When Mike Matta searches for an analogy to illustrate what it’s been like navigating his rapidly growing software firm through a pandemic, it’s telling that he turns to the rough-and-tumble world of professional boxing.
“You can plan all day, but when you get into the ring and you get punched in the face, you just have to be able to react,” says the CEO of Ottawa-based Solink, paraphrasing Mike Tyson’s famous quote about battling rival Evander Holyfield: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Fortunately for Matta and Co., things have worked out better for them than they did for Tyson, who was famously disqualified from his 1997 bout with Holyfield when he bit off a portion of his opponent’s ear.
The Ottawa security and data analytics software company has taken everything COVID-19 and its competitors have thrown at it, growing its revenues by more than 100 per cent since the start of 2020 while more than doubling its headcount from 80 to 180 employees. By the end of July, Solink will be a truly transcontinental operation when it opens its first European outpost in London.
“The one thing that we’re very mindful of is, when we see an opportunity in the market or we get approached with an opportunity … being able to respond to it is something that we really take a lot of pride in,” Matta explains.
Earlier this month, Solink’s success at taking on all comers was recognized by Waterloo-based accelerator Communitech, which named the firm to its inaugural Team True North – a lineup of 35 high-growth Canadian tech firms that it believes have the best chance of reaching $1 billion in annual revenues based on current sales and growth trends. Solink was the only Ottawa-based company to crack the roster.
'Great product-market fit'
Communitech vice-president of data strategy, IT and operations Eric Bencina says Solink has been on the organization’s radar for years as a potential unicorn thanks to its “great product-market fit,” sound management team and massive potential sales upside.
“We believe that the market that Solink’s in … is of the size that will allow a business like that to scale,” he says.
Founded in 2009, Solink integrates video surveillance footage with technology such as point-of-sale platforms and inventory tracking tools. Its artificial intelligence software then analyzes that data to help clients flag suspicious activities and spot inefficiencies in workflows.
Many of Solink’s 900-plus customers are quick-service restaurants and retailers that were forced to close their doors when the coronavirus swept the globe.
Realizing that store owners needed a way to monitor their properties remotely, the company deftly upgraded its platform during the pandemic, adding software that would alert customers on their desktops or mobile devices every time someone entered their premises, with instant links to video footage.
“I think this ability to go end to end from being able to detect risk, verify risk and act on risk is something that we will continue to do,” Matta says.
While it’s still mainly focused on the banking, retail and restaurant sectors – among the 13,000 physical locations where its products are found are franchises of Tim Hortons and Five Guys Burgers & Fries – Matta has also branched out into other verticals over the past few years.
That includes the fast-rising warehousing and logistics industry. Solink’s technology marries video footage with data from scanners that record every time a product is removed from a warehouse shelf and packaged, giving distributors an “audit trail” of everything that happens along the way in a bid to help them fulfil orders faster and more effectively.
As a result, the Ottawa firm’s growing client list now includes fulfilment industry trailblazers like Gopuff, a Philadelphia-based company that delivers food and consumer goods in more than 650 U.S. cities via a network of 500-plus mini-warehouses.
"That is a huge focus for us – making sure we can follow through with existing customers. We could triple the size of the company overnight."
Matta says Solink will continue to push into new sectors such as health and beauty in a bid to expand its market presence.
“We now start touching a lot more verticals,” he says.
Meanwhile, Matta says Solink still has a lot more room to grow in its bread-and-butter customer base as it keeps installing its software in more of its current customers’ locations, be it quick-service restaurants or retail outlets.
“That is a huge focus for us – making sure we can follow through with existing customers,” he says. “We could triple the size of the company overnight.”
One of the biggest pain points for rapidly scaling tech firms – raising capital – is not a problem for Solink. The firm closed a $23-million series-B round two years ago, and Matta says Solink is “definitely on the path” to becoming cash-flow-positive.
Matta acknowledges that recognition from organizations such as Communitech is a nice feather in Solink’s cap, but he’s not about to bask in the adulation. He’s too busy building what he hopes will one day indeed be a billion-dollar enterprise.
“We’re planning on being here for the next hundred years,” Matta says. “Over a hundred years, I expect us to get a billion dollars (in revenue) or more. But it’s not something we chase. The focus is just on building a great business.
“The lists are great, and it’s great to get the recognition, but we still see a ton of work ahead of us and an opportunity to keep scaling.”