MRU alumnus sets crowd funding record with software start-up

Stephen Guppy shatters ‘grandiose’ expectations by raising $600,000

Seated around the kitchen table last December, roommates Stephen Guppy and Jeremy Grossmann fidgeted anxiously while putting the finishing touches on their online crowd funding campaign.

It was a definitive moment for their fledgling software company.

Until then, the duo questioned whether they were forever stuck giving away their product for free or if they could raise the $35,000 needed to sustain operations in the long run.

“I remember sitting there at midnight, and then pressing Enter to launch it,” said Guppy, who earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from Mount Royal University in 2014.

Alumnus Stephen Guppy shatters ‘grandiose’ expectations by raising $600,000 in crowd funding project.
— Photo by, Bryan Weismiller

He paused.

“Then we literally crashed the crowd funding site because so many people wanted in.”

The next 48 hours were a non-stop flurry of email replies, webcasts and coffee runs as donations flooded in for the company, officially dubbed GNS3. GNS3 developed an open-sourced software platform that simulates complex computer networks. It’s a cheaper, easier way for institutions to test out networks because they don’t require physical hardware such as computers, wires and routers.

Guppy and Grossmann reached their fundraising target for GNS3 in three hours.

More than $100,000 was raised in the first 18 hours. And when the dust settled, they had reeled in $600,000 from 13,000 contributors from more than 80 countries.

Officials with the crowd funding site Tilt Open told Guppy it was the largest open source software campaign ever — even when compared against rival sites.

Guppy described the gushing campaign as a “massive surprise.”

“It even surpassed my grandiose expectations,” he said. “It was great validation.”

GNS3’s ever-growing customer base includes start-ups, established companies test driving new equipment in and businesses looking to scale-up their operations.

“A piece of hardware can be a quarter of a million dollars. It’s not like you can just grab one and try it out,” said Guppy, who serves as the company’s CEO.

The federal Department of National Defence has used it. TELUS has too.

“We have such a large user base that we’ve created our own niche market,” Guppy said. “Almost 20 per cent of network professionals use our software.”

Some two million active users have downloaded the software more than nine million times since it launched in 2008. The second public beta for GNS3 launched in September, with the full version expected to be released in October.

Strong customer engagement has been key to Guppy’s success, according to Ray DePaul, director of Mount Royal’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Too many entrepreneurs don't actually talk to their potential customers to understand what problems they can solve,” DePaul said.

He lauded Guppy as an exceptional role model for the next wave of entrepreneurs at Mount Royal.

“We teach our students to think big and design ventures that can scale and have a significant impact,” DePaul said. “Stephen has done just that.”

Guppy was lured to Mount Royal for the entrepreneurial program after spending a year at the city’s other university. Despite his lifelong interest in running a business, he first needed to learn the ropes.

At Mount Royal, Guppy learned about business plans, marketing, and other courses that helped “fine tune the craft.” He raved about his face-to-face learning experience.

“It was great because I was able to tap the shoulders of a lot of entrepreneurs who are now teaching here,” he said.

With the coffers now stocked, GNS3 is in the midst of a hiring spree, with another 20 to 25 people expected to join its current 10-person team by early 2015.

“The next 12 months are going to be something special,” Guppy said.

Sept. 23, 2014 — Bryan Weismiller