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The Data Diva – Johanna Mustapic of Triage Data Solutions

Johanna Mustapic’s entry into entrepreneurship was somewhat of a calling.

In mid-2000, Mustapic was compelled into starting her own business. She’d left the company she’d been working for, only to have clients start calling her at home and pleading, “We need this done – where are you?” Now Mustapic, 42, is owner and president of Triage Data Solutions, a document management company.

It was a lawyer-colleague who suggested Mustapic create her own company, based on her industry experience.

“Gosh, what do I know about running a business?” she remembers thinking. As someone who had trained as a legal assistant at Capilano University, and had always worked as an employee, becoming an entrepreneur was daunting.

“But I knew I wanted to do it because I really believed in the service,” says Mustapic, who lives with her husband and two children in Burnaby.

She initially connected with a business partner who invested in her idea and handled the business aspect (now handled by her husband Rod). She focused on development, and in September 2000, Triage Data Solutions (triagedata.com) opened its doors in downtown Vancouver. The company fairly quickly found its way and within the first year was on stable financial footing.

Triage helps businesses become more efficient by automating. The company converts filing cabinets full of paper files into databases that are easily accessible and searchable. As well, the company – whose clients are primarily law firms – helps lawyers sort out the masses of electronic files (email, hard drives, jump drives, etc.) that they receive from their clients for litigation purposes.

Over the years, working as a paralegal, Mustapic had seen precious hours wasted in paper shuffling. Once she spent three days helping a lawyer prepare for pre-trial preliminaries (discoveries) sifting through 15 binders, finding specific documents, pulling them one by one from the files, and photocopying and compiling them in chronological order into new binders – a tedious process, to say the least.

“I had third-generation photocopies that you could hardly read, and a stack of paper higher than my desk sitting on the floor. I also had a list telling to pull document #3456 and then go to document #100, and pull that.”

When, in her next job, Mustapic learned about document management, she was amazed. She realized that if documents were scanned and linked in a database, they could be compiled and sorted in moments rather than three days. “It really hit home. I thought, ‘I’ve got to tell people about this.’ This was a real opportunity for me.”

Today Triage has eight full-time, and more than 15 on-call-contract, staff; about 150 law firms on their client list; and offices in Vancouver and Calgary. Triage is growing steadily at about 15 percent a year, and last year did $1 million in revenue.

In the early years, Triage’s revenue primarily came from scanning paper files and coding databases. These days much of the company’s revenue comes from e-discovery, the process of helping lawyers sift through a client’s electronic data (email, hard drive, etc.) to gather relevant evidence for a court case.

Currently, Triage is expanding its business by going directly to the companies that seek the services of lawyers. Typically, says Mustapic, most clients send far too many files to their lawyers.

“Often they send all of their emails, or worse yet, print them. There’s often only about 10 percent that the lawyer should actually be getting, but because the clients haven’t automated anything or figured out better processes, they send it all. So then they’re actually paying the lawyer for the time to review their junk mail.”

Triage also does considerable work for companies that share information with satellite offices. One such company, Placer Dome, had their entire library automated so that employees could access reports from remote locations.

“A lot more companies are having people work remotely. You can’t do that if you’re stuck to your paper.”

There is resistance to going paperless. “People are very used to having their binders and their papers. They’re not always comfortable with technology.”

Yet relying on paper files can be inefficient and costly. “In court I remember seeing one lawyer who had boxes and binders around him. He was trying to find a document. Meanwhile, the other lawyer with a laptop had found it 10 minutes earlier.”

Moving from employee to entrepreneur was a natural fit for Mustapic, who exudes a committed, service-oriented nature as well as a natural competence. Sure enough, at her law firm job years ago, she was often the go-to person sought out to problem-solve technical issues.

What are some of her biggest challenges? As a mother of two young children, aged five and eight, Mustapic finds that work and family time are a constant balancing act. She tries not to check her work email on weekends unless she absolutely has to.

Professionally, the challenges are about marketing and differentiating her business from her competitors, some of whom are as far away as India. Mustapic places great emphasis on customer service. “We don’t try to be the cheapest. We try to add value by being there to support you, by going the extra mile to do the best job possible.

We talk to clients about what they really need, not what we think they should have, or fitting them into a predefined box.”

Much of Mustapic’s work is about making key connections, which often occurs while she’s doing training at the law offices. “People aren’t just going to be knocking on your door. You have to be out there and in touch.”

What is her advice to others starting a business? “Do what you like to do; what you believe in. And you have to know enough about it and the industry. Or, if you don’t, you’d better get to know enough about it before you start.”

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