Launching an innovative startup is not only the responsibility of the entrepreneurs but also of their employees! Maple Media, a U.S.-based mobile application and game development company, understands the importance of having a team you can rely on. From its headquarters in Los Angeles, the company has set up a second office in Gatineau, Quebec, to house its growing development team. We first met up with Simon Lavigne, a developer based in Gatineau, and then spoke with the Los Angeles team to learn a bit more about their company.
Simon’s career path
Hailing from the Outaouais region, Simon has always been a great video game enthusiast. While studying business computing at the Cégep de l’Outaouais, a field with good career prospects, he realizes that it isn’t really what he’s passionate about.
Instead, he turns to the Université de Sherbrooke where a new digital media imaging program has just been put in place, with a branch focused on video games. This university offers two major advantages: student internships and proximity to companies in the field. It is with an internship for a Montreal-based development company that Simon officially enters the industry. Although the city is rich in career opportunities, he eventually decides to follow his heart and return to his native region, in order to start a family with his wife. That’s when his adventure with Maple Media begins to take shape.
Simon gets a job in Ottawa developing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games. This is where he meets Vincent Gravel and Jad Imad, who will later become his colleagues at Maple Media. Determined to work on the Quebec side of the river, Simon then gets a job in the Hull area for a company specializing in video game development and publishing. There’s no shortage of work there. Simon quickly finds himself overwhelmed by a rapidly increasing workload. He therefore makes the decision to leave the studio as an employee and become a subcontractor instead. He then offers his services to several businesses in the area and becomes acquainted with Maple Media through a client. The company is just starting out at that point and has no Internet development team, so they introduce the possibility of Simon working with them as a developer. That’s a chance not to be missed—Simon had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but the journey seemed difficult. Maple Media’s offer is perfect since it would allow him to contribute to the growth of a startup with a strong business plan that also allows for long-term financial stability.
Building a team
Remote work can be a challenge when it comes to team coordination. That’s why after hiring Matt Paine, out of Ontario, Maple Media starts to look for a building to house its new branch. It’s in Cilex’s offices, in Gatineau, that the company decides to establish its development team. They then start growing and welcome in Vincent Gravel and then Jad Imad as developers. The team all works in the same office space, but each team member often focuses on different projects. The diversity of the work speaks to the high skill set of the team and allows Maple Media to grow by acquiring and improving more mobile apps and games over time. In 2019, Simon introduced to the company a new unified technology platform, called Ivory, which all team members are contributing to and helping to build.
Their work is particularly motivating because they’re always facing new challenges. As an example, when Maple Media acquires a new application, each developer has to work with the previous owner’s code. This is not always easy, because some people don’t comply with industry standards or simply don’t code that well.
Breathing new life into apps and games
As Simon says, it’s never been more difficult to innovate in the mobile market, because it’s very competitive and many products have already been created. There is an enormous number of already existing apps and it’s very complex and expensive to create a new and unique product that can be successful in the long term. It is also difficult to stand out, even with a high-quality product, because there are limited quality checkups being done and it’s hard to secure visibility on the app stores.
Maple Media recognizes this challenge and is instead focused on improving already successful apps and games. The company has an excellent team in L.A., which includes specialists in project management, design, quality assurance, business analytics and marketing who all work hard improving and updating Maple Media apps for users, and to strengthen the business. Given the high number of people worldwide on any given app, it doesn’t take much change to cause growth in daily active users and revenue.
When a big update is released, it’s significant for both teams. The largest apps and games are often featured by Apple and Google in their stores, so it’s exciting to see everyone’s work highlighted to millions of people around the world.
Collaborative tech tools for distributed teams
When it comes to working with the L.A. team, communication is essential. Maple Media uses tools like Slack (a work chat), JIRA (a project management tool) and video conferencing to keep all team members up to speed on projects. They also meet for daily and weekly “stand up” meetings to share their current work and new insights with each other. “With the right tools, we can communicate in real time,” says Bryce Cire, a product manager at Maple Media L.A. “Of course, we look forward to seeing everyone in person each year, in Los Angeles, for our annual team offsite or for special project visits, but we can count on seeing everyone every day online.”
Sarah Tudor, quality assessment manager in L.A., adds, “One other benefit is the time difference. By the time we’re in the office on Pacific Time, Simon and team have already spent time advancing our projects and have feedback ready for us; it’s like we’ve gotten a head start on the day. With the app builds ready, we can jump right into testing and validating our app updates, which are then ready to be released to users.”
There are many similarities between offices despite the distance, as both places often synchronize team outings and happy hours, as well as a holiday party and volunteering opportunities. They share a love of video games as well and come together for Super Smash Bros. tournaments on each visit.
The future of development
When asked, “What can we wish for you in the future?” Maple Media answers: automation and preparing for scale. Right now, developers are doing a lot: they analyze, revise and correct the code for every application bought by Maple Media, which requires a lot of time and skill. The team is therefore working to develop technology that can automate the sharing of code across other applications. If all goes well, work will be simplified and less repetitive, and developers will be able to focus on new projects and innovate more as a result. And since there’s no shortage of work, Maple Media is also looking to fill positions in the near future. The Gatineau team recently welcomed Sean Brett as an Android platform specialist, and Larry Landry as VP of Engineering.
Some advice from Simon
Deciding to launch a business depends on your personal circumstances, Simon Lavigne reiterates. If your situation is stable, it’s easier to take risks because you have a financial cushion. It is safer to find or raise some capital before starting a business. Good planning reduces risk. He also advises to get to know your strengths and weaknesses, because it’s very difficult to do everything yourself. Whether it’s finance, programming, advertising or marketing, it’s best to find resources or hire specialists so that you can leverage each person’s strengths.