In today’s increasingly competitive business environment—the intensity of which has only been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19, it takes a certain type of leader to continue to persevere. PATIO Interactive, a technology-driven design and development agency, has two such leaders. Charles Bern, PATIO’s Founder and Co-CEO, and Alex Snider, Co-CEO at PATIO, have both managed to overcome every obstacle that’s crossed their path, fortifying their business and solidifying their status as forward thinkers in the tech space.
The Story Behind PATIO
The story begins with Charles; a visionary who has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. At the age of 22, he ran a speed dating startup in Vancouver and broke the world record for the largest speed dating event held at the time.
Shortly after, Charles decided to pursue an MBA at McGill University; while the corporate nature of the MBA program did not necessarily speak to him, he found an ambitious community and a wealth of tangible learning opportunities. This community complemented and fostered his ongoing search for creative and unconventional thinking.
After joining a couple of startups that stoked his passion for entrepreneurial pursuits, Charles decided to take the plunge and start his own business. PATIO was officially founded in 2014 as a bootstrapped design agency, focused on designing for disruption. Despite a steady stream of clients, PATIO had trouble growing its margins in part due to the unique and forward-thinking nature of its work. Charles decided to approach Alex Snider, a friend from McGill, who had taken a starkly different career path post-graduation.
By the time she started working with PATIO, Alex already had a wealth of experience helping companies big and small articulate and achieve their goals. From small business marketing and succession planning prior to her MBA to operations overhauls of multinationals and the divestment of $2B in mining assets in her consulting and deal advisory career afterwards, Alex had provided service across the globe, helping organizations solve a wide range of business challenges.
The problem-solving skills and exposure to operating models and leading practices that Alex gained throughout her early career were exactly what Charles was looking for to help PATIO. With her joining the Board, Charles’ vision for PATIO began to be realized, and in 2019 she became the Co-Managing Director of the company, taking a more hands-on role in scaling the business.
PATIO Interactive’s Cutting-Edge Technology Solutions
When Charles founded PATIO, his mission was to help companies effectively embrace technology. At first glance one might think PATIO is just a design company, but the breadth of it’s portfolio shows it has not been afraid to push the boundaries of innovative technology. Beyond conceptualizing, companies turned to PATIO to execute their dream projects, whether they be digital, physical, experiential or somewhere in between. Charles explained that “We did a wide range of work because that’s what came to us. We were both excited to test ourselves and also needed to keep the lights on!”
While a wide range of capabilities have helped PATIO grow, what truly distinguishes it from competitors is its Extended Reality (XR) technology service offering. XR is an umbrella term that encompasses all immersive technologies, including augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR). PATIO has been at the forefront of the XR space since 2014 and has helped clients leverage this branch of technology to meet their business needs through the use of virtual reality sales tools, augmented reality training, and many other applications.
Navigating the Ups and Downs
Charles bootstrapped the company with just one graphic designer and slowly grew it hand-to-mouth as business increased. With such a small team, he was involved in everything. As PATIO grew, he had to let go and trust others to be autonomous, leading to mixed results. The company took on young, hungry but relatively inexperienced talent at first to manage budget constraints, and Charles recounted that “They were smart but lacked experience so we had a lot of learning the hard way! Even so, through it all, client success and satisfaction remained our keystone.”
In late 2019, the company faced significant challenges after two of their clients effectively ceased to operate, almost overnight. This was a major blow and PATIO had to scrap key growth initiatives and focus on pivoting and rebuilding quickly.
Alex and Charles had to develop a new strategy or risk facing the stereotypical startup fate. As they had always focused on being adaptable at their core, this was the true test. They established a new roadmap, evolved their team, developed scalable processes, and partnered with some great companies. Alex recalled, “It’s been a trial by fire rollercoaster almost from day one; toeing the line between untenable and supremely rewarding.”
Pivoting During the Pandemic
Within 6 months of coming to terms with the need to enact significant strategic changes, PATIO found itself facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Charles and Alex found their clients weren’t nearly as interested in extended reality as it had previously been characterized, instead focussing on digital solutions that specifically and immediately addressed their pandemic-related challenges. For PATIO, this meant they had to pivot again, and quickly. Charles explained, “Constant agility does not come easy. When you change or grow it’s uncomfortable. We were questioning our decisions daily and worried about all the possible ramifications.”
2020 ended on a high note for PATIO. They successfully grew their capabilities and evolved in the changing market. Charles believes that there will always be a need for companies like PATIO to solve business challenges with unique solutions. Going forward, he knows that the landscape is bound to change even more, but he’s more prepared than ever to continue to adapt.
Read full issue: The Top 10 Perseverant Entrepreneurs 2021