As a young marketing specialist fresh out of university in 2007, Pierce Ujjainwalla was working a plumb job at Cognos, then Ottawa’s premier homegrown software company.
He’d occasionally cast a glance at the building across the river – never imagining in his wildest dreams that one day he’d be running his own company whose sign would adorn that very office.
This week, that’s exactly what happened.
The co-founder and CEO of email marketing software startup Knak was on the scene Thursday, grinning like a proud parent, when the company’s logo was installed atop the six-storey building on Gurdwara Road in Ottawa’s south end.
Physically and metaphorically, it’s a sign of the times at Knak – and times are good.
"It’s amazing that the Knak sign is up there. I think we’ve been in stealth mode for a long time, and we’re coming out of it now."
“It’s amazing that the Knak sign is up there,” Ujjainwalla said Friday. “I think we’ve been in stealth mode for a long time, and we’re coming out of it now. I think people will be hearing a lot more about Knak in the future.”
The firm’s pending move into its new 17,000-square-foot headquarters, slated for early November, is just one more milestone in what’s been a dizzying 12-month stretch for Knak and its chief executive.
After seven years of steady, self-funded growth, Knak made its first big splash last November when it raised US$25 million in financing in a round led by New York-based venture capital firm Insight Partners, the same company that led Shopify’s $100-million series-C round in 2013.
Earlier this year, Ujjainwalla was rewarded for his perseverance with a Forty Under 40 nod. Knak earned time in the spotlight again this week when it made OBJ’s list of Best Places to Work for the second year in a row.
Not bad for a venture that Ujjainwalla hatched in his basement with business partners Brendan Farnand and Patrick Proulx.
'We just keep on rolling'
“Now that we have the money and the funding behind us, we’re really stepping on the gas and we’re still seeing a lot of opportunity and growth in the market,” Ujjainwalla said. “We just keep on rolling.”
This month is momentous for another reason as well – Knak recently hired its 80th employee, more than doubling its headcount from last fall. Its new digs on the second floor of 2 Gurdwara have space for a workforce of about 100, but the folks at Knak have no intention of stopping there.
“My master plan is to take the whole building over eventually,” Ujjainwalla said with a smile.
“On one hand, it feels very surreal because I’m not sure that I’d ever thought that I would have the sign on the top of a building like that. But on the other hand, knowing what we’re doing as a company and the opportunity ahead of us, it feels like it was meant to be. This might just be the beginning of what is to come.”
Knak’s secret sauce is a drag-and-drop platform that drastically simplifies the process of creating custom marketing emails and landing pages – an endeavour that companies typically dread because it’s so costly and time-consuming.
Ujjainwalla says Knak’s platform helps corporate marketing departments get campaigns off the ground weeks or even months sooner than in the past, and at a fraction of the price.
It’s a value proposition that deeply resonated with a growing number of companies during the pandemic, and it’s even more enticing now that enterprises the world over are tightening their belts amid fears of a looming recession.
“As cost-cutting and cost-saving become a bigger thing for companies, Knak is actually very well-positioned to help companies save money,” Ujjainwalla explained. “I think that’s why our offering continues to resonate in the market.”
The firm’s clients now include two of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies and multinational cloud computing giant Citrix Systems. Meanwhile, the company has attracted a high-powered board of advisers that includes Rob Ashe, Ujjainwalla’s former boss at Cognos, TEC Canada small business chair Pascal St-Jean, Leah MacMillan, who leads the marketing team at Trend Micro, and Solace chief marketing officer Mychelle Mollot.
And as someone who helped bootstrap a three-man startup into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, Ujjainwalla himself knows a little something about stretching the value of a dollar. He believes that experience will come in handy as Knak attempts to scale up in an unsettled economic climate.
“I’m sure a lot of founders get impatient and want everything to be firing at 100 per cent from the get-go, but you have to be patient,” he said.
“For me, I don’t want to have any regrets. I could potentially regret not going as hard on this opportunity as we could, so I think we’re going as fast as we can, but we’re still staying diligent. That’s the bootstrapped DNA that I think we’ll always have.”