ENTREVESTOR: Mobile app developer Space O has trouble finding staff

When Space O moved into Launchpad PEI in Charlottetown last fall, it became one of the biggest startups in the region in terms of total headcount.

There’s some irony, then, that the greatest challenge founder and CEO Rakesh Patel faces is finding the right staff for his P.E.I. operation.

Space O is an eight-year-old mobile app development company that Patel founded in Ahmedebad in Western India. He has grown the company to include offices in Russia, Phoenix and (as of last year) Charlottetown. The company now has 254 employees, of which 180 are in India.

Space O has an impressive global clientele. For example, it’s produced the No. 1 business app in Saudi Arabia. But Patel needed a base from which he could target the North American market. After considering a few choices, he and his family opted to set up shop in Charlottetown. He applied for and was accepted into the Canadian government’s Startup Visa program, with Innovation PEI as his sponsor.

“It was more like a personal lifestyle question,” he said. “My daughter wanted to study computer science at University of PEI and my wife saw the culture of the city and it made sense for us. There were no traffic issues. All in all, it’s nice.”

The story of Space O began in 2010 when Patel saw an opportunity for remote mobile app development. With a $1,000 investment, he and a business partner started the company and demand from foreign clients drove the hiring of other developers at a rapid clip.

Space-O now specializes in app development for Apple Watch, iPhone and Android operating systems, even augmented reality apps compatible with iOS 11, the world’s most advanced operating system. The company has developed more than 2,500 iOS and Android mobile apps, taking clients from the conceptualization stage to the finished product. Its clients include such blue chip companies as athletic equipment maker Nike and cybersecurity giant McAfee, and its apps have been downloaded more than 20 million times.

The company has its own app on the Apple App store, which on any given day can rate in the top 100 in such categories as photos and videos or productivity.

In Charlottetown, Space O has a prime space in the new LaunchPad facility on Great George Street, which is also home to such Charlottetown tech luminaries as Forestry.io, Onset Communications and RevIQ. The company now has one employee and contractor working in P.E.I., and Patel would like to increase the staffing on the Island to six to eight people this year. But finding the right people has proven difficult. Space O tried to hire a digital marketing specialist locally, but had to hire in Montreal. It is now looking for a content writer, marketing manager and a product manager, and maybe a sales and marketing executive.

“Hiring people is one of the challenges to growing,” said Patel. “We are looking for some really good talent that can really kick ass and challenge our process and systems.”

The goal is for the overall Space O organization to grow, and for the P.E.I. office to be a key ingredient to expanding in the valuable markets in the U.S. and Canada.

“With limited resources, it’s hard to grow,” said Patel. “We want to make sure we’re a business with 300 to 500 people in next few years. We’ve been using own knowledge to build company but need some new employees who can challenge our own model.”