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July 3, 2018

big river technologies inc.

Gan Big River Tech Pic

big river technologies inc. is a high-tech company that provides services and solutions for some of the most complicated financial services computing needs, partnering with top international banking firms to develop a reputation for excellence, for innovation and adaptability.  

What makes the success of this very sophisticated and specialized firm is its home. It is not based in California’s famed Silicon Valley or Canada’s equivalent in British Columbia. Nor is it housed in a giant office tower in Toronto, Montreal, New York or London. Instead it is blissfully ensconced within the picturesque eastern Ontario community of Gananoque.

A veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts, the community is along the shores of the St. Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands.  The Town of Gananoque is internationally recognized as a world class destination for visitors, residents and businesses.  Strategically located on Highway 401 near the US Border and 20 km from Kingston.

Big River’s founder and CEO, John Free started the company in 2015 with just a handful of staff. It has now grown to employ more than 30 talented, skilled and driven IT professionals, under the leadership of the industry veteran. After spending three decades in the tech side of the financial services and banking sector working for others, Free decided it was time to open his own firm and offer high quality, client-centred, solutions-based products and services for top banking institutions from around the world.

“I lived and worked a lot in New York City and globally. I had been a road warrior for about 30 years primarily in FinTech [Financial Technology]. Capital markets technology is my field. I visited Gananoque as kid and really loved the place. One of the last things I did working in New York was helped start a nearshore software facility in San Jose, Costa Rica. So, I had all the economic models, the methodology, the profile and business plan from that at my fingertips,” said Free, who is originally from the Ottawa Valley.

“I was talking to a friend who is very senior in a big firm in New York and he was telling me one Christmas about how he needed an army of HTML 5 programmers to come and help him with a client. That sparked the idea of doing the same thing in Gananoque as we just did in Costa Rica, except this time it would be my own company.”

John Free stated that they ran the economic model and discovered the billing rate would be cheaper in Gananoque than internal costs were in Costa Rica. This made for a very powerful and very compelling story for our clients.  

big river technologies inc. was built and is growing on the basis of “client success, empowerment and making heroes of our people and our clients,” according to Free. The ongoing growth and success of the company is based on three foundational pillars:

“The first one is financial technology. Because that’s my background – capital markets technology, Wall Street systems, big enterprise systems for risk management, for valuation, decision support, enterprise workflow, business continuity and compliance; all that kind of stuff. The second pillar is user experience or U/X as we call it. To that end I have a small team of crack U/X guys in New York City that are close to the clients and they work with the clients to define the user interfaces for all the applications that they need. And then we have fulfillment back in Gan at a very reasonable price point,” he explained.

“The third pillar is what I would call enterprise computing. So, it’s not just finance, but a large organization that has integration challenges or applications that are launched specifically for their business as rules and business opportunities change.”

With the entire global marketplace as their potential client base, Big River, and Free in particular, are finding it a challenge to get their name out there.  “My past reputation is a good one, so that helps. It really has been a ground-up sell, because we’re so small.  However, we have completed a master service agreement with an international investment bank that we are pleased to work with.  ” he said.  In addition to this,  Big River is working with some firms in Eastern Ontario who have also come to Big River to help fix some of their own IT infrastructure issues.

“Reputation is everything in this business. I always try to keep my people focused on outcomes, results, client success and making them into heroes. And if we focus on that, the will enable our success.”

“It’s very much a work in progress, but we already have a really good relationship with Queen’s University and a good relationship with the University of Waterloo. My COO Rob McGeachy and I are alumni of that school, so we know the co-op program really well, and we have always had one or two students from that program here. If they work out, hopefully we can entice them to come work here when the graduate. We have also been exploring other opportunities with neighbouring post secondary education facilities and their resources.”

The reception received in Gananoque has been first rate with the Economic Development office assisting to help establish partnerships.  Free highly praised the KEYS Job Centre for helping with training members of his team and helping to offset some of the cost for that training. “Keys has been a key part of our strategy and I think they are probably the best kept secret on this planet. I am a total fan,” he said.

big river technologies inc. is the only firm of its kind in Gananoque, and Free said he is working closely with local economic development officials to help attract more high-tech firms to the area, using Big River as a draw. As well, he said he is also working with municipal officials to improve the internet service in the area.

As for the future, Free is confident in his assertion that the company could grow to upwards of 150 employees over the next few years.

“I think we have a realistic growth plan. That’s our sales objective.” he said. Gananoque is positioning itself as an innovative community welcoming to entrepreneurs. 

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