Innovation Takes Video Security Firm From Idea to Industry Leader

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Victoria’s Camacc Systems. But stop to buy gas or shop at a major retailer, and you’re likely under the watchful eyes of one of this company’s video security systems.
The tech company led by CEO Ho Kim has grown in 15 years from a four-person startup to 65 employees and 300 contractors across Canada — and $17 million-plus in revenues. Camacc has also expanded into the U.S. The company, which provides surveillance and access control systems, doesn’t define itself as a security company but as a company that uses technology to get a clear picture of the world to improve safety, security and operational efficiency across sectors. Its ambitious plan is to almost double its revenue by 2017.
Camacc’s Saanichton head office is everything you might expect from a tech company. A meeting room with two 80-inch monitors for videoconferences with the company’s six regional offices. A tech-support centre with nine 50-inch monitors displaying 300 live feeds from clients. (“We can identify problems before the client even knows they exist,” says Kim.)
Douglas sat down with Kim — recently named Ernst and Young’s Technology Entrepreneur of the Year for the Pacific Region — to learn the secrets of Camacc’s success.
How Camacc went from idea to industry > Ho Kim was a 32-year-old hotel manager in 1998 when he got talking with Dennis Law, a friend he’d had since their days at Arbutus Junior High. Law was working in retail surveillance systems — think big, expensive cameras and tape recorders — at his father’s company.
“We’d always talked about doing something together,” recalls Kim. “When his dad retired, Dennis approached me and said ‘Ho, this might be a good opportunity.’ [My wife and I] had just had our first child, my wife was pregnant with our second son, and so the timing really wasn’t the greatest. But that’s when you really have to dig deep and say, ‘Hmm, do I go big or do I stay home? We decided to go big.’”
In a meeting in Law’s living room, the pair brought in two employees of Law’s and reviewed Kim’s business plan, deciding they could launch if each of the four put up $100,000. “So of course, who do we go to? Our parents. My parents had to put a line of credit against their house, basically risking their retirement plan for me. But within two weeks, we quit our jobs, got an office, and we were off and running.”
On landing the big fish > Camacc immediately landed London Drugs as a client. Since then, it has won — and kept — a blue-chip list of clients including Esso, Overwaitea, Harry Rosen and Future Shop. “Initially, we supplied the same services and product that all the other security integrators supplied,” says Kim. “In the early 2000s, when the digital recorder came out, we saw that and thought ‘Wow, this is unreal.’”
Law saw the potential of using software to manage stored information. Camacc now designs the systems, writes the software, assembles the equipment and installs the entire package.
“We’d ask clients, ‘What would really help you and your loss prevention team?’ They’d tell us and we’d write it for them. The client feels that they have a part in our success. They can look at this feature and say, ‘Wow, they wrote that specifically for me.’”
But the key to Camacc’s success is service, says Kim. The tech support department averages 1,000 calls a day, with all but 10 per cent answered immediately. “It doesn’t matter how good your product is if you aren’t able to service that product afterwards. That’s where we really feel we separate ourselves from our competitors.”
What the CEO’s job really means > The CEO of a small company has to wear every hat, says Kim. “You have to be the CEO, tech support person, service person, installation guy.”
But as the company grows, that direct connection naturally diminishes, Kim adds. “When you’re the owners and you start out, your clients know who you are, what you’re about and the culture you believe in, because you’re dealing with them on a one-to-one basis.
That changes with more management layers, and it’s up to the CEO to ensure that vision and values remain clear. “A lot of my job is getting out there and letting employees know that they’re part of this team. They’re part of this bigger vision.”
Why work culture matters > From the start, Camacc’s philosophy has been “work hard, but work harder at having fun with your family and friends,” Kim says. “Another key philosophy is that we hire for attitude and train for position. I firmly believe you cannot teach somebody to have a good attitude. If they have it, their learning curve is just so much faster.”
Camacc’s culture was tested in the 2009 recession, which Kim recalls as “a really bad time.” But a speech by leadership expert Simon Sinek on keeping company culture vibrant was a turning point.
“I came back and said, ‘We’re going to change,’” Kim recalls. “I brought my entire management staff in and we brainstormed …”
As a result, each employee’s company anniversary is recognized with an email from Kim, shared with everyone in the company, triggering a flood of congratulations for the employee. Other examples: the sports-bar-styled coffee room; Kim’s role as fashion model in a catalogue of Camacc apparel, with a portion of sales revenue going to charity. Even the Camacc website has a fresh, slightly irreverent tone that evokes a young startup.
Why the secret is out > Camacc wants to increase revenue to $30 million — a 77 per cent jump — by 2017. “It’s only achievable if every single member of the management team does two things,” says Kim. “Recognizes what they’re strong at, but more importantly, recognizes what their weaknesses are, and works on those weaknesses.”
On the journey to completeness > Kim and his family boat every summer and ski in the winter. “It’s so incredibly important to have that balance between family and work,” he says. And he’s mindful of his own parents’ sacrifices in the years after the family moved to Victoria from South Korea when Kim was a year and a half old.
“My parents essentially sacrificed their entire life to pave a better path for … me and my older brother and sister. I’ve always said, ‘If I can accomplish a quarter of what my parents have been able to accomplish, I’ll just be a complete person as a father, a son, a businessman, a husband and as a friend.’ I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m getting there.”