In this series, we ask some of Canada’s Top Growing companies to share advice on finding new and innovative routes to success in an unpredictable business environment.
For some businesses, the pandemic has been nothing short of catastrophic. For others, it’s been survivable, but an uncertain, uphill slog. Then there are companies like Vendasta, which has been able to continue along its growth trajectory that was well underway before COVID-19 changed everything.
Vendasta provides an end-to-end commerce platform for local channel partners who market, sell, bill, fulfill and deliver digital solutions to small and medium-sized businesses. Those channel partners are most often marketing, advertising or web agencies, media companies or independent software vendors, who in turn brand the white-label solutions and sell to virtually every kind of small business.
“Our first concern [at the start of the pandemic] was our people, and then our partners and their small-business customers,” says Brandan King, chief executive officer of the Saskatoon-based company. “There was an initial slowdown, then we had to pivot to offer our customers more remote and online e-commerce solutions.”
Through more than 50,000 partners, Vendasta today provides about five million small businesses with a full suite of e-commerce platforms to do business online. Currently, 80 per cent of Vendasta’s customers are in the U.S., 14 per cent in Canada, with most others in Australia, the U.K. and South Africa. The company is growing, reaching number 273 on The Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies list in 2020.
Vendasta offers channel partners platform features such as automation, customer relationship management (CRM), order and billing management, payments and collections and fulfillment management, plus a “wholesale solutions marketplace,” which partners in turn sell to their small-business customers. Those solutions include advertising, content and experience, insurance, listings, search engine optimization, online reputation and social media management, and websites.
Like many CEOs, Mr. King attributes the success of the company to putting customers first. It helps, of course, to also possess agility and foresight, values Mr. King also embraces.
Those values meant that when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the company not only accelerated its remote work and e-commerce products, but it also launched a set of free online tools (as well as paid) to help SMBs weather the economic storm. It also set up free e-learning programs to assist partners and their clients to expand their strategies and skills from the safety of their homes while they waited out the worst of the pandemic.
Vendasta started out in 2007 with seven people in Mr. King’s house, and by 2008 was offering reputation-management software, which helps organizations keep on top of what is being said about them and their products in blogs and on social media, for example. Gradually, it added digital marketing software it built in-house. Then it began focusing on selling a platform that enabled its partners to offer customers a suite of software products, such as Google’s G Suite as well as Vendasta software, marketed under the resellers’ own brands, through one online portal with a single login.
Mr. King acknowledges that keeping pace with such a competitive and quickly evolving technology business was – and is – not for the faint of heart.
“We started as a point solution provider and then added in our sales and marketing automation and then added in a marketplace of products. So, we have been evolving really fast and that is a challenge,” he says.
“I think you will find there are people who would say if you want to work at a [company] like Vendasta, it’s certainly not a lifestyle business,” he adds. “We’re driven, it’s a fast-paced, fast-moving machine compared to other types of businesses where things change slowly.”
By 2019, Vendasta had expanded its marketplace offerings into various new SMB solutions categories and had just under 300 employees.
Today, the company is clearly in expansion mode: In May 2021, after pulling a $100-million initial public offering, it announced that it secured a $119.5-million venture-capital investment to accelerate its growth plans. (It was the largest venture-capital investment ever received by a Saskatchewan tech company.)
With annual recurring revenue of more than $50-million, the company intends to use the new funds to accelerate its pace of growth. Vendasta now employs more than 525 people, 135 of them added since May 2020. It plans to hire 150 more in the coming year and possibly pursue acquisitions.
The importance of having the right people on the Vendasta team is a subject that comes up often with Mr. King. But sometimes, its’s easier said than done.
“Obviously, Saskatchewan has a tonne of talented people, but it’s experience [we need],” he said. “We’re building out an ecosystem of technology folks. In Saskatoon now we’ve got a good university and a lot of software developers, but we still don’t have enough,” Mr. King says.
“Things like product management – how do you build a product and how do you market that product online? Those are skillsets that aren’t generally found in the ecosystem we are in.”
So, Vendasta often brings in people from outside the province or outside Canada, or they train homegrown talent.
“We do a lot of development here … and we spend a tonne of time on education. We believe we can only grow as fast as our leadership team, so we want to make sure our people have some of that experience or are learning it.”
That approach dovetails with what Mr. King says he has firmly believed since Vendasta was born in 2007 in his home.
“I try to build a team around me for all the things I’m not good at. The team I have, they’re all smarter than I am.”