Co-CEOs a ‘Better’ approach to managing Kanata software firm?

Better Software Co. decides to share chief executive duties between two tech veterans
Co-CEOs

Faced with the departure of its co-founder and CEO while in the midst of a product pivot, The Better Software Company has decided the boss’s role is a two-person job.

The three-year-old Kanata startup has turned to a pair of tech veterans to replace Steve Cody, who officially stepped down as chief executive this month to focus on launching a new online rental marketplace. Mr. Cody will remain on the company’s board of directors but will no longer be involved in day-to-day operations.

Chief operating officer Laurie Davis and chief technology officer Kevin Haaland will now share the CEO duties, the company said. Board chairman Leo Lax said the move will give the firm “twice as much horsepower” in the chief executive suite as it narrows its customer focus from small businesses to franchise operations.

Mr. Lax said the board began thinking about the approach a couple of months ago when Mr. Cody first suggested he was going to step down.

The veteran entrepreneur said he was leaning more and more on the expertise of Mr. Davis and Mr. Haaland, leading the board to consider the unconventional co-CEO arrangement.

When the board asked both executives their opinion of the proposal, their response was unanimous.

“Both of them, without any hesitation, said, ‘I think this is how we would work best,’” Mr. Lax said. “We are taking maximum advantage of, in my view, some of the most experienced managers in the Ottawa area today driving this business forward.”

Davis
Better Software co-CEO Laurie Davis
Haaland
Better Software co-CEO Kevin Haaland

Mr. Haaland said he’ll continue to oversee product development at the company, which offers clients an all-in-one solution for tackling essential tasks such as scheduling and invoicing. Mr. Davis, the founder of the Capital Angel Network, will retain the title of chief operating officer.

The move comes as The Better Software Company has undergone a major shift in its sales and marketing efforts.

Mr. Haaland said after evaluating the response to the firm’s BPro software over the past 18 months, including factors such as customer attrition and the cost of acquiring new clients, company executives felt the franchise market offered the greatest long-term growth potential.

“(Franchise operations) have needs that our product is a very good fit for,” explained the former director of IBM’s award-winning Watson Analytics program. “We are laser-focused. That is allowing us to focus our product improvements in a narrower segment of the economy so we get more adoption of the features that we’re implementing.”

‘Underserved’ market

Better Software chief marketing officer Chris Neil said home service enterprises such as window cleaners that have traditionally performed tasks including scheduling and bookkeeping by hand or with rudimentary software have struggled with those elements of the business once they branch out into franchising.

“Their challenge comes when they try to scale and become part of a franchise system,” he said. “There really hasn’t been any software available to them. That’s what makes them a great fit. They’ve just been totally overlooked and underserved.”

“We are taking maximum advantage of, in my view, some of the most experienced managers in the Ottawa area today driving this business forward.”

Meanwhile, the firm is also in the midst of another funding round that’s expected to raise $3 million, boosting the company’s total venture capital haul to about $8 million. Contributors include local existing investors Mistral Venture Partners and Wesley Clover International.

Whether the combination of more capital and a sharper customer focus will be enough for The Better Software Company to achieve Mr. Cody’s oft-stated goal of becoming a billion-dollar firm within five years remains to be seen. But Mr. Lax said he wouldn’t bet against it.

“As an ex-(venture capitalist), I was told never to guarantee anything,” he said with a chuckle. “As a chairman of the board at Better Software Company and also knowing Steve and the players that are in there and really the amazing pull from the market … I’d say it’s certainly doable, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get there.”