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Avigilon Corp., a leader in high-definition surveillance systems, was started in Vancouver in 2004 by Alexander Fernandes. With more than 20 years of experience helping companies develop, manufacture and market high-end digital imaging products in a range of markets, Fernandes saw the need for innovation and especially better image quality in the surveillance field.
Avigilon Corp. founder and CEO Alexander Fernandes
Avigilon today is booming. Still based in Vancouver, it has 200 employees working in most major cities around the world. Its systems are installed in banks, airports, stores, casinos and government offices, and it was ranked among the fastest growing software companies in North America in 2011 on the Deloitte Fast 500. Revenue was $67.6 million for the first nine months of 2012, an increase of 64 per cent from $41.2 million in the same period last year. By far the majority of Avigilon’s market is overseas, representing more than 90% of total sales.
Fernandes, Avigilon’s president and chief executive officer, shines a light on the company’s strategies:
Has overseas expansion been an important part of your growth strategy?
From Day 1 we planned on being a global company. After spending four years focusing on R&D, in 2007 we started selling our products at home and internationally. Now we’re in more than 80 countries around the world, and we’ve got our sights set on expanding further in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, to address a $29 billion market.
Who are your competitors? What advantages do you have?
In our market space, Avigilon is one of the only companies that offers software and hardware. We like to think of ourselves as a software company that builds our own cameras. Some of our competitors on the hardware space include Axis Communications, Pelco and Bosch. On the software side, we have a couple, like Milestone and Exacq. It’s hard to name them all, though, as it’s a highly fragmented market, and no one competitor owns more than 5% of the market share.
We’re seeing such a huge adoption of our technology for a couple of reasons. Our high-definition systems are easy to use and provide the best image detail in the industry. It means that you can use fewer cameras and cover a wider area.What most people don’t realize is that for every camera, there’s an installation and labour cost. As a rule of thumb, for every dollar you spend on equipment, you should estimate another $1 to $2 in labour and installation costs. So, for every dollar you’re saving on equipment, you’re actually saving $3 on a total system. We offer the broadest range of megapixel cameras in the industry, so our customers get the surveillance system that fits their needs.
Finally, our broad range of products caters to clients of all sizes and in all industries, and can be integrated with previously existing systems.
How do you succeed in business beyond Canada?
It starts with the vision for your company. We always anticipated selling globally, so we structured ourselves to be able to scale with global demand. Having flexible systems and processes will help businesses be successful beyond Canada.
The first overseas market we branched out to was the U.K. They have a similar legal system, speak English and have similar business values to Canada, therefore the transition was much easier.
Another thing that has helped us greatly is hiring and partnering with local people in those markets. They are experts in their field and already know how to do business there, so the transition isn’t as great.
You talk about constantly innovating to get ahead. How do you do this?
I take innovation seriously and focus much of the company’s efforts on fostering it. Because the high-definition surveillance industry is developing rapidly, we focus on unmet needs in the market to stay ahead. Sometimes these needs aren’t identified by the market yet, but we’re willing to take those risks.
For example, our 29-megapixel camera was thought by many in the industry to be overkill. But we’re seeing more and more customers adopt the technology, and we’re finding new applications for a camera this powerful. For example, shipping companies can use it to read numbers as ships pass by, to know what freight is coming in. Airports can use it to determine when flights are getting in and leaving, which helps them in disputes with airlines when flights are at gates too long. One of our clients, Malca-Amit, ships the majority of the world’s diamonds, and they use it to monitor vehicles coming to their warehouse. This is just one example of how we’re staying ahead of our industry, and bringing new ideas to the table.
Our “secret sauce” is our proprietary high-definition stream management, or HDSM, technology, which allows us to intelligently transmit large amounts of video footage data by sending only what is needed. If a customer needs more detail, then HDSM will send that through. That’s how we’re able to get 29-megapixel video streams to your iPhone or Android phone.
Is Vancouver a good place to do business in your field? Is Canada a good base from which to compete abroad?
Vancouver is certainly an excellent place for us to base our head office, it’s a talent hub of software developers and engineers. The city has an entrepreneurial spirit and a great lifestyle. We pride ourselves in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility based in Richmond, B.C. We are able to closely control the manufacturing of our products and maintain the highest quality product possible, ensuring that our systems perform in the field exactly as anticipated. I believe that Canada is a great place to start a business, as we’re friendly with the majority of countries around the world.
What are your top three tips for companies looking to expand and succeed overseas?
1. Start with global aspirations in mind—and don’t be afraid to think big. We’re headquartered and manufacturing in Canada and winning. If you’ve got a great idea that a large market needs, go after it.
2. Develop a five-year strategic plan for expansion. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish in three to five years. A lot of people start with a one-year plan, but that’s not long enough to create real impact.
3. Bring on the right team to achieve your goals. If you have people who believe in your idea, you can do amazing things.
This interview has been edited and condensed.