A good friend and his Air Miles points gave Shannon Rogers and co-founder Warren Roy the opportunity to land Global Relay's first big clients—and the company has taken off ever since
“We started our company in 1999, and in early 2000 was the dot-com bust. We tried to find investment capital but couldn’t.
We raised funds from a few friends and family, but it was more just people that felt sorry for us—‘here’s 10 grand,’ that sort of thing. Not enough to really survive. Warren [Roy, CEO and founder] and I both went without salary for about two years. I had to sell my car, a little Toyota Tercel that I called Skippy, so we could pay salaries and rent. I had my cards charged up as far as they could go. I remember once we couldn’t park our car because we couldn’t afford to pay the meter.
We luckily had a good friend support group and I have great parents. I had a little apartment that I already owned. Previously I had been a lawyer, so I had a little bit of a nest egg and Global Relay pretty much survived off my nest egg even though it wasn’t that big.
In that survival phase, we would win a customer and I would think in my head, ‘That will cover so-and-so’s salary.’ And then we got to the next phase where we were able to pay our rent. The best thing that happened to Warren and I was that one of our friends gave us his Air Miles points to use. He said, ‘You can’t go selling to these big companies in America if you don’t go see them.’
We sell to finance firms so obviously there’s no better place to be than New York. So we flew there. One of our first meetings was with General Electric in Stamford [Conn.], and we went to the Chicago Stock Exchange as well. Those were two big customers. I laugh at that now because of course in business you need to be face to face, because business is all about relationships. Today people know about cloud technology, but back then it was really hard to explain. So they really had to believe in you.
We won our first big customers, and once you have a few, you really start to thrive because now you’ve got referrals. We learned so much about New York, about being business people. It really opened up our business world because today we have 97 per cent foreign revenues that we bring back to B.C. So it all started with that Air Miles card.
It was probably two years of flights. And then one day we realized, ‘You know what? We can buy our own tickets!’”