Most business leaders are able to call upon decades worth of experience when steering their companies but for Hunter Macdonald, CEO of Victoria-based Tutela Technologies, his is a career that has been somewhat fast-tracked.
Aged just 26, Macdonald has defied convention to help build and lead one of Canada’s most innovative technology firms over the last five years, with Tutela heavily disrupting the mobile industry and growing to become a strong influence in the sector.
A leader in the crowdsourcing of wireless quality of experience information, Tutela holds the biggest data set the world over and uses that data to help some of the biggest mobile players on the planet understand their networks and improve their services.
Macdonald spoke exclusively to Business Chief to discuss the company’s role in the market, the secrets to its success and his own unique journey…
Business Chief: Can you start by giving us an overview of your background and how you got to where you are today?
Hunter Macdonald: I grew up in the small town of Fredericton, New Brunswick near where my mother is from. She has seven siblings who stayed close so I was always surrounded by a massive family. Technology was never a major part of my life growing up, and still isn’t part of my personal life, but I loved math and logic problems. I would skip class with my high school friends but would always make sure to sneak back in for physics class.
I studied Mechanical Engineering at McGill from 2005-2010 but eventually made the decision to transition into entrepreneurship and took two business minors while also volunteering with Wesley Clover, a family-run VC fund to line me up for post-graduation.
In 2010 I moved to Victoria to start Tutela with Owen Matthews and my co-founders. I also enrolled in a Masters of Engineering program which I completed at the same time as starting Tutela. It took me four years to complete my engineering report because, not surprisingly, I was busy.
Along the way I met some amazing University of Victoria Professors, Dr. Ted Darcie and Dr. Stephen Neville, who helped with Tutela’s early technology concepts. Together they had experience in telecommunications, data security and data privacy which were all essential for us.
How significant was one particular phone call from Wesley Clover?
One phone call changed everything for me. I had been working with Wesley Clover as an Entrepreneur in Residence for over a year researching various opportunities with them. I was already in the process of moving to Ottawa to be closer to their head office when I received a call from Owen Matthews, one of the partners with Wesley Clover. He liked one of the research concepts and wanted to work with me but it had to be in Victoria, and I had three days to move there.
It was the quickest, best and most impactful decision I had ever had to make. Owen helped assemble an A Team of co-founders and we’ve achieved a lot together in an amazing city to live in.
Can you explain how Tutela has forged its position in the market?
Initially we studied how wireless service providers were improving their networks for consumers and were shocked to discover that $7bn a year is spent on network drive testing to just determine where networks are good and where they are bad.
Phones were being placed in vehicles to run network test code and then these vehicles were driven up and down streets all day, every day to evaluate wireless networks – I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a more efficient way. It also didn’t seem very environmentally friendly.
We built code to turn any consumer’s phone into a test agent so that everyone could help collect this data instead. The difficulty then was figuring out how to get that code on enough phones and how to do it in a way that was transparent to the consumer.
We had a breakthrough when we moved into a shared office with an advertising company. We learned through osmosis how mobile advertising worked and how mobile advertisers were paying mobile apps to integrate their code. We decided to copy their model but with our code base. We approached mobile apps and asked them to integrate our code as an alternative to advertising for making money from their apps.
Can you walk us through exactly how your technology works, from implementation to results delivery?
Our software runs on over 200mn end user devices worldwide, collecting over 10bn crowdsourced mobile data measurements every day. This data is then used to create actionable insights which enable the mobile industry to understand mobile quality and usage.
Our network performance testing software runs in the background of more than 2,000 popular consumer mobile apps and games on Android and iOS to anonymously collect sensor data across the world. Our methodology and configuration are set to simulate typical user mobile behaviour, such as accessing websites from popular CDNs. This data helps our customers understand trends in network usage as well as benchmark against competitors. We then process this data into web-based dashboards and reports, delivering insights to our customers that are actionable immediately.
How do you turn that data into the tailored solution required for the customer?
Last year, Tutela partnered with MapD Technologies, the leader in GPU-powered data analytics. Tutela used this GPU platform to build a mobile data analytics solution called Tutela Explorer, that provides real-time, interactive and highly visual insight into the performance of mobile networks and device usage.
Telecom providers, mobile device manufacturers and industry analysts can access Tutela's massive crowdsourced dataset and GPU-powered analytics platform to quickly gain insight into mobile network quality from the country level all the way down to the street level.
How do you create business with app developers? What is your strategy there?
Tutela offers mobile app developers a new revenue stream through our partner programme. By installing our code in their apps, our developer partners receive a share of revenue based on their total number of daily active users. This is great because it can reduce the amount of advertisements they need to run.
Do you have any new innovations in the pipeline that are set to transform your business?
We plan to continue with advancements in AI and machine learning. Data is great but you need to make it predictive, insightful and actionable. This is how you become something that your customers can’t live without.
What does the future hold for yourself personally – do you see a long-term future at Tutela?
There is so much more for Tutela and I couldn’t be more excited for our future. We have created a service that improves the world’s internet while reducing the amount of advertisements that need to be shown to monetise mobile apps. We’ve developed a special win-win scenario for everyone while addressing a $7bn/year market. However, there’s so much more ground left to cover. Tutela is going to bring these same data insight innovations to half a dozen more industries over the next couple years.
Data sales is a new monetisation option emerging for mobile app developers, creating a new information market that will be worth tens of billions sooner than you’d think. This information market also doesn’t require personal or sensitive data from users to fuel it. The industry is just now getting wise to data, AI and machine learning and even basic information types can produce massive transformations.
Personally, I’m going to be at this for a long time. I’m having too much fun to not see this through and it’s only getting better. I get to play with data all day and show customers things they didn’t know that they didn’t know. What could be better?
Someday, but no time soon, I’ll need to move on from Tutela. On the toughest days, I daydream about giving up the entrepreneurial lifestyle and becoming a hiking guide or something relaxing like that. However, the reality is that I’m addicted now and will start more ventures – hopefully with the same people if they can still stand me by then. Without any exaggeration, I have never met a successful entrepreneur who hasn’t gone back for more. The data shows that I will too.