Franchise shift: Gatineau software firm acquired by U.S. franchise management giant

Jason Kealey
Jason Kealey is co-founder of Gatineau software firm FranchiseBlast. Photo courtesy Jason Kealey

A Gatineau firm whose software helps some of Canada’s best-known chains track their stores’ performance is now part of a U.S. franchise management giant.

Virginia-based FranConnect announced this week it has acquired LavaBlast Software, which makes a subscription-based platform used by franchisors to maintain consistent standards across their operations. Financial terms of the deal, which closed Jan. 14, were not made public.

Launched 14 years ago by a pair of University of Ottawa software engineering grads, LavaBlast ​– which did business under the name FranchiseBlast ​– has more than 100 customers. They include Recipe Unlimited Corp., the company behind Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and other Canadian restaurant brands, as well as Cinnabon parent company Focus Brands, BeaverTails and Smoke’s Poutinerie.

Co-founder Jason Kealey said while the Gatineau company had become a dominant player in the Canadian franchise management industry, it’s still relatively unknown south of the border. He said joining forces with FranConnect ​– a global enterprise with about 800 customers ​– will help the firm push into new markets.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to have our software in the hands of all those brands,” he told OBJ.

Step forward

Kealey will now take on the role of vice-president of strategy for the U.S. company, while co-founder Etienne Tremblay will become FranConnect’s vice-president of engineering. Both executives, along with the Gatineau firm’s other 13 employees, will remain based in the National Capital Region.

Kealey sees the decision to sell to a larger foreign entity as a step forward for the local firm, which joined Invest Ottawa’s accelerator program in 2018 and also took part in the C100 48 Hours in the Valley program that connects Canadian companies with partners in Silicon Valley.

“When they outlined their strategy, it was very, very similar to the strategy we’ve been pursuing,” he said. 

“For me, it’s kind of a leap ahead into the future in the sense that we’ll be able to have a bigger impact on ensuring franchises are profitable and operations are streamlined so everybody’s happy. That’s always been our goal.”

Besides helping chains monitor franchisees’ sales and expenses, FranchiseBlast also offers a checklist to ensure that franchised fast-food restaurants, for example, follow the same recipes across all their locations. 

'Super excited'

In the wake of the pandemic, it added new tools to track whether franchisees are complying with measures to help rein in the spread of the virus such as installing plexiglass and signs that ask customers to follow physical distancing protocols.  

FranConnect vice-president of marketing Ian Walsh said FranchiseBlast is an ideal fit because it adds new offerings to the U.S. firm’s suite of products. 

“With COVID, when you start to get into things around health and safety ​– from a regulatory perspective but also just for the safety of your customers and your employees ​– this goes from an operational excellence play to a must-do in a lot of cases,” he said. “We think a lot of our customers in the market at large will be interested in what FranchiseBlast brings to the table. We’re super excited about this.”