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“Companies don't grow if people don't grow.”
Boast’s CEO on staying focused in a competitive marketplace. This is your Friday Feature.
It’s been a little over a year since Boast — the Vancouver-founded fintech company that helps businesses automate the process of securing R&D tax credits — brought on a new leader. Tech veteran Alok Tyagi took the top job in May 2022.
Back then, Boast co-founders Alex Popa and Lloyed Lobo said it was time to create space for a new head to fuel the company’s growth. “We believe that we have hit a moment in time where Boast will significantly benefit by us making room for a CEO with experience in scaling a business on the formula of a strong people and product agenda,” they said in a statement.
Tyagi, whose background features stints at DealerSocket, RealPage, CA Technologies, and Sage, had fit the bill.
We recently caught up with him to discuss leading people during a period of hyper-growth, if Boast is actually a tech company, and how to keep his team focused in a competitive marketplace.
This interview was condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
VTJ: You’re a year in. What’s been the biggest surprise or delight?
AT: This is not a surprise, but we have the finest people. It was one of the reasons that I joined. It's incredible. You meet Alex and Lloyed Lobo, and you just feel their warmth, and the way high-energy people really believe in entrepreneurship. That certainly is a very delightful aspect – the cultural aspect, the people aspect.
And on that note, as the company grows, our people expect far more maturity in our talent practice, the career growth aspect of the job. As in, recognizing that we are now a 120-plus team, and all over Canada and growing.
In B.C., we are now doing as many claims as we were doing in the whole of Canada 12 months back. So, we’re on a hyper-growth path.
VTJ: You were at Sage and some other big players. What are you drawing on from those experiences to navigate what you're going through right now?
AT: Sage is certainly very relevant to what we're doing at Boast because the buyers and the customer base and the marketplace are very similar. We’re serving the same small and medium businesses, connecting with the founders and the CFOs. So, how do you really introduce solutions for the marketplace for scale? What does that scalable practice look like? So, you definitely draw on that – all the learnings from those experiences. And also, when you look at the career experience and the talent experience, growing leadership, processes, and practices, you draw a lot from where you have been. The questions I’m asking are, “What kind of a leadership team do we have to create? What kind of cultural values do we have to really bring in and keep nurturing and keep growing?”
VTJ: You have people in regions across Canada and the U.S. How are you drawing on global experience for growth?
AT: At Boast, we are a fully remote company with 80 per cent of our people in Canada, primarily Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto, but we do have people sprinkled across the U.S. I think the way we operate nowadays is wherever the best talent is available, we go hire them.
VTJ: What is Boast today? Fintech, services – how do you talk about the company?
AT: Boast is a tech company. And yes, our claim to fame is making capital accessible – that is definitely the key pillar of our offering — but our offering and our customers are growing. We now have a customer advisory board, and as I speak to them, they come back and say, “Guys, great, you got us access to the capital. But you also have some insight and intelligence into our business. How can we operate our R&D better? How can we invest in our R&D?” So, it's not about R&D as the rearview – that you invested $1 in R&D yesterday and you can get the most R&D claim based on that. But it's more about how can you become more forward-looking with R&D? How do I go invest my R&D for tomorrow for a better outcome?
VTJ: Think back to when you were looking at the opportunity at Boast. Is it what you thought it would be?
AT: If you look at my history of experience, I'm a product guy turned a business guy. And throughout my career, whatever company I have been at has always been about unlocking the power of R&D.
I was running the product business and R&D at Sage and then running the product business and R&D of RealPage and running R&D at Oracle. So for me, it's always been about how you really maximize the outcome of R&D. And when I joined Boast, it was for that purpose. And I was like, this is a match made in heaven because Boast is now doing for thousands of companies what I've been trying to do at individual past companies.
VTJ: Have you made any significant changes to the organization?
AT: To me, the company was already on a great trajectory – what Alex and Lloyd did, and that's why we are a high-growth company. You don't become a high-growth company just because a new guy came in. It already had a great trajectory. So to me, it's more about how do we take it from here? And how do we really get into more of the R&D space? How do we… really take our platform and make our platform more scalable, so that now we are talking about multiple geographies and serving multiple customer bases not only with access to capital, but also getting into the R&D space where we can create intelligence. That's where we are going.
VTJ: An issue in B.C. has been a lack of senior talent. As the most senior leader at Boast, how do you look at training other employees and leaders?
AT: The bulk of my focus has been people, products, and processes, and on the people side, maturing the talent practice is a key part of the emphasis. Software is a people business. Companies don't grow if people don't grow. Companies will not grow if their people are not empowered and autonomy is not created.
VTJ: How do you keep your team focused? Not focus on what competitors are doing, but focus on innovation internally?
AT: If you look at our competitive landscape, our win rate is phenomenal. We win against the big four. And we certainly win against all kinds of boutiques. Time and again, customers will say when they engage Boast, it’s the least amount of time that they had to spend on SR&ED.
Other people just cannot replicate what we have – the technology platform that we are. So that is certainly one of the big, big ways that customers see us very differently.
VTJ: Who are you learning from in terms of your peers? Who are you talking to about the market and about how you can be a better leader?
AT: I don't think many CEOs can really prepare for how you manage when you go through crises. So, I think COVID taught me a lot.
One always needs to have a good mentor group, and always needs to have a close peer group. I have been very fortunate to have several CEOs that I've tapped into it. My past CEOs – they are part of my close network, and we talk on a regular basis. It’s things like navigating new situations, and how to handle that.
At Boast, our board is also very helpful. I tap into a lot of them. We also have an independent board member who is part of the Vancouver tech community, Laurie Schultz. She and I used to work together at Sage. So, she's also part of the part of the network that I tap into.
VTJ: What is the next big milestone that you guys are thinking about?
AT: We’re looking at multiple things. The first thing is you don't want to lose focus on what you are great at. Because that is part of scale-up. Companies can start to chase many different things, but you should just want to keep planting that flag really deep.
Still, we have a lot of headroom to grow. And so, we just want to make sure that we remain really, really strong in what we already do. And then we have a couple of adjacent spaces to grow, whether it is from a product and technology perspective, or also from a geography perspective, where we look at it and say, which one has the right path for us to grow? And also from a right-timing perspective, what are those different growth horizons we have to look at?
VTJ: What do you think success looks like this year?
AT: I think it depends on different areas. Like any company there are financial goals, so we want to make sure that we always achieve that. And especially in an environment like this, we have set our company to grow sustainably. Then the other growth is just about really “bringing it” for the customers. We have an electronic ticker tracking capital at Boast – and it's the only company that I've seen with something like that – a very clear value goal that’s how many hundreds of millions of dollars we have given back to our customers in innovation capital.
But I think to me, the more satisfying thing is the people aspect. It goes back to: how can we grow our people? I really want Boast to become a place where people join and it's the top place to work.