When many people hear the words “technology startup” these days, they likely imagine a company working out of Silicon Valley in California. It’s understandable, because some of these companies—such as Facebook and Uber—have emerged as worldwide leaders.
But thanks to companies like Vendasta Technologies based in Saskatoon, the province is taking steps toward being known as the “Saskatchewan Valley.” Since forming in 2008, Vendasta—which sells digital solutions to local businesses—has grown by at least 50 per cent per year and works with 13 of the top 15 media companies in the U.S. and 1,700 total resellers, marketing to over 600,000 local businesses.
“We’re proud to be here,” said Brendan King, CEO of Vendasta.
“Being located in Saskatoon has a lot of competitive advantages. We don’t have the exorbitant oﬃce space costs they have in the valley, and that was especially helpful in the early years. We have a great talent pool coming out of our universities, and we tend to attract loyal people who want to stick around.”
He added that being a tech company based in Saskatchewan can be challenging, specifically when it comes to the ability to raise funds and ﬁnd specialized/appropriate talent in the small, albeit expanding, tech ecosystem. In more traditional tech centres like San Francisco or New York, companies have greater access to capital and people. “That said, the people we have found in, and attracted back to, Saskatchewan are perhaps our biggest asset.”
Like most startups that eventually ﬁnd success, it was certainly not a clear path for Vendasta to reach this point. As King notes, the company originally wanted to build a social platform for homeowners to ﬁnd and share inspiration for home projects and also ﬁnd trusted home service providers that their friends had used. A couple of employees developed a plan and sought to secure ﬁnancing, while the majority of staﬀ took on contract work to help pay the bills.
King had previously started two successful computer retailing operations: Delron (1990-95) and CompuSmart (1995-2000). Most recently, he was working as the Chief Operation Oﬃcer for Point2 Technologies, a company he and other staﬀ members left to form Vendasta.
“We were leaving a stable job to head into a very uncertain environment where we had to raise money and earn consulting contracts in order to eat,” King said. “As for my personal situation, it was even more of a leap of faith because I had just purchased a new home and had a baby on the way … so you can imagine.”
As Vendasta built its platform, it discovered that homeowners were hesitant to share information about their home online. But as King notes, they discovered there was a deﬁnite need for online reputation management, which set the company on its current course.
While a startup company might normally begin by reaching out to smaller companies, King said that approaching larger customers in the U.S. was actually a “logical place to start.” Vendasta’s ﬁrst customers were newspaper and yellow page companies in 2010, which were experiencing revenue drops from their traditional print products. By “becoming industry and subject matter experts,” King said Vendasta was able to market to these companies.
“We started with consulting, then became a point solution provider, and we’re now a full platform,” King said. “those changes came from a lot of heavy local marketing learning—from the industry, from our partners and from ourselves. We adapted and changed to solve the problems we’re facing and the ones we could see our partners were going to face. In all that change, however, I think we’ve preserved our startup mentality and our company culture.”
Vendasta aspires to be the top platform for selling digital solutions to local businesses. As King explained it, his company provides a “business-in-a-box” to any company that provides advertising or marketing services to local businesses.
“We provide these companies with a brandable platform that includes a complete marketplace of products allowing them to provide local business with everything they need,” King said. “Unlike other marketplaces, our platform provides a complete go-to market solution. We use big data and automation to help our partners market, sell and fulﬁll these products and ensure usage, and therefore retention and upsells. In short, partners that use our products are able to sell more things more easily, to more customers and make more money.”
As King is quick to add, the success of Vendasta can be attributed to the quality of the staﬀ they hire.
“While it is diffcult to ﬁnd someone perfectly qualiﬁed for speciﬁc positions, we consider ourselves very lucky to be in Saskatoon. People don’t always enter with the exact right skillset, but they have the attitude, determination and work ethic to learn,” he said.
“While one of my co-founders has been based out of Vancouver since the beginning, over the years some of our Saskatoon employees had to move to these cities. They were extremely valuable and we were happy to keep them on as remote employees. We’ve since hired more team members in these cities and a few others—Augusta, Seattle and San Diego—as we ﬁnd qualiﬁed, passionate people to build our team.”
Vendasta clearly knows how to create an attractive work environment as it has been voted one of the “10 Positive City Workplaces” in Saskatoon.
“Our philosophy is to try and take away from the daily mundane tasks to allow people to work harder,” King said. “For that reason, we’re always trying to eliminate those tasks. Groceries, breakfasts, lunches, yoga, ﬂexible work schedules all help to do this. We also have great beneﬁts, social events and professional development opportunities, to name a few.”
The future of Vendasta looks bright as the company is expecting an increased revenue trajectory this year. The company is currently building an app store to help agencies and media companies diversify their product oﬀering and see all their analytics, reporting and billing in one place. Vendasta is also creating the Local Marketing Index, which King said could be “revolutionary for our industry.
“We are setting the industry standard for how a business is performing in context to other businesses in the same vertical and telling them what they need to do to get better,” King said. “As we add more products to our platform, our partners are telling and showing us that we will be able to help them be more successful.”
By Pat Rediger