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Q&A with co-founder of Swept software

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Changing course from cleaning to software

When Michael Brown and Matt Cooper founded Swept in 2014, the focus was cleaning. However, it quickly became clear the value wasn’t cleaning; it was the software they’d developed to manage the cleaners. So one year later, they changed course, dropped cleaning and became a software company.

Accepted into the Propel ICT Build program, Swept quickly raised $575,000 and attracted investors across Canada. The Swept mobile communications solution helps cleaning companies increase the quality and efficiency of their work by integrating cleaners, clients, and supervisors.

Working with Nova Scotia Business Inc., Swept has participated in the Export Growth Program, the Small Business Development Program and a trade mission to New York City in 2016. We caught up with Michael Brown, Co-founder and CEO, to talk about Swept’s success and the lessons he’s learned.

The Export Growth Program provides financial incentives for projects that assist a business’ ability to overcome barriers to export growth.

How has Swept grown so fast?

It’s almost an iterative process. Before we started the cleaning business, we spent a lot of time networking and coming up with business ideas. This stage was vital because it let us be creative and get valuable feedback and advice on our business ideas. 

Connecting and working with people like NSBI helped us get off the ground. They helped us validate ideas and mitigate risk to investors.

I remember calling my partner after my first meeting with NSBI. I was like, ‘These people want to help.’ It blew me away. With support from NSBI and the business community, we were able to get things moving and really start to develop our idea.

When we formed our cleaning company we always had the idea to build software to manage bookings and schedules. We really evolved into a software company because people validated the idea, and helped us get funding to develop the business. We were able to take that idea, and with the help and funding, reach the milestone to access the larger funding. You get advice, you take smart risks, and you do what’s needed to get to the next milestone.

What are you up to right now?

I’m in California participating in the 500 Startups accelerator program. This program is helping us take the business to the next level. Before we started 500 Startups we were bringing in an average of eight new clients a month. Since we began the accelerator we went from eight to 17, and last month we closed 31, so things are working out.

500 Startups is teaching us the strategies and processes to push our business; how to test and evaluate ideas quickly. We knew this was necessary to succeed in our market, but we’re seeing it firsthand - people moving so quickly - and we’re realizing it’s possible. That we can do it. With the growth, we can raise more capital, get to the next step, bring in more senior people and keep building the team.

What can Nova Scotia businesses learn from your story?

Flexibility is key. Be prepared and able to change course and business processes fast. We’re learning how other people overcame their challenges. We raised capital as a cleaning company in 2015, and then within weeks had to tell those investors we were going to change our business model to become a software company. It was uncomfortable; it felt like a bait and switch, but it wasn’t. Things were moving quickly, and we knew the model was a good one, so we made the decision to do it.

At the end of the day, if my company fails, that sucks. I’m going to be disappointed, but the failure is not who I am.

The problem is not allowing yourself to fail. When you do that you’re no longer learning and you’re not going to get to the next stage.

What do you like about doing business in Nova Scotia?

There’s lots and lots of talent in Nova Scotia. It’s where I’m from and I feel a duty to retain people there. It’s also the lifestyle. You can be in the downtown core and then on a lake in 15 minutes. It’s also a great hub for travel. One quick flight and you can get to anywhere.

The Small Business Development Program provides financial incentives on projects that assist a business to grow current exports or participate in a global supply chain.

What advice can you give Nova Scotia exporters?

Travel. Get out of the province and go to events. There’s funding to help. You need to expose and test your ideas outside the province. It’s a really quick flight to New York or Boston or even San Francisco. Get exposed to how other people are doing things and how they sell.

You don’t have to close all your sales in person, but you do need to get out in front of people. Also, you need to be willing to knock on doors, not only for sales, but for partners and support. If you think what you are doing is going to help, that it’s amazing, you need to meet the people who can make it happen.

How has NSBI helped you?

NSBI has helped us in a million ways, but honestly, it’s right down to the wire all the time when it comes to finances. Access to funding has been helpful. There are days when you don’t pay yourself and you’re paying bills on your credit cards. The financing gives you some room to breathe.

All the support and advice has helped us validate ideas, get the right traction and hit the next milestone. It’s really important, and I want to make sure people know that.

Nova Scotia has the right mix of post-secondary education, established multinational firms, and an active start-up community that results in a well-connected, global, cluster. Learn more about Nova Scotia's Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector.