The owners of Halifax marketing agency Kula Partners have spun off a software development company that promises to bring private-sector, user-centred design sensibilities to public sector agencies.

Business partners Jeff White and Carman Pirie started What We Make It three years ago, incubating it as a division of Kula. The new service company promises to build software by consulting with its intended users and custom-building it to suit their needs, in contrast to the traditional process of government writing a list of requirements before going shopping.

What We Make It has already worked on a handful of major projects in Nova Scotia. The jobs included developing a platform for immigration services and building the software now used for remote court appearances in the province.

“In this post-COVID era, we're really talking about how do we help governments better serve the people that they work for, and enable those services to happen in a way that is more efficient, providing a better quality of service for citizens,” said White in an interview.

White and Pirie founded Kula 18 years ago. It now services manufacturing firms, helping them digitize and consolidate their marketing strategies. The company has 16 employees, half of whom also work at What We Make It.

The new software company usually collaborates with IT and professional services company Barrington Consulting and Fredericton-based international cybersecurity firm Bulletproof.

White said the exact software design process varies from project to project because different groups of users must be consulted in different ways. For software used only internally by government employees, that can mean conferring with staffers. For public-facing software, it often involves reaching out to interested parties outside government.

“It really depends on how precise that audience needs to be,” said White. “Sometimes there are very specific people who are engaged with a particular department. And often that government agency will know who some of those stakeholders are from having dealt with them in the past. So they will work with us to prepare a prospect list and then we will... bring them in for a conversation.”

White and Pirie have bootstrapped What We Make It with profits from Kula, White said, and do not plan to raise capital. He does, however, expect to soon begin hiring employees to work exclusively at What We Make It, with no involvement in Kula.

The team is also preparing to expand into other regions of Canada, which involves researching local governmental processes, rather than the usual product-market fit research conducted by startups.

“This is public sector work, so everything is driven by RFP’s,” said White, referring to requests for proposals -- the announcements that initiate the tender process.

“There’s lots of opportunity in British Columbia and Ontario, for instance. And so we're looking... to bring the experience that we have from our Nova Scotia clients to them. It's very much a more traditional agency sales strategy.”