GAIN­ING AS­SENT

Firm fights its way to the top

Ottawa Business Journal - Techopia - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL WOODS

For As­sent Com­pli­ance, it all starts in the box­ing ring.

The Ottawa com­pany was founded by box­ing afi­ciona­dos Rob Im­beault and Matt Whit­teker, two or­ga­niz­ers of the Fight for the Cure char­ity box­ing matches. Com­pany CEO An­drew Wait­man got in­volved through the ring.

Oh, and there’s a gi­ant Olympic-sized box­ing ring in the com­pany’s new eas­t­end of­fice near St. Lau­rent Shop­ping Cen­tre.

These days, As­sent isn’t pulling any punches. The decade-old com­pany had about 25 em­ploy­ees two years ago. Last month, it an­nounced a $20-mil­lion equity in­vest­ment, which it plans to use to ex­pand its em­ployee count from 165 to 265 peo­ple within 18 months.

“We made a de­ci­sion that we had grown to a point where we could not or­gan­i­cally grow for the am­bi­tion of the prod­uct and what the cus­tomers need,” Wait­man said in an in­ter­view. “What is be­ing asked of us to do is in­creas­ing quite sig­nif­i­cantly.”

The Ottawa-based firm helps clients man­age their sup­ply chain and prod­uct com­pli­ance to make sure they’re meet­ing reg­u­la­tions. As­sent works with more than 30 per cent of S&P 500 prod­uct com­pa­nies.

Wait­man, the for­mer CEO of Pythian, picked up box­ing in his 40s and met Whit­teker at a lo­cal gym. Soon, they were spar­ring weekly and trad­ing shop talk be­tween punches.

When Wait­man de­cided to leave Pythian in Au­gust 2014, Whit­teker in­vited him in to check out what As­sent was up to. Wait­man started out as a vol­un­teer, but not long after­ward be­came the com­pany’s CEO.

“If you were to ask me what do we need in Ottawa to build more busi­nesses, I would say to you we need more Matt Whit­teker,” Wait­man said. “He is the rea­son As­sent ex­ists.”

Box­ing, he said, is “kind of part of our DNA now.”

“It’s unique in the sense that you see a lot of icons and em­blems be­ing put into com­pa­nies, you just haven’t seen any box­ing rings,” Wait­man said.

The ring is not just a sym­bol. It gets prac­ti­cal use, too.

“We’re not set­tling HR con­flicts with box­ing,” he said. “But we are us­ing it as a stage. We are talk­ing about the metaphors of go­ing all the rounds and what it takes to be suc­cess­ful. We use it to an­nounce wins, to talk to the com­pany all-hands and so on.”

The $20-mil­lion Se­ries A round is one of the largest ever raised in Canada, said Wait­man. The com­pli­ance in­dus­try is not a new one, so what’s driv­ing the sud­den growth now?

He points to a few fac­tors. The in­dus­try has been around for quite some time, but com­pli­ance has been done man­u­ally, he said. The com­pli­ance and the sup­ply chain data col­lec­tion busi­ness has gen­er­ally not been what you call au­to­mated yet.

An­other is­sue is that many se­nior ex­perts well-versed in com­pli­ance in­for­ma­tion are re­tir­ing.

“It’s a bit of a de­mo­graphic is­sue,” Wait­man said. “That kind of trend of hav­ing your ex­perts re­tire is ter­ri­ble for these large or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

An­other is that data are spread all through­out com­pa­nies. “You need a cen­tral repos­i­tory of your data to be able to do the busi­ness anal­y­sis you need.”

The vast ma­jor­ity of soft­ware-as-aser­vice com­pa­nies are built on high­vol­ume busi­nesses, Wait­man said. But with com­pli­ance com­plex­ity in­creas­ing, As­sent has risen rapidly by fo­cus­ing on high-value clients.

“We are in the high-value, not high­vol­ume, busi­ness,” he said. “What that means is we’re sell­ing to the world’s largest cor­po­ra­tions, and we’re sell­ing large ACV, any­where be­tween $50,000 and $100,000 a year and up. If you’re go­ing to do that, you need to de­liver sig­nif­i­cant value.”

That’s why the com­pany needed to raise money quickly.

“At our core, we are a data com­pany, and data is the new oil,” Wait­man said. “We see the op­por­tu­nity to be a data com­pany with ex­per­tise and put it all to­gether with au­to­ma­tion.”

Cyril Cochrane, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of growth and tran­si­tion cap­i­tal at the Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Bank of Canada, said As­sent was al­ready grow­ing rapidly when they first met. BDC was com­fort­able with the com­pany’s sub­scrip­tion-based model, he said.

“We knew that as As­sent were adding clients, those clients would gen­er­ally be stick­ing for a long pe­riod of time,” he said. “So any rev­enue they were adding was go­ing to stay, and they were adding it very rapidly.”

He said the bank was com­fort­able

We’re not set­tling HR con­flicts with box­ing. But we are us­ing it as a stage. We are talk­ing about the metaphors of go­ing all the rounds and what it takes to be suc­cess­ful. We use it to an­nounce wins, to talk to the com­pany all-hands and so on. AS­SET COM­PLI­ANCE CEO AN­DREW WAIT­MAN

with As­sent’s track record and the value propo­si­tion it of­fers its clients. He said BDC was also com­fort­able with the man­age­ment team’s shared vi­sion.

“All the things we liked were aligned,” he said. “Cer­tainly the founders were young, very am­bi­tious and ex­tremely hard-work­ing. An­drew does bring a level of or­ga­ni­za­tion and so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the team, and the founders were just full of great ideas and en­ergy.”

In keep­ing with the box­ing theme, Cochrane likened As­sent to Cana­dian boxer Ge­orge Chu­valo, “who fought and went toe to toe with one of the world’s great­est 50 years ago.” Chu­valo fought Muham­mad Ali in 1966.

“That’s what we’re try­ing to do with Cana­dian com­pa­nies; help them com­pete on a global scale with the best of the world. I think that’s what As­sent can do here.”

FAC­ING PAGE: JONATHAN HUGHES, ROB IM­BEAULT AND MATT WHIT­TEKER GATHER IN AS­SENT COM­PLI­ANCE’S BOX­ING RING DUR­ING THE GRAND OPEN­ING OF THE LO­CAL SOFT­WARE FIRM’S NEW OF­FICE. THIS PAGE, CLOCK­WISE: THE COM­PANY’S TEAM GATH­ERS IN THE RING TO CEL­E­BRATE THE NEW OF­FICE AND AS­SENT COM­PLI­ANCE’S RE­CENT $20-MIL­LION FUND­ING ROUND; CEO AN­DREW WAIT­MAN, WHO JOINED THE FIRM AF­TER MEET­ING WHIT­TEKER AT A BOX­ING GYM; WHAT WOULD A PARTY BE WITH­OUT CAKE? PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED

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