Ross Video thrives by putting great product managers in places where innovation can happen
By Tamara Micner
Founded in 1974, Emmy Award-winning Ross Video is a private Canadian company that designs and manufactures hardware and software for live video and event production, or major customers such as the Ottawa Senators, the Academy Awards (the Oscars) and the United Nations. Run by David Ross, whose father John founded the company, Ross Video now does business in 100 countries, with eight offices globally and an average growth rate of 17% per year. In an interview with Capital, Ross explained his company’s approach to innovation, the importance of great product managers and Ross’ acquisition strategy.
I often describe Ross as an “idea factory.” We have so many great ideas on what to do next that we’re constantly forced to choose, and that’s great—because when you choose one or two ideas out of 10 great ones, those choices usually go well.
The ideas generally come from our product managers or senior management, in a steady flow all year. They rarely come from sales, R&D or annual think tanks, and I think there’s a reason for that.
I like to explain by asking: why do small tech companies exist? They exist because big companies—which you’d think have all the money, customer contacts and R&D staff—don’t properly connect customers with people who can solve their problems. Marketing in big companies often sells what they have, and can’t see opportunities because they don’t have the technological knowledge to solve the problems. R&D in large companies can come up with technology that doesn’t solve a real problem.
You need a regular connection with a product manager who knows both technology and customer problems. You have to build entrepreneurs into your product line management.
Innovation at Ross has accelerated as we’ve grown. We have more resources, technology and product lines to feed it—but more importantly, we’ve become better at identifying great product managers, and we’ve put those people into places where innovation can happen.
Most of the acquisitions we’ve made have been to enter new markets where we didn’t have the expertise to move into, and finding the people and knowledge and creating a competitive working product would take too long and be too risky to do from scratch. I’m not afraid of new technologies, but you have to find the best experts in the world if you want to win, and they usually already have their own companies.
Having great innovation and technology is no guarantee that you’ll be successful: it’s only a starting point. To succeed, you have to be great at commercializing that technology. That involves great marketing and branding, running a well-managed, profitable company and—most important for a B2B company—having a global sales force with people in-country, who speak the language, know the culture and customers and can show customers the value of your products.
Around 10 years from now, I also plan to take some minority portion of the company public to reward our employees for what they have accomplished, and to fuel future growth as we become a major global brand in live video production technology and services.
It’s my goal for Ross to become one of Canada’s top technology companies, not just in quality but in total global sales.
Tamara Micner is a Canadian journalist and playwright, and former Google Communications specialist, based in London, England.