at You.i.
“It was a great place to work and shine,” Flick said. “I really think we pushed people to do things that they wanted to do and they didn't know they could do in an environment that they enjoyed working in. You think technology is what matters when you start this whole thing off, but really it comes down to people.”
For the first time in years, Flick no longer has a jam-packed agenda of meetings and investor calls. He plans to do some travelling once the pandemic abates. He’ll continue mentoring the next generation of tech leaders through his work at agencies such as Invest Ottawa.
And one day soon enough, he’ll be back doing what he does best, bringing new technology to the world.
“It was a lot of work to get this across the line, so I’m going to relax a little bit, enjoy the fact that I don’t have any (key performance indicators) that I have to hit and just chill for a little bit,” Flick said. “But there’s no way I don’t get back into something. As an entrepreneur, every day in business you see new opportunities.”