Manitoba’s newest big tech startup was founded by some of Winnipeg’s most successful and credible business people who really don’t know much about technology.
The company, called Vexxit, is a platform that uses machine-learned algorithms to match people with the best lawyer, accountant, financial adviser or consultant who fits their needs.
Those founders — including Duncan Jessiman, the executive vice-chair and founder of Exchange Income Corp., Polly Craik, former owner of Fineline Communications and original investor Dave Johnston of The Johnston Group — may not know much about technology but they do know that there’s an unmet need out there from small and medium-sized businesses and individuals who need professional services to make their business run more effectively but don’t know how to find the ones that would best suit their needs.
The founders believe it can be transformational technology that will change the way people acquire and consume professional services.
After two years in development, the hope is that Vexxit will become THE platform that every professional in the country will want to post their profile on and that rather than call your wife’s sister’s friend who is a lawyer, people will find the professional on Vexxit who is best suited for the work they need done.
After about two years worth of customer validation talking with law, accounting, financial advisory and consulting firms, Vexxit will hit the ground running with encouraging support from the professional community.
"We will have revenue coming out of the gates even before we turn the lights on, which is really great," Craik said. "We’ve had great commitment from the professional services side who want to see this work."
That commitment comes in the form of a $1,000 annual fee to get a profile posted on the site — only $500 for members of any of the 850 chambers of commerce from across the country (more on that later). It will be completely free to use it to search for a professional.
The artificial intelligence engine will match the query with the three most appropriate professionals and then there is also a small flat fee the professional will pay for each match.
"When we were talking to the firms it was rare to hear anyone say, ‘This doesn’t make sense’," said Laura McDonald, Vexxit’s vice-president business development and partnerships. "Instead they were saying ‘It’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I do something like this. I get it.’"
It’s one thing to connect with professional services practitioners, but the real trick may be in the customer aggregation side of things — getting the tens of thousands of small businesses across the country to use the site.
That’s where Vexxit’s partnership with chambers of commerce comes in, as well as university alumni associations and other large groups of potential users.
Dave Angus is the president of Johnston Group, which has been instrumental over the years in giving small business the opportunity to provide benefits to their employees that had previously been unavailable. He is also the former president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and a well-known figure in the national chamber movement.
"We see Vexxit as something that could really be helpful," said Angus.
Chambers of commerce are inundated with pitches from service providers who want to access to that community. Vexxit’s 50 per cent discount for chamber members could be a difference maker.
"I really think Vexxit has done a great job putting together a program that chambers can embrace and give them the best chance of success," he said.
Vexxit has been a virtual organization to this point and is just now starting to add to what some are calling a management dream team. The founders also include Jocelyn Chipman, Vexxit’s CEO and the former CEO of Fineline, and Jessiman’s daughter, Shauna, a public affairs professional. The tech development was led by Marc Caron and Sunil Bridgelall who are senior executives at IC Group; Laura McDonald was one of the founders of Golden Girl Finance; and Julie Rempel, who helped launch New Leaf/Flair Airlines team, is building out the team that will manage content on the site.
In the meantime, Vexxit is associated with Manitoba Technology Accelerator, the same organization that Skipthedishes’ founders worked with as they were getting that business off the ground.
Marshall Ring, the CEO of MTA, said of Vexxit, "The vision is not too far off what it was for Skipthedishes. They wanted to be the place where everyone went online to find the food they want then Skip would manage the logistics and make it more efficient. Vexxit is the same thing for professional services."
Typically MTA helps tech companies build out their business development side of things. In the case of Vexxit, they had a great business development team but no technology.
"I remember Polly and I shared a good laugh on our first meeting," Ring said. "I told her my concern was the customer acquisition and that if she can do that she will have a great business. She laughed and said she had no doubt they could do customer acquisition.
"She said her concern was the technology development and that she didn’t know how they are going to build it. I laughed and said I have no doubt we can build that."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Friday, January 24, 2020 at 11:05 PM CST: Adds photo