Star Tech

8D Technologies Reinvents the Urban Landscape

“To succeed, you have to know how to deal with whatever is thrown at you. If you react well, with a glass-half-full attitude, you’ll always see the opportunity in front of you. I understand this even more today, with being more focussed on strategic efforts and less on operations. Outlook and philosophy make all the difference.”

Isabelle Bettez, Co-founder, 8D Technologies

Founded in Montreal in 1996, 8D Technologies (8D) develops and implements solutions that combine software and hardware for intelligent transportation in various urban mobility sectors, including parking and bike sharing. With more than 4,000 energy-efficient terminals deployed on four continents and tens of thousands of bikes, the company enables its millions of users to pay for these services in various ways.

In a merger last February, this Montreal team of about 100 people joined another bike share leader, New York City’s Motivate, increasing their workforce to 1,000 employees at certain times of the year.

Millennials readily choose 8D as an employer because the company, with its eco-friendly technology, embodies many of their values.

Robust technology as raw material

While Jean-Sébastien Bettez was doing business in IT professional services, his sister Isabelle  ran her own technology marketing business. She recalls: “My focus was on sales and marketing, while his was on tech, which was something he got into as a kid.” In 2000, after much discussion about their common opportunities and challenges, the two seasoned entrepreneurs decided to continue the adventure together by concentrating their efforts on a project that emcompassed both products and solutions.

Isabelle dreamed of conquering the international market with the platform created by the 8D team led by Jean-Sébastien, the company’s CTO. As discussions with potential customers to commercialize the generic platform proved to be laborious, 8D chose instead to develop real-time wireless payment systems primarily for the commercial parking segment. “We needed to design a concrete project to demonstrate the power of the technology, the power of our platform,” says Isabelle. “At the time, users paid at a parking terminal and payments were processed 3 to 4 days after the credit card was used,” she continues. “With this system, operators could lose between $20,000 and $30,000 per week in Western Canada for example. We had the software solution to solve this problem but we lacked the hardware, so we started developing electronic cards.” 8D also called upon its R&D team to solve the challenges created by their use of solar energy, as well as the transactional and security elements of their platform.

When Montreal was requesting tenders for a Pay-By-Space parking solution, 8D presented a bid with a European partner and won the mandate. Given the success of this approach, and with all the 8D technology now set up on terminals, allowing real-time wireless payments and remote management, the company changed its business model to focus on selling its turnkey solutions. “And our existing platform became our secret weapon,” asserts Isabelle.

A bike that goes far

In 2006, before launching the acclaimed bike share system, Isabelle participated in a program with MIT, through which she realized that 8D had to stop being scattered and better target their efforts. “I saw the writing on the wall… there were niches that we would no longer be able to continue serving, so that we could focus and allow the company to grow exponentially,” she explains.

This put the company in an excellent position to design bike share solutions when the opportunity presented itself. And the results exceeded those of parking because of the extraordinary potential of the concept.

It was during a friendly discussion with their client, Stationnement de Montréal that 8D realized their platform was perfectly suited to a bike share project. “We put it all on paper, with visuals on big coloured posters, and they were very impressed,” recounts Isabelle. Less than a year later, the company’s technology appeared on the streets. “It’s really quite something to implement a project of this scale and complexity in such a short time, despite all the setbacks imaginable!”

Not only did the 8D bike systems see two expansions in Montreal during the summer of their launch, they also migrated from Quebec to Abu Dhabi, New York, London, Boston, Minneapolis, Melbourne, Washington DC and San Francisco.

Attitude makes all the difference

“Success depends on the ability to adapt,” says Isabelle. “It’s about accepting that there are risks, and rising up after our failures.” Several difficulties rocked 8D, such as the tech bubble bursting in the early 2000s. “Everyone thought we wouldn’t come out of it. But we discovered new abilities and a tolerance for risk that we didn’t suspect in ourselves… the pleasure of seeing that you have what it takes,” declares the inspiring entrepreneur.

The 8D co-founder was often told that international development would be impossible, but she stayed the course. “It stimulated me rather than stopping me,” she says. It was just a matter of determining the right way to go. “In business, it’s like the Olympics. You have the right to not feel great, but you still have to be strong out of the gates. Everything that goes wrong is just a springboard.”

About technopolys

According to Isabelle, the most interesting aspect of the technopolys movement is building a brand image with which to attract attention to the tech industry. “Whether we’re competitors or not, when we have common issues, unity is strength,” emphasizes the technopolys ambassador.

“It’s important that the stories of companies be shared because there’s a lot of suffering behind success. Highlighting what we are doing here in Montreal, in Quebec – showcasing companies inspires others and it fosters solidarity for the next step. I like that a lot… so let’s get going!”

Source: Mélanie Pilon, Writer for the Star Tech Vitrine 

Translation: Jenn Mierau

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Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l'Occupation du territoire Québec Économie, Science et Innovation Québec Export Québec Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal Développement Économique Canada