Written by Andrew Seale
TWG isn’t a big enterprise, nor are they are startup, but they will teach you to be both.
“In the Toronto tech community, we’re able to be a bridge between those really important groups of companies that are defining the city right now,” explains Andrés Aquino, managing partner at the software and app development house. “The upstarts that are changing the landscape very quickly and the larger organizations that’ve established this city, the industries and how they evolved.”
Part of that ambition stems from the company’s roots. TWG was launched in 2002 as The Working Group, a name meant to hook the academic circles the custom software developers were after. It didn’t pay off, the academic world doesn’t really pay for custom software development. But the name stuck anyways.
“Over time it grew to mean something different, we’d roll up our sleeves and get stuff done,” says Aquino who joined in 2008. They were just a small group of engineers and Aquino and Dominic Bortolussi (who initially founded the company with two friends who have since left) wore all the hats, project management, strategy, marketing, finance, and so on.
“From there we started improving our work quality and building really complex software mostly for the web,” recalls Aquino. Their client base was growing in tandem with Toronto’s budding startup community. Then they hit a realization, people weren’t paying TWG to write code, they were paying them to build programs that’d grow their business.
“And for the last eight or nine years we’ve been growing off that principal that every organization is destined to become software-centric or they’re going to be in trouble,” says Aquino. “And so we want to see the world where every company has software – a digital mindset – in their DNA.”
They’ve since expanded from under 15 employees to almost 90, working with startups looking to accelerate their pace and larger companies trying to tap into that startup mindset. They’ve watched Toronto’s startup ecosystem find itself over that time as well.
“When I compare the community then to now it’s hardly recognizable if you’re starting a company today you would have so much wisdom and so much understanding based on the proven track that so many companies have,” says Aquino. “There was a turning point between 2009 and 2011 something flipped and since then it’s just been momentum building and compounding success and willingness for change.”
One of the best features of the community, says Aquino, is the cross collaboration between larger businesses and agile startups.
“The fallacy is that it doesn’t happen, that the stodgy old companies don’t want to work with the startups,” he says. “But it does (though it) only happens with successful startups… the road to landing a partnership with a big client is not an easy one.”
But then again, neither was building an ecosystem, or a company, from scratch. There’s a whole lot of acquisition, incubation and investment that needs to happen.
“That’s what people don’t realize about how an ecosystem is built… it’s not based off one great idea and one guy in his garage, it’s many people working on problems, sharing ideas, learning what works, what doesn’t work,” he says. “All those things (need to) go into a mix together.”