It was the big-company job ad that lured you with the promise of a challenging role with above-average compensation and a cool, modern work space.
Then you logged into the company’s online career portal to apply, and your perception changed.
Old, clunky and counterintuitive, it made you wonder what other unpleasant surprises might lurk behind the company’s otherwise forward-looking facade – so instead of applying, you clicked Cancel and moved on.
Large companies are often aware that their software systems are less than stellar when it comes to user experience, but the vast sums of money they’ve invested in these legacy systems – which can run into millions – make them reluctant to act.
Ian McDonald, a Waterloo Region tech veteran of companies large and small, knows this pain point particularly well. So, when the opportunity to join a fast-growing but little-known company called InFlight came along, he seized it.
The company, which launched four years ago in St. Catharines, Ont. and soon added a development office in Waterloo Region, makes software that applies a more-intuitive, easy-to-use and mobile-friendly interface to those clunky enterprise systems, saving big companies the expense of replacing them outright.
Last month, McDonald joined InFlight as its Managing Director, Strategy and Marketing after successfully launching and growing TD Lab, the Canadian bank’s innovation operation at the Communitech Hub. Prior to that, he worked with Waterloo-based drone-maker Aeryon Labs and with BlackBerry.
McDonald recently took a bit of time out from opening InFlight’s new Waterloo Region office – in a stately and spacious old house across King Street from Grand River Hospital in Kitchener – to talk about his new role.
Q – Tell me about InFlight – what does the company do and where is it based?
A – If you’ve worked in a midsize or larger company I already know that you’ve felt the pain and frustration of ancient and unproductive enterprise software. Seemingly simple tasks like changing benefits, onboarding employees, or workflow approvals are made complex by bad design and limited functionality. Or maybe you didn’t join one of those companies because you felt that frustration using their career portals – and you decided not to apply.
InFlight transforms those legacy systems into modern and mobile experiences that empower employees, delight customers and make business processes efficient and effortless. We believe that multimillion-dollar enterprise software should be as intuitive as the best apps on your smartphone – and InFlight has made that a reality for some of the best companies in the world.
The InFlight concept was initially realized in an enterprise systems integration consulting firm, and in early 2013 our founder James La Brash separated from the firm to commercialize InFlight as a standalone solution and platform in St. Catharines, Ont. The Waterloo office was opened later that year – it’s now the largest office and continues to grow. InFlight also has an office in Easthampton, Mass.
Q – What are InFlight’s plans for Waterloo Region specifically? How big a presence will you have here, and how involved in the ecosystem does the company plan to be?
A – As we speak we’re moving into our new offices at 914 King St. W. in Kitchener – in the heart of midtown. So far InFlight has been very successful operating under the radar, but we’re going to be much more connected and visible going forward.
Q – You spent the past few years launching and building up the TD Lab at the Communitech Hub, and helping to move one of Canada’s biggest banks in a more innovative direction. Before that, you worked with some of this region’s top tech companies. What did you learn in those past roles that will help you in your new role at InFlight?
A – Working in Waterloo Region tech I’ve experienced the Communitech trifecta. I’ve been able to help companies start, grow and succeed in a diverse spectrum of solutions, industries, and geographies. I’ve learned a lot – through success and failure – and most importantly how to quickly synthesize insights into strategy and action.
Most recently building TD Lab I learned how to help mature companies in traditional industries build new innovation capabilities, respond quickly to market changes, mitigate disruption and explore new opportunities. We demonstrated that organizational transformation starts with people and culture, and breaking the shackles of “business as usual” processes.
This is why I’m so excited about joining InFlight. Any company that expects innovation from its employees needs to deliver experiences that inspire them – and simplify processes so they can dedicate more time and focus on critical projects.
You know a solution is truly disruptive when it aligns with a business-critical need and customer aspiration, which they can’t solve themselves, and against which traditional approaches simply don’t measure up. Also, because InFlight deploys at a fraction of the cost and time, customers can redeploy those resources to innovate, grow and transform their business.
It’s also a stellar team. I get more excited every time I talk about our solutions and our team – so that’s a great sign.
Q – Talent – and specifically, a perceived shortage of it – is a perennial issue in Waterloo Region, as companies scale and try to find the best people. How does InFlight plan to approach that challenge?
A – … great, so I can mention we’re hiring! We are scaling up quickly, and locally. We’re growing the digital marketing team, and hiring both software developers and delivery engineers. I think in the growth of the local ecosystem we’re also seeing a greater diversity of companies, which means there are more places for people to find their best career and cultural fit.
We’re looking for more team members who are passionate about making a big impact, who learn quickly, and want to help us build one of the best enterprise software companies in the world.
Q – Given your broad experience in tech and the opportunities that come with that, why have you decided to stay in Waterloo Region as opposed to moving to a bigger tech community like Toronto or Silicon Valley?
A – We have a truly exceptional ecosystem here. You can work with best-in-world companies in a diversity of tech, solutions and industries – and you can succeed globally. As many have said, it’s also a uniquely supportive community where we share experience and expertise freely. I’ve turned down many tempting opportunities – none was compelling enough against what I’d be leaving behind.
Q – Anything else to add?
A – I’m excited that in addition to my work at InFlight, I’ve found another way to help companies innovate across their organization – as I’ll be working with Craig Haney and the Communitech corporate innovation team to help more companies become Nimble Hippos.