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Life after retirement 

Miroslav (Mirko) Wicha

Founder, President, CEO and Chairman of Haivision Network Video, Montreal

 

Wicha founded Haivision in 2004, after spending 28 years in sales and management for high-tech companies. The company, based out of both Montreal and Chicago, does live video streaming for clients ranging from Canada's National Ballet School to the Miami Marlins. Its biggest market is the United States - accounting for 75 per cent of sales - with the rest split between Asia and Europe. Annual revenue is approximately $50-million.

I partnered in a failed dot-com startup two months before the bubble burst in early 2001. I got my fingers burned and lost a lot of money. So I took three years off and was planning to retire. Then an opportunity came up to pick up this interesting technology, so I founded Haivision.

 

The first few years were very tough. We started with 13 people. The biggest stress factor was that I was responsible for the payroll for everybody - there was no one else to go to. It doesn't matter how big a company you work for, you're not responsible, at the end of the day.  But when it's your own, if you don't make the sales and can't pay the bills, what do you do? It doesn't actually hit you until you're doing it.

 

It was hard for me to go from this retirement mentality to, poof, working 24/7 like I used to do. You can't make that shift overnight. So I actually hired a partner to run the day-to-day business in the first few years. Big mistake. He ended up being a crook, and I had to fire him. But that actually forced me to get into the business day-to-day very quickly, after two years. Business has gone up ever since.

 

In the beginning, I raised money from friends and family to bootstrap the company and brought in one private investor. I put in my own money and borrowed some from the bank. But you always need more than you think - double whatever you think you need. So I brought in money from a couple of institutions in 2007. After that, we funded the company with our own profits.

 

Last year was tough for the whole industry. When the U.S. Congress shut down last October, it affected our business with the U.S. government. That made us step back and evaluate our strategy. When a significant chunk of your business is suddenly unpredictable, you really have to realign. A crisis or challenge can help you look in other directions. It gives you the ability to step back and rethink. The whole year was spent realigning our strategy to focus on non-unpredictable business, such as the cloud development space.

 

It's been a dramatic learning curve. A year ago, the company went through a dramatic facelift on understanding the whole space. Now, in the second year, we're well on our way. Next year, we'll be a pretty significant player. As an entrepreneur, it's exciting, because the space is moving amazingly fast. Over the past year, we've grown over 150 per cent in the cloud space, plus our Asia Pacific business has doubled.

 

We're one of very few companies that own and drive the technology throughout the entire pipeline. That also gives us the ability to control the performance quality experience, and that's setting us apart from other companies.

 

Our first focus is always on the consumer. We get a lot of feedback from our clients on what they need and want. People tell us where they're going in their fields and we make sure we have solutions. You can always build really cool technology, but nobody's going to buy it if there's no point. You need to develop something that people need and use and will buy. That's what's paying the bills.

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