When Montreal entrepreneurs Marty Algire and Corey Velan pitched their FixMeStick on CBC’s Dragon’s Den in 2013, the dragons were eager to back the company. A bootable USB device that allows computer users to remove viruses on their own, the FixMeStick fills a distinct market niche between conventional virus-prevention security software and calling in a tech team.
But the company’s remarkable success —its 2015 sales were five times 2014 sales—was driven by a slow-growth strategy funded entirely by profitable sales. The company has eschewed outside investors. “In the end, we didn’t sell any equity to anyone,” says Algire. “We did, however, sign a partnership deal with the dragons who introduced us to a hardware supplier that we still use today.”
Algire and Velan invented the FixMeStick in 2011 after working as software engineers in Internet security. They realized that established anti-virus brands that promise protection from computer viruses could not easily promote virus removal solutions. IT experts often use external devices to mend infected computers, so the duo designed one that was simple-to-use and consumer friendly. Holding onto equity has helped them avoid scaling their business before it was ready. The approach may have created a risk that other companies willing to spend big to catch up might quickly get copycat products onto shelves. That hasn’t happened. Software makers may lack the appetite for selling a physical product, which requires an infrastructure for manufacturing, storing and shipping. “We took on a messy and unattractive part of the market,” says Algire.
Although exposure on Dragon’s Den gave FixMeStick a bump in Canadian sales when it aired in January 2014, the duo had their eyes on the much larger national US market. They carefully invested their money in TV advertising aimed not only at boosting sales, but also in drawing the interest of large US retailers. “Over time the TV spots built exposure for the product and showed retailers the company had staying power and a marketing budget, and not just a one-time blow-yourbudget approach. We got one national retailer on board and the rest followed suit,” says Algire.
For the Macintosh computer version of FixMeStick, the company ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, convincing more than 850 backers to contribute more than $50,000 toward the launch. The campaign not only generated revenue, but signalled a consumer demand that would turn into sales. Despite the current focus on the US and Canada, Algire has already been thinking about international expansion starting with the United Kingdom and Europe.
Their Taiwan-based manufacturer may be able to provide a jumping off point for the enormous Chinese market. And there have been many requests for a similar product for smartphones, although that’s tricky. “Smartphones have constraints that make it impossible to attach an external bootable device to it the way you can to a computer, though it would be a very good extension of our brand,” says Algire.
Canadian Business and PROFIT today ranked FixMeStick number 33 on the annual PROFIT 500, the definitive ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. FixMeStick is honoured to be on the PROFIT 500 ranking and thanks all of its customers for being so supportive. We’re excited to see what happens in the years to come!