Grade A Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Jan 02

(Portions of this article
originally appeared in Ottawa Business Journal, November 2012:

recently had a chance to catch up with CEO Allan Ghosn of the soon to be
rebranded Grade A as they pass the tenth anniversary of their founding first as
Grade A Student and later Grade A Techs. They went into business a decade ago
determined to do the last mile of tech service to the home and the
consumer—they were going to be Nerds on Site on steroids.

got into the B2B space in year two when some of their at home clients liked
their work and decided to use them for tech support in businesses they owned.
By year five, it was obvious that a transition was happening in the
industry—every tech savvy guy with a cell phone decided to enter the space and
competition was coming from everywhere. Barriers to entry were appallingly low
(everyone thought it was easy) and their eight franchises were all experiencing
or about to experience heavy weather. Their most successful franchisee was in Australia but
it was only a matter of time.

had 20,000 unique residential clients (that is individual homes) in Ottawa that they were
servicing so they could not just drop them. Instead, they sold the residential
business to one of the original founders, serial entrepreneur Christian Ste.
Marie (who operates it as Choice Tech Support).

left Allan and his partner, Mathew Lafrance, their President, free to focus
exclusively on the SMEE market—organizations with 5 to 500 employees like
OCAPDD has. In its current configuration, Grade A is profitable and halfway to
seven figures in annual revenues with a staff of 40. Mr. Ghosn believes they
will double in size (in terms of headcount and more in terms of top line
volume) within two or three years, more likely two. They have hired eight more
staff just in the last 60 days as demand ramps up. They currently operate out
of 8,000 sq. ft. of sublet space on Woodward
 Drive in Ottawa.

new URL will be and the rebrand by Ottawa-based McMillan Marketing
will launch in December. It’s an effort to shake off the remnants of the
residential biz as Grade A Techs and the earlier Grade A Student. “It’ll be a
sleeker, more professional look,” Mr. Ghosn promises.

to entry are much higher in the commercial space. They have clients in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, California and
New Jersey, all of them remotely managed from Ottawa. If and when they
need a physical, on-site presence, they dispatch local contractors. But their
tools, which Mr. Ghosn says are best-of-breed, are sourced from platforms built
by the largest tech companies on the planet. Investment to get into this space
starts at a minimum of $500,000 so not every geek with a screwdriver can become
a competitor. A huge diesel generator sits outside their Woodward location so
power is never off in their offices. Law firms and others who are trying to
complete urgent, non postponable transactions can relocate to Grade A and
function there in the event of a blackout.

ask Allan what are some of the other differentiators and he says, “Most of our
competitors are really hardware or software vendors. We don’t even have any
revenue goals for firmware. We are really a consultancy and we sit on the same
side of the table as our clients—we advise them on what to buy but we never
sell to them. We don’t even have a single person on staff who has the word
‘sales’ in their title.”

are 80% services and just 20% firmware. The company is debt free and has been
self capitalized all the way along.

had two offers to buy the company but they won’t even take a meeting to discuss
this possibility. This gives their staff confidence that the two founders are
in it for the long haul. “At 33, this is my purpose in life and Mat’s too—to
get up every day and work, not to keep our clients happy,” he adds with a
chuckle, “but to keep our staff happy and engaged so they can keep our clients

Bruce M. Firestone, Founder, Ottawa Senators; Author, Quantum Entity Trilogy;
Executive Director,, Learn By Doing School; Broker, Century 21
Explorer Realty; Entrepreneurship Ambassador, Telfer School of Management,
University of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter: @ProfBruce


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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.