Saturday 23 March 2019

Why one of the world's fastest-growing IoT companies Soti is drawn to Ireland's west coast

Louise Kelly meets Soti founder Carl Rodrigues to find out what makes the company tick

Skill set: Soti founder and CEO Carl Rodrigues says he aims to be approachable
Skill set: Soti founder and CEO Carl Rodrigues says he aims to be approachable
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Just doing enough “to get by” in school and studying a college course as you “hated it the least” is not everyone’s ideal path to success.

But it worked for the founder and CEO of Soti, Carl Rodrigues. Then again, not everyone has the single-minded nature that can grow a one-man startup into a $1bn business, originating from the basement of his own home in 2001.

While the name Soti may not ring a bell with many people – the company sells its mobile technology software systems to firms rather than consumers – its growth trajectory is phenomenal.

Achieving 93 consecutive quarters of growth to date, with over 17,000 enterprise customers in 178 countries, the Canada-based company has reached this point without an exit strategy or public funding.

“In 2001, I quit my job and went to the basement to see if I could create a product and I started fiddling around,” said Rodrigues. “The first product I came up with was the Pocket Controller, which created the seed funding to grow the next stage of the company.”

The Canada-headquartered company recently announced a €20m expansion investment in its Galway base.

The company specialises in mobility and ‘internet of things’ (IoT) products and services to keep workers working, facilitate the building of apps and manage mobile devices.

“Soti is funded entirely on its own profitability,” said Rodrigues. “Taking on external funding is not something I’m interested in for this company; I wanted to make this the next Google, not look to build it up and sell it on.”

A number of US companies have expressed interested in buying the firm over the past two decades, including an undisclosed offer from Microsoft in its early days. Not bad for that uninspired student who trudged his way through computer science and mathematics at Toronto University.

But Rodrigues is emphatic in his belief that a firm doesn’t have the staying power to become world-class unless the original “spark plugs” are there to keep the passion burning.

And his own commitment and belief in his product, and relentless approach to innovation, is evident, especially as regards pitching it against potential competitors. “There are firms that are offering a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” he said. “But we are the only company in the world that provides the unified answer for companies.”

Soti also has a help-desk solution that fixes mobile device and app problems and a cross-platform, app development solution for business that enables organisations to build mobile apps.

Read more: Forget Dublin's Silicon Docks...Going west means tech can offer lifestyles as well as work

“Why select your steering wheel, your engine and your tyres in different places?

“We’re the only completed product. That’s a part of why we’re growing at such a crazy rate. We are constantly keeping an eye on the market as we try to make sure we are relevant every single day. Just 12 months ago, we expanded from one to six products, which is huge growth, but there is still a lot of work to do,” he said.

“There is so much demand from a technology perspective, customers love the product but they always want more. It’s a good problem to have but it can be challenging.”

Last October, Ireland’s part in Soti’s rapid EMEA expansion was earmarked with €20m investment in a site in Galway that will see 150 jobs created over the next five years. The new office adds to the nine the company has established across the world, with a global workforce that has reached around 1,000 employees thus far.

Choosing a region in the west as the location for its Irish development hub is a reflection of the company’s relaxed culture, according to Rodrigues.

“Galway is a beautiful place. I had visited before and thought it would be a great place to expand and build somewhere that has the same culture, with a really good vibe that would suit our culture model,” he said, outlining which talent would best fit this model.

“I’ve worked for a number of companies with a lot of red tape and hierarchy, and that’s one thing I didn’t want at my own company.

“It’s getting more difficult as we grow, but I want anyone to be able to approach or call me if they have a problem. On the flipside, they need to be prepared to do whatever needs to get done.

“We want people who are entrepreneurial, without an ego. If a bunch of boxes need to get moved, then I pick them up and carry them.”

Further expansion across the country hasn’t been ruled out either, as Rodrigues plans to expand tech support and professional services here “as fast as possible”.

Viewing tech as part of the bigger global picture, he also expressed a desire to work with universities and colleges in Ireland in terms of getting more students, particularly girls, interested in Stem subjects.

However, despite a large part of their business coming from Europe, with their HQ based in Birmingham, Brexit doesn’t factor into company strategy.

“No one knew what would happen on day one after the referendum and certainly no one knows what’s going to happen now. I’m not waiting for the politicians to decide what happens. I’m very happy with the UK hub.”

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