Before there can even be a concept, there needs to be someone with the initial idea: “Let’s start a business.”
For Rewind, this crucial puzzle piece was its co-founder, James Ciesielski.
Having known his business partner and friend, Mike Potter, since 2012, the two had previously worked together at another startup company before James approached Mike one day with the idea to embark on a brand new entrepreneurial journey together.
Fast forward to the present: James is now the CTO of Rewind and leads the technical side of the business – creating, bettering, and constantly manning the backup system that helps keep 4,500 customers’ data saved, stored, and protected across e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce, and QuickBooks Online.
A lover of sports, and his daily dose of caffeine, when he’s not busy working on Rewind’s software, James can be found either spending time with his beloved family, or watching his favourite movie, Back to the Future.
Let’s learn a little more about James!
Tell us a bit about yourself. What were some of the jobs you had before starting Rewind?
Ottawa was best known for telecom in the dot-com boom. So, after I graduated, I spent about 10 years working in that space. I dabbled a bit in consumer facing technologies with IBM and BlackBerry, and also spent some time in a pseudo startup that was in the alternative payments space.
What made you gravitate towards the world of software development?
I loved the idea that I could help build something that someone else could buy off the shelf and use at home. As a teenager, I would see these big, flashy boxes of software on the shelves of Compusmart and Futureshop, and I thought it would be really cool to be able to be part of that.
I wrote my first lines of code in VisualBasic 4.0 (1995-ish). I created a bunch of different things back then: a graphing calculator, some simple games, and an invoicing application for a local small business.
What do you feel is the best part about being a developer?
I think any good software developer loves to solve problems. Developers are drawn to opportunities where they are able to solve complex issues, make a difference in the customer experience, and hopefully have some fun doing it. Solving hard problems brings a certain amount of stress, but the gratification and sense of accomplishment you get when you actually do it is incomparable.
What do you feel was the hardest hurdle to overcome when you and Mike were working to start this business?
From a business standpoint: figuring out the best way to inform Shopify merchants that data loss in SaaS is a thing to begin with. We’re still trying to figure this out, to be honest. In the beginning, most customers would only come to us after they had already had a disaster. So we’re still working on the best strategy to get in front of customers so we can make them aware and on-board them before disaster strikes.
From a technical point of view, it took a lot of time and effort to create something that worked at scale and was performant. In the early days, when we only had a few customers, backing up data was simple. The entire solution ran on a single box! But as word got out and more savvy shop owners – who already knew that backups were important – started to install the app, we quickly realized that our simple application wasn’t going to cut it. It still kind of blows my mind that Rewind now runs on 40+ different servers across the world.
From a personal point of view, I struggled with work/life balance. Mike and I were clear from the beginning that our family and day job came first. Emphasis on our day job was a no brainer; we always considered Rewind to be a hobby and therefore, we were in the proper mindset to give our day job the attention it deserved (as if we were doing any other hobby). Personally, I struggled with the family side; I quickly saturated my evenings and weekends with Rewind at the expense of family time. It took over a year before I was able to find the balance that I needed.
Why do YOU feel backups are so crucial to an ecommerce business?
“Shit happens” – it’s as simple as that. I think ecommerce businesses would prefer to be focused on making their next sale and delighting their customers; they shouldn’t be worried about the state of the data that drives their business. They should be assured that customers and revenues will not be jeopardized in the event of a data disaster.
What’s your favourite part about what you (personally) do within Rewind?
I really enjoy building a business and environment where the people love to come in and kick ass every day. Mike and I basically said that we wanted to create the kind of culture that we personally wanted, and would love to have. We took a look at all the things we liked about the places we’d worked at in the past, and we did our best to integrate all of those into our day-to-day.
So far, our end of sprint celebrations, cake days, flexible hours, and summer hours are huge hits. But above all else, I think we’ve done a pretty good job at building an environment and culture based on respect, fun, humour, trust, and integrity.
Give us an example of the most gratifying experience you’ve had at Rewind, in terms of what you’ve been able to do/provide for a customer.
The first time we restored someone’s store was an amazing feeling. I think I actually did a little dance! It was also scary because we weren’t 100% sure it was going to work. When it did work, it was an incredible achievement. The customer was very appreciative and, more importantly, it instantly validated the product and all the work we had done.
Where do you see Rewind being in five years from now?
I change my mind about this one all the time. Some days, I’d love to see us grow up to be as big as Shopify. Other days, I’m happy to be small and agile and in control of our own destiny. Regardless of which way that goes, it would be amazing to see Rewind be considered a darling success story from Ottawa. It would be amazing for our little company to grow up and become part of any conversation on local tech successes.
Any favourite quote that best motivates you as an ecommerce entrepreneur (or as a developer)?
“Customer service is an attitude, not a department.”
I think this quote works, regardless of what business you’re in. I worked for a struggling startup for a brief period of my career, and I was really shocked by the way that the support team spoke about customers. I felt like the negative attitude translated to poor management of support cases, and led to an overall negative experience for our customers.
Customers can sometimes be challenging, but they are the most important thing to any business and should always be treated with courtesy and respect.
Give us one fun fact about yourself that no one would ever be able to guess!
I didn’t learn to skate until I was 25 years old. I could stand on ice and move without falling over, but I couldn’t build up speed or stop. I was pretty unstable. A group of folks from my first job played an organized pick-up game of hockey and they needed a goalie, so I volunteered as a way to get to know people. I figured I’d be able to stop pucks, despite my poor skating – and I was really wrong. I later took several goalie courses at the Sensplex, where I learned that the goalie is expected to be the strongest and most agile skater on the team.