In The News
In The News
Scott MacGregor, Jayson Siddiqui and Neil Williams
It’s not uncommon to hear of Telfer Executive MBA classmates working together professionally after completing the program. Afterall, they come to know each other quite well throughout their studies.
Scott MacGregor (2004), Neil Williams (2017) and Jayson Siddiqui (2020) are alumni from three different graduating years, all working at the same company which is less common to hear of. How this came to be, can be summed up as completely coincidental.
What is SageTea Software?
Scott: SageTea, started in 2007 as a consulting company. I joined the company in 2012 when it became a product company launching our Text to Software development tool. The company SageTea has gone through several changes and we’re actually amid re-branding the company to XFONE Technologies. It started as a text to software company which we still offer; we also have an artificial intelligence engine that is getting a lot of attention in many different spheres. More recently we launched a new Linux based mobile phone company. This phone will be the “must have” for coders and Linux enthusiasts.
There are three Telfer EMBA Alumni from different graduating years working at SageTea Software/XFONE Technologies. How did this come about? Did you know one another prior to working together?
Scott: I had seen Neil around because we worked in the same office building, however we had never spoken. I met Jayson for the first time in our office in Gatineau. So no, I hadn’t really met either of them before my business partner (David Long, CEO) suggested they join us as partners in the new XFone launch.
Jayson: When I was considering the Telfer EMBA program, I was invited by the program to attend the 40 Under 40 Awards which they sponsor. That’s where I met Neil. He was at the table as an candidate of the EMBA. At the time, I had all kinds of questions about whether I should undertake the program. Neil and I had a detailed conversation about his program experience. He answered many of my questions and by the end of the event, I was ready to sign up. We stayed in touch a little bit while I was a candidate in the program. Essentially, Neil was the first person I met before even joining the program and now I work alongside him every day, which has been a great experience.
Neil: I had my consulting services out of the same office building where Scott and David were running SageTea. While I had seen Scott around, I didn’t know him. I knew David, our CEO and he would talk to me about the technology he was trying to build when it was still infantile. He knew that I did a lot of international work and had a consulting service as well. He sat down with me and said, ‘what do you think about doing a low-cost carrier option here in Canada?’ I said it sounded interesting. When we sat down a second time, he asked if I’d be willing to do some consulting work and we had a long conversation about where he might be going with the product. Initially it was very much a low-cost carrier option and then the conversation evolved. He came back to me again and said he was thinking about doing something different – a Linux based product and that caught my attention; I thought this was a really good idea. To capture even five percent of the market (which would be billions of dollars), we needed a special product. Instead of accepting consulting fees, I negotiated with David to take an equity position. So that’s how it all started for me. The next thing that happened was David called me up one day and said he found this good hardware guy who is in the phone business – his name is Jayson. And I said, are you talking about Jayson Siddiqui? David said – ‘yes, how do you know him’ and I said, he completed the same EMBA program as I did.
Jayson: How David found me is a funnier story. One day, completely by chance, I decided to check my spam folder and there was an email from someone named David Long that said “I need rooted devices.” A rooted device means you have bypassed some of the security that gives you access to the operating system where you can customize things which other users can’t. I thought, well this doesn’t look like spam. I responded as an EMBA graduate and started the information gathering process, what did he need, and how could I help. I found out he was innovating a Linux based cellular PC. It turned out that way back when, I had researched this idea in the past, so I knew the resources to call. When David asked if I would join the team, I agreed to come on board for an equity position. So essentially David and I met through junk mail. Neil was actively involved with the company, and I didn’t know Scott was a Telfer EMBA graduate until about six months into the job.
What has your experience been like working with colleagues who have gone through the same MBA program?
Neil: I prefer it. It’s nice to work with people who have similar training to share ideas with but whom have completely different backgrounds. We tend to have similar expectations, quality of work we are supposed to be delivering and similar structure. These are three key elements that you take away from the EMBA program. We all have a different skillset and a similar skillset to offer – so it makes it diverse and easy to work together.
Scott: I thought it was great that David had hired two Telfer EMBA graduates. There is so much to do in our business that you really want people around you who can pretty much help with anything. What I’ve learned about these two colleagues is they are phenomenal at sales. They have it down to a fine art. We did sales before but not so finely tuned. With Neil and Jayson coming in, they have brought new energy. I must admit that when David told me he had hired them, my first thought was, how are we going to pay these people because we were just hanging on through the pandemic. Having them come on board has paid for itself ten times over. It has been positive every step of the way and very exciting.
What is a Linux based phone?
Scott: Most cell phones run on android. If they call themselves a Linux phone, they have a kernel of Linux that runs off android. With our phone Linux is bare metal coded right onto the phone. Our phone runs Linux and android at the same time. If you are a developer, you can basically use our phone like a server. You can link on a keyboard, you can link on a monitor – you can basically code anytime, anywhere. Our phone also runs text to software, our AI engine; it runs virtually any open source-based software. When we started Our prototype was a refurbished Google pixels 3a, and now we are working with the Redmi Pro 8 – there are millions of these phones out there and since new versions of these phones are available these models are destined for landfill. We’re taking that landfill phone and making it a very valuable computer that operates much faster than the original product. Our phone market would be primarily coders or businesspeople who want to be able to run their applications natively on their phone, however Neil made a very good point. There are vast parts of the world who skipped the laptop because it was too expensive. A phone that has the capability of a computer at the price point of a phone has a very good global market. The plan is to test market our phones in Ottawa and then we’ll most likely look at Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe for the roll out.
What do you want people to know about your business?
Neil: We solve complex business problems leveraging technology and we do it in a way that is typically more cost effective than many large organizations. We think outside of the box as we try to solve these issues for organizations and our success rate is extremely high. Although the company has been in operation since 2007, we have pivoted and it’s really like a start-up now. We’re on track to have the best fiscal year in the history of the company. We have some compelling products that address various verticals whether it’s government, private business, enterprise level business and they can all be deployed on the XFone as well. There are essentially two divisions of the company: 1. the artificial intelligence and professional services division and 2. the hardware/software division tied to the XFONE.
Can you provide an example of a complex business problem that you are currently working on?
Jayson: We are currently engaged with a major benefit trust in designing a substantial application. The client came to us as they knew of our experience in custom software and professional services for enterprise level clients. They had a legacy system using traditional coding methods. They are now working with us to incorporate our Low-Code platform in conjunction with our ETL tool. This helped not only to automate their process but it also aided in significantly reducing the amount of traditional coding they required, and their yearly support and maintenance costs. They came to us for solutions and we delivered multiple large projects on time and on budget.
Can you explain Text to Software?
Neil: Text to Software essentially allows you to automatically convert business requirements written in English to working applications with little or no coding. Something that would take a good coder three to four hours to do, we can do in minutes. Eventually we will go to market with our Text to Software application but right now it’s our secret weapon. We show it to clients all the time because it’s a compelling product. It allows us to compete with large organizations who have a higher cost – we can provide the same value for a lower cost because we have these tools.
What is your largest hurdle in growing the business?
Neil: We’re in that challenging stage where we’re on track for accelerated growth so it’s a matter of growing the company in a way that makes sense to keep the revenues up consistently as we expand. It’s a fine balance to ensure we have the right amount of people in each department to support each other as we go through this growth.
Scott: I’ll add to Neil’s point and say it’s absolutely about finding the right balance and about finding the right people. We must be very careful about who we continue to bring in because we need people who are as excited about XFONE as we are.
Neil: That’s right. We only want the best which every company does, but we’re in a position where whoever comes in must have buy in. They must be passionate about what we’re doing and the direction the company is going in order to give their all.
Jayson: We put in long days, but it doesn’t feel like work when you’re working with the caliber of people we are working with. To Neil’s point about buy in, it’s not just buy in that we need from people we’re hiring, it’s also buy in from customers that they’re in good hands with us and it’s buy in from the existing employees about the direction we’re taking the company.
What is in store for SageTea Software/XFONE Technologies in the coming year?
Neil: The transition from SageTea re-branding to XFone Technologies has already started and will continue into the New Year. SageTea will still exist – it will be the R&D division of XFone Technologies. It will support the long-term growth of the company by giving us a pipeline of products that we can continue to sell and bring to market. We still want to do the highly customized work that we do, and also want products that we can push out to the market that are more turnkey.
Scott: Other exciting news is we have plans on going public based on domestic and international interest which has been significant.