Carl Rodrigues says that his family and friends all thought he had lost his mind.”Everybody thought I had gone completely nuts,” he says. “They were saying ‘what’s wrong with this guy? Is he having a hippy moment?’.”Mr Rodrigues, a successful IT consultant, had woken up one day and decided to quit the day job.Instead of doing lucrative work for other people, he was going to retire to his basement and develop a best-selling computer product.The significant problem was that he didn’t have any ideas. But to the worry of his wife, and scorn of his mother-in-law – who lived with them – he was undeterred.So back in 2001 he shut himself away beneath his house in the Canadian city of Mississauga, and started to try to dream up something.”My goal was that I wanted to see what I could produce if I did something I really liked,” he says.”I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I thought I would give it a shot.”After a month of working “crazy hours”, Mr Rodrigues had come up with his first fully formed idea – a software system that allowed the user to control his or her mobile phone from their laptop.
Naming his company Soti, sales of the system started to grow slowly, until 12 months later Mr Rodrigues got a phone call out of the blue from one of the UK’s largest supermarket groups.The firm didn’t want to sell the system to its customers, instead it wanted to incorporate it into its operations, so staff could better communicate and pass on data and other information.Mr Rodrigues, now 55 and Soti’s chief executive, says: “I was still in my basement when I got a call from the company, saying they would like to place an order.”I don’t think they realised that they were talking to just one guy in a basement, so when the person asked to speak to someone in sales I came back on the phone with a slightly different tone.”The little ruse worked, and the UK firm placed a “huge order” for 20,000 units.
Soti has never looked back; and while most people have never heard of the firm – because it sells its mobile technology software systems to companies instead of consumers – it today has annual revenues of $80m (£62m).This is despite Mr Rodrigues not needing any external investment. The business remains 100% owned by him and his wife.Continuing to turn down numerous takeover bids, including an undisclosed offer from Microsoft in 2006, the Canadian business leader instead says he wants Soti to “become as big as they get” in the computer world.Born in Pakistan to a Roman Catholic family that had its roots in the former Portuguese colony of Goa on India’s west coast, Mr Rodrigues emigrated to Canada with his parents and four siblings when he was 11.The decision to leave Pakistan was Mr Rodrigues’ mother’s. He says she was increasingly concerned at political and social instability in the country in the early 1970s.He says: “Dad was happy in Pakistan, but mum wanted us kids to have a nice safe place to grow up in, and have a good education.”
As the family spoke English at home, Mr Rodrigues says he had no problem settling in Toronto. He even liked the significantly colder weather.”I was dying to see snow,” he says. “This magical thing I had never seen.”After “doing enough at school to go to university”, Mr Rodrigues did a degree in computer science and mathematics at the University of Toronto.He then spent a number of years working as a consultant, before launching Soti in 2001.Today the company is valued at more than $1bn (£770m), and has 17,000 business customers around the world, and 700 employees across 22 countries. Instead of still being based in Mr Rodrigues’ basement, its headquarters is split across two buildings in Mississauga, which borders Toronto in the Canadian province of Ontario.
Technology journalist Martin Veitch who has followed Mr Rodrigues’ career, says Soti has been so successful because of its specialised approach.”I think Soti is an example of a company that has succeeded by being focused on a business niche,” says Mr Veitch, who is contributing editor of website IDG Connect.”A lot of its rivals are huge vendors that play in virtually every aspect of IT. That’s fine for those customers that like ‘one throat to choke’, but for others a company that is a specialist represents a better fit.”More The Boss features, which every week profile a different business leader from around the world:How one man built a global hospitality empireThe ‘diva of divorce’ for the world’s super richThe snacks boss with an appetite for successTaking his own path: The world’s leading maze designerOn a day-to-day basis Mr Rodrigues says he likes his senior managers to all “be their own chief executive”.He explains: “I’m so busy doing other things, then need to be their own CEOs and run their own organisations.”One problem Mr Rodrigues says the company has faced, is struggling to recruit enough good computer programmers.
To get around this problem he has had to think creatively, and Soti advertises for people with no programming experience or qualifications to try their luck.So far the firm has recruited 16 or so people under the initiative that sees applicants put through a number of tests.Soti has also hired 20 programmers from the Ukraine, who it helped move to Canada with their families.While Mr Rodrigues no longer has to work from his basement, his mother-in-law still lives with him, his wife and their two sons.”My mother-in-law is not a shy person shall we say… but I think she is pleased [with what I have achieved].”