• Laura L Bernhard

6 Ways to Grow Your Business, with Martin Coulombe

Updated: Oct 25

I interviewed Martin Coulombe, the Founder of Osedea, about how he started programming as a freelancer to building a team of 40 employees.


Our interview begins when Martin organized a snowboarding competition as a young adult. He tells us about how he got funding from McDonald's and his one piece of advice on how to accomplish anything - ask for it. He goes on to tell us about how he worked for Pepsi, Procter and Gamble and finally, started freelancing. I summarize Martin's take on how to grow a service business below.

You can listen to our interview on how to grow your business in the playbox to the right. Alternatively, watch the interview on The No Formula Podcast's YouTube channel. To read the transcript and the show notes, keep scrolling.



Here 6 ways to grow your business, according to Martin:

  1. Focus on sales. Martin works with many startups who want to perfect their product before reaching out to prospective customers. He thinks that’s a mistake. In his own experience, he said he should have hired someone in sales sooner because he thinks he would have grown even faster.

  2. Focus on customer experience. By building customer loyalty, you retain customers for a longer time. That way, you are growing your customer list as opposed to replenishing it.

  3. Take customer feedback. Be receptive to feedback and adjust your business accordingly. In Martin’s case, he turned his customer feedback into a company strength that is now consistently benefiting them and helping them grow.

  4. Be open to opportunities. By having a flat structure, Martin encourages new ideas among his employees. In many cases, they help grow the company.

  5. Always be selling. Ensure your sales pipeline is as full as possible at all times.

  6. Identify industry growing pains. In Martin’s case, he always has an issue of balancing employees and projects. Sometimes there isn’t enough work and sometimes there’s too much. His solution was to hire one person for recruitment who can take care of this issue. It could have been a constant issue but Martin made sure to resolve it - even if that meant hiring a recruiter with 40 employees.

Show Notes:


Notable Quotes:


"You always have to be polite and respectful. But if you're a bit pushy, in a respectful manner of others, like, things can go right. No one's gonna give you something but if you push for it, it's gonna happen."


"My advice is don't be shy to give feedback, right? If the person would just have ignored it and not give it to us maybe we're not there today. "


"Working with people and being in a team is one of the most beautiful things, right? I didn't really like freelancing and being alone, and some people do, and I respect that. But for me, I find that tough like, I always like team sports. I like being a team. I like seeing people like talking and like winning together, you know, like, winning alone is great. But winning as a team is so much more fun to celebrate that together."


"Our formula to success is the team right? So I think a lot of companies will say that, but I truly believe it. Like we have an awesome team. I don't have to be there. Things go perfectly smooth. if not better than when I'm there. I think I'm a troublemaker at the office"


Transcript of Interview with Martin Coulombe


Laura L. Bernhard

You are listening to The No Formula Podcast episode number 40. Welcome back to where we chat with a different entrepreneur every week from app developers, sales experts, and coaches, to authors and social media influencers. We focus on their journeys, how they built their businesses, and the lessons they learned along the way. Together, we confirm that there is no formula to success. I want to thank all the listeners that have been supporting the No Formula Podcast, a special thank you to everyone on LinkedIn who reached out to give me feedback about the podcast. For the chance to get into the next episode. leave a review on Apple podcasts and don't forget to subscribe. In today's episode, we chat with Martin Coulombe founder of Osedea, a custom digital solution provider mouth they found his love for programming when he pitched a new scheduling software to Pepsi. From there he worked for Procter and Gamble and then start At freelancing although the growth of Osedea started off slow, the team went from one employee to 40 employees in six years. Martin shares the one factor that could have helped him grow his business even faster. And he talks about the growing pains he had to overcome. Visit Osedea.com to learn how you can get a custom web or mobile application. In the meantime, keep listening to hear about the six factors that help Martin grow Osedea. Hi Martin, thank you so much for joining the No Formula Podcast today. I'm so happy that you're here.


Martin Coulombe

Hello, it's my pleasure. Happy to be here as well.


Laura L. Bernhard

Okay, so I just want to kick this interview off and I want to ask you about your engineering programming background. Can you tell us a few of the interesting projects that you worked on?


Martin Coulombe

In fact, like, I really like to do things and do projects of all sorts. Before going to engineering school. I had a business. About like, landscaping business when I was younger in high school, and I started a business around like organizing snowboarding competition. And when I joined university, I studied in industrial engineering. But at that moment I discovered programming and really got interested into it. So I started to the project around that, by first software that I sold to Pepsi for like employee scheduling. And it went on from there. Like, I decided to work into that field afterwards, even though I didn't explicitly study that field programming. I really liked it and went by myself.


Laura L. Bernhard

So what did you, What did you study?


Martin Coulombe

Industrial engineering.


Laura L. Bernhard

Okay, industrial engineering. And then how did you get the project for Pepsi? How like, it was random?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, exactly like in fact, I had like, one class about C++ and one other class about databases. So it got me going to, to read more about it. And at school, I saw an ad from Pepsi that they were looking for a software from graduate students, two of them. I went like, I could do that I think, so I went to see my teacher and asked him, "Do you think I'm able to do that?" So his answer was like, with the skills you learn so far, no, but you can definitely learn those and you'll be able to do it. So I made a proposal to Pepsi presented my idea for the projects, they gave me the contract and went on to build a software. And then they started to use it into their manufacturing plant to schedule the-- schedule the-- all the employees of the plant.


Laura L. Bernhard

That's so cool. Do you know if they still use it?


Martin Coulombe

Well, I doubt it because it requires old technology. So I would really doubt it. I hope not for them.


Laura L. Bernhard

Someone from Pepsi is listening to this. And they're like, Oh, my gosh, we're still using it.


Martin Coulombe

I hope not.


Laura L. Bernhard

Oh, yeah, that's awesome. I actually love that story. Because you just kind of put yourself out there and you're like, I don't know this yet. But I could know this. And you propose it to them, and it worked. And that's amazing.


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, in fact, in fact, a lot of the things we do like we don't leave any if we start like, your regular job, when we start that job usually we don't know how we're going to do it maybe we know work in that field for some years, but we change industry it's going to be different. So all the things we do are quite new. So I think for projects a lot of stuff I've done like I didn't know how to do them but learned on the fly, work with people like learned a lot. So


Laura L. Bernhard

I actually-- if you don't mind talking a little bit more about that because I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs that are just starting off have trouble maybe getting their, their first customers because they might you might not feel qualified enough. And what do you think-- maybe your landscaping experience helped you but, what do you think has allowed you or what skills allowed you to just put yourself out there and get that project?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, I think like, but of course, there's a bit bias because I love to do things. I like to new things like extreme sports, so I'm a bit of a risk-taker so...


Laura L. Bernhard

Okay.


Martin Coulombe

It's a bit easier for me. But on one of the projects what was really interesting and totally new was organizing snowboarding competition when I was in university. Basically, the goal was-- was to have fun, do a project learn a lot. So I think adding fun was a key component for me to do that project, like a lot of my project. So I forgot if I just wait, there's never a right moment is the client there now isn't gonna be there in two years, or in three years. If he's not there. Now. He's not going to be there anymore in two years. So there's no point to wait. I prefer to try it. If it works, it's great. If it doesn't work, then I try something else afterwards.


Laura L. Bernhard

That's really cool. Of all the projects that you worked on that we just talked about some of your landscaping, the snowboarding, Pepsi, and I also know you work for Procter and Gamble of all those experiences. What do you think has taught you the biggest lesson that you've carried through your, your career?


Martin Coulombe

things like this. snowboarding competition was the one that where I learned the most right like it was basically what it was. It was. We started in 2004, we organized a competition downtown Montreal, called the streets static. So we had to build an artificial snow Park, downtown Montreal, St. Catherine. Right behind the simons at the time, there was no building there. So, but we never done that. I never run like a big business like that. So we had to learn everything from sales and marketing to get sponsors or legal to deal with a contract people management. So all the athletes putting the competition on television, he wasn't music most of the time for people that are a bit older, like me.


Laura L. Bernhard

I remember, I remember.


Martin Coulombe

So it's been it's been a lot of things like planning and responding to changes and problems. So for us, it's been a great way to learn and to try out things. But one of my biggest lessons I learned there is that if you don't put yourself into this, and you don't try and you're, you're scared to push a bit people politely, nothing's gonna happen. And the example is we tried to get sponsors for the competition for a long time, we got no sponsors. And at some point, we're like, okay, we need to get McDonald's otherwise, it's not going to work, right? And they were not responding. So I went to go to a store, asked the manager, he transferred our documented a marketing agency that was in LinkedIn and McDonald's account. And we called the girl at the agency. And so I'm looking for your stuff. I'll call you back in two weeks. Interesting. Two weeks later, no call we call back. Interesting, but give me two more weeks. That's okay. So, two weeks later call again. She's like, Look, I will call you back when it's the right time and then we realize that it's never gonna happen. And if you don't have sponsors, we cannot run the event. So I said to my, my two partners that was doing that with me. I'm going to go in person. I'm going to stay in the building until she meets for five minutes, and I'm guarantee when she meets us, we're going to get like the sponsorship. So my colleague like, Hey, we cannot do that. So it's like, okay, I'll go along, like, don't worry. So one of my partners came with me even in the car on the way. I, my friend Charles was like, Are you sure? Should we do that? So yeah, let's do that. So we went there. And the building the receptionist asked us, do you have an appointment? No, we don't have an appointment. So but we'll wait. We'll be patient. And she said, Give me your paperwork. I'll give it to her. She's gonna call you back. And we said, No, she's not calling us back. So we'll wait politely until she's available, we'll stay until 6pm. If not, we'll come back tomorrow. One hour later, the receptionist told us in two days from now you have a meeting at that time, don't be late. We came back for that meeting. And the day after that, we got our sponsorship from McDonald's. Then from there, we go to one from Rogers and so on. But to me the biggest learning is that sometimes you always have to be polite and respectful. But if you're a bit pushy in a respectful manner of others, like things can go right. No one's gonna give you something but if you push for it, it's gonna happen.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah, I love that. That's amazing. Okay, I don't know if you can share this with us, but can you tell us how much they gave you?


Martin Coulombe

A very good amount


Laura L. Bernhard

Did you go in saying like, Oh, I want a million dollars or did they offer you an amount?


Martin Coulombe

So we had to plan a proposal.


Laura L. Bernhard

Oh okay, okay.


Martin Coulombe

I've been a McDonald's customer since then. If I eat food fast food, that's McDonald's.


Laura L. Bernhard

because you have to pay them back. Yeah, you have to tell your whole family to start going.


Laura L. Bernhard

Okay, so all this eventually led to creating Osedea, which is your company. Can you tell us more about what you guys do and where the name comes from?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, definitely like, Osedea, in fact, is a bilingual name, which was something really important for me. I really wanted to have something that as a bilingual since in Canada were bilingual. But not only in Canada and Montreal, I like that that diversity aspect of a name. So Osedea is a mix of, "osé". So in English I can't-- kind of bold kind of and, "idea". So Jose, there were doubts or I kind of lay the fact that he was bilingual. In fact, to the end of the day, we have five core values diversity, and inclusivity is one of them, which is really close to art. So I find the name that when we started with the company, when direction that direction which, which I really like, what do we do? What does it do? And in fact, we're a digital firm where we build like, digital products for clients. And I just explained it well, more in detail. So basically, 50% of our work is more toward like, consumers so we do mobile application, for example for TV sports, so like sports delivery network to watch, live TV, stats, news about sports, we did apps for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Where we do indoor geolocation. And when people stroll around across the museum, we change the music and their headphones according to what they are looking at. So they're looking at those beats, they walk the music change because now they in the 18th century. So we do a lot of apps like that for radio stations and organic businesses. So that's 50%. And the other 50% of stuff we do is more like software for businesses to improve their processes. So an example would be we work with the mining industry, where we have like sensors in the mines, we collect all that data, we process it and we return to the operators at the mine mining side. What do you do to optimize the extraction for example of copper, for example, so Okay, turn, turn that move that by the pH in that pool of chemical this tool and more chemical [inaudible] and so on. I can of course, I'm simplifying the process, many of them operate more efficiently. So we do software, for example, the mining industry, aerospace, manufacturing, any kind of business. So all our products are very different. So that's would be like to be on top of, we know they're different.


Laura L. Bernhard

They're so diverse, like you cannot have someone in the office that's an expert in like, copper, and mining, right?


Martin Coulombe

But we're actually getting quite good at the mining space. That's surprising and every thought about that, but But yeah, we, we've done a lot of stuff. So the person working in on copper, like the next month or a couple months later, can work and start-up for mental for mental health, for example, it gets really diverse the change of national to a start-up all types of company. And I think it's what people like to change stuff.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah. But doesn't it take time to do all that research for all these different industries? Like, doesn't that take time away from maybe I don't know, creating the software?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, there's pros and cons, right? So yeah, just like we have to learn the domain about the domain where we're working. insulation, and all that stuff. But at the same time, the expertise we have from touching so many different, like software or platforms are being recreated in different industry. That's knowledge that we can bring to our clients as well. Right? So, yes, there's pros, and there's many pros and cons.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah, of course.


Martin Coulombe

Some are gonna see the value and we believe it's, it's right. But no matter what, it's what we like to do so so we'll continue that way.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah, no, no, I love it. It's just like from an outsider point of view. And I'm sure like, even in like my business textbooks, it's like, oh, always pick a niche, and then grow with that niche. And hear you guys are thriving and working on so many different things. So I love that. So just going back to your story on how Australia started, how did you get the idea?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, in fact, I didn't. It's been a long process. In fact, I like businesses when I was younger, went to university and after going to university I moved to Toronto to work at Procter and Gamble. Because I wanted to learn English, improve my English for sure you can hear my accent, it's quite thick.


Laura L. Bernhard

You're pretty bilingual. You're doing very well.


Martin Coulombe

So I went to Proctor to, to improve my English. But after and I thought I'll go one year I come back and start a business. But in fact, I love so much my job over there that I stayed there for five years. I work in a team called like, emerging technologies where we're like trying all like new stuff. It's cooler moving up to like teams to do projects. It was was really, really fun. We're a small team. And so I really enjoyed it. And then I was like, I'm never going back like I'm doing this. And one day I got some sort of a promotion and they relocated me to Brazil. I have heard the word that to do the work I started to do their change, right I was not hands on, on project not the new tech I was more doing paperwork and now there's this study around that for, for it for business. For the company, and they didn't like it as much. So after six months, I like Okay, I'm done. I don't really enjoy our work anymore. So I'm just going to go back on in Montreal. I'm going to start freelancing, doing mobile apps and see, see where it takes me. So then it's, it's all started the video, right? So I started doing mobile apps expanded into the web, and so on and so on. So it was really like, I want to do something else. Yeah, I want to do projects I want to be hands on. So I said, the best thing for me is to do to be freelancer, I can choose the work I want to. I can work on great stuff and things came in to start a company.


Laura L. Bernhard

So, okay, what year was this when you started freelancing?


Martin Coulombe

End of 2011, because like 2012 Yeah,


Laura L. Bernhard

So you start freelancing and how long? How long until you hire your like first employee.


Martin Coulombe

It took it took quite a bit of time, right like We've been growing really fast in the past few years, but at the beginning was quite slow. It took it took me like almost three years to get the first two people on board or two people and most of the same time, the first two so and use analytics, by the way, thanks for, for joining in the beginning when there was no one. But, yes, it took about three years so that I could get like, enough projects to sustain like having two people with me.


Laura L. Bernhard

Okay, so when you were when you're freelancing out of curiosity, how many projects would you take on at once? And how many did you need to afford these two other people?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, like, when I was freelancing, I was mostly working on, on one project at a time. And at one point, I've been lucky to get like, a big project that I couldn't do myself, right. So I definitely had to take a decision. Okay, I'll get people to help me and I will not really have a salary anymore or a very small and to afford people to help me, but I'm also going to free me up some time to go and Find other projects and, and get the wheel rolling right so that's how it came with like a bigger project I couldn't myself I could have maybe refused them because they cannot do it but it's at that point Okay, let's try it let's bring people some, some people on board and let's get the get paid a bit less and I don't have kids yet so


Laura L. Bernhard

That's a I love how this kind of almost happened by accident and you're like yeah, I'm gonna freelance and I'm like yeah, I'm gonna start a business. So you started to freelancing at the end of like 2011 When did you like a name like, Oh, this is oh Cydia.


Martin Coulombe

In fact, when I started freelancing, I can't like incorporate it myself and Oh, right, because there's a client that I was like, hoping to get that was asking me to, to be formally registered as a business okay. So I had to create a company create a name so from that point, I was freelancing, but working under, under company and created.


Laura L. Bernhard

Okay, okay, that makes sense. So you didn't have to raise any capital or anything. It was just kind of it was a slow start. But then things started to pick up. So when did things started to pick up?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, really, like when we started to get the projects in 2014, then the ball started to roll for us, right? So we got the projects, I've been able to keep the people when the project was finished to get new ones, and so on. So on. From that point, we've been able to constantly like add projects and people and so on. Yeah, we're, we've been lucky that we didn't have to raise capital. And I think like, it's a perfectly valid avenue to raise capital in and out School Business faster on my end, like the growth from 2012 when end up starting in 2012. When I started to do that, now we're 40 people, the company, you know, we can consider that maybe as a slow growth or a fast will depends but by not taking capital Miam. It allowed me also to keep my freedom under business. Like I want to run it on a very low to human way, and some because you're taking care of it all that you cannot do it in a human way. But if something like no have the freedom to do it, they have to have freedom to help the people in the team. If something happens, I can, I can create the programs that I want to make sure like the culture is great work, life runs great, and that people can grow personally and professionally. By not doing that I've been able to keep the freedom. And today I think it's, for us, it's great. And we don't have external pressure to do certain things or to reach certain milestones enough profit ourselves, we want to do it because we want to get better every year. So always push yourself but it's not coming from externally. It's because we want to do it. So for me, it's been a good way. But I don't think there's a right way or wrong way. It's just the way for me that work. And often we need we hear that, okay, we need to raise capital and so on. But there's there's other ways to do it as well. And I'm an example although I'm in the service space, which is different from a product. So obviously doing a product it's a bit harder, we don't like external funds. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think there's different ways to,


Laura L. Bernhard

For the for the listeners, and if they were at a spot where they're trying to grow their business, especially if they're a solopreneur. What is your advice to them on how to get that extra help? And then after we'll talk about like how you took it to the next level?


Martin Coulombe

Perfect. Yeah. Do an example with startup initially, like solopreneurs. But like small company, yeah. A lot of startups to do. One of like, the common mistake I see. And I've been doing it as well is that I think we focus a lot on the on the product itself and the quality of the service we deliver and often we neglect the sales parts, even for us and things important to do. We've ironed the first person in sales only last year, it only makes one year we have a person in a role like in a sales role. After having that person for one year. I'm realizing that if we're fortunate sale earlier on, we're probably maybe like double the size today, barring a person in sales like three, four years ago. So often I see we work with startups, we Polish our product and vest a lot in their product, and it's a good quality product. And then they're short on cash to focus on the sales, they didn't prioritize that. So even though they have the best product, it can still be tough to sell, like selling software is not easy. So I think for me, one of the advice I give to my clients that come to us is, don't forget the sales parts focus on it. And it's just, it's not just as easy as like, calling your friends, right. There's like techniques, they're still to do. It's like, and to focus on that.


Laura L. Bernhard

Mm hmm. I didn't realize that at all. And I'm sure it's so difficult with software. Like, not easy, right? Yeah, it just seems like cold calling right? Just like, "Hey..."


Martin Coulombe

You buy a bike at the store. You see it, you can touch it, and you like it, you don't like it. You buy a software, you buy something that we're going to see in three months and six months from now. So it's gonna be really tough. It's really tough to say okay, yeah, I want to do it. So selling that needs a lot of trust from the clients too when they pick a partner for their software.


Laura L. Bernhard

So interesting. Is there. Is there any other mistake not necessarily mistakes but think pieces of advice that you would give to small businesses on how to scale their growth maybe a little bit faster?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, I think like for sales for me is like a is a big one. Yeah. Obviously, like, I think like, as a second thing, like doing quality work, you know, like, and being loyal clients. Like, often you get a client's have been with you for many years, and then you get another one that's more money or more interesting and so on. But being loyal to your clients, to the people who help you like getting started, brings you along the way because there are people that are ambassadors they can make reference you to other clients. So we work with clients that were there with us when we started, like, hiring people. So like, five, six years ago, they're still with us. So it's, it's really fun to see. And they're, they're great ambassadors, they bring us works, we need to build a case study, they're open to do it. So it can, it can help us a lot now, by having stayed with them, even though like today, we don't charge them, which charge them a lower rate, you know, like, all those kind of things that come with it, but it's still worth it to keep those people in.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah, the long term value of having the customer and out of curiosity, cuz you create the software, and then you give it to them. How do you do they keep coming back for different software? Or do you continuously work on the software with them?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, in fact, like when, when people approach us for the first time, like, do you build the software, it's kind of like a one off-contract. But the reality is, when you build a software, it's kind of like never-ending there's always improvement you can do there's no With your opportunities new market you want to reach with that software or new improvement you want to use it internally to improve your processes then it works you want to improve more processes internally so there's always work to do. So I think the key for us is always focusing like on undoing like a good software good quality, but not only that is also like the experience of our clients. So when we work when we do like web QA and when you talk about like a product often talk about the user experience so the person using your software, but there's a lot of stuff going for us like since we build a software it takes us months we work with a client months. So the experience the clients as with us, so I would communicate with them, the updates, we give him the methodology, we make his life simple, but he still he or she is still involved in the process to give feedback and so on. So, so that experience of building the software with us and being interesting because so really often I speak with people and they dislike their IT department they dislike their IT provider, you know, like the learning IV it's too slow. It's not efficient like you don't understand the processes. So I think as we put them in testers and like the customer experience, so like when they work with us, like, the actual product would do them a good quality one, but when they work with us want to make your life easier. And what's funny is that like, a couple years ago, like five, six years ago, it was not a strength, like it was a clear weakness. And some clients really liked a product when built for them gave us the feedback. You know, Martin, like, the product is great, we love it. We're happy with the result. But the road to get there was really Rocky and bumpy, right? It costs us maybe a bit of stress, or we had to create work, rework or so on. So so we didn't get feedback. And now taking that feedback, and now use it as a strength, right? We took it with the adjuster, we say, okay, we could complain and say they're wrong, but if they get this straight to improve, and now today, it's kind of a strength that we use as a selling point. And clients like it, and then they, they'll say, oh, Susan, buy this thing with us in the future.


Laura L. Bernhard

I think that's it. Great point on how to grow your business is always considering customer feedback, and then implementing and and making those changes, because it's one thing to ask for the feedback, and then ignore it. But you guys have implemented in now. And it's a strength, which is amazing.


Martin Coulombe

And I feel really lucky that those clients and they know they are that, that they gave us that feedback, right? Like I one client I almost left like the meeting when the project was done. Like I was like, not crying in my car, but I was really sad. I like it's done with them. It's never gonna happen. It's a, it's a big corporation, and they call us back, right because they like the end product, but you guys need to improve and we did improve. And I will continue to work with them afterwards. And premiere will always respect the person and give you that feedback. So also, my advice is don't be shy to give feedback, right? If the person would just have ignored it and not give it to us maybe we're not there today.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah, but you were also receptive, right? Because you could have cried in your call on your car and then never asked for their phonecall again, right? So it's great that you were receptive and then you're like, Okay, everyone, like we're changing things. So that was, I think that's, that's one of your strengths as well. Yeah. I want to I want to shift gears a little bit here. I know that you don't have a higher key, like managers and stuff like that in your, in your business. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Maybe I got that wrong and how it all works.


Martin Coulombe

Oh, you didn't get it wrong, like in fact, like we, we use your key that's kind of like a flat structure and then there's a lot of myths about flex return does it really work or not? So So yes, it's a bit chaotic but it's kind of unorganized the organized chaos, which which is great. And but I think that there's pros and cons into everything. But one of the pros in that formula of not having a form all your accusers she has someone at the office was their manager like they don't know right? Like, you don't know what they're mad at. So, but one of the big advantages is that it gives like a lot of opportunity and freedom to people to bring ideas to the table to push ideas like you know, you're not dependent on one managers or two managers to approve your idea, right? So you have an idea, you're talking to a couple of colleagues that are behind you, you create a team and you move that forward. And one a good example for that that will help us grow our business is the the office we opened in France. So two people in the company that were from France work with us for three years and at different points couple months apart, decided to go back to France and by pure coincidence, they went back to the same city in France in Mount so one because he's from there one because he studied there. And you know, what they wanted to say like to conduct your tour this year, and they wanted a bit more as well they like a Martin could we open an office like we could do it and so on so so the printer A project they brought the idea and like, there's no, there's no formula, your key and even with myself, so who am I to say like no, guys, you can do it. So look, we this is a budget you asked, we do have the money available. So, so go ahead and start that project and try it out. So it's about like, one year and a half now that we started project and the office, they're nice. They started to now they're fine. And they're looking for more people to join the team. And it's working. So but I think a formal you're a key. Maybe they would have proposed that to their boss, there must have been shy to talk to me about it and know it's not the right time, blah, blah. Maybe that person was not interested in overseas projects. So So I mean, that way, there's like a lot of like, rapid communication, like people are really free to bring ideas. So for us, it works out really well.


Laura L. Bernhard

I don't know you guys had a full office there.


Martin Coulombe

Yeah. I love to go to France. It was a great thing, right? So I'm going to come visit your offices in Montreal and in France. Should we show like they're both really nice.


Laura L. Bernhard

That's awesome. So other than you mentioned before, like the sales and getting more customers, what do you what other factor Do you think contributed to your the growth of your business?


Martin Coulombe

thing like what I mentioned a bit at the beginning about extreme sports, I think like taking a bit of risk isn't something that helps us go work for a company and by being missing taking risk? I'm not saying to do like, stupid, stupid things are like very risky things that are not like, cut true and so on. What I mean by there is being more kind of a by taking risks is being open-minded, right? So there's stuff that can be a bit risky or a bit like out of our comfort zone, or it's not something that we offer that we're not planning to do or so on. But maybe being open-minded and say, Okay, let's try it. Let's see the opportunity. Is there something for us there? It can bring opportunities and it's gonna bring you to take those opportunities. One example is that, you know, like we hear a lot about like the AI like artificial intelligence, AI and so on. And there's like very great companies in Montreal about that. But a lot of the AI is done within product companies so startups that have a great products they embed in AI into that. One of the things that we decided to do this year like for us taking a risk and say, Okay, let's invest in AI, it was a Lex hire people that have like, knowledge in that field are experts a lot of experience. So it's a big investment for us. And but in the future, it's probably going to be because as a service company, there's a little lip service company that cost structure to do AI for their clients that are not tech companies like more manufacturing's and like, businesses like dealing with production and so on the AI can solve a lot of their problems. But, by stuff for us like to they're not aware about AI knows it's tech, it's foreign to them. So for us, it's kind of a risk, say, let's do that. But by being open-minded people brought that to my attention. Hey, we should do it, we should try it. We're not going to get a lot of revenue from that this year. But in three years from now, that's probably going to be like one of our big like, growth vector, but you have to start it now. We have to be open-minded about it, try it and see what happens. So to me, like being risk that taking risk being open-minded is is very important to grow your business,


Laura L. Bernhard

especially like you're thinking three years ahead. So that's cool. Yeah, a lot of people are like, oh, what are what are our quarterly sales? When, What are we even doing? 2020? You know, but you're thinking like, No, we can do this. If we spend enough time and money into it, and then the next few years, we're gonna be rich, right?


Martin Coulombe

Are we gonna have fun at least we're gonna have fun? So


Laura L. Bernhard

yeah, I was just kidding. But yes, I'm so I'm just thinking internally Have because I was thinking about like your, how diverse your projects are, can you can how many projects can you take on at once?


Martin Coulombe

The number like really depends on the size of projects we have. At the moment, we'll get to like many small ones, maybe less bigger ones at the same time. But I don't have an exact number. But usually we're running, I would say in parallel, maybe eight to 10 projects, like an out of them, maybe like two or three are smaller ones. So maybe like five large projects in parallel maybe that we're doing


Laura L. Bernhard

so yeah. Because I was just thinking right now, you guys, you're 40 right. But you really need all those people to be working on different projects and the number of projects you take on depends on how many people you have. Yeah, it's like a vicious circle.


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, like one of like the one of the pains of like car industry. The service space is that there's never like a great spot, right? So at some point, you have too many people in the team, you don't have enough work. And then like three months later, that's the opposite. You have too much work and not enough people. And then three months later, that's the opposite. Like, it just keeps going on and on and on. And you think like, when you're five people in the team, like, Yeah, when I'm going to be like, 10 or 15, that's gonna be easier. And then once you're at 10, or 15, like, at 25 that's gonna be easier. Yeah, we're 40 We're like, okay, at 65 it's gonna be easier, but that's not gonna be here. That's gonna be the same problem. But yeah,


Laura L. Bernhard

cuz it's always you're always kind of chasing like, how do you know how many projects to take on or do you have projects on hold like a waitlist or something? Because like, when you want to grow, right, you have to make sure you're taking off enough projects to, to like, pay the people that you already have and then new people. So you kind of always have to have an influx. I don't know, I'm just trying to figure out how to grow these services, business, I don't know.


Martin Coulombe

The thing is, like, how we work is like we can ever stop selling, right? So even though we're full, we're always like full on, on a sales process. Because when sales, especially in our field can take a lot of time, you know, like, we can work with potential clients for months, like, even like sometimes up to a year before it works out so we can adjust away because once will need work, maybe there's not going to be a word at that specific moment. So we're always on the lookout for, for projects. But obviously, there's always like some techniques, you know, like, when we're full, we're still doing sales, but we might try to increase our margins a little bit. And if the client comes in, then it gives more and more, more kind of leeway to, to recruit or to do other things to help us absorb that work and reorganize ourselves. But one of the key things is even though we're a small company, you know, we hired like a full-time person In charge of like, recruitment, so that person helps us a lot to, to, to react to the spikes hire more people when we need to do so. So that's been really, really helpful for us. Like, I didn't think I was building a business that at 40 people I will need a person in charge of like only, only recruiting and since we have that person within the team for us, it's been a game-changer and we really appreciate that. The fact that we can kind of on demand, it smooths out the process that person brings with comes in with some expertise and stuff and, and to us where we're in a field where, where we sell our talent, right, we sell our expertise. And the people and the people is really really really key like in every business people is key but we don't have a machine we don't have a product we have like expertise that we sell so that the people in that team are key. So I've been that person as well. Plus, to be always, always on the lookout for like the best people from constantly looking and once we have a great fit, we will hire the person nevertheless even if there's no work because we know work will come at some point so we're always always


Laura L. Bernhard

But in terms of-- that means you-- you, for sure have some capital like saved up for that right because not every small business I can be like, "hire them"


Martin Coulombe

obviously like we're very careful with with with with the people we yeah so I mean like we're always hiring but we won't hire like 10 people tomorrow right so maybe one one person next week maybe another person and true four weeks from now but okay go like we've got this little base but we'll make sure it's the right people and I think like to your point yeah, like you know when, when you start to make a profit on stuff, it's tempting to say okay, let's let's make the office like twice bigger and like beautiful stuff and like, art on the wall. I'll do we have a beautiful theater They really like you know, we still get our furniture from IKEA or any place we buy used. So it's if you search political stuff, but I mean, being careful with all your manager your money, and trying to get give the most money to your people in the demon in terms of salaries and stuff like that rather than spending on user stuff. So like, empty space or, you know, like things that don't bring value or expensive car stuff like that it's perfectly valid to buy an expensive car. I mean, being careful with how you manage your money for us is what makes us a stable company can invest in projects when we want to wait to quote COVID without any like, really issues and so on. So say I think it gives us like some a sense of strength as well, because we know we can try things and we're not under risk of like being going to the bank to help us right.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah, I think that's important just like having that security and, and Really, it coincides with your values of being like a risk taker and trying new things like you would have never been able to go to France and open an office there. If you weren't, if you didn't already have that mentality to be open-minded. And to be open-minded, you have to have, you know, cash on hand to be able to do that. Right. Yeah. So, yeah, it's like full circle at all. It all works out together, that's for sure. And I'm actually just curious in terms of, like charging your, your customers do you charge them? Like, let's say 50%, upfront and then 50% at the end of the project?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, not really. Because since our projects are quite large, usually they spend months and so on. So, charging 50% deposit would be like too much upfront for the client and 50% of their money at the end would maybe like too much for us to wait until the end. So we go more on a progressive basis. Based on the person because of advancements of the work every month, which we agree with the client, and we go that way, so I find it's, it's safer for the clients doesn't do ask for deposit, like I've been burned sometimes of not asking deposit and feeling the pain afterwards. I always recommend to ask for a deposit all the although you trust the person you like the person, the person is really cool, you know, but the person paid for the lunch when you were with that person, but like, both look at that ask for a deposit, but 50% depending on the project could be like a bit heavy to start.


Laura L. Bernhard

Hmm, okay, okay, that makes sense. Yeah, cuz I was just wondering if you're working on a project for a year pricing kind of you need that profit coming in kind of the whole way through. Yeah, um, you also you mentioned profit a couple of times, at what point like did it take those three years those first three years to make a profit or were you making money Profit almost immediately.


Martin Coulombe

But in depends like all you see it. So basically when, when I was alone, I was getting projects. So there was transferred into salaries, basically. Like, I had what I sell what I sold, right. So it was pretty tiny, to be honest, the first three years. And there's like a, I go back to I think it was 30. Like one of my friend when I when I quit my job at Procter and Gamble, my friend molds and owns a business in my own town of like, huge one like 500 people, and he's very successful. He does really great work. But when I quit my job part-time you were at lunch with him and say, I'm sorry, my business is like, Yeah, let's do it tomorrow. Like you can do it. It's gonna be great. And I was like, Yeah, I think like in two years from now, like, I'm going to be there and that is our margin. Like, I don't want to be like two I know you but in my experience, it takes at least five years to get something that is sustainable and like ah, Yes, I understand, but like me, you know, like, I can relate like, yeah, three years. And to me two years or like on the far side of like, one year, most likely, but then with the years, you know, I go working freelance, I get some people to join us. And I realized that what I realized is that after five years, I started to get something that was sustainable, that I was a bit more comfortable, you know, having like a normal, normal salary, the company was more secure, we had processes in place, things were there, you know, I could go away and people would backfill and things will still work. So, but it didn't take five years. So in terms of profit, you know, like, We always had a small one, but before it's really sustainable for us took around like five years to get to something that's, that's decent. So I didn't believe him. But now the reason I tell people yeah, you're really good, but it's gonna take you five years.


Laura L. Bernhard

I think that's a great lesson five years, I didn't know that. I've talked to many entrepreneurs and no one has told me that before. So


Martin Coulombe

I think It's a great lesson That's good to know. I don't I don't know what it is, but he told me that he was giving that don't be like, too old for for the beginning No, yeah, we're gonna survive that's great. But if you go through a couple of years then then after that it's gonna be it's gonna be more more fun.


Laura L. Bernhard

So kind of shifting gears again a little bit. I know before we were talking about employees and and that was kind of like a pain point isn't someone's always, you know you actually ever recruiter to look for people depending on your work. Other than that, was there any growing pains that you had to overcome? And can you tell us about any of them?


Martin Coulombe

There's there there's always challenge you know, when you work with people and that's the beauty of diversity like you know, we're all different and diversity is not just like the, the language or the skin color or whatever. It's more also like personality, right? We all have like different personalities. That's what's beautiful, but also what sometimes creates problem and friction. So, obviously, within team members, you know, like some, some discussions and some certain, like, situation to deal in manage, the more people you're growing the team, the more likely nurse that is gonna go in and that you're gonna have to manage that. So So you see that that's something that can be challenging, and also dealing with performance. Right? So it's not always it's not always easy, you know, like, some people can perform a lot for like many years, but then they can stop performing. Or people that you hire, you expect to get a certain level they don't perform. And if you want to never work environment that works well, you know, you one colleague that works with you, that are great, you know, you I want to work with people that I can learn from, I want to work with people that you know, you ask them for help, and they are able to help you they say we will do it, and they do it. So So to me, that's important. And I know a lot of people value that as well. And sometimes it happens that in a team, some people will perform this and dealing with that is something that's not easy. You know, it's given us a lot of, like, personal, it's a motive, it's not simple. So I find that that's a challenge as well. But at the same time, you know, working with people and being in a team is one of the most beautiful thing, right? I didn't really like freelancing and being alone, and some people do, and I respect that. But for me, I find that tough like, I always like team sports. I like being a team. I like seeing people like talking and like winning together, you know, like, winning alone is great. But winning as a team is so much more fun to celebrate that together. So, so for me, like that offsets all the problem you can have of dealing with people managing human resources, fighting that.


Laura L. Bernhard

Just, just for an example for the listeners, let's say I was working for you. And as a programmer, I don't even know what I'm saying. But let's say I was And I wasn't performing up to your standards. How would you normally go about addressing that issue?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah, like, yeah, that's a tough situation. That's that's a tough discussion, right? Like, I think the first thing is, it's important to give feedback to the person and try also to understand the person because you know, like, things are in one month, it's perfectly fine. Like stuff can happen, you know, like you can, you can live personal situation you can meet whatever reason you can be sick or stuff. So, that's sort of the normal I think the issue is when Morgan's like it's sustained, lower performance than expected. The key thing is to discuss with the person try to understand give feedback, share a plan, make sure we're all aligned, make sure the other person also is still motivated is still into it. Try to understand an outright because in every situation, always, always believe that there's two sided two sides. So Because the person is not performing, but also the company and myself, there's maybe something that we've done that prevents that person to perform. Once that's done, then we move together, you know, we agree to some things and things continue. And then at some point, then we discuss again with the person and if there's no way to reverse the result of situation and there's some point you don't you're not choice them to let go the person that's in very radical, but I think it's also something that I was not doing a lot I was not we're not allowed to focus on performance before. And we're more in the past few years and the Emperor screw up. Performance doesn't mean to be kind of like military style, like I mentioned, or working 80 hours. That's no it is like in performance to you according to the company values. It's to be comfortable. No like when you when you seal do the things you do them. Passion in what you do and when you come to the office. So when you go to your office at home, you're there and you're working your passion And you're not doing 20 other things. So I think that's all around performance and affording a funny story about that, you know, like some people came to do and some people now work elsewhere. And that's great. There's some people in the past that I had to let go. And what's funny is often the people that will wish me happy birthday, or Merry Christmas, or people that I've fired, Martin, like when he had the right to me, you know what, that's what I needed. And I was not there. I didn't realize I learned from it now I have a great job that I love and more performance. So for them it also it also ministration maybe they were not in the right place. Maybe they were just not yet ready for their work market or something. So but to me, it always like struck me that people that I got along really well as the members and went elsewhere. They're not you don't have to write to me at my birthday, obviously. But usually I get messages from people that I've let go and say Marina What? Thanks Thanks for the experience you, you gave me a dose of the I really enjoy you. Thanks for making the decision that now puts me in a much better place. And because of the work of color, something


Laura L. Bernhard

this is exactly like the story you were telling me about your client. He did the same thing for you. And now you're paying it forward to your, to your employees.


Martin Coulombe

Say it's not it's not common, but But yeah, I mean, this is a tough topic. And then your question about like, working with people and growing a team, what sort of endpoints performance is tougher? Yeah.


Laura L. Bernhard

Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing that with us. And just before we end this interview, I have one last question for you. So this is the no formula podcast because there is no formula to success. What do you think is your formula that got you to where you are today?


Martin Coulombe

Yeah. I think like two things. There's like personal formula, there's a team formula, like on the on the personal side. And I don't think I don't believe that I'm really like, the smartest person or the more creative person. Like, in fact, my friends always laugh at me. But that's not important. I think where my strength is it I think like, I'm an hard worker. And like an hard worker, I think it's where it puts me where I am today in my hard work. I don't mean like working 80 hours a week in a sustained manner and like be overworked and now burnt out. I think it's when is the time to push in to do that 60 hours for two weeks in a row to do it and be happy about doing it and to be able to take like vacation and to rest afterwards. Right. So I think that that's really I think hard work. It's where I think it was it puts me in artworks as well as could be what explain is also like often doing things you know, like when I work for Procter & Gamble. I always put more than add to know some people like a margin. Are you doing that like you don't have to do this Like, everything's going well, like suddenly, but to me, I liked it. And I knew that by working a bit harder, I would learn more, I would like get new techniques, I would maybe get promoted faster. So get new responsibility and my my, my growth personal growth curve will be faster in an exponential manner. So to me that there was a key so often we think, like, I want to have a great life at work-life balance or work life, have money, right? I don't want to work too much and stuff, but not being overworked. But something putting a bit more is going to bring you a long way forward. And as well, I think like, a formula to success, like, I think like Osedea like, our formula to success is the team right? So I think a lot of companies will say that, but I truly believe it. Like we have an awesome team. I don't have to be there. Things go perfectly smooth. if not better than when I'm there. I think I'm a troublemaker at the office, I think so. So-- and I like our people that are challenging me. I like the team spirit that we have. It's it's A lot of fun so obviously like to do liquor or successful super talented expertise, everything but I think our team is what makes us successful at the moment.


Laura L. Bernhard

Well, Martin, thank you so much for sharing all your expertise with us today and, and thank you for sharing your formula to success.


Martin Coulombe

You're more than welcome. Thanks for having me today.


Laura L. Bernhard

Before ending this episode, I want to highlight how Martin grew his business. First, focus on sales. He's worked with many start-ups who wanted to perfect their product before reaching out to prospects, but he thinks that this is a mistake, because eventually, you run out of money and then can't afford the outreach. In his own experience. He said that he should have hired someone in sales much sooner to focus on the customer experience. By building customer loyalty you retain customers for a longer time. That way you are growing your business customer list as opposed to replenishing it. Three, take customer feedback, be receptive to feedback, and adjust your business accordingly. In Martin's case, he turned his customer feedback into a company strength that is now consistently benefiting them and helping them grow to be open to opportunities. By having a flat structure Martin encourages new ideas amongst his employees. And in many cases, these opportunities help grow the company. Five, always be selling, ensure your sales pipeline is as full as possible at all times. And finally, six identify industry growing pains. in Martin's case, he's always had an issue of balancing employees and projects. Sometimes there isn't enough work and sometimes there's too much his solution was to hire one person for recruitment, who can take care of this issue and what could have led to major issues is now resolved. And those are magazine's six tips to grow your business. Thank you for listening everyone.




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