For most of Waterloo, the news was a surprise. Carta – a California-based equity management platform – was coming to town and they were launching their local office with a 50-person workforce.
How was this possible?
Just weeks before, Kik Interactive – a well-known Waterloo-based tech company – announced that it was pivoting to focus on cryptocurrency rather than its messaging application, which would entail a substantial staff reduction. Carta saw the opportunity to acquire a skilled and experienced team in order to build the foundation for their first Canadian office.
Founded in 2012, Carta’s cap table software helps more than 800,000 investors, law firms and employees at 13,000+ companies manage more than $575 billion in equity. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Carta intends to turn the Waterloo office into its “next great R&D centre.”
We recently spoke to Craig Gurnik, Carta’s Senior Director of Engineering, and Laura Newton, Director of Product Management, about why and how this region came to be the home of the company’s Canadian office and about the aggressive growth plans here:
Q: Can you tell us what Carta is and what it does?
Gurnik: We create more owners by making it easier to issue equity. Our software helps companies and investors manage their cap tables, valuations, investments and equity plans.
Q: Was there a need for this type of software?
Gurnik: These equities used to be issued as paper stock certificates and there is still much of the world that issues these things on paper. A lawyer might keep them in a folder or perhaps in an Excel spreadsheet. If you want access to it, you have to call the lawyers.
We are just taking that to the next level and making it really easy for companies to do this with no paper to manage. It is all self service through our platform.
Q: Did this come about because there are now many more companies, more players involved in equity financing, so there was growing complexity?
Gurnik: Yes, there are more players in the game, you’ve got investors, you’ve got companies now taking multiple rounds because they’re taking longer to go public or not going public at all. So there are more people, more players, and all with different needs.
Newton: On top of that, employees have become smarter about equities. It has become more common now for companies to issue stocks to employees. They have expectations of what their employers offer them. Carta lets those employees see their vesting schedule, how many options they can exercise or already own. It lets everybody have more access. This was a great place where software could solve a problem.
Q: Is there a growing demand for this type of service?
Newton: It is definitely an area that has seen huge growth in the last couple of years. Additionally, with the technology sector continuing to grow, there are more and more start-ups that are being created, and therefore more companies in the world that need to manage their equity and keep track of their cap tables.
Q: So how did Carta come to acquire the Kik office and team in Waterloo?
Gurnik: It really started with the fact that we share investors. Carta was looking at how to take its consumer experiences to the next level. At the Kik office here, we had this great team of people and consumer experience was our bread and butter. So, it really started with a phone call. How can we work together? From there, it happened quickly.
The acquisition was for the 51 members of the Kik team and the office in the Catalyst 137 building.
Newton: Carta has had a history of opening up many offices around the world. It was reassuring to those of us from the Kik side of things to know that Carta has kind of done this type of expansion before and has experience with a new location, building out a team there and continuing to grow the mission. It is a company that knows how to land teams in many locations.
Q: What does your office do for Carta here in Waterloo? Is it mainly research and development?
Newton: We are within Carta’s research and development team, in the software portion of their business. Within this office we focus on two areas. The first one is shareholder experience. We build features for those users. That means anybody who holds shares within the platform; anyone who has equity managed within Carta. So, for example, technology employees who want to see their options and their vesting schedule.
The other thing we do in this office is some of the infrastructure work. We have a great group of people who have built large scale systems and they can improve how Carta operates.
Q: In his blog post about the acquisition and starting the Carta office here, Ward talked about the fact that his first trip to the Waterloo office felt like visiting any other Carta office. Did that familiarity cut both ways?
Newton: Yes, it definitely went both ways. That mission-driven mindset really felt like home. This is a company that really makes big bets and takes big swings and wants to have an impact on the world. So that shared ideology in terms of how they see software fitting into a broader ecosystem of society was very familiar and very reassuring. I think many of the same reasons that drew us to Kik also drew us to join Carta.
Q: But why Waterloo? After all, in a place like Palo Alto, they already have software engineering talent. What was the reason for choosing this region for the expansion?
Gurnik: It is about three big things. The first is the availability of a top-quality experienced workforce. The second is access to top tier universities and colleges like the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College. Third, there’s a thriving local tech community here, so it is a great place to broaden and grow a technology business.
Newton: To add to that, when Carta was thinking of future expansions via multiple offices and distributed teams, they were thinking about a Canadian location and migrating north. I think Waterloo was already on the short list for them because of the ecosystem that exists here.
Q: How important is the Waterloo ecosystem? For example, I imagine you need people with knowledge in machine learning and we have people at the University of Waterloo who do that, and also there is Laurier with is business school and the insurance companies located here. Were those things important to Carta’s plans?
Newton: Yes, definitely. And on top of that, there are a lot of good B2B companies in the area. There are a lot of people who have experience building enterprise software here but also experience building products for other companies.
Q: Is being in the Catalyst137 building location also serendipitous because it places you in the midst of other technology companies?
Newton: Yes, we moved into the Catalyst building about a year before the transition and it’s great. We have a new office that was built from the ground up to our specifications. We have lots of room to grow. We have space for about 130 people, and we do have some pretty aggressive growth plans, so we have the space for that.
Q: Tell us about those growth plans. Is there a push on hiring at the Carta office in Waterloo?
Gurnik: We are looking for front end developers, back end developers, infrastructure engineers, product managers, designers. Really, anyone who fits within that scope of R&D. If we find smart great people, we make a home for them. A lot of it is data science. We do have a really rich data set and definitely opportunities to look at how we can leverage that to build great products.
Newton: We’ve had some of our first new hires in the last couple of months.
The Waterloo office will definitely be a big R&D centre for Carta. Other offices do other things like sales and support, but we are focused on the R&D and so we want to continue to grow out those engineering product design functions here.
One of the things that’s been so great about working for Carta is just the growth trajectory they are on. It has really been growing quickly and it has ambitious plans, which means there are lots of opportunities for employees to take risks, to try new things and to enhance their careers. So that’s been really great to be a part of an organization that works that way.
Gurnik: We are on this great trajectory with high opportunity for growth, from a team perspective, but also for revenue and business growth.
Newton: Carta has really put its weight behind this office, and because we have aggressive hiring plans, we are taking bigger product initiatives on and taking more ownership of certain areas of the software. There is a lot of potential here. I’m really happy that we were able to go through the acquisition with so many employees intact and that we’re now looking to grow our team.