The serial entrepreneur behind what will be likely be Ottawa’s next public company is looking for his next venture.
Steve Cody, who launched online rental marketplace Ruckify in 2017 and helped it raise millions of dollars from heavy-hitting financial backers, is back in familiar territory – startup mode – after stepping down as CEO in late January.
The move comes as Ruckify – which connects owners and renters of everything from canoes to chainsaws in much the same way Kijiji connects buyers and sellers – is poised to go public on the TSX Venture Exchange.
While the timing might seem unusual, the 52-year-old businessman says he started searching for his replacement in November after realizing the company needed someone at the top with a different skillset to guide it through its next phase of growth.
“It really boils down to where the company is at,” says Cody, who founded Ruckify with his friend and neighbour Bruce Linton, the former CEO of cannabis giant Canopy Growth.
While both are adept at sales, they are “two very different entrepreneurs,” as Cody puts it. Ruckify’s former CEO is a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-bootstrap-it kind of guy, while Linton is far more at home than Cody in the corporate boardrooms of Toronto and New York, drumming up the large sums of capital required to scale a large company.
'The best decision'
“That’s Bruce’s expertise – capital markets,” Cody says, adding the firm is currently interviewing candidates to replace him while Linton serves as interim CEO.
“Who’s better than Bruce at doing that? It’s not to say my job is done, but I feel when I can hand it off to somebody like Bruce, that’s not a bad thing. We both felt it was the best decision.”
Ruckify was initially hoping to make its debut on the TSX-V this month. But those plans got derailed when the company discovered last August that one of its own employees had misappropriated funds, according to Cody, delaying its bid to go public until the company got its financial house in order.
Cody says the embezzlement was discovered quickly, the employee responsible was fired and 90 per cent of the funds were recovered within a week.
According to a report in the Globe and Mail, the company brought in accounting firm Deloitte to determine the scope of the incident and conduct an audit. In addition, veteran finance executive Dean Cosman – who held senior roles at the Canada Deposit Insurance Corp. and Export Development Canada – was hired as CFO to help get the firm back on track.
An internal email cited by the Globe and Mail said Ruckify was forced to restate its previous year’s financial reports in order to have the audit completed, delaying the completion of its audited financial statements and, consequently, the public listing.
“We learned a lot from it, and I think we’re a better company for it,” Cody says of the incident.
Big round of layoffs
“After (something) like that, it just takes time when you really want to button things down. We’re not just thinking about (listing on the) TSX-V, we’re thinking about (the Toronto Stock Exchange) and we’re thinking about Nasdaq. When you start thinking about all those things, you just want to make sure that everything is perfect.”
That wasn’t the only turbulence the firm encountered in the closing months of 2020.
Despite raising $6.9 million in another private investment round late last year, Ruckify slashed its workforce from 80 to about 35 in December after its benefits from the federal government’s wage subsidy program were cut, Cody says, calling it “probably the worst day of my life.”
But Cody, who still sits on Ruckify’s board of directors, says Ruckify remains on track to make its TSX-V debut this spring.
"There’s a lot of really good things happening. It’s ready for the public market."
Now operating in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Austin, Nashville and Denver, the company plans to push into more North American markets with a goal of being in about 30 cities by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, the company’s updated “Ruckify 2.0” platform is almost ready to go live.
“There’s a lot of really good things happening,” Cody says. “It’s ready for the public market.”
As for his own future, Cody says he’s in no rush to get back to the entrepreneurial grind.
Earlier this month, he started what he calls an “online community” called Drÿfter aimed at promoting the benefits of remote work. With satellite internet ventures like Elon Musk’s Starlink poised to deliver high-speed broadband service to the farthest reaches of the planet, Cody sees big opportunities in the work-from-anywhere space.
“We could be in the middle of a jungle and we could be doing a Zoom call. I think that’s going to change the world,” he says.
“I think if we can build a good community around that, we’re going to figure out ways to monetize it. We’ve got some good ideas, but not defined enough where I want to really talk about it.”
But whether Drÿfter is the next big thing on Cody’s long and varied resume as a builder of businesses remains to be seen.
“I love new ideas,” he says. “I want to pick one idea and just devote two or three years to it and see where we can take it. I think that’s the life of an entrepreneur.”