Ottawa’s fastest-growing company: Keynote Group skyrockets to the top

Keynote
Keynote Group’s Donna Baker (left), Heidi Hauver and James Baker. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Each year, OBJ recognizes the region’s rapidly growing firms with its Fastest Growing Companies awards. The aim is to honour the city’s top performers for substantial, sustainable and profitable growth. Recipients are ranked by their three-year revenue growth. They must have had revenues of at least $100,000 in the first of those three years under consideration. Revenues must have risen to at least $500,000 in their most recent fiscal year. The companies will be profiled online in the coming days and recognized at a cocktail reception on May 24 at You.i TV headquarters in Kanata. Click here for more information on the event.

Like a young, expanding family, Ottawa HR and recruiting firm Keynote Group considers moving into a new home to be one of its defining moments.

Three years after married HR executives James and Donna Baker launched their own startup with the goal of offering a better way to help match employers with the right talent, Keynote Group recently relocated to an office of its own. The firm’s incredible growth curve has landed it at the top of OBJ’s list of fastest-growing companies for 2018.

“For us, we thought there was a better way of working in the recruitment business,” says James, the agency’s CEO. “So we decided to create our own unique business model and see whether it can work or not.”

The answer seems pretty clear – and nothing illustrates Keynote’s dramatic rise better than the jam-packed awards shelf at its spiffy new digs near the Rideau Canal on Lisgar Street.

Now, all that hardware – including a 2016 trophy for Best New Business in Ottawa at the Best Ottawa Business Awards and similar honours last year from the West Ottawa Board of Trade – will have to make way for more.

Keynote Group is celebrating Donna’s recent recognition as one of OBJ’s Forty Under 40 recipients for 2018. She joins her husband and managing partner Heidi Hauver in the company’s Forty Under 40 alumni club.

Keynote Group

Year founded: 2015
Local headcount: 18
Product or service: Recruitment and HR services
Three-year revenue growth: 968%
2018 ranking: #1

James and Donna’s journey to Lisgar Street actually began across the Atlantic in England, where the couple first met while working for the same company, Hays recruiting.

They moved to Canada in 2006 to help the organization open a new office in Ottawa. A few years later, James joined national recruiting firm David Aplin Group, while Donna launched her own consulting company.

Eventually, both decided it was time for a change, and Keynote Group was born.

Using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and analytics software to help target talent, the fledgling startup quickly gained notice for its headhunting prowess. The firm’s ascent steepened further when it brought Hauver, an HR specialist who’d previously worked for global IT firm Pythian and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, on board a year ago.

Since then, Keynote’s revenues have increased fivefold and its headcount has risen to 18. The company now has more than 120 customers that run the gamut from tech firms and non-profits to major sports organizations and family-owned businesses. Rare for an Ottawa HR firm, that list does not include the federal government.

Hauver says unlike many competitors, Keynote doesn’t stop working with clients once it’s filled a job opening. That’s when her team takes over, helping customers make sure their new hires feel at home.

The firm is so sure of its formula that if its recruits aren’t fitting in with their new employers after a year, it will relaunch the whole search process for free.

“That for us is a huge business risk,” James says. “We get to work with some of Ottawa’s most prominent, fastest-growing and influential businesses. So when they trust us, we have to take full accountability.”

Keynote relies on networking and word-of-mouth to attract clients, a strategy that’s paid off handsomely so far and has allowed its team to focus on what it does best: Finding talented workers and helping customers retain them.

“We’ve scaled off the back of earning the trust of influential people and doing everything that we said we were going to do for them,” James explains.

Keynote’s reputation is also starting to spread beyond Ottawa, and the firm’s rapidly growing client list includes companies in Toronto, Montreal and western Canada. Now that it has a home of its own, James says, his company’s next “big ambition” is to open more offices in other Canadian cities.

“This is home, but we knew if we could get a good proof of concept … we can then take this business and scale it,” he says.