Cyril Marques is an unconventional founder. He speaks five languages, has lived in just as many countries, and worked at roughly twice that number of businesses. He hasn’t even turned 40 yet.
In 2019, Cyril scaled his freelance gig as a data consultant up into a “full-stack data team as a service” called Montreal Analytics. Business boomed and he is now on track for $3 million TTM in 2021.
While he’s by all measures successful now, Cyril spent most of his early career burning out and jumping between jobs. He quit a lucrative financial career in Hong Kong to eventually try running a comic book store in Canada that later folded due to lack of profits. He dealt with financial insecurity and needed to adapt to new cultures and work environments again and again.
Though many would have given up, Cyril always had the drive to do something big with his life.
Here’s how this unconventional founder found success by following his passions, not the money.
The Other “Mister Worldwide”
While Cyril was born in France, he only lived there for his first six years. As a child, he grew up mostly on Reunion island – a small French territory in the Indian Ocean with a diverse population just shy of one million people.
Growing up on an island close to the continents of Africa and Asia afforded Cyril and his family many opportunities to travel. He also got used to moving around and adapting quickly to other cultures. It’s a bit of a theme in his life.
After graduating with a degree in finance and entrepreneurship in 2008, Cyril started his career in corporate finance at a business in Hong Kong. After one year, he already found himself bored and ready to try other things.
“It was too predictable for me,” he says. “There were lots of politics and I didn’t like to be just a small piece of a larger company.”
What Cyril did learn while in Hong Kong was that he loved data. He grew a reputation as “the Excel person” at that first job and was often tasked with sorting data and developing new systems to compile it. Fortunately for him, being good with data was in demand everywhere. When he moved back to France in 2009 he quickly landed a new job as a project manager where he could expand his skills as the “Excel person.”
In 2012, after three years as a project manager at the same company in France, Cyril moved to a startup to work in sales. In just one year the startup was acquired. Cyril decided he was finished working at businesses where he had little control over what went on.
That next year in 2013, Cyril and his girlfriend (now wife) decided to drop everything and start a new life in Montreal, Canada. The abrupt change made Cyril want to reset his career path and he decided to take on some of the projects he’d always dreamed of. These dreams included opening a comic book store and a comic-con-style company in Quebec. Both ended up being unprofitable and he folded after a year or so. Despite an immense loss of funds, the inner nerd in him found the businesses quite fulfilling.
“I got to meet people like the cast of Stargate and Superman which was a dream of mine,” he says. “Unfortunately I invested all my money at that time in those companies, and now they’re dead in the water.”
When the smoke from Cyril’s failed ventures cleared in 2017, he decided it was time for a break. He took a five-month sabbatical with his wife in Southeast Asia and says this trip ended up causing a huge change in his mindset.
“I had become quite insecure about how much money I was spending and worried about where I would get my money,” he says. “But then after quitting for six months and being fine, I realized I didn’t need to worry so much.”
Upon his return to Canada in late 2017, Cyril hopped back into gear and spun up a SaaS called Broid with two co-founders. Broid was an API for sending messages across up to 26 different messaging platforms at once. He spent a year on it and copious amounts of his own pocket money, but couldn’t find the traction he was looking for. He was eventually forced to sell the technology.
“The idea was cool but it was not necessary,” says Cyril. “Chatbots don’t need to speak on 26 platforms. It wasn’t answering a problem and we arrived late to the game.”
Despite his desire to never return to the corporate realm, Cyril tried one more time in 2018 to be a data project manager for a company but was soon tired. He quit the job in mid-2019 and started freelancing as a data consultant. This ended up becoming his big break.
“I got so much work that I had to decide to scale down or make it a business and kiss vacations goodbye,” he says. “My wife and I chose the latter option.”
Combining Years of Experience Into One Business
Despite its ups and downs, Cyril had learned an uncommonly large breadth of data science knowledge throughout his career. While most data people usually stay at one company and learn one subsection of the technology well, Cyril had learned a new system every one to three years for over a decade. This made his skills in high demand at businesses that wanted a consultant to help them pivot or get up to speed fast.
Initially, scaling was easy for Cyril. He’d also picked up a large list of industry contacts from all of his ventures.
“I had a relationship with people at Google and I frequently reached out to them to see if they had contracts when I was freelancing,” he says. “In my personal network, I also knew a few people. For everything else, I’d go through LinkedIn communities and look for people who were hiring.”
Cyril had all the work he could want. In fact, there was more work than he could accomplish by himself. He needed a team.
He realized just having a group of freelancers to call on wasn’t as reliable as having a dedicated team of employees he could rope in on projects. However, while Cyril could find freelancers easily enough, finding employees as a one-man business was much more difficult.
“When I was alone seeking the first employee, I was opportunistic,” he says. “I met with a few people but they wouldn’t take it because I wasn’t a company yet.”
Not one to get discouraged, Cyril kept reaching out until he found a team he could use. He claims his first successful hire was the biggest shot in the dark he’d taken in his entire career.
“One person I was in contact with was a genius in what we do. He reached out to me asking about a company he was considering applying for but instead I asked him to come work with me,” he says. “To this day I still don’t know what made him do it. My second hire, another data authority, became available after COVID. After that, each new employee became easier because we already had a company with employees.”
On the operations side, Cyril credits his wife for those early successes.
“My wife helped me out with anything admin-related like payroll and insurance,” he says. “I consulted her on every major decision. It was helpful to have someone outside the company who could shed a fresh eye on everything.”
A Data Team as a Service
Montreal Analytics is best summed up as a data consulting firm. A “data team as a service” as Cyril puts it. It’s a consultancy with a managed marketplace thrown in.
“Companies come to us because they want to have this stack that is scalable and future-proof,” Cyril says. “We enable them to build on modern technologies and show them the best architecture and best practices for data modeling and data experience today. Clients don’t need to hire five different people when they need new expertise for a short period.”
Part of what sets Montreal Analytics apart from other data consultancies is they only consult for technology made in the last decade like Google Cloud, Snowflake, or DBT.
“There’s a real lack of expertise on these newer technologies right now because they are new,” he says. “Companies want to scale with these technologies to be future proof, but their in-house team usually only learns whatever stack the company is currently using. That’s where we help.”
In its first two years, Montreal Analytics has caught the attention of big organizations like Spotify and GoPuff as well as dozens of smaller businesses and startups. Cyril claims 100 percent of their traffic comes from organic inbound leads, not paid ads.
“We started deploying articles, tutorials, and how-tos on our blog for free,” he says. “You don’t need to register. You don’t need to give us your email. People started talking about us and asking us, ‘How do you do this? How do you do that?’ Now a hundred percent of our business is inbound. We don’t do any kind of outreach,” he adds proudly.
Because he’s removed the traffic bottleneck, Cyril has scaled his team to 32 people today working remotely and expects to reach $3 million TTM by the end of 2021. He says the numbers would look even better if he wasn’t investing so much into scaling the business.
That’s the other way Montreal Analytics is different. Cyril wants to revolutionize how the consulting industry works.
How Cyril is Changing Consultancies
As a business that relies on staying on top of technology, Cyril keeps learning as the central focus of the business.
“As a rule, teammates only spend up to 30 hours of their weeks for clients, the rest is dedicated to Montreal Analytics.” he says. “That ten hours or so for us is for learning something new. We encourage employees to go to conferences, take courses, and read up. If you get better, the company will get better.”
Cyril particularly likes to encourage reading and even sets aside money for literature and comic books.
“When people read they show their souls.”
“We give employees $400 per year for any technical books they want as well as comic books. I strongly believe when people read they show their souls,” he says. “I love reading and have written a bunch of short stories myself. I’ve always wanted to write a book.”
Learning at Montreal Analytics isn’t just for seasoned employees, it’s for new hires too. Today he is creating an online academy to accurately train and recruit valuable new talent to Montreal Analytics. He even plans to pay trainees while they take courses for three to four months. At the time of the interview, their first cohort was starting in a week.
“I’m trying to treat people the way I would’ve wanted to be treated,” he says. “Our space lacks skills and expertise so it’s hard for us and really anybody to hire. That’s why I want to train people on our stack and way of doing things.”
Another revolutionary move he takes is full transparency for employee salaries at every level. Cyril keeps everyone at the same rates and makes sure everyone is aware of what everyone at the company is earning.
“I want them to know they aren’t being cheated because of negotiation,” he says. “You meet some people who don’t like this and they aren’t a culture fit. We’re paying above the market for Canada and we’re not trying to cheat people out of money. When we do well, we always reward the employees.”
Into The Future
Cyril thinks Montreal Analytics is on its way to something big – and with the numbers he’s generating, it’s hard to doubt him.
“We want to be bigger still in 2022,” he says. “We want to build more teams around different skill sets. I’m shooting for 80 people by the end of next year.”
Despite heavily reinvesting funds into the business, Cyril isn’t too worried about cash flow. He believes Montreal Analytics is mostly past the stage where VC would be useful.
“We might need some more cash flow because we are growing fast but I don’t see how VC could help us at this stage,” he says. “We’re doing quite well. We’re independent and growing and the employees may not be comfortable with us taking on that extra stress.”
Advice For Founders
For founders trying to make a similar business, Cyril has this to say:
“Do not hire anyone that does something you cannot do. You won’t be able to monitor them well.”
“First thing is to get the right partnerships,” he says. “They can help you find clients and opportunities. Second, don’t take contracts that you cannot handle yourself and do not hire anyone that does something you cannot do. You won’t be able to monitor them well. Finally, try to focus on the things you are good at early on. Get close to the tools that you love to use.”
One of the most important things Cyril thinks a founder needs is to make sure their family is on board.
“Support from your family and partner is very important because you’ll spend a lot of time working and finding clients,” he says.
If you’ve worked many different jobs for short periods, it’s easy to feel like you haven’t developed any skills deeply enough to contribute anything valuable. Cyril’s story proves that a broad range of experience can be just as good or better than staying in one lane for an entire career. Simply taking the time to do anything teaches you something. Eventually, those somethings are going to add up.
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