In 2012, Frank Coy and Lisa Matheson wanted to find a website builder that was easier to use than any of the ones they had already used. At the time, Lisa was a communications consultant for major brands, such as Kraft, Second Cup and Mrs. Fields Cookies. When requests started coming in from her clients to build larger-scale websites, she set about researching Content management Systems that were easier to use than the common ones available at the time. Frank, who had recently retired from his position at RBC Dominion Securities, suggested the pair should also look at extending the services she was providing to satisfy the requests in the business consulting and strategic planning area.
The search led Frank and Lisa to a solution they felt was fit for the job: a bullet-proof platform developed by software and product solutions company CMSIntelligence. This solution is now chosen by billion-dollar companies for their websites.
They spent months building their business model and assembling their team before they went to market, working with business analysts from Innovate Niagara to ensure their roadmap was realistic and to connect them with the right people.
The company has evolved significantly over the last ten years. It started out as a website building platform but has become much more than that. Frank and Lisa levelled up when they combined their business consulting experience and began offering in-depth strategic consulting. “Because we get so involved in so many aspects of a client’s business, we sit at the table as partners,” says Coy, Vice President of Sales, CMSIntelligence.
As consultants, Frank and Lisa dig deep with clients to cover off all aspects of their business. “If you are growing 20-25% plus and you want to accelerate from there, that’s our sweet spot because we can build the systems and processes in behind to help those companies scale.”
“Where our software works best is if you have a national brand with multiple operators under that national brand in various geographical regions.” Under this model, CMSIntelligence works with various veterinary, dental and insurance brands across North America, and has created over 2000 websites. They have created a robust set of digital tools and systems companies can utilize to operate efficiently, such as intranets, onboarding systems and specialized programming.
But like many other companies in Niagara when they were just starting out, they were told they would need to operate their company out of Toronto to gain access to the best talent; they disagreed.
“We made the decision right at the very beginning that we were going to build this business, and we were going to do it in Niagara because we like it here, and there are lots of reasons to like it here. And at the same time, everything in Toronto was getting more and more expensive for people. We believed there would be people wanting to move here over time, either back home or to start a family, or just to escape the high cost, rat-race kind of feel.”
CMSIntelligence started with just four people on staff. For the first couple of years they hired one person a year, and then started hiring two people per year. Last year though, CMSIntelligence added 5 people to their team and have already added 6 more so far in 2020.
“It’s really starting to accelerate.” With an average growth in revenue of 30% each year, Frank and Lisa project there will be about 25 people on their team by the end of 2020, joining its roster of programmers, developers, graphic designers, content writers and project managers.
“We have the absolute best team here. They are smart and collaborative, creative and great problem solvers. There has been no trouble at all finding great people here. We have never had to settle.”
When Frank predicted people would soon recognize the value Niagara offers, and would want to make Niagara their place to live and work, he was right. “We have had no problem when we have put up job postings; we get dozens and dozens of applications for these jobs and about 60% of them are not from Niagara, and they are willing to move.”
Take Kimberly Hill for example. Hill was born and raised in St. Catharines. She graduated from Brock University with a business degree and when she found work in Mississauga, she packed her stuff and moved to start her career. “I felt like I needed to go where the bigger companies were,” Hill said. But after eight years, she decided it was time for a career change and returned to Niagara to study computer science at Brock University, and web design at Niagara College.
Three years ago, when Hill finished her first year at Niagara College, a professor told her about a local company that was looking for a summer intern and asked if she was interested. She applied and was offered the position. She’s been working as a web developer for CMSIntelligence ever since.
“There’s more opportunities and companies in Niagara than people think there are here. I didn’t want to leave Niagara again after graduating. I appreciate St. Catharines; it’s small, but we are doing business with people across the country and into the U.S.”
Jeremy Adams, Vice President of Product for CMSIntelligence, moved back to Niagara five years ago after living in Toronto for 14 years. He moved to Toronto to attend Ryerson University’s New Media program and stayed when he found work in Toronto. When he and his wife, a nurse, were married in 2014 they started thinking about raising a family. With both of them originally from small towns, “the feeling was that we wanted to raise our kids in a smaller area where it was more affordable and there was greater access to nature. We love to hike and bike,” says Adams.
Before landing his role at CMSIntelligence, Adams was concerned there might not be many opportunities for him in Niagara. “I was eager to move to Niagara once I knew I had something here. Since I have been here, I have realized there is more than I ever would have guessed at the time.”
The same was true for Jen Burkholder, project manager for CMSIntelligence. It wasn’t until Jen started to look for work in Niagara that she realized how many opportunities there were here. Burkholder grew up in Thorold and graduated from Brock University, and when she moved to Toronto to continue her studies in communications, she wasn’t sure she’d return to Niagara. Her program had a job placement component, which led her to her first job and eventually, the purchase of a condo in Toronto.
But when she and her husband had a baby seven years later, they decided to return to Niagara to be closer to family. “It’s nice to be back. I especially like downtown St. Catharines. When I was in university, there were a lot of social, art and literature events I was involved in and they all happened in the downtown core.I liked the sense of community and creativity. It’s really cool to see how much things have changed and evolved since I have been gone and returned.”
“We live in a house with a yard, only six minutes away from work with a daycare nearby. That just wasn’t attainable in Toronto.”
“The tech ecosystem in Niagara is growing. You can see it,” says Coy. “People are realizing you can do it here, and if I might add, you can do it if you’re a little bit older, too.” Frank believes that “if you’ve been at the managerial level of a larger entity, you can use the business skills and experience you’ve aquired and apply it to growing something fresh.”
CMSIntelligence went to working remotely in March but that didn’t slow their growth curve down, in fact it accelerated their business. “We are expanding our footprint at our present location from about 1,900 square feet to 5100 square feet. We can see the trajectory is going to require that we have the extra space; however, COVID has taught us a lot about what that space should do for our team,” said Coy. CMSIntelligence has created a lounge and casual meeting space as well as maintaining their yoga and stretching area as part of a wellness initiative created for the team to take advantage of.
Written by Catherine Rice.