Outside In is a five-part series that delves into the global issues affecting business in 2019.
In Part 1 we look at the big picture on trade and introduce you to three Atlantic Canadian companies winning at the export game.
There are four words entrepreneurs love to hear: right place, right time.
And those words apply to St. John’s-based Seaformatics Systems Inc.
The right time was launching their Waterlily product when they did.
In early 2018, the company began manufacturing and selling Waterlily — a portable system that recharges personal devices using wind or flowing water.
And from the beginning it was a hit.
When they launched Waterlily on a pre-production basis in April 2017, the pre-orders flooded in.
“We had about 1,300 pre-orders before we actually started shipping. We’ve got over 2,500 customers now,” Seaformatics CEO Andrew Cook said. “We actually only marketed our product in the United States and Canada. That was it. We didn’t do any marketing outside. All of the sales outside the U.S.A. and Canada were organic, just through the power of social media and viral spread. … We’re on all six continents.”
“We’re in just under 50 countries now — 45-plus,” Seaformatics marketing lead Brendan O’Keefe added.
The success brought lessons for the company as it transitioned from a startup with a prototype to an export operation.
As they navigated online orders, credit card payments and shipping to far more countries around the world than they anticipated, they quickly learned the ropes of the best ordering and payment methods.
Now the company has a new main focus — marketing, marketing, marketing.
This year, Seaformatics is aiming for the Canadian and American outdoors markets.
“Within a year’s time we want to be emerging as basically one of the go-to brands for portable power technology,” Cook said. “So, when people are going out in the outdoors and they go and do their online searches (for gear), we want to be one of the ones that pop up.”
More and more people are getting out of their communities to enjoy the outdoors. And more and more people are carrying personal devices that need to be recharged.
Add them together and it presents a major opportunity for Waterlily.
The unit is small enough to fit in a backpack. Park it in a river overnight, or tow it behind your canoe and it can recharge the USB-equipped device of your choice.
It works by wind power, too.
“Certainly, there’s a focus on ‘green,’ and people are moving more towards the environment-friendly side of the outdoors and taking equipment and tech with you,” Cook said. “But just in general, I think people are carrying more and more when they go into the outdoors.
Some people fight it and say, ‘When I go into the outdoors I just go out a knife and a match,’ but there’s more and more people that are out in the outdoors who are carrying their cellphones or GoPros and whatever else you have.
“The other thing is there’s more and more and more products that are being produced that are rechargeable. That’s again, just another trend. You don’t see new flashlights that have batteries hardly anymore, they’re all rechargeable flashlights now.”
O’Keefe added, “Ten years ago we would have really struggled launching what we’re launching because (Waterlily) wasn’t outputting to an AA battery.”
“That’s the piece,” Cook said. “We call it the modern outdoor enthusiast, because the modern outdoor enthusiasts are the people that are carrying their cellphone. No matter what you take, almost everybody takes their cellphone.”
O’Keefe added, “You don’t need your map, you don’t need your flashlight, you don’t need your GPS — it’s all on your phone.”
Seaformatics also has political trends on their radar — specifically, ongoing global trade tensions.
“For us, being in Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t really pose any barriers, No. 1, because we really just do design and marketing from here. All production and shipping is done from Ontario,” Cook said. “But in terms of export itself, there are certainly some concerns on the horizon with respect to any new tariffs and duties, on especially the Chinese goods. Not because our product is made in China, but most of the components come from Asia. So how that’s going to affect us when our product goes across the border to the United States we don’t know.”
Mark Vaughan-Jackson is business editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These companies are doing export right. Click the portrait or the headline to explore regional our export success stories.