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Sending employees half way around the globe just to attend a meeting is no longer an option for companies wanting to stay competitive and cost-efficient in today’s economy. Filling the gap is video-conferencing as developed by Librestream Technologies Inc.
Using the hand-held Onsight system
Based in Winnipeg, the company founded by chief executive officer Kerry Thacher in 2003 makes a video collaboration system called Onsight that puts video conferencing into the palms of users’ hands.
The hand-held mobile device and its accompanying software allow for communication in places previously thought too remote, such as offshore oil rigs and operations facilities a continent away. Onsight’s reach is the result of collaboration software that runs on remote computers and handheld, rugged video devices that enable workers to communicate with multiple parties using video, voice and sound.
“Together the field workers and the remote experts connect and share live video and images, talk and draw onscreen, accelerating and improving decisions,” Thacher says. “When more than just a meeting is required to diagnose, review and resolve issues, Onsight provides the answer.”
How did you get started?
Those of us who started Librestream came from the mobile device manufacturing industry. There, we experienced the inefficiencies and high costs associated with collaborating across internal operations and externally with suppliers, who were often overseas. We found ourselves dealing with avoidable program delays, spending too much time in airports and hotels and felt there had to be a better way.
What’s your market?
Our core market includes global enterprises within the manufacturing and energy industry sectors. Manufacturers range from consumer packaged goods such as Procter & Gamble to industrial equipment manufacturers such as Baker Hughes. In the energy sector, we work with oil and gas operators, service providers and utility customers. These companies use Onsight in many ways. In some cases, Onsight streamlines new product development processes, performs safety audits and equipment maintenance, accelerates customer field service repair and/or improves supplier management.
Who’s your ideal client?
Onsight is designed for customers with geographically dispersed operations, which resulted in Librestream’s first customers being large multinational corporations. Onsight delivers the most value when it enables international collaboration, so Librestream targeted beyond Canada from the very beginning.
Was it a success from the get-go?
Librestream’s founders, myself included, had prior experience with large companies who simultaneously launched products in many countries. This translated into strong working knowledge of the regulatory approval steps necessary to achieve widespread international availability.
However, we quickly encountered interest from outlier countries where we had no experience. In those cases we sought out partners with experience in those markets. These partners helped with translation and approvals in their markets, in exchange for being able to resell Onsight in their market.
Our success with large multinationals immediately created an issue where the customer wanted Onsight available everywhere, meaning dozens of countries simultaneously. We agreed with these customers to a hub principle, where the U.S. headquarters would act as the central point of distribution and support for us. This meant we ended up dealing with a single point of contact.
In some cases, Onsight was deemed strategic enough to justify these customers offering their own front line support. We focused on these individuals and made sure that they received support from us that was well beyond the norm for any technology product. As a result, these people have become long-standing advisers and advocates, and Onsight was quickly deployed in many countries.
Can you address the universality of the product?
From an industry perspective, there are many additional uses for our product outside of manufacturing and energy in industries such as health care, insurance and general field service. For example, in the health care industry, Onsight is used to perform remote patient monitoring and consults as part of the home care service or in regions where access to specialists is challenging.
Where do you do the bulk of your business?
The majority of our business initially came from the U.S. and Europe. This geographic focus continues today, even though we have since also made inroads into Asia and initial deployments in Latin America through distributor relationships.
Do you have to travel much or has your own invention made travelling obsolete?
Due to the nature of our solution, travel is not a large part of our business. We deliver solutions that replace travel through remote collaboration. As a result, we deliver the majority of our pre-sales demonstrations and post-sales service through video and online meetings.
Do you partner with local companies?
We initially launched Onsight through a relationship with one of the largest video conferencing providers at the time, Tandberg, out of Norway. This partnership provided us with immediate global market reach through Tandberg’s large direct sales force and reseller channel. It also provided instant credibility for our new product category of operations-driven video collaboration.
The original Tandberg relationship ended in 2010. By then, we felt it was more important to develop closer relationships with our enterprise grade customers, and we had already gained credibility in the industry. Our current distribution model is a mix of direct sales alongside strategic partnerships such as Cisco and Verizon, distributors in new markets such as Asia as well as indirect sales through reseller partners.
Does a strong Canadian dollar hurt you?
A strong Canadian dollar hurts us because most of our sales are in U.S. dollars, and the majority of our costs are in Canadian dollars. However, we built our pricing and business model from the beginning to not be dependent on a weak Canadian dollar. So over all, while a strong Canadian dollar hurts us somewhat, it is a relatively minor factor in our overall performance.
Your biggest surprise?
Librestream continues to be much more successful outside of Canada than here at home. We find that there is a propensity in Canada to be very conservative when it comes to new technology and solutions, especially if a Canadian company is involved. We have a national inferiority complex about our own technology companies until they prove themselves somewhere else first. This is a surprise, but also a disappointment: Librestream is more successful with the U.S. government than our own Canadian government, whose procurement policies have turned out to put us at a disadvantage in our home market.
What would you tell others in your shoes to do?
The Canadian market is neither large nor representative enough for you to focus exclusively on it. Plan to be international right from the beginning.
Anything else you’d like to tell Canadian entrepreneurs?
Don’t think of yourself as a Canadian company. Treat borders as irrelevant.
This interview has been edited and condensed.