451: 2021 Year in Review | Brendan King

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2021 was a historic year for Vendasta and the Conquer Local ecosystem. In this episode, Vendasta CEO and Co-Founder, Brendan King takes us through it all with a 2021 year in review. Brendan and George Leith discuss macroeconomics and how inflation is building, robotic process automation (RPA) and how we leveraged it to win in 2021, and the big topic of adapting to change. As always, we ask Brendan King what’s in his incredibly accurate crystal ball. This year he’s seeing images of robotic process automation, inflation, and how technology and automation can help with this, and possibly the “end” of Covid in 2022. Adaptation continues to be the name of the game and in 2022 it will be absolutely necessary. However, small businesses can pivot and adapt faster than anyone and will continue to win the day.

Thank you all for a record-breaking year with the Conquer Local Podcast. It has been with great pride that we continue to bring you the best of the best, ensuring you have the resources and knowledge to set yourself up as the local trusted expert.

Conquer Local is presented by Vendasta. We have proudly served 5+ million local businesses through 50,000+ channel partners. Learn more about Vendasta and we can help you build your dream agency or learn more about Vendasta’s Affiliate Program and how our listeners (like yourself) are making up to $10,000 off referrals.

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George: This is the Conquer Local Podcast. A show about billion-dollar sales leaders, marketers leading local economic growth, and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They wanna share their secrets, giving you the distilled version of their extraordinary feats. Our hope is with the tangible takeaways from each episode, you can rewire, rework and reimagine your business. I’m George Leith, and on this episode, we’re pleased to welcome a good friend of mine, Vendasta CEO and Co-Founder, Brendan King.

As we do every year at the end of the season, we’re going to recap the year and discuss how we navigated what will go down in history as one of the biggest years for Vendasta, but also one of the most challenging years for local economies. Get ready Conquers, the original Conqueror, as we recap 2021 on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast, the King of the North, Brendan King coming up next.

It’s a tradition that we bring, Mr. Brendan King, CEO of Vendasta Technologies into the final episode of the Conquer Local Podcast. We’ve been doing it now for four seasons, well, three seasons, this is the fourth. And joining us on the line, Brendan.

Brendan: How are you doing George?

George: Doing quite well.

Brendan: Happy to be here.

George: Doing quite well. It’s been a hell of a year. I remember when we did this last year, we were reeling from the first year of the COVID pandemic and all the changes that have happened, but it seems to me like the change hasn’t slowed down any as we get into what happened in 2021 and take a look back.

Brendan: Well, the pandemic, it hasn’t ended and it’s just getting more interesting, isn’t it?

George: It really is. So if we were to look at maybe some common themes from your view over the past 12 months and working with the Vendasta ecosystem, the Channel Partners, the vendor partners, and then the customers they serve, what are some highlights for you that jump out over this past 12 months?

Year in Review

Brendan: Well, you know, obviously everyone is excited for COVID to end, but a lot of, if we step back and look at the macro, you know, you’re always asking “me what’s gonna happen in the next 12 months”, so they know that question’s coming. But so I’ve been thinking about this a lot, about like what’s really been happening. And what you’ve seen is a pretty classic mix of macroeconomics of supply and demand. So if you think about it, there’s all these folks sitting at home, the consumers, and they have money now. You think about what’s happened with the stimulus, the economic stimulus has been put forward with the COVID payments and benefits that almost every country continues to provide to consumers has stimulated demand. And so there’s a lot of inflation, but guess what’s happened on the supply side? We got shipping and logistics problems. We’ve got small businesses that, you know, that just can’t come to work. And because of the payments, ironically, don’t have the ability to supply the products and services. They can’t make the widget, they can’t provide the service, the restaurant meals they’re closing down early, they can’t. And so you’ve got this, this is causing inflation and that’s all inflation really is, is there’s more money in the market, and so there’s a greater supply for services. So prices go up, but on the other side, you’ve got this dangerous thing happening where they have products and service supply is going down.

So what does that mean to everybody? That means that businesses aren’t going to be able to potentially hire, there’s inflation on their wages for employees. You know, you see in the States, some restaurant chains offering 50, 60, 70K for people to manage them, and no one’s applying for those jobs. So what does that mean? The only way to survive is for people to get more efficient. It means automation. So I’m telling you that automation is a big theme going forward. We’re gonna need to help small businesses automate their entire business, everything from the advertising and the marketing to operations and productivity and logistics and delivery. All of that is gonna have to get much more efficient if folks aren’t gonna come back to work. You know because even though unemployment, particularly in the US is at mere pre-pandemic lows, so it’s low unemployment, the labor participation rate is not good at 62%, I think, or something to that effect, please don’t quote me, but people just aren’t participating in the market until we can get them to come back and participate, we’re gonna have inflation. And what inflation means is you better be profitable. So, it’s a scary story coming for lots of folks. So I think, I don’t wanna say scary because I think we can help. I think that for small businesses to succeed, they’re gonna have to get more efficient.

George: One of the things that I know we’re completely aligned on, and I really wanna spend time on this is the idea of automations, because, Robotic Process Automation, RPA, and you know how I feel about acronyms, but, that’s something that a lot of people have been talking about. We’ve had a lot of buzzwords over, you know, AI and these different buzzwords, but this really now is where we’re meeting the market. The market needs it because the businesses out there need to become more efficient because of this thing that’s happening inside those macroeconomics. So how do you see that playing out? You know, we always talk about restaurants, or we talk about dentists, or we talk about, but how does it play out in the local economies? And, you know, that’s really the mission that we have is to help those local economies.

The Effects of Automations

Brendan: Well, you know, it’s part of real life. So, I mean, I don’t know if I could put it in terms of, if you’re a small business and you need to do things, you either hire people to do them, or you can find a way to make it efficiently happen. So you can imagine you’ve got an app and someone 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, and that, you know, from our perspective, that’s why we built our automations platform, which is freaking amazing. And the idea is, is that you can connect with these other tools that you might already use and automate a process where a human would otherwise have to toil away to make that happen. And guess what? You just don’t have the humans today. So you need to make it work so that you can run your business. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. It’s a really big idea, but it has to be easy enough that a layperson or someone that they hire on their behalf can, come in and help them set it up once and get it going the same way they set up their point of sale system or their delivery system or their alarm system, or their internet. You gotta get a trusted expert to come in, set it up for you, automate the process and make your business work better. And so that’s what’s gonna happen.

George: For our audience, and I, you know, you and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum here, because I’m an Apple guy and you are an Android person, always have been by the way for all the time that I’ve known you, but these automations have been in those mobile devices for a while. So for our audience, what we’re talking about here is, you know, the idea of shortcuts, if this, then, that, and then just the series of those to remove the physical toil. And that’s what we’re talking about, right?

Brendan: That’s exactly what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a way for people to be able to connect those disparate systems, you know like our platform’s a good analogy. You know, it helps people to market sell, build, fulfill, and deliver. Like, you know, today, a lot of our trusted experts that are assigned to small businesses, our customers, you know, they have all of these different, they got some CRM and they got some marketing automation system and they have, you know, yet another calendaring or fulfillment or task management system. And there’s a lot of toil to make those things work together. So with that, that’s what we’re trying to do is to say, as soon as you sell something, guess what? It’s invoiced. Oh, and guess what, it’s being delivered and packed and shipped, and nobody had to do anything and it’s easy to track and it’s easy to manage. But what it’s not easy to do is to design, build, and connect and make that system work together from an out of the gate. And so for that reason, a lot of people, you know, they just have all these things they’ve been using for a long time that just don’t connect together. And so that’s what we’re trying to do with automations. That’s what RPA is.

George: I’ll tell you a great story for our audience, you know, the story, but I wanna tell it to real world. So, you know, we have a partner of ours that still orders products and services on paper. And I remember going out on one of the famous four-legged sales calls, my two legs and the two legs of the sales rep, that’s what I would call four-legged, and we’d go to see a customer. And the sales rep that I’m with had a banker’s box, like, you know, like the square banker’s box filled with paper. And I was like, okay, we must be going to see a number of customers. And they were like, no, that’s all the paper I need for just this one customer. And our mission was to get rid of that box of paper and to have all of the information living in a system so that it could be touched by anybody inside the organization. So if the client wanted to make a change, they could just do it. And we saw this automation come together in the last couple of months, and the look on the people on the call when they saw it all come together where you don’t need the box of paper anymore, you don’t even need paper. You just go into your computer or your phone and fill out the order form, send it to the customer, and all of it just happened. The credit verification happened, the order was filled out properly and it was all. And just the look on their faces, it was a real magic moment for me. This is the vision that you have. Correct?!

Brendan: Yeah, and this is it, right? Like, you know, the things that, you know, the things that COVID brought, you know, the separation, all the, you know, people not being able to socialize those may go away, but the impacts of inflation and the increasing demand and the appeal and the decrease actually, ironically in supply, you know, that the only way to fix this is with technology. It’s not necessarily a zero-sum game, right? The more we become efficient, the more we grow our economy, the more that everyone can have. And so, you know, at sometimes in certain parts of the world, people are, you know, they get upset when people are successful. They shouldn’t, it actually makes them successful. It is not a zero-sum game.

George: So one meeting that I was in over the last 12 months, I did some prep for this episode as well, I remember somebody saying that the one thing that they thought was miraculous was the organization’s ability to adapt. And I know it’s something that is part of your DNA that you built into the company from day one when you started Vendasta. But that adaptability really needs to be there in every business or you’re just not gonna be a part of the game. And I’d love for you to speak about that because it’s not an easy thing to do because sometimes people are uncomfortable because you have to constantly be agile and be looking for the next opportunity. How do you deal with that, Brendan on a day-to-day basis?

Brendan: Nobody likes things that change, right? So, and I mean, you know, and I always quote Darwin and say, it’s not the strongest or the smartest that survived, but those that are most adaptable to change. And that happens everywhere. And businesses are like an organism. Like a living organism, and they wanna grow and thrive and adapt. I don’t know of any business that wants to shrink and put itself out of business. And so, but what there is, is sometimes just not an awareness that you need to change. And so it’s like somebody’s gotta sort of push people to the place where they’re like, if they wanna grow and survive, they have to change. And the way to do that was to show people the opportunity on this side.

George: Well, we’re gonna get to your look into the future in a couple of moments, but I got one other topic that I have to talk about. And that is, 2021 was a hell of a year for Vendasta with the record fundraise. And I’d love for you to tell the audience, you know, what your plans are, to put that money to work.

Where Vendasta is Going

Brendan: Sure. Yeah, it really was a heck of a year, and we did have a big raise in, you know, the way we think about Vendasta is this ecosystem. I’ve been talking about it. You know, it’s the supply that all the vendors and service providers have for products and services that small businesses need, it’s the demand. So all those small businesses need those products and services to run their business now more than ever because they gotta be efficient because they can’t use people to do it. And what we’re building is the distribution of that. We know that those small businesses are gonna turn to the people they trust. They’re gonna you know, agencies, media companies, value-added resellers, or managed service providers, anyone they get those services from, they’re gonna turn to them, and that’s really the distribution of those products and services from the vendor to the small business. And so when we look at that ecosystem of ours, we wanna spin that flywheel. So we’re gonna try to add more channel partners, those are those trusted experts, and those channel partners in turn bring a lot of their customers into our ecosystem so that they can access those products and services with one login. And so that brings, of course, more demand. And that demand, of course, then attracts more vendors to provide those products and services. So it’s a really simple thing, we wanna be the largest distributor of SMB products and services in the world, we wanna have the largest demand for those products and services, and we wanna have the largest supply of those, and that we’re gonna accelerate all of that by making smart acquisitions that can bring us more channel partners, more SMBs or more technology and vendors. And so that’s really, that’s really the strategy. It’s a super simple three-year strategy. And we were able to raise substantial money on that at $120 million. And we’re super excited to be, you know, we’re just trying to build a long-lasting tech company here in North America, Western Canada in particular.

George: So let’s talk about that because I know that headcount continues to grow and people are being added to the organization, you know, all over the place. What’s your take on this talk around, you know, talent and how do you find people? And it’s getting harder, isn’t it?

Brendan: It’s harder and easier. So it’s a give and a take, right? So, you know, COVID has forced people to consider remote work. And remote work opens our source of talent up to worldwide. It also opens our talent up to real worldwide, so that he can be taken from other places. And so, you know, we are… And because of this inflation that I spoke about, it’s happening on the wayside too, you know, costs are going up, but there has to be a way, you know, to pay for that. And so it’s just a balancing act and, you know, like any company we’re keeping our very best and brightest and we’re growing. So we’re in a very fortunate place, so we can continue to grow. I mean, of our 600 people, I think we’ve got, you know, we have 75% outside of North America, or sorry, 75 people outside of North America, we’ve got another 75 or a hundred in the rest of North America. And then, in about, you know, 450 or so, you know, here in Saskatoon.

George: Well, congratulations on the Vendasta square project coming together. That’s where we’re speaking to you today is, is inside your offices at Vendasta square. And how are the teams enjoying the new digs?

Brendan: Well, you know, it’s funny when COVID first came, people were like, “Hey, we have to work from home”, and then it’s like, wow, I like this. I’m never coming back. And then it’s like, it’s almost changed to now, when can I come back? And, you know, there’s gotta be a balance in here. People are social animals and, you know, it’s really, I enjoy being at the office and a lot of people do, but there’s times too when you can be more productive and work at work away from home. So we’re all adapting and growing with this new remote-first hybrid and in-office sort of combination that we’re putting together.

George: No, and it’s been interesting to watch certain individuals that shall go nameless that were like, “no, I’m never coming back. I’m working from home. This is great”. And then they come back one day and they’re like, “whoa, this new office is amazing, I missed all my friends”. So it’s great to see that collaboration happening again. And we hear it from all sorts of customers as well, saying that it was the collaboration of the meeting. After the Zoom meeting was done, and you got to walk over to the desk and have a conversation. That’s the piece that seems to be missing across lots of different companies. So I have to tell you, there’s been a few times this year that I’ve recognized that over the last 10 years that you and I have been working together, you’ve been right a lot. And so I wanna come back to one of the best parts of this interview, and that’s where you get to pull out that crystal ball that obviously you have under your desk and tell us, you know, what your take is on we’re going in the future.

Future Thoughts

Brendan: Well, this is gonna be my toughest year for me yet. And so I don’t have a, I didn’t take time to prepare a list of 10 things or anything else, but I will tell you this we are in a different time, and I think inflation is coming. I know nobody wants to hear that, I’m old enough to have been through it when I bought my first house back in ’89 or so, there was, you know, interest rates were 17% coming down, but I hope we don’t have hyperinflation and high-interest rates. I don’t think that’s gonna happen because I think some of the inflation has some pillars underneath it, that aren’t really foundational. So like for instance, the shipping supply problem that can be rectified, you know, COVID stimulus payments, we can’t go away. But more money has been printed, so there will be some inflation.

So what this means to me when I look in the future is that you know, growth becomes a little less important than efficiency and profitability. So it’s really important for all of our, my small business friends out there to make sure that they can run their business, and the only way they can do that, technology is the thing that keeps giving back. They can change that, they can mitigate it, and that’s this automation. So that’s why we talked about that. I think automation can help companies survive and grow. And so I see, I do see inflation in the future. I see automation and technology mitigating that, but I could see continued demand and continued growth. And so inflation is okay, as long as there’s actual real GDP growth on the other side. And so, and I think that will happen. So I don’t, I’m not doing gloom, I’m just saying that we’re gonna, you know, we’re gonna pay some more for some things we’re gonna see, you know, as a business owner, we’ll see wage inflation, we’ll see tougher competition for talented, especially at the low end.

Like I think the days of, you know, for the folks that are in the quick-service business or other places where they need lots of cheap labor, that’s where the real problems will happen. And I think when you go to order a burger, you’re gonna be doing it on a terminal. And I think that’s what you will see and those are where we can help those businesses survive and thrive. Because if I’m gonna pay 10 bucks for a burrito, I’m not going to Taco Bell, right? I’m gonna go somewhere different. And so I think this is an opportunity for small businesses too. So I do see that inflation being mitigated by automation, through technology, if I had to sum it up.

George: I was working on some content the other day. I remember the book that you pointed me towards by Clayton Christensen, probably nine, 10 years ago. And we were talking about the innovator’s dilemma, we’re talking about disruption. Where do you see disruption happening? Is it in a particular industry that we’re like three years from now, this industry is gonna be completely be like, do you have any looks forward on that?

Brendan: Well, you know, I mean, I think I’m going back to this over and over, but this disruption is happening wherever there was needed to be cheap labor. So you know, if you’re gonna hire folks to flip burgers, and I don’t mean just use that example. There’s many, many, many examples of where we’ve relied on cheap labor. And I see that being disrupted over the next three or four years with technology in particular, which is good for everybody at the end of the day.

George: Well, you can see it in your interactions when you go into a store. I had this happen to me at a very famous store that I won’t mention, but I was buying some office supplies. So you guys can put it together. And it was a struggle for the person to run the till properly and to find the thing that I was buying. And you could tell they were brand new. So, you know, the labor force that was working at that organization laughed or got their, you know, COVID payments, something like that. New people have been hired, and you’ve gotta get them up to speed, and there’s a training program there. So, you know, you see that on a daily basis.

Brendan: Or George they’ll just train you to do it at the self-checkout.


George: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. What, you know, when we’re looking at this and we look back over the three years that you and I’ve done this address in this episode, do you think that we’re in tougher today at 2021? Like we’re sitting here going, oh, that was a really hard year because 2020 was a frigging hard year when COVID first hit, but it seems like 2021 was a bit of a slog for people?

Brendan: Man, I think 2021 was harder, and I’m not sure that it’s over yet, but I’ll make one more prediction since I’m pretty bold, and I could be completely wrong on this. And somebody can call me out later, but everyone’s worried about Omicron, and Omicron with no N. And I think that it might be the end of COVID, but that’s a pretty bold prediction because I think that, you know, I think it’s much more easy to spread stream. So the R factor is higher. It’s gonna spread to people faster, but at the same time, I think it’s less beurlen. And I think people won’t get as sick from it, but they’ll be afforded the protection as if they were inoculated, or as if they had the vaccine. And so I think if that’s true and it doesn’t overload the hospitals and it spreads throughout the population, it might be the end of COVID. But in terms of a pandemic, ’cause COVID’s never going away, we’re gonna be dealing with this, like we do the flu, for the rest of the time. And so, but I think what that, you know, it’s been tough. And so hopefully this can end because I don’t think, I think now the there’s more harm on the other side of, you know, letting much mother nature do its job. There’s more harm in the other side of not having those social interactions. I really feel for people with kids that are school age, I think they’re getting robbed. And I think the psychological damage, the damage is gonna be worse than the disease or the virus if we aren’t careful. So hopefully this will end this year. And that was my that’s my prediction. Or maybe it’s just a hope.

George: One of the things that I think all of us can appreciate is our local economies a little bit more. And I know that that’s always been our mission, is to help local economies, but we’re hearing from our Channel Partners that a lot more attention is being paid to those local businesses and maybe a little less than the big box and understanding that they’re the ones really powering that economy. It’s been good to see that come back across our base of customers, to see those local economies coming back.

Brendan: Yeah, no, it really is. And I, you know, but there’s still a big challenge ahead and again, I don’t wanna go off on a rant on inflation, but I think one thing’s proven for sure, small businesses can change faster than anyone. They might not be the biggest. They might not be the strongest or the fastest, but I’ll tell you, they are the most adaptable 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, but that’s that, you know, in the atmosphere that COVID is creating.

George: Well, and it’s great. And our colleague Gib Olander has a great line, these are the businesses that support our little league teams. They’re the ones that donate to the churches. They’re the ones that get asked to, you know, buy jerseys and things like that. They’re really, really important.

Brendan: Exactly right.

George: Well, we, you know, I’m sure that you’re gonna echo this, but I wanna thank all of our Channel Partners who are local businesses as well, and the businesses that they serve, because I think all of us appreciate it a little bit more. And Brendan, thanks for joining us on the year-end episode, season four, we’re excited about season five’s growth with the Conquer Local Podcast, but we always love having you here for the state of the ecosystem that we know is conquer local. So thanks for joining us.

Brendan: Thanks George for giving me the opportunity. I really appreciate speaking to you today. Thank you.


George: Always like bringing the guy on the show that pays the bills. That’s usually a good idea, but once a year, we bring Brendan around to talk about what happened in the last year. Some of the challenges that we’re facing. And then I liked that crystal ball, because as I mentioned, he’s, you know, most of the times right, as we look forward and we’ve talked a lot in conversations throughout the year about RPA, Robotic Process Automation, and now we have a forcing function.

You remember, if you listen back to other episodes, last year’s episode, Brendan talked about COVID was a forcing function, moving people to online. We’ve been talking about the need for businesses to move online for a long time. COVID happens, more people jump in, but now we’ve got this new thing. We’ve got the supply challenges. We’ve got the demand challenges. We got money sitting out there. We’ve got this inflation thing that’s about to happen, and Brendan’s lens is that businesses need to become more efficient. Part of it is we just don’t have the humans today to provide the services. So the big question is, how do we accomplish it with less labor? We automate it. And we know that nobody likes things that change, but more and more we’re finding that Darwin was right. Those that were most adaptable to change are the ones that will succeed. That’s long lived, but in business, we’re finding that you just have to be adapting all the time. Things are changing dramatically. There’s sometimes are outside forces and then some of it is just evolution. And then finally, small businesses can change faster than anyone. Smaller teams can pivot faster. They can more easily implement the automations that will help them succeed. Although it was a trying year, small businesses will win the day. And we’re seeing that every single day in real-time.

It’s been an incredible year here at Vendasta. The Conquer Local ecosystem is stronger than ever, and that’s thanks to you. We’re excited to end the year on a positive note. And for the last time in 2021, be sure to subscribe to the Finney award-winning Conquer Local Podcast. As we move into the new year and our new season, season five, can’t believe I’m saying that, we’re gonna continue to welcome extraordinary sales leaders, marketers, and entrepreneurs. Happy new year. My name is George Leith, and I’ll see you when I see you.