Tomoye Corp. – Fast 50 2003


John Mertl’s software is helping “communities of practice” share ideas within the Smithsonian Institute, the World Bank–even the U.S. Department of Defense. In 2002, his company was asked by the United Nations to help rebuild Afghanistan and promote AIDS awareness in Africa.


The Tomoye team
Tomoye Corp.
Ottawa, Canada

Additional Team Members:
Greg Searle, Co-Founder & CTO
Eric Sauve, Co-Founder & VP Sales


Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
I joined this little start-up on the first floor of a rickety old house in Quebec, Canada as CEO because I believed in the smarts of the people and the elegance of the collaboration/content management software they were building. But we had no idea if organizations would be willing to pay for the problem our software could solve. Tomoye Simplify is a “social computing” application–technology that supports online knowledge communities. It is all about connecting people with people (peers with peers) so that they can help each other solve critical business problems. Essentially, we are re-creating the informal peer networks that people rely on to solve problems, learn from each other, etc. Success for us means complimenting well-established organizational forms by helping employees connect with each other across organizational boundaries. We knew this would be harder than just selling software. It would require a revolution.

What was your moment of truth?
So, we started looking for the so-called “oddballs” in the organization who believed passionately in and would fight for this new social structure. Our first Moment of Truth was in April, 2001, when we sold the first version of our software to some pretty impressive organizations, like The Smithsonian Institute, Conservation International, and the World Bank. And then successes just started happening faster than we had time to record them. The United Nations needed us for bringing experts together, first, to rebuild Afghanistan, then to promote awareness around HIV/Aids in Africa. One of the manufacturing titans of America needed us to bring together 70 communities of engineers and scientists who are redefining how science will be used to improve agriculture practices. Our biggest Moment of Truth came on May, 2002, when our U.S. DoD account manager brought the management team together and said, “If you want me to sell to the U.S. DoD, I can sell to them. They get this, and they are interested in our product. But do you have any idea what this means to our 21-person company? Are you ready…?” Since then, we have had to “get out of our own way” and let success happen faster than our wildest dreams.

What were the results?
Our customer list today reads like a Who’s Who directory. We closed our last fiscal year ended June 30, 2002, with 460% growth in revenues and we are already 50% ahead of our revenue goals for the next fiscal year–all in the midst of a slumped economy and the death of many high technology companies, both big and small. We are part of an elite group that is redefining how companies are organized–helping them build their social infrastructure, and changing how they cultivate and reap the benefit of the knowledge assets that are, often, their only competitive advantage. Every day, our solutions put the power in the hands of the people who REALLY KNOW.


What’s your parting tip?
Technology is just part of the solution. It is the combination of technology and people where the magic happens.

Read more entries from the Fast 50 2003