Paradata's success is going downhill... and business couldn't be better
Whistler internet company lays first tracks around the world
By Andrew Mitchell
She didn't want to do it, but for the first time in Paradata's history, company President Shannon Byrne has had to lay down the law for her co-workers: starting this year, 30 centimetres of fresh powder would no longer be considered an acceptable excuse for skipping out on work.
"If people want to take off and go skiing, they have to schedule it," says Byrne of Paradata's Ski Policy. "We're running 24 hours a day, seven days a week now. Somebody has to be here at all times."
It's a sign of the times for a small Whistler company that has grown from just four employees to 20 over the past year — and still has 10 positions to fill. But when you have a product everyone needs, for a market that's worth an estimated $400 billion annually, you tend to take things a little more seriously.
Paradata Systems Inc. is something of a pioneer in the on-line world, as the first company in North America to combine the world's most advanced credit card transaction system — Hewlett-Packard's VeriFone vPOS (virtual Point of Sale) software — with the world's most secure transaction protocol — the Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) specification. The result is a faster, safer and easier e-commerce solution for banks and merchants to do business over the Internet.
Today more than 200 customers route their credit card transactions through a network of Paradata servers in Burnaby, which are monitored from the company's headquarters in Function Junction. A lot of those belong to the Royal Bank of Canada, one of Paradata's first customers.
"It took a little while to get the buy-in from the bank," says Byrne. "We were in Whistler, we were four people, and we were telling them we could run their e-commerce operation. Once they saw that our system was working, they were completely blown away. We took them live in September, 1998.
"We've taken the whole (credit card) transaction over the internet, eliminating the middle man in on-line credit payment processes."
Once the Royal Bank got aboard, many of their merchants followed. Word spread and before Byrne could find room for the all the new people she was hiring, Paradata was setting up transaction systems for banks and their merchants all over the world.
"Our timing has been unreal, from positioning the company in Whistler, to where e-commerce is in the world, to where payment processing is going," says Byrne. "Six months ago, the banks didn't really like us. They looked on us as competitors at first, but then the flood hit and they thought 'wow, we can't do this ourselves'. Now, they partner with us. We can install a payment engine for our customers in an afternoon."
In their bid to sign merchants, however, the competition has been fierce — Cybercash, Cybersource and PaymentNet, to name just a few of Paradata's competitors, are already well-established in the e-commerce market. That's why Paradata is aiming over the merchants' heads.
"Our plan is to partner with banks and organizations that have merchants and need e-commerce," says Byrne. The SET protocol, which was established by VISA and MasterCard, and is accepted by all leading credit cards and major on-line organizations, such as IBM, Microsoft and Netscape, is Paradata's in with the major players. It's also why, in their bid to become a brand name among banks and financial institutions, Paradata is virtually alone.
Not bad for a Whistler company, built from the ground up.
For Byrne, a former ski coach and self-confessed ski bum, Paradata's success is the culmination of a dream — to combine her love for snow and the outdoors with her university degree in commerce and master's degree in computer science.
"People come up to me at conferences to talk about our product, and get all excited about our company. Then they get a look at my business card and ask me if I'm in a dream world, or what. They can't believe that we can do all this great stuff and live in Whistler. We have some pretty good skiers and snowboarders out here, but some pretty smart cats as well."
Unlike a lot of Information Technology businesses in B.C., Byrne says Paradata has no problem finding talented people. She credits that to the Whistler location and a corporate culture that does cool things like give everybody a ski pass and schedule days off to use it.
"My goal was to build a corporate culture that I'd want to work in. I've done it all — big companies, start-up companies, contract work, government — just hating the corporate culture. Wearing a dress suit into work just to sit and write code all day, what is that? The thing I'm most proud of is building a great place to work."
Judging by the number of resumes that are coming through the door, she's hit on something. By being able to pick the best of the best, there are no limits to where Paradata can go on the internet.
"Everyone's very aware that we're on the edge of something very big, that what we're sitting on is about to explode," says Byrne. "Right now my biggest risk is to get the resources and people together for the business that's already on my doorstep.
"The first thing I do when I get a resume is to flip to the last page and look at their hobbies and interests. I look for skiing and mountain biking, hiking — we're outdoor people, first and foremost. We work hard and play hard."