As 2021 comes to a close, we check in with Vendasta CEO Brendan King, as he discusses how we navigated what will go down in history as not only one of the most significant years for the organization, but also one of the most challenging ones for local economies.
Economic stimulus in the form of benefits and COVID payments that many countries have extended to consumers has driven demand. However, on the opposite side of the coin, the world has encountered shipping and logistical issues driving down supply, and as a result nearly all sectors are seeing rapid rise in inflation.
“Inflation happens when there is more money in the market, and so there's greater demand for services and so prices go up. But on the other side, you've got this dangerous thing happening where the products and service supply is going down. What does that mean? That means that businesses aren't going to be able to potentially hire because there's inflation on wages for employees as well,” says King.
Even though unemployment rates in the United States have seen a significant decline in the past year, from 6.7 percent in November 2020 down to a nearly pre-pandemic 4.2 percent in November 2021, employment participation rate reached an all time low of 61.8 percent in November of 2021.
Monthly unemployment rate in the United States from November 2020 to November 2021
Raising wages to encourage greater participation will only drive inflation further. Instead King suggests businesses operating in the current economic climate look for more efficient ways to fill that gap.
Robotic Process Automation
“Every time a consumer places an order, you might have a lot of folks that have to get involved after that. Everything from delivery, to billing, to invoicing and manual paperwork. You can automate all of that today. From our perspective, that's why we've built our automations platform at Vendasta,” King says.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can automate business processes that are repetitive, structured, and rules-based. It is a technology that can reduce labor costs and prevent human errors by increasing accuracy. RPA technology can take the toil out of labor-intensive processes like call center operations, data migration, scheduling, sales as well as employee and client onboarding.
“Our platform helps people to market, sell, build, fulfill, and deliver. Today, a lot of our trusted experts that are selling to small businesses, have all of these different solutions, a CRM, a marketing automation system, a calendaring, fulfillment or task management system, and there's a lot of toil to make those things work together,” says King.
“What we’re achieving with automation is that as you sell something, guess what? It's invoiced. It's being delivered, and packed, and shipped, and nobody had to do anything. It's easy to track, and manage. That's what we're endeavoring to do with automations.”
Adapt or Die
King sees each business as a living organism, with all stakeholders having the desire for that business to adapt and grow. However, change is often scary for most people.
“I find in most cases, businesses fail not for a lack of passion or desire to succeed, but often there is just an absence of awareness that you need to change. It’s critical to have an external force to push people to the place where they want to go. So, if they want to grow and survive, they have to change. The way to do that is to show people the opportunity on the other side,” King says.
Accelerating Growth and Driving Local Economies
In May, 2021 Vendasta announced a historic achievement of $119.5 million in financing to further accelerate the sales growth of its end-to-end ecommerce platform for companies who provide digital products and services to SMBs worldwide.
“The way we think about Vendasta is this ecosystem. It's the supply that all the vendors and service providers have for products and services that small businesses need. It's the demand from small businesses that need those products and services to run their business now more than ever. And what we're building is the distribution of that,” King says.
“We know that those small businesses are going to turn to the people they trust. They're going to agencies, media companies and value added resellers (VARs) or managed service providers (MSPs). We're going to accelerate that by making smart acquisitions that can bring in more of those trusted experts, our channel partners, more SMBs, and more technology and vendors.”
According to King the three-year strategy is meant to build a long lasting tech company in North America.
Remote work has certainly thrown a curve ball into the workflow of talent acquisition specialists around the globe. According to Future Workforce Report, the number of US remote workers is expected to nearly double the pre-pandemic level in the next five years. From 16.8 million before COVID hit to a staggering 36.2 million by 2025.
According to King this presented both a challenge and opportunity for a growing organization. “It's harder and easier. COVID has forced people to consider remote work, which opens our source of talent up worldwide. It also opens our talent up to seek opportunity outside of our community,” says King.
As of December 2021, out of Vendasta’s 600 employees, 70 percent live and work in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with an additional 12 percent working elsewhere in North America. The remaining 18 percent are global remote employees who work outside of North America.
"Businesses now see that they can recruit talent from anywhere, and governments around the world now need to update policies and create conducive environments by investing in home-grown businesses and technologies. Countries that are doing that have an advantage. Because people can work from anywhere in the world now, the best people are going to work for the best companies – wherever they happen to be."
What’s ahead in 2022
When asked to pull out his crystal ball to make predictions for what the industry and local businesses can expect in 2022, King shares a view of guarded optimism.
The global shipping supply problem can be rectified. COVID stimulus payments can go taper off, but more money has been printed, so there will be some inflation.
“I think this means small businesses out there need to make sure that they can run their business. Technology and automation is what’s going to be able to mitigate some of those drawbacks of inflation,” King says.
In terms of disruption in the market both Leith and King agree that the world will see the most change in some of the cheap labor positions, which may be eliminated altogether to improve efficiency.
“I was buying some office supplies and it was a struggle for the store employee to find what I was looking for and ring me through at the till. I think there’s been significant turnover in those front-line positions, and there is definitely a huge training gap that needs to be filled,” Leith says.
In addition to the changing labor landscape, King also boldly predicts an end to the global pandemic in 2022.
“Even though COVID will never be over and we’ll continue to battle against it just as we do with the flu, I think as Omicron spreads it will increase our ability to fight this off. That's my prediction, or maybe it's just a hope.”
As for his views on how local businesses will manage in the upcoming year, King is full of optimism. “Small businesses can change faster than anyone. They might not be the biggest, they might not be the strongest or the fastest, but they are the most adaptable to change. I have every confidence that small business will win the day. They will be able to adapt and win in situations where some of the bigger guys might not be able to,” King says.