I first heard of Infusion Development at the National Business and Technology Conference held in Toronto, early this year.
The CEO of the company, Greg Brill, was a guest speaker there. His candid speech on entrepreneurship and its struggles was the first time that I ever thought of using my engineering degree beyond a desk job at a reputable company. The speech was what partly compelled me to take the Entrepreneurship and Small Business course this semester. Thus, when the entrepreneur’s biography assignment came, I decided Greg would be the man to call.
Due to difficulties in setting up an interview with Greg as he lived in New York, I got the opportunity of interviewing his partner and founder of Infusion Canada, Alim Somani. Alim; a man possessing the “entrepreneurial” spirit, the drive and the persistence to make a difference, is the President of Infusion Development. He found time in his busy schedule and kindly accepted the interview. We arranged to meet at his office in downtown, Toronto.
Background Alim Somani was born in Fredericton and raised in Calgary, Vancouver and Washington, DC.He attended Georgetown Day High School in Washington before being accepted to the University of Waterloo’s Electrical Engineering program in 1996. He successfully completed his degree in 2001, but not before winning both the Ontario and Canadian Engineering Competitions (OEC and CEC) in his final year at University. He had always been inclined towards entrepreneurial activities, seen from the fact that he won 1st place in the corporate and technical design in the OEC and the CEC, He would always come up with different business ideas and mull over their pros and cons with his Economics Professor, Prof.
Larry Smith; whom he credits for helping him with making his initial entrepreneurial decisions. He worked under Prof. Smith during his undergraduate research apprenticeship. It was during his university years that Alim came into contact with Infusion Development for the first time.
It was through his then-room mate Sheldon Fernandez. Sheldon Fernandez had met Greg Brill and was going to work as a co-op student for his consultancy firm in New York. Fernandez recommended Alim, and that’s where the whole story began. In January 2000, Alim joined Infusion Development as a co-op student.
He knew right then that he fit in and this was something he would like pursuing. But the situation was temporary; the duration of the co-op experience was only 1 term, it was going to be back to school in a short while. That is where S-Squared solutions came in. Co-op to S-Squared Alim always had the smarts; all he needed was the opportunity.
It was already established that he was a competent engineer and that he had great potential. His time at Infusion was proof of that and Greg Brill knew this. Seeing the latent ability in Alim, Greg and his wife and partner Deborah came to a decision.They wanted Alim and Sheldon to continue working for them while having their independence at the same time; they proposed the start of S-Squared Solutions with Infusion Development being the main client.
Alim, who had already been exposed to entrepreneurship, did not need much convincing. And S-Squared Solutions was born. Alim co-founded and managed the successful IT consultancy during his time at the University of Waterloo. Prof.
Smith helped him a lot during the initial struggle. He was the one who introduced Alim to the accountants and lawyers; he hired for the company.The experience and knowledge gained during that initial venture put Alim on sound footing when he began building Infusion’s Canadian presence. Start of Infusion Canada The start of Infusion Canada, it seems had a lot to do with timing.
Alim was graduating at the time and his relationship with Infusion hadn’t changed. He loved working for Infusion and Greg still wanted him onboard. Asking Alim to head the Canadian operations seemed like a logical step forward. Greg and Deborah came up with the idea of staring Infusion Canada.
They proposed the idea around the summer of 2000.According to Alim, it was better than continuing with S-Squared, as with Infusion Canada there was more security and growth. Infusion New York’s clients became Infusion Canada’s clients. Moreover, this was at the time of the huge Dot Com burst, future was bleak for many start-ups and being one of many wasn’t on Alim’s agenda.
He wanted what all entrepreneurs want, the opportunity of doing his own thing, his own way, and the chance of being accountable for his own success. Greg and Deborah were giving Alim this very opportunity. It was the same as having S-Squared solutions but with a big brother company protecting it.This way Alim could continue doing the work he was doing, all the while growing Infusion Development’s presence in the Canadian market.
Another great reason was the fact that not much investment was required. With the business expertise of Deborah Brill, and the shielding presence of Infusion Development, Alim was free to concentrate on the technical aspect of the business. The services provided by Infusion Development. Infusion Canada came into being in April 2001.
The Growing Years… Infusion Canada was founded in 2001and has enjoyed significant success since then, growing steadily and building an impressive client list.
With sales that continue to increase each year, Infusion is truly an entrepreneurial success story, and entrepreneurship is an attribute key to its company culture. Since the beginning, Infusion Development has grown organically, treating its employees as partners and allowing them to rise to whatever heights they wish within the organization based solely on attitude and demonstrated aptitude; helping them to grow their careers through training and career enhancement opportunities. Alim is proof of those convictions. Greg trusted in Alim knowing his true potential and worth to the company.
According to Alim, that was very important to them in the early stages and even now. Apart from the technical expertise that Infusion never compromises on, all their employees are hired based on how passionate and ambitious they are towards their job and responsibilities. According to Alim, Infusion is a company that not only concerns itself with monetary growth but also the growth of its people. He pointed out that most of their employees were in their early 30s and late 20s because he believed that technical expertise could be taught, but it is hard to instill drive and passion.
He said that, “Our employees can help set us apart and give us an advantage over our competition. ” The biggest challenge at the start was getting recognized. In a business such as consulting, one doesn’t advertise in the yellow pages. Most clients are sought through word of mouth.
People you work for, generally take you along with them where ever you go. Alim gave an example of a manager at an investment bank Mr. S***. They had handled some work for the bank he worked for.
On leaving that position and moving on to another company, Mr. S*** recommended Infusion Development as a great company and Infusion got another client added to its list.This repeated for every 2nd or 3rd client, expands business. That is why it is vital for Alim that they do right by their clients, as they might not just lose one client, but an entire chain of associated clients.
Another problem during the early years was cash flow. It takes time for a young company to get its bearings and in a consultancy business, timing for the next paycheck is not a given. Earnings are base on finished projects while operating costs need to be taken care of periodically. This was one thing that Alim had to learn through the years, the management of the workload, such that they have minimum number of dry months in a year.
Being a person who lives for challenges; Alim is a person who would rather have something to occupy his time than sit idle. Accomplishments motivate him. This characteristic is what has helped Infusion grow so rapidly in such a short span of time. His determined attitude towards the growth of the company and constant drive to accomplish more has made Infusion what it is today.
As Alim said, “It is easy to get disheartened, at the beginning, when whom ever you call appears to be busy or doesn’t even attend your call, but if you have confidence in yourself and what you represent, these are just challenges that can be won.Sales were hard at the beginning; they lost a contract early on as well. They were designing a web page for; after initial work on the project, the contract got cancelled. But as Alim pointed out, these things are to be taken in stride.
After the initial struggle Alim ensured the success of the Toronto office by establishing a near-shoring practice with a number of large Wall Street investment banks; developing a model by which the banks could secure strong, less expensive, and previously untapped, development resources from Canada.Additionally, by forging key relationships with publishing companies and software giant Microsoft, Alim lead Infusion to stronger, deeper relationships with the large Wall Street banks and to diversification into the Public Sector, winning state and local government clients in New York and New Jersey. This came about from the fact that Infusion has lived by the idea of staying ahead of its competitors. In this fast growing field, Infusion has always made sure that they have professionals trained in the latest technologies.
They have a department dedicated to testing/ training new technologies.An aspect of their partnership with Microsoft is the fact they are one of the first few people to conduct beta testing on Microsoft technologies and incorporate their products in Infusion’s list of services and applications. According to Alim, they also invest a lot in educating their developers and consultants in the world of business. In pursuit of finding a way to help the customer more, they want their technical staff to be well versed in the business side of things as well, such that they can design better applications.
Alim’s biggest accomplishment during the early years was securing a deal between Microsoft and Infusion Development. This was a personal triumph. Infusion Development was chosen to build the training content for Microsoft Technologies and since then Microsoft and Infusion Development have had a golden partnership. Infusion Now When Alim first stepped into Infusion, it was a small-scale company with only 6-7 employees; today Infusion has over 100 employees with offices in New York City, Boston, Toronto, and soon, Seattle and Charlotte, London.
They offer our clients a wide array of IT-related services from consulting and development to training and mentoring. Infusion has made its mark in designing the architecture and implementation of enterprise-scale financial systems and mission-critical solutions. Having successfully implemented solutions for some of the world’s largest banks and government agencies. At the beginning Infusion had few clients, their strongest relationship being with Lehman brothers, a reputed investment firm, today it has over 80 major clients.
Infusion is also a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and is fortunate to enjoy an incredible reputation with Microsoft. They currently employ 6 Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals and are one of their key partners for evangelism, architecture design sessions, proofs of concept, deployment engagements, training, mentoring and technical writing, with many of their white papers being published on MSDN. On June 13th 2006, Infusion got selected as a Microsoft Partner Awards Program regional winner, in the Winning Customer category.Their award-winning solution is the enterprise-scale Content Management Platform we built for a large financial services client using Microsoft Content Management Server, SQL Server 2000 and ASP.
NET. After having made his mark and accomplished so much in a span of less than six years, Alim has no plans of stopping. When asked where he sees Infusion Development in the next 5 years, he replied, ” I want to see Infusion having a stronger Canadian presence, we are still weak in our Canadian sales, I would like to see Infusion being a critical near-shoring partner for big investment banks and organizations.I would like to see Canada being a centre for intellectual property.
I would like to see many companies having spun off from Infusion Development, our employees rising above and reaching further. ” One step towards those goals is Infusion Angels. Infusion Angels For those who don’t know a lot about venture funding, an “angel” is a venture capitalist who invests in companies or ideas at their earliest stages (often before any prototype exists).An angel will help put a company on sound financial and corporate footing, fund its prototype, provide technical/business guidance and help it make initial contacts and secure contracts in relevant industries.
Ultimately, an angel incubates and prepares a company, proves the concept, and paves the way for the next, much larger round of venture financing. This project is really close to Alim as he and Greg have been meaning to start something similar for a long time. Knowing the struggle and confusion involved with starting up a business, they wanted to make it easier for the next generation of entrepreneurs.Drawing on the lessons he has learned since starting up the Canadian operations of New York-based software firm Infusion Development Corp.
He said in an interview with the GlobeandMail,” We can give them some of the grey hairs from our experience. ” pointing to the young, upcoming innovators of the world. According to Alim, Infusion Angel’s goal is to identify, fund, and help grow concepts into full fledged, revenue-oriented companies with the ultimate goal of dominance in a given market, sale to larger, publicly-traded entities, or a public offering.Their first office was opened at the University of Waterloo.
“We chose to focus the fund on the University of Waterloo because, as a company run and staffed by UW alumni, we enjoy special understanding and relationships with the UW community. Mostly, we are excited that the fund will allow us to elevate our relationship with the University of Waterloo and its students,” said Alim Somani, at the opening. “There’s a real entrepreneurial buzz in the Waterloo region and, as alumni, we’re in a unique position to tap into that.Alim has made the work with the University of Waterloo students a priority and is committed to providing startup funds of between $50,000 and $100,000 for viable business projects.
“The money is part of it,” says Alim. “But so much more is the mentoring and volunteering. ” He is currently expanding Infusion Angels operations beyond the region of Waterloo and the sister company of Infusion Development is in the early stages of helping individuals realize their dreams.