Two of Ottawa’s serial entrepreneurs are setting their sights on a public listing for their latest venture, citing a torrent of investor interest as grounds for their ambitious goals.
Steve Cody, the founder behind more than a dozen local businesses, including the Better Software Co., and Bruce Linton, an Ottawa tech veteran who until recently was the CEO of one of the world’s biggest cannabis firms, are also the co-owners of Ruckify, an Ottawa-based rental marketplace that connects owners and renters in the same way Kijiji connects buyers and sellers.
As the story goes, the two neighbours cooked up the idea for Ruckify as Linton was griping to Cody about having to buy a chainsaw for one day’s work rather than being able to rent one from somebody nearby who wasn’t using theirs.
Ruckify launched to much fanfare at an event in Ottawa last October. Linton received a rockstar ovation from the crowd as he’d just come from a whirlwind day of media tours – Ruckify launched the same day as recreational cannabis became legal in Canada – and he and Cody were joined onstage by Brett Wilson, former star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den and an investor in Ruckify.
Today, the rental marketplace is live in Ottawa, Calgary and Nashville, with launches underway in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Austin. Ruckify is looking to operate in 50 cities across North America before the end of the year.
The ‘Bruce effect’
But the attention on Linton, who became the de facto face of the cannabis market in Canada as co-CEO of Canopy Growth, hasn’t waned in recent months. Last week, when it was announced Linton would be let go from his role at Canopy, he spotlighted his involvement in Ruckify and Martello Technologies, the Kanata-based cloud communications firm he co-chairs.
Ever since Linton sported a Martello T-shirt in a series of national TV interviews on his way out from Canopy, the extra attention has caused the company’s shares to skyrocket. Sitting at roughly 19 cents on the TSX Venture exchange before Linton’s comments, Martello’s share price hit as high as 94 cents in the days that followed.
As Martello CEO John Proctor put it: “What Bruce did was shine a searchlight on us – and people liked what they saw.”
Ruckify seems to be fielding a similar wave of investor attention, according to Cody. The company’s website has been getting anywhere from 20 to 40 questions per day, and venture capitalists are emailing Cody before even sitting down for a cup of coffee to ask if they can invest $100,000.
“It was definitely a Bruce effect,” Cody says with a laugh.
But Ruckify isn’t looking to take money from strangers over email. Cody says the firm has raised its funding to-date from some high-net-worth individuals. He isn’t specific on how much the company has taken in, saying it’s not a lot “relatively speaking,” but Linton said in a recent interview with Proactive Investors that Ruckify has raised up to $18 million.
Cody says the company doesn’t want to go the typical venture capital path of raising a seed round, then a series-A, and so on. He says there’s been enough interest from investors on both sides of the border that he and Linton are confident they can secure a public listing on a U.S. stock exchange in the spring of 2020.
Cody says much of that confidence comes from, again, “the Bruce effect.” Both Cody and Proctor have cited Linton’s expertise in capital markets as a major advantage he brings to their respective firms; Cody notes that Bruce’s network of investment bankers and even a few celebrities gives him a direct source of funding when he needs it.
That’s not a superpower Ruckify is looking to abuse, however. The company has enough money to fund its current expansion plans, Cody says, and will wait to build a solid base before turning on the capital hoses.
“We're laying the foundation so that we can bring in a couple hundred million dollars. We can use that money to basically ignite the foundation that we're building today,” he says.
When Ruckify lands in a city, the focus is more on building the supply side than the demand. Bringing owners on to the platform to fulfil requests for, say, camping equipment or power tools is the more important factor in the early going than getting renters on to the site.
“We crank marketing based on how our conversions are. So you know, a request comes in for something. How many times can we fill the order?” says Cody. He says that when the company is seeing about 85 per cent of requests in a city being converted, it starts pushing the platform locally.
“You could be silly and just turn on the marketing taps and disappoint a whole bunch of people. Or you can do it in a disciplined way,” Cody says.
Ambition is the mantra
Ruckify, which earns its cut off the top of every transaction on the platform, currently employs some 50 people in Ottawa and a few more on the ground in each expansion city. Cody and Linton bought back Better Software last year and the two firms now share space and some employees – including chief technical officer Graham Brown, who spent two decades building products at Ottawa tech company Corel.
The two companies have about 7,000 square feet of space on Brewer Hunt Way in Kanata, but Cody says he only took out a six-month lease on the office, expecting to need more space come the fall.
He notes that one of the features of the Ruckify platform – a commitment to plant one tree for every rental – has served as a rallying point and morale booster for both the company’s employees and its users. Cody says the firm set a “crazy ambitious goal” to plant one billion trees through Ruckify.
For both Linton and Cody, ambitious ventures like this have quickly become the norm.