Andrew McClenaghan of Digital Echidna chats about the naming process,
open-source technology and the benefits of train travel
Photo: Andrew McClenaghan
THIS MONTH, Digital Echidna will move from its current location at Talbot and King to its new home at 148 York Street, the former home of Start.ca. It’s the next chapter in a story that began in 2002, when Andrew McClenaghan was at the University of Waterloo, earning a degree in math computer science. On the side, he started a little company to work on projects outside school. A few years later, he hired one employee. Then another. And another. Today, the company employs 61.
A proud South Lions alum, McClenaghan is married and has four children, ranging in ages from three to nine. He’s active in his church and loves going to Knights games. And just as his business is starting a new chapter, so too is his home life. “This year is the first year we have all four kids enrolled in recreational or sports activities,” he says. “I expect life will get busier, just getting them all where they need to be.”
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Why did you name your company after an anteater?
An anteater is odd enough. An Australian anteater? That’s the real heart of the story. Back when I was starting this company, I wanted a name that reflected what I wanted the company to be: unique, adaptable, different. As one of only two monotremes in the world—egg-laying mammals, along with the platypus—the echidna checked all of those boxes. That said, if it wasn’t for my brother-in-law Warren, now VP-operations at Echidna, who grew up in Australia, the name never would have come to be.
A few years ago, we thought about changing it, but in discussing it with the community around us, we found that the Echidna name had some traction. We kept the Echidna, but added Digital to the name to help people better understand the nature of our business. Previously, we were Echidna Solutions Corp.
When you started, what was your vision for the company? How has it evolved since then?
I don’t think the vision of the company has really changed, but the scope and breadth of that vision certainly has expanded. Since day one, I’ve wanted Digital Echidna to be about solving our clients’ problems through technology, and doing so through superlative customer support and a focus on the end user. That’s still at the heart of what we do—it’s just now our clients are much larger in scope and, as a result, our team has had to grow to meet those needs.
How has your suite of services changed—or not changed—over the last 15 years?
Technology is always changing and it’s important that companies remain at the vanguard of their industry. The challenge can be trying to be too many things to too many people. A few years ago, we, as an organization, settled on the Drupal Content Management system as the foundation upon which we build our solutions. And that has proven to be a sound decision.
As well, the rise and dominance of mobile technology has changed the way we look at how we present content. It’s why we build with a mobile-first mentality that aligns perfectly with our belief in accessible web design for all.
We’ve also worked diligently to become a leader in accessible web design. From education and training efforts, to community involvement, we work to embrace both the letter and spirit of AODA compliance to ensure that users of all accessibility levels enjoy a similar quality experience.
How have your customers’ needs and expectations changed?
There’s a greater appreciation and understanding of what digital solutions can do and what they mean. Before, everybody just said, ‘We need a website’, and that was the extent of the thought process. Now, people understand a website is one tool in a much larger toolbox and needs to have a purpose, clear goals and a focus to be successful.
You’re moving to new offices to accommodate growth. Tech companies sometimes have trouble managing growth and retaining their unique identities. Is that a concern?
Actually, this move is likely overdue and that’s part of the reason why I’m so confident that it will be successful. Over the years, we’ve embraced a slow-and-steady approach to growth. We’ve never hired people to meet the needs of a single project, because we want to foster an environment of sustainable employment. Sometimes that may put additional stress on our staff during periods of business growth, but, as a management group, we want to ensure that our growth is sustainable before we commit to adding staff. As a result, though it may seem we’ve grown dramatically over the past few years, it’s actually been aligned with the growth in our client base.
Will new digs allow you to do anything new or tackle projects you couldn’t in a smaller space?
The first benefit is that we’ll be able to grow our team. We have set aggressive internal goals for business growth and that will require more staff. We’re maxed out in our current location—unless someone invents bunk desks. So, the new location will allow us to bring in more staff to meet our business needs.
As well, we’ve been a leader in promoting accessibility, both online and off. And though we’ve been able to do a lot in our current location, we haven’t been able to be fully accessible from a built environment perspective. Our new location is 100 per cent accessible, and we’re excited about the possibilities it offers both in terms of hosting events and expanding our staffing options.
Where do you find qualified workers? What’s the biggest staffing challenge?
We’re really lucky to have two incredible post-secondary institutions here in London with Fanshawe College and Western University. We’ve been blessed to have talent come to us from both organizations and we’re happy to give back to both of those communities wherever and whenever we can.
Our biggest staffing challenge? Right now, it’s finding a place to put them. But that will change soon.
Have you considered setting up shop in other cities?
We do have a presence in Ottawa and the Kitchener/Waterloo areas with remote workers. For a time, we had a satellite office in Toronto, but we’ve been able to better support that market through travel from London. Honestly, the train is an incredibly convenient solution for us to service the Toronto market.
And looking at our client roster, what we’re doing has worked. We have clients from all over North America. We’re able to service them extremely well from London and expect to continue to do so.
What’s the status of your strategic partnership with Resolution Interactive Media? Do you have similar arrangements with other organizations?
We still work with ResIM on various projects and we do have similar arrangements, if not quite as formal, with other organizations. Part of growth is knowing what you’re good at and what your capacities are. We’re always willing to challenge ourselves and expand our knowledge base, but there are times when we know that we can work with colleagues to maximize our success on a project. We’re excited about a project we’re working with Ipsos on, and we hope to expand on those opportunities in the future.
What’s in your personal technology quiver?
Google Pixel 2, MacBook Air and Beats headphones for external sound dampening and conference calls. Interview by Christopher Clark