Entrepreneur François Gaouette created Amilia in 2008 with the goal of revolutionizing the recreation industry using an online registration platform that was both versatile and comprehensive.
His basic idea, explains the founder and president, was to lighten the administrative load for organizations. “The community recreation sector is often kept afloat by volunteers or coaches who don’t necessarily have the expertise to set up an effective registration system. Even today, you often see registrations being done by hand and paid for by cheque! But in 2019, frankly, that’s a completely outdated way of doing things!” This is what led François Gaouette to develop smart software, adapted to recreational activities, that allows for online registration and participant management.
Amazon for activitiesGaouette started his own business after a long stint working as an investor in venture capital. “After spending 15 years financing technology start-ups, I said to myself that I wasn’t any crazier than anyone else, so I decided to create what I call the Amazon for activities,” he explains.
Gaouette’s project differs from typical online businesses in that it’s more complex to set up. In particular, he needed to develop all kinds of functionalities in order to make his platform intuitive and easy to use, such as distributing application forms to be completed by participants, managing personnel schedules, coordinating space availability, evaluating the different courses and workshops offered, and offering an option to create an e-business on the interface where related products could be sold, amongst other capabilities.
Any organization can use Amilia, no matter whether it offers lessons in tennis, figure skating, hockey or dance; provides access to a gym; operates a summer camp or after-school activities; or provides access to local community activities. Besides being responsible for a 19 percent increase in enrolments amongst its clients, the new company was awarded the 2018 technology prize by the AQT (Association québécoise des technologies) as part of its SME contest.
Giving yourself timeWhen asked for advice for young entrepreneurs aiming to start a business, Gaouette insists on the importance of giving yourself the time and the opportunity to be successful. “We often want our business to take off quickly. But I think instead you need to accept that a lot of time and energy might be necessary before your company meets with success.”
It should be said that engagement and motivation are Gaouette’s most prized values. “At Amilia, our company culture is founded on a single word: care. All employees need to genuinely care about our customers, our product, their co-workers and themselves.” To staff such a highly collaborative environment, Gaouette admits to having a preference for applicants who demonstrate a true entrepreneurial streak. “It’s important to me to rely on employees that are capable of making decisions and taking the initiative. Each of them is kind of their own boss and needs to demonstrate leadership.”
American empireFor Gaouette, who acquired his first American company in the spring of 2018 (a consulting firm specializing in recreation), Amilia is just getting started. “We currently have 800 clients. But in Quebec alone, there’s a potential for 20,000 clients. And in the States, a market we’re currently getting into, you’re talking about a million!”
So although there’s a possibility that Amilia’s technology will eventually be exported to Europe or even Australia, for the moment the company aims to first conquer all of North America from its base here in Quebec. “In the past, I’ve often had to work with American companies,” says the businessman.
“While they have access to more capital than we do, they definitely don’t have access to more talent—our developers and marketing specialists are just as good as theirs are! I’m proud that our expertise can be exported, even more so because there’s a lot of very strong competition from the U.S. in our sector… But the truth is, we beat them hands down!”
Amilia in Numbers112: Number of full-time employees at Amilia
Over 1 million: Number of Amilia users
$3 million: Amount of financing given to Amilia by Créativité Québec
19%: Average annual growth in registrations for organizations using Amilia software