Ottawa tech firms to watch 2018: Solink lands new business and expands its team

Solink
Solink’s Cory Michalyshyn and Mike Matta. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Every year, Techopia names a new crop of tech firms to watch. Before we unveil our picks for 2019, we’re looking back on how our four companies fared in 2018.

Solink’s “land and expand” strategy continued to serve the fast-growing video intelligence firm in 2018.

The Ottawa-based firm entered the year strapped with $5 million in venture capital and put the cash to good use, doubling the size of its team to roughly 60 employees today. CEO Mike Matta tells Techopia that the company is on pace to hit a headcount of 100 by the end of 2019.

While the firm, which develops surveillance technology that also provides analytics for customers in a variety of industries, has been named to OBJ’s fastest-growing companies list two years running, Matta says rapid expansion is not necessarily the priority.

“It's not growth at any expense,” he says. “We put a lot of thought into where do we grow, how fast do we grow, how do we sustain it.”

One of the ways Solink manages its growth is through internal experiments on new technologies and product offerings. Matta says the company is “very conservative” about which projects it puts sales and marketing dollars behind, and won’t bring something to market before the firm is confident there’s a fit.

Once a product gets the green light, however, then it’s off to the races.

“We tend to pour the gas where we know we can rinse and repeat,” Matta says.

In order to execute on these experiments’ potentials, Matta says the firm will likely raise more venture capital in the future.

Bringing video out of the backroom

The strength of Solink’s product is in its flexibility. The software-as-a-service offering can be used solely as an intelligent surveillance platform that can track individuals’ movement and tie actions to timestamps in order to uncover incidents of fraud or robbery.

Matta says the video security element – something nearly every brick-and-mortar business needs – gets Solink in the door, at which point the company can upsell the customer on the software’s analytic offerings.

For example, in the same way Solink’s artificial intelligence can track a case of fraud, it can also follow consumers’ journeys through a store or restaurant. It can then extract data from customer behaviour, such as whether interactions with a salesperson led to a bigger purchase. This formula can be extended to drive-thrus, table service and many other situations where the shopping experience can be optimized.

“I think video historically has always kind of been buried in the back room of any business, but how do we bring it to the foreground?”

While most video surveillance systems run unchecked until an incident occurs, Matta says Solink’s goal is to extract the latent value from video to improve customers’ businesses.

“I think we're just at the early, early stages of video becoming the input to many day-to-day workflows that we have in our lives,” he says. “I think video historically has always kind of been buried in the back room of any business, but how do we bring it to the foreground?”

Double-doubling down

Matta cites Tim Hortons – where Solink’s product is now active in some 900 locations – as a successful example of its customer acquisition model. In addition to starting with surveillance and upselling later, Solink is also expanding through the Tim Hortons franchise network.

When one franchisee signs up for a solution that bears fruit, it becomes a powerful reference customer for other operators in the brand, Matta says. Solink made inroads with the Five Guys burger chain this past year and expects to grow its presence across the company in the same way.

“That same land and expand – and expand – model that we went through with Tim Hortons is starting to repeat itself,” he says.

The company also sees its Tims business as an opportunity for social good. As part of its drive to add 1,000 new locations of the quick-service coffee chain, Solink has pledged to donate $100 to the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation for each new franchise location signed up to its service.

Solink made its first donation a few months back, presenting a cheque for $30,000 to the foundation. When it hits the 1,000th location milestone, Matta says the company is “double-doubling down” on its commitment and will donate an extra $100 per location signed up as part of the drive.