Job Title: Co-chief Executive Officer, Yardstick Software
Why He’s A Top 40: He cofounded Yardstick Software in 2002, which has since been named by Alberta Venture four times as one of the fastest-growing companies in Alberta and has made Profit 100’s list of fastest-growing companies in Canada.
Key To His Success: “The more people you get a chance to meet and the more you expose your company to, the more you’ll learn and the more successful you’ll be.”
Behind most successful startup companies is a great origin story, and Yardstick Software is no exception. In 2000, Chris LaBossiere and Don Riep – friends, aviation enthusiasts and soon-to-be business partners – were training to be hobbyist flyers. As their Transport Canada final exam neared, they were looking for online practice exams but couldn’t find one. So they decided to build their own software as a hobby, calling it ProExams software.
It wasn’t until a few years later that they realized their business model – building exams, booking applicants, banking results for regulated organizations and collecting a percentage on application fees – was attractive to many industries, not just aviation. By 2005, they had both quit their jobs and were committed fully to the software company. After the two won the local TEC Venture Prize for best “fast-growth” business plan, the Alberta Real Estate Association approached them to deliver its online exams, which are taken by 4,500 to 5,500 people every year.
From 2006 to 2009, Yardstick went from two employees to 17 and from $800,000 in annual revenue to almost $4 million. It even attracted an investment in nearly 10 per cent of shares from the former chief executive of PCL, Ross Grieve. But it also kept growing in the market of corporate training, a market LaBossiere says he and Riep didn’t want to be in. So last year, they shifted away from corporate training to focus entirely on certification and licensing, where they have their competitive edge.
Despite Yardstick’sre-refocus, it’s on track to earn $5.4 million this year. For LaBossiere, who spent 17 years working in waste management – evolving from a collection truck driver to a senior vice-president – the biggest surprise about his new entrepreneurial work is that it makes him feel like a real Edmontonian. Before, says LaBossiere, “I felt like I was solely responsible to my boss. Now, I get a lot of satisfaction from helping the community.”
Some people, namely conservative voters, might not consider his contributions helpful: a prolific user of social media, LaBossiere used Twitter and blogs to mobilize supporters of closing the municipal airport and counter the vocal protestors who would eventually become Envision Edmonton. Earlier this year, he helped grow and revive the centrist Alberta Party in part by convincing members of the Renew Alberta movement to join the party. For his efforts and dedication, the Alberta Party board recently appointed him president.
The self-proclaimed “progressive capitalist” is also on the board of directors for the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation and a financial contributor to Startup Edmonton, two organizations devoted to strengthening Edmonton’s growing reputation as a business city. LaBossiere says Edmonton’s tech industry “is more vibrant than people see on the surface. Everybody knows each other and, for whatever reason, have taken the position of helping each other to foster the greater community.”