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Technology With controversy behind it, Vision Critical aims to grow its subscription software business

Employees work at the Vision Critical offices in Vancouver on April 4, 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vision Critical Communications Inc. used to suffer from a double-vision problem – until a year ago, when director and one-time CEO Angus Reid cashed out of the firm his son Andrew founded in the early 2000s, ending a tumultuous chapter of clashing leadership and governance for the Vancouver marketing-software firm.

Now, Vision Critical is emerging from an intense rebuilding period with a single strategy – to grow its subscription software business – determined to reclaim its mantle as one of Canada's top tech scale-ups.

"We do believe we have the potential to get very large and very influential, and that's a really exciting place to be," chief executive officer Scott Miller said.

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On Wednesday, the company will announce its second acquisition in six months, the purchase of Vancouver artificial-intelligence startup Aida Software Corp. for an undisclosed sum. Aida CEO Jenny Yang, a veteran entrepreneur and venture capitalist, will lead data-science initiatives at Vision Critical.

Her arrival follows Mr. Miller's overhaul of the management team. In the past nine months the company has hired a new chief technology officer, chief financial officer, chief revenue officer and chief customer officer – all experienced executives who held key roles at such giants as Electronic Arts Inc., Salesforce.com Inc. and BMC Software (in addition, a third of Vision Critical's C-level executives are womenimpressive for a tech firm).

The company also recently overhauled its flagship Sparq software platform, used by companies to communicate electronically with thousands of customers on a continuing basis to glean marketing and strategic insights.

Mr. Miller, a veteran marketing-industry executive who joined Vision Critical in 2012, "has responded in a way none of us expected in leading this transformation," said chairman Philip Deck, who noted the board is in "100-per-cent alignment on virtually everything."

That is no small feat. As The Globe and Mail revealed in a 2016 report, the company was engulfed for years in a corporate civil war that left the elder Mr. Reid at odds with investors, directors and executives over the firm's direction.

The company had built up its business in two areas: providing communications software to corporations, to help them generate business insights, and a traditional market-research and consulting service similar to the one Mr. Reid had run in the 1980s and 90s. The firm's venture-capital backers, including OMERS Ventures and Georgian Partners, wanted Vision Critical to sell off the latter business – which it did in 2016 – and focus on the faster-growing and more highly valued software division. In addition, internal tensions that had led to Mr. Reid being stripped by fellow directors of his executive role in 2014 continued, with the veteran pollster questioning company strategies and succeeding in pushing out several directors.

Those inner conflicts were settled last year when Georgian and U.S. private-equity firm W Capital Partners bought out Mr. Reid and other investors for $76-million.

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"I have a very aligned investor base now, a very aligned management team pursuing this opportunity that has been surfacing for quite a while … [to] integrate the voice of the customer into all areas of the business," Mr. Miller said.

Now, the company's top priority is to speed up its revenue-expansion rate, which waned in 2016 and 2017 to well below 20 per cent annually as it sorted out its internal issues. "If you have a software business and you're not growing it more than 20 per cent, you're not really that relevant," Mr. Deck said.

Mr. Miller said that with the new management team and renewed sales and marketing efforts, the rate of expansion has increased in the past two quarters, but "we're not back up to 20 per cent yet … by the time we exit the year I would like to have the run rate back in that range." By then the company's business should be generating annualized revenues of almost $100-million, he added.

With the AI capabilities Ms. Yang's team brings, Vision Critical will be able to automate summaries of open-ended feedback boxes in surveys so the software can "read all those comments and summarize succinctly and say, 'Here's what your customers are telling you,'" she said.

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