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Interview with Chris Carder from ThinData

A few weeks ago, one of the more interesting and exciting events happened in the Canadian internet space that has happened for a while – Transcontinental purchased ThinData, Canada’s leading email service provider.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Carder, President of ThinData, to discuss the purchase and its implications as well as ruminate on some other aspects of running a successful company.

OD: Has the plan always been to be acquired?

CC: When you’re starting out, it’s important to realise that you’re not just building the next big thing – but that you’re building a business.  You always need to have an eye to how you might fit in with a larger business.  Ultimately, if you want to evolve, to grow, you have a choice: acquire or be acquired.  It’s about picking the right partner, on either side of the equation.

OD: So, why Transcontinental?

CC:  Transcontinental has always been ahead of the curve.  First and foremost, they’ve been proud to work with great Canadian companies (something that is part of ThinData’s DNA as well).  And they aren’t just about technology – they have been there to offer genuine strategic insight to their clients, to help their clients realise the potential from their investment.  This attitude is also core to ThinData’s philosophy of working with clients.  It really came down to who were our values aligned with.  Transcontinental fit the bill.

We have actually had the opportunity to work with Transcontinental for 3 years prior to the purchase. We worked with them on Blockbuster Canada’s business.  So we’ve had the time to meet with them and understand both their business acumen as well as their character.

It was also important to us to have a partner that is involved in the community.  ThinData is very tied to what we do in the community (for example, our work with the White Ribbon campaign).  It was important for any partner of ours to have a lot of respect in the community.

OD: For startups or other companies who might be going through the same process, a potential acquisition, can you outline your decision process?

CC:  Well, make a list 🙂 What would an acquiring organization look like?  What would the deal look like?  We knew there were three key things that were essential to any deal:

  • All our staff must be valued. ThinData has amazing people who are leaders in their field.  A partner would need to recognize this, and be dedicated to the long-term retention and growth of every single employee’s career.
  • Which partner would earn the most respect from our clients?  Where they can clearly see that the deal would be a good decision for them too?
  • Which partner would keep our Canadian clients at the top of the roster?  We have intimate relationships with our clients and they expect the highest level of service.  This can not be compromised.

OD: After the deal, upon reflection, how do you feel today?

CC: I feel like I’m home. Transcontinental has a vision for how to grow as a Canadian company.  I’m excited by that vision.  (Editor’s Note: Chris shared with me that the night before the acquisition was announced, he had a special message on his Facebook status. You can see a screen cap of it below.)


OD: One of the things that has always impressed me about ThinData is the cohesive team you have built and the emphasis you place on it.  Recently, in the blogosphere, a number of articles have come out on the kind of people you look for when building a team.  Can you talk a bit about how you’ve built your team?

CC: Find people who want to achieve excellence in what they do.  And people who will do what they need to "in the moment". You can’t work people to death 24 hours a day, even when you’re starting out.  It comes down to key moments in time.

We’ve tried to resource and build ThinData so that people can enjoy their lives and their families.  The interactive space is aging – the experienced senior people who are in demand.  So you need to be sensitive to that.  Many more of my staff is having kids now; you don’t want to lose them.  So you focus on an approach to business and improving processes that help them have a balance.

This actually came up when we were looking for a partner, for our landing place.  We didn’t want a partner whose own business was emotional chaos, driven by a state of panic. It could never be money ahead of people, but rather that you achieve great financial results because of the focus on people.

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It was such a delight for me to sit down with Chris.  ThinData is one of Canada’s internet marketing institutions, and it is wonderful to see their continued success.  This is something that we try to focus on here at One Degree – Canadian success stories.  In particular, I think that the acquisition of ThinData by another great Canadian company is well-worth celebrating and emulating.  How can we get more Canadian success stories to stay in Canada?  I think of the one’s we’ve lost – Flickr and Club Penguin among them – and lament the amazing Canadian creativity and business acumen that has been snapped up by our neighbours to the south.

The ThinData acquisition shows that we can keep the talent in the country and keep building our businesses without relying on others for an exit strategy.

(Disclosure: Matthew Vernhout, a OneDegree contributor, works at ThinData)