Burgeoning e-commerce outfit looks to expand reach
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg’s Bold Commerce has landed a $22-million investment from two Toronto venture-capital firms that will help accelerate the growth of what is already one of the fastest-growing companies in the country.
The four founders boot-strapped the growth of the company from the basement of one of their homes to a series of locations that it continues to outgrow.
Bold has grown alongside Shopify, a leading e-commerce platform. It is now the largest Shopify partner by far, creating more than 20 add-on apps for the Shopify platform, like Product Upsell and Bold Loyalty, that allow merchants to increase their revenue.
“We have been talking to investors for three years. We were never in a rush to close anything,” said Yvan Boisjoli, the CEO of Bold and one of four co-founders. “It was never really a financial decision. It was about finding the right strategic partners. It took us a while to get here, but we found some great partners. It is pretty exciting.”
Less than seven years old, Bold has around 275 employees, and Boisjoli said the company expects to add another 200 over the next 18 months.
The investments from Whitecap Venture Partners and Round13 Capital is for a minority stake in the company that, reports indicate, is doing close to $20 million in annual revenue.
Bold earns monthly recurring revenue from the merchants who use the apps, as well as payment-processing fees. All of its apps are exclusively used on the Shopify platform.
One of the expansion initiatives the company will now embark on with the addition of new capital is to introduce the Bold apps onto other e-commerce platforms around the world.
“We want to be platform-agnostic,” he said. “We have been exclusive to Shopify for a long time, which has been great for both of us, and we have a great relationship with Shopify. But we want to make sure our products are available wherever the merchants need it.”
Boisjoli said the new capital will also help the company recruit high-end artificial-intelligence developers to assist in building AI functionality into Bold’s entire suite of apps that will eventually let people easily shop directly from multiple venues like Instagram or email.
Whitecap Venture Partners is the venture arm of the family investment firm founded by Eph Diamond, a founder and original CEO of the Cadillac Fairview Corporation. It has been in the venture-capital business for around 25 years and has made approximately 35 deals over the years.
(Whitecap was an early backer of Broadband Networks, the Winnipeg company that was sold to Nortel Networks in 1997 for around $600 million. Broadband was founded by David Graves, who went on to acquire IMRIS, a medical technology company Whitecap also invested in.)
Bold Commerce will be the first investment in Whitecap Fund IV, a newly raised venture fund which will be officially launched in a couple of weeks.
Carey Diamond, the managing partner of Whitecap, said the firm looks at around 300 deals per year, and on average, closes around two.
“Yvan is a great leader, it’s a tremendous sector and they have proven that they can execute,” Diamond said. “When you have those three things together, it makes for a very compelling opportunity.”
Round13 is a firm founded by Bruce Croxon, the founder of Lavalife and one of the former stars of the Dragon’s Den television series. It has 10 companies in its portfolio, including one where it has partnered with Whitecap.
“We are so excited to be part of this. I think this company is exactly on point when we look to what the future of e-commerce will look like,” said Craig Strong, a partner at Round13.
He said Round13 is keen on the company broadening its availability to other e-commerce platforms. Although Shopify has become one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the world, there are more than 100 competing platforms in the global market.
This is the first outside investment in Bold, not counting the employee stock-ownership plan the company put in place 18 months ago.
Both Diamond and Strong noted it is highly unusual for a company to grow as large as Bold — it has averaged 75 per cent year-over-year growth the past four years — without any third-party investors.
“I’ve not seen anything close,” Strong said. “It is shocking… that these guys have been able to grow the company to the size it is by boot-strapping. You just don’t see it.”
“It’s a real testament to what they have achieved,” Diamond said.
With the infusion of venture-capital investments, the expectation will be for some sort of transaction to allow those investors to get a return on their investment.
Boisjoli said he hopes the company can go public in four years, but there is no set timeline.
Meanwhile, Bold will still have to deal with the nuts and bolts of its growth. It has already out-grown the 26,000-square-foot space it moved into three years ago and has a number of people working out of another location. Last week, it signed a lease for space in the new Innovation Hub just being completed at the University of Manitoba’s Smartpark.