As a part of our I.M Possible series, this week we’re turning the spotlight inward and showcasing Orbis as we kick-off our twenty-year celebration
Q: How did you start and where are you now?
A: Devin and I founded Orbis Communications as an interactive digital media and communications agency focusing on transforming print to digital. Our first higher learning technology solution was a Student-Life CD-ROM. (Back then, CDs were a BIG deal).
The original idea for a product came when we were still at university working in student government. We wanted a way to make the welcome packages students received more interactive –and moved away from the stacks of paper they were currently receiving. We felt that there had to be a way to introduce a new student to campus in a way that eased the transition and gave a better sense of what to expect. We ended up designing a CD-ROM that included video welcome messages, interactive campus tours, virtual tours of residence rooms, and all sorts of other tools that allowed to the student to feel like they were connected even before they arrived on campus for the first time. Keep in mind very few people had broadband access that we are used to today and the fact that it was only 20 years ago tells you how fast technology has changed in that time and the impact it has had on shaping our culture.
Today, that CD is replaced with configurable technology solutions, two founders are now three with Sandor joining us in 2005, our weekly meetings in a dorm room are now in our Hamilton office, new hires keep growing into strong leaders and ambassadors – all of whom make up an entire Executive team, a leadership team, and 45+ employees. Together, we’ve supported the career-readiness of over 1,000,000 post-secondary students and graduates and helped grow over 350,000 businesses. From our technologies to our recent brand overhaul and launch of Mindset, Orbis’ ongoing evolution directly reflects the progress, contributions, and strides made by each of you. Time has been both a teacher and an ally.
Q: What is your greatest piece of advice for those looking to start a business?
A: Be prepared for any opportunities that come your way. There is no shame in taking small jobs or steppingstone opportunities. The dream is always to create the next overnight success. The reality is usually more nuanced, and no one sees the hard work and the failures those companies worked through to get to that “overnight success”.
Q: It’s kind of funny that we’re coining ‘old age’ as ‘twenty years’, but when working at speeds required to stay innovative, it’s truly light-years. Any advice for start-ups and new entrepreneurs in their first years of business?
A: The chance of a start–up surviving and thriving long–term in this hyper-competitive world is very slim. Only the most dedicated, hardworking, competent and lucky (yes luck plays a huge part too!) entrepreneurs with a clear vision and ample funding will succeed. Having an above-average understanding of the market where they want to operate, being committed for long and enduring hours of hard work, being comfortable operating in an environment of uncertainty and passionate about their business are the keys to lasting success.
Q: What have some of the challenges been?
A: How much space do we have to answer this question? There are no shortages of challenges in starting a company and running your own business. The challenges that you face in a start–up are very different from the ones you face once you’re established. Ideas have come naturally to us. As we got started, however, the biggest challenge we faced was capital. We’ve never had VC or investment dollars so everything we’ve accomplished has been self-funded. The difference between now and our humble beginnings in 2001, is a huge influx of capital available to start-ups now. The biggest challenge companies our size face is how to be a successful Small Medium Enterprise (SME). You are caught between new start-ups and larger organizations so the role of SME’s is challenging when you’re balancing limited resources against staying innovative and competitive.
Don’t judge us. This is what the internet looked like in 2001.