Today’s startups need to stay nimble: how technology can help

Calgary’s Paper Interactive, Inc. offers a good lesson for startups on the benefits of staying open to new ideas. The company behind ContractClub (a cloud-based contract management and digital signature platform) actually began as a group of engineering students looking to solve a common issue for wind-powered generator companies: accurately mapping wind.

I know what you’re thinking: they went from wind mapping to online contracting? That doesn’t seem like a natural leap.

Paper Interactive Chief Operations Officer Charles Bird (left) and CEO Adrian Camara (right)

“We started this big data project at the University of Calgary and realized we had a system that didn’t exist on the market, and could be useful to the many wind-powered farms that are operating around Canada,” explains Chief Operations Officer Charles Bird. “So we got funding from the [university’s] Hunter Centre to explore commercialization, and were given space and resources at The Inc. at Innovate Calgary.”

“But through [Innovate Calgary’s] business discovery process, we realized our idea was untenable — we didn’t have enough resources and funding to build out the full product, and buy all the IP for it.”

By that time, the team had a functioning analytics platform that they built using the Rapid Access Cloud, and had developed a taste for entrepreneurship. What they needed was a new idea. This came quickly after talking to local lawyer (and now Paper’s CEO), Adrian Camara. He complained that the legal field was still heavily reliant on printed documents, and wondered if they could create a digital solution.

“Keeping up with all the legal paperwork is easy if you have a big company with a lot of resources — or are wealthy,” says Charles. “But for the other 90% of people, it’s painfully slow, expensive and repetitive. Adrian asked if we could use cloud computing to make this better.”

The team (which has grown from six to nine in the last year) launched its first product on ContractClub (an e-signature tool, left) a month ago. Charles says they market-tested their system for months, continuously tweaking and improving it based on user feedback. This helped them adapt Paper’s original product (a tool that was directly marketed to lawyers) into something that can be used by anyone who is doing contracting or business forms.

“We want to use our technical resources and expertise to really listen to users and build a simple-to-use tool that will help them,” says Charles.

The fast-changing nature of technology has allowed them to be this adaptable, and is an example of the flexible nature all companies will need to demonstrate to survive the evolving 21st century market.

Charles says Paper’s next steps are to roll out more tools on ContractClub that make it easier for people to run their businesses online.

From a group of engineering students building a wind map on the Rapid Access Cloud, to a global e-contract corporation? Anything is possible at this point. We’re excited to see how far Paper will go!