People and Places

The Internet is broken — Ottawa software veteran is out to fix it

The Internet is broken.

That’s according to a 42-year-old Ottawa entrepreneur and software start-up veteran, who dropped out of University, who rode the dot-com roller-coaster, and who believes he can fix the Internet.

When it comes to website design, Craig Fitzpatrick believes the Internet is, indeed, broken. To that end, he’s created a new app that makes designing websites as easy as any other simple computer-driven task. No more coding, no more swearing. Billed as “being on a Shopify trajectory,” PageCloud already has 12,000 paying customers worldwide and seeks, in Fitzpatrick’s own words to “replace WordPress.”

Fitzpatrick has also decided against moving to the Silicon Valley in favour of opening up shop in Ottawa, specifically offices overlooking the Byward Market. Hattie Klotz spoke with Fitzpatrick, the founder and CEO of PageCloud, late last year, about the web, his app, and his decision to stay in Ottawa.

Why did you launch PageCloud?

PageCloud (the app) actually started as a hobby for me. My child nerd reared its head after years of not touching code and I’d go home in the evenings and tinker away. I was using Apple’s iWeb for work, because I’d become so frustrated with having to hand-code HTML to do simple things on a corporate website. It seemed like a gigantic waste of time. One day, Apple sent around an email saying they discontinued that product and would no longer support it.  I figured, here was a giant leaving the arena. So I went home that night and started tinkering. Fast forward a couple years and PageCloud the company opened its doors in September 2014. I hadn’t thought it would turn into a real company at first.

Is it really so simple that even a techno-idiot such as myself could design my own website?
If you can use PowerPoint or Keynote, you’re good to go!  There’s nothing like it — and there are LOTS of tools out there. But none like PageCloud. We’ve recreated the desktop publishing experience than everyone already knows and put it in the web browser. We are going to fix the Internet for everyone.

When did you start your first business?

Somewhere around 2004. It was another software company called Devshop. It was a hosted project management (scheduling) app for development teams. I’d been running dev shops for 10 years by this point, so I had baked some smarts and experience into a product. Tough market though. I ran it for five years; it stayed small and ultimately ended up winding it down. Great learning experience. Kind of an MBA from the school of hard knocks.

What did you do during the dot-com boom years?
Rode the roller coaster! In 1999 I was Vice President at a dot-com. We grew from nothing, to 110 people, raised $20M in financing, offices in different cities, living the life. Then BOOM — the sky fell and over my last year there, we ended up reducing the company back down to 20 people due to market conditions. At that point, myself and some of the other VP’s stepped down to conserve cash for the survivors. A 20-person company didn’t need so many VPs. So I got to build up a good-sized company and preside over tearing it down. They say you learn more on the ride down than the ride up. You learn a lot about yourself and your values in a time like that. I’m proud of the way the management team dealt with it — ethically and humanely.

What has life been like since your launch in November?

I thought the pressure would subside a bit and things would slow down, but nope!  I can barely keep up. We have accumulated 12,000 paying customers in 100 countries world-wide. We are 17 people now and growing fast: employees in Ottawa and Vancouver; investors from Canada and the US; and customers worldwide. We quickly became a global company. This thing has really inspired people.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

Why do you live in Ottawa?

I came here for University, which I quit! — and started working in my field at 19.  My military upbringing gives me itchy feet most Springs and I think about camping somewhere else for a few years, but building businesses is my passion and I tend to get wrapped up in one after another.  That tends to plant you for a five-year stretch at a time, to see if it’s going to pan out or not. I was 50/50 moving to Silicon Valley at the start of PageCloud, but some investors down there said don’t bother. I went for a work trip and saw how ridiculously expensive it was just to exist down there.  Didn’t seem worth it!

What do you like / not like about this city?

Likes — affordable, clean, small enough to build a strong network and only be two degrees of separation from everyone.

Dislikes — being two degrees of separation from everyone; sometimes anonymity is refreshing. It’s also not really a business town, it’s a union town. I’m a little more Manhattan, personally.

Four guests you’d invite to dinner (alive, or not)

Steve Jobs – he’s been an inspiration for much of my career
Julie Bowen from Modern Family, if she’s single. She’s delightfully nerdy
Bruce Lee
Aziz Ansari. That dude is hilarious