Bryan McLeod can thank a U.S. shopping channel for the meteoric growth of his business.
Two years ago he was at a Las Vegas consumer electronics show, hawking Clickfree, a device you plug into your computer to back up files such as photos and other documents. The pocket-sized item caught the eye of top brass from QVC, one of the biggest shopping channels in the United States.
They liked the concept, but they weren’t immediately convinced, says Mr. McLeod, CEO of Storage Appliance Corp., the privately held Toronto-area company behind Clickfree.
“They said, ‘We’re going to try it,’” he recalls.
QVC’s first order was for 6,000 units, a lot to buy from a fledgling company. The channel showcased the item eight times an hour starting at midnight in the days after the initial order. Then requests from viewers came flooding in.
Over the past five years, ClickFree has seen a 64,240 per cent revenue growth, an expansion that has catapulted it to the top of Deloitte’s annual Fast 50 list of Canada’s fastest-growing technology companies, released Thursday.
The winners are also considered innovators in their field. Click here to see the full list.
Launched a decade ago, the program also presents awards for leadership and for environmental work, and it flags companies to watch.
“Clickfree is really at the front end of one of the biggest issues in the technology world, in that everyone’s data has become the most valuable part of consumer technology – not the device itself,” says John Ruffolo, national leader of technology, media and telecommunication at Deloitte.
The emphasis on data, he adds, was a trend noted in Deloitte’s global predictions from a few years ago.
All of the companies rounding out the top five have only been around for five years, Mr. Ruffolo says, and they all serve unique technological needs, another trend he’s noted.
Markham, Ont.-based Real Matters, which designed a system to help property owners get cheap home appraisals, came in second with a percentage growth of 40,532 per cent - more than 20,000 percentage points below Clickfree’s revenue increase.
“They’re really exploiting a specific niche,” Mr. Ruffolo says of the new tech companies. “And this way, when they focus in on the niche, they need less capital because (Canadian businesses) have far less capital.”
But Mr. McLeod rejects the term “niche” to describe his business because he feels his product has wide appeal. “I wouldn’t call us niche,” he says. “That usually signifies a small market.”
He points to one of his previous technological pursuits as an example of a niche area: software for use by neurosurgeons in North America.
Clickfree, on the other hand, can be used by almost anybody, he says, adding that concerns about losing valuable items such as photos is universal. “If someone can come up with a solution that’s just brain-dead simple, then you have a huge potential market.”
Mr. McLeod has climbed the revenue ladder with technology products before.
He was one of the business whizzes behind Harmony remote controls – one of the first universal remote-control systems devised in the early 2000s. In May, 2004, he and his partner sold the product to consumer electronics company Logitech for $80 million, the kind of sale that could be in the cards for Clickfree.
The Fast 50 list comes at an exciting time for the company, Mr. McLeod notes. Just a week and a half ago, the patent for the automatic back-up technology that’s integral to the operation of Clickfree was approved. The company had applied for it years ago, and “if anyone infringes the patent, they’re in trouble.”
The approval could lead to even greater revenue for the company, which has staff in Richmond Hill, Ont., and in Beijing. China is devoted strictly to software elements, Mr. McLeod says, while the Canadian office also deals with sales and marketing.
Despite the company’s success, Mr. McLeod says the company still has inroads to make with Canadian retailers. Despite its status as a Canadian company, Clickfree is available at Staples and Blacks Photography, among others, but it can only be found in U.S. Best Buy stores.
The top spot on the Fast 50 list might lead to other big changes for Clickfree, Mr. McLeod says. He expects to get calls from private investors Thursday when the list is made public. And he has high expectations for 2011.
“We’ll win again,” he says. “It’s expected we’ll double our revenue again next year.”
ClickFree just raised $15 million in capital, which it will use to expand production and marketing around the world. It has already gained a foothold in the Australian market, it just hired “three top guys” in Japan and it will look to do a “quick rollout” in Europe in the coming months.
“Obviously the percentage growth will slow down.”
Special to The Globe and Mail