Shannon Rogers has some of the most demanding customers anywhere. And its biggest pool of potential clients—U.S. financial-securities companies—is just as demanding. So, it was an outstanding victory when an industry regulator advised those companies to subscribe to the core service of Rogers' firm, Global Relay Communications Inc.
For 22 of the world's 25 biggest banks and 61% of all hedge funds, Vancouver-based Global Relay performs a vital function: hosting archives of their emails, texts, tweets and other messages. Regulators require these messages to be stored securely and be searchable for audits or legal cases. In 2008, the almost 5,000 broker-dealers regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority asked FINRA to recommend an archiving vendor of the utmost reliability. "It's unheard of for a regulator to champion a vendor," says Rogers, Global Relay's president and general counsel. "But FINRA's members really wanted guidance."
This past May, after an exhaustive vendor review, FINRA chose Global Relay as a compliance resource provider. Since then, the firm has added hundreds of new broker-dealer clients to the 1,000 it already had, and is landing more every month.
Global Relay achieved this triumph after spending years building its capabilities and credibility in the financial sector. The firm has surpassed $20 million in annual revenue from almost 15,000 clients, who pay monthly subscription fees that vary by the number of message formats archived. Global Relay's impressive mix of size, sales growth and profitability has landed Rogers atop this year's PROFIT W100 ranking of Canada's Top Female Entrepreneurs.
One key to Global Relay's success is a relentless drive to keep its software on the forefront so that it won't lose out to such rivals as Google, HP, IBM and Microsoft. Global Relay invests 25% of its revenue in R&D, and its more than 75 developers turn out software updates every couple of weeks. The firm funds more than 40% of its R&D costs through Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credits. "I'm a huge fan of the program, which gives innovative Canadian companies a chance to create leading-edge technology and compete on a global level," says Rogers. "I don't know if we'd even exist without SR&ED."
You need a highly skilled workforce in order to serve exacting clients. Global Relay scooped up top talent when demand for developers softened in 2008, such as hiring an entire Nortel team to develop an iPad/iPhone version of its software. In the past three years, it has ramped up its staff count from 30 to 165. Global Relay entices prospective employees in Vancouver with cool digs in an exposed-bricks-and-beams building in Gastown that boasts a Wii console, table hockey and a beer dispenser. It also woos them with a company culture that balances team play and independent thinking.
Rogers points to another key to success: deep expertise in the financial sector. Before joining Global Relay in 2003 as its fourth employee—four years after CEO Warren Roy had founded the firm—she worked in business and securities law. Rogers now manages a team that helps clients speedily access archived messages for 1,800 audits or legal proceedings per year. And she and Roy now share decision-making. Global Relay has capped off its appeal to big clients with an impeccable track record. Behemoth banks often conduct intensive due-diligence exercises of the company's processes at the Verizon data centres in Vancouver and Toronto that host Global Relay's client data. "We've never had an outage or lost a message," says Rogers. "That's huge."
Global Relay secured third-party proof of its reliability by hiring KPMG to do stress tests that included unplugging parts of the data-centre system at the peak of the business day. No data was lost.
Rogers' firm is clearly on a roll. And it's making two big bets to help vault it to $100 million in sales by 2016. One is developing a private-messaging system for the entire financial sector. Users of its Global Relay Message integrated messaging platform will be able to message other users via any device or message format, including various IM formats, Twitter, LinkedIn and email—all with a single in-box. The service, set to launch next March, will securely archive all messages for regulatory compliance.
Global Relay's other big bet is to build its own data centres. The Business Development Bank of Canada provided $13 million to finance an eco-friendly data centre in North Vancouver set to open next September—the first of two. These centres will service up to 400,000 individual end-users. And, with a green design eliminating the need for air conditioning, they'll cost just 35% as much to run as traditional facilities.
Global Relay is making big bets "because we're not interested in building ourselves up to be sold," says Rogers. "That's why we never stop building for the future."
2011 PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking: Canada's Top Female Entrepreneurs