Tech firm expands worldwide via ‘white label’ strategy

Nova Scotia-based SimplyCast enlists sellers in 175 countries to handle its marketing software

Saeed El-Darahali, president and CEO of SimplyCast, based in Dartmouth, N.S.

The tech company SimplyCast has come up with a novel way to sell its marketing software around the world.

Based in Dartmouth, N.S., the company developed a tool that helps its clients handle marketing, branding and customer service using social media such as Twitter and Pinterest as well as e-mail and other forms of communication.

The company’s platform, called SimplyCast 360, engages customers by sending discount vouchers via e-mail, birthday wishes by text message and notification of new instructional videos on YouTube.

The goal is to help organizations communicate with their customers, their patients, their non-profit donors or their political constituents, says Saeed El-Darahali, president and CEO of the company, which launched in 2010. “We wanted to create a major platform.”

SimplyCast has around 35 employees, and El-Darahali is proud to say the company was created in Nova Scotia and is 100-per-cent owned by people in the eastern province. But while it boasts a full complement of North American customers, from Toronto-based Rogers Communications to Dunkin’ Donuts, SimplyCast has ambitions to grow much farther afield.

How did SimplyCast come about?

When I saw the Costcos and Wal-Marts of the world coming into the city and putting the little guys out of business, I said that if I were going to create a billion-dollar industry in Nova Scotia, I would need to come up with something that people are going to use no matter where history goes. And it needs to be consolidated to the point that it uses existing technology and existing markets. So the solution we came up with is that we’ve been able to abstract every level of it and we own 100 per cent of it, and that gives us the power to becoming a multi-million/billion-dollar business.

How many countries does SimplyCast sell to?

We launched our first platform in March of 2010, and now we count thousands of clients around the world in 175 countries. The platform is in 11 languages as well. Locally we have Eastlink (cable television provider) as a major client across Canada, we have Maritime Travel (travel services company) and we just signed a deal with Singapore Telecommunications and they’ll be selling our product in Singapore. We’re actually working with some pretty big organizations that are asking for our technology; even some members of Congress in the United States use our technology to communicate with their citizens.

How does your company work with overseas clients?

We have a gentleman that we had to hire in South Korea. He’s Canadian, he had to move and his wife is teaching English there now. We had to deploy people in different jurisdictions. The majority of our customers are in North America, but we do have somebody overseas and we’re looking to hire more people overseas as well, as our clients expand even further.

Marketing to different jurisdictions is a lot of work, so we came up with a concept which we call “white labelling” our product (in which it is rebranded and sold by clients overseas). So we signed white label agreements, like Singapore Telecom, for example. We’re actually signing one that we’re going to deploy in 50 countries shortly. We’re just going through final negotiations.

What’s your formula for success?

Well, rather than having SimplyCast in every country going forward, what we’re doing is somewhat similar to what McDonald’s has done with franchising. We actually have two franchisees, or resellers, in Nova Scotia competing with us day in and day out. We love that model, because they’re focusing on markets that we would never actually capture. One of them is focused on going after unions. Unions like to communicate with their members. Another company is going after health care.

So our hope is that we have this network of distribution, but the nice thing is they actually pay us to become a distributor. We don’t pay them. They have to pay fees upfront, but we share our revenue together because we own the platform 100 per cent. If anybody does not pay us, all I have to do is turn a switch off and they’re no longer in business.

How does this kind of franchising help you?

Eventually as we grow, in France we won’t be able to sell directly because we can’t support French, for instance. So my goal is not to compete with these resellers but let them take over the markets themselves.

So if someone from Israel wants to deploy it, they want the platform in Hebrew, so we’ll translate it to Hebrew for them. Our solution is in Turkish right now, Taiwanese, South Korean, Italian, French, English and so on.

Do the resellers provide technical support to their customers?

Yes, in their native tongues and in their local jurisdiction from a time-zone perspective.

What hurdles have you encountered in your overseas dealings?

Our biggest challenge right now is for us to market in every jurisdiction. We would probably require hundreds of thousands of dollars per jurisdiction, which becomes a capital problem for us.

Also, the North American market and the G7 countries are very developed from a technology usage perspective. Other countries have less knowledge, so training is very important. We’ve created documentation, so if you actually go on our website, we generate anywhere between 10 and 20 pieces of content almost daily. We’re constantly developing what we call white-label instruction manuals, so we can take the information we’re developing internally and give it to our resellers, so they can train.

We’re just about to launch something called SCTV, SimplyCast TV, and it will have close to 500 videos, potentially 1,000 by the end of the year. They will eventually be translated into different languages so our resellers can take advantage and train there.

What lessons have you learned?

You’ve got to respect the cultures of each jurisdiction. The translation from English to a different language might mean different meanings because of the lingo that we use in the marketing world. Colour is a big thing that we’ve learned over the years. Certain colours cannot be used in certain countries. Certain text, the way it’s presented, cannot be used.

Taxation is probably another lesson that we’ve learned. Also, expanding your market in that jurisdiction, you need feet on the ground, and we didn’t have the money. We’re not a billion-dollar company yet, so we don’t have the resources to spend $10-million in each country, so we had to come up with a newer model, and we came up with it Day 1 when we started the company because I knew that there was no way on earth that I could raise $1-billion tomorrow to expand into the world, so we had to do it one step at a time.

We have big ambition as a Canadian company, but we’re hoping to keep our head office in Nova Scotia as we expand. Our partners represent us in our jurisdictions and help us expand that way.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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