School-application startup ApplyBoard Inc. quietly replaced chief executive officer Martin Basiri with his brother Meti Basiri last summer, seven years after they founded one of Canada’s fastest-growing tech companies.
The Basiri siblings and a third brother, Massi Basiri, all came to Canada from Iran for school in the early 2010s. They launched ApplyBoard in 2015 to help ease the application process for international students applying to Western universities, and it swiftly became one of the Kitchener-Waterloo tech scene’s rising stars. Meti Basiri was previously the company’s chief marketing officer.
The company has built a platform to match students and schools through standardized applications, and has developed an artificial-intelligence-powered tool to verify application documents. It attracted large amounts of venture capital to fuel its growth, including US$300-million in 2021 in a round let by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s venture arm. The round valued ApplyBoard at US$3.2-billion. Deloitte has called ApplyBoard one of the fastest-growing startups in North America.
In interviews with The Globe and Mail and elsewhere in recent years, Martin Basiri often focused on the speed of ApplyBoard’s growth, including by head count and valuation, and expressed interest in listing the company publicly. But the tech sector has since plunged into a downturn, with companies shedding staff and cutting valuations regularly. Martin Basiri told the tech-news website BetaKit last June that he had “overraised” capital and was not worried about ApplyBoard’s balance sheet, but still did not rule out an IPO, and had slowed hiring.
ApplyBoard has not been immune to the downturn, however. In June, 2022, Fidelity Investments, which has invested in ApplyBoard through two funds across multiple financing rounds, revealed that the value of its total stake had fallen 22.9 per cent from a year earlier to $87-million. The Waterloo Region Record also reported in November that ApplyBoard had cut its customer-experience staff by 90 people; the company acknowledged the layoffs to The Globe and Mail but declined to provide numbers.
ApplyBoard confirmed Thursday that Meti Basiri had taken over from his brother, who has been on parental leave since the fall and is expected to launch another new education-related venture in the coming weeks. Spokesperson David Tubbs did not provide a reason for the CEO change or clarify whether Martin Basiri kept any active position in the company or on its board, though the company later wrote in a blog post that he would remain a director.”
In spite of the sectorwide downturn, however, Mr. Tubbs said that the company had worked with more students in 2022 than in the previous six years combined, and that its revenue had grown 125 per cent over the previous year. ApplyBoard now claims to have more than 1,500 employees and says that it has helped more than half a million students with applications.