Software Mavericks: Riva is number one on our Fast Growth 50 list
Aldo Zanoni identified a market before consumers realized it was there. In 2006, Riva International created a CRM integration system that disrupted the industry and propelled the company to international success
by Jenn Mentanko
Photograph Ryan Girard
Head office: Edmonton
CEO: Aldo Zanoni
Revenue: $10.8 million
Revenue growth year-over-year: 53%
Riva International is headquartered in an inconspicuous brick office building called The MacCosham in downtown Edmonton. The 100-year-old structure that once operated as a shipping warehouse is now home to one of the fastest growing companies in Alberta and the creator of innovative customer relationship management (CRM) integration technology.
The story of Riva CRM Integration is similar to that of another explosive digital platform the world didn’t know it needed. Just like Facebook, Riva began as an internal tool. After heeding his father’s business mantra, “Thou shall not bitch about that which you are not willing to fix,” Stephane Zanoni, son of founder and CEO Aldo Zanoni and Riva’s chief technology officer, developed the Riva system to solve an office-wide integration problem. Staff used the software to streamline communication and integration between its CRM software and email system. After its successful run at the office, the company bore down on the CRM marketplace and Riva exploded as customers recognized the convenience of a tool they never thought possible.” We were that lone voice in the deep, dark, cold desert in the middle of night,” Aldo Zanoni says, “with our candles out, saying, ‘There’s another way and it’s better!’ ”
Riva software acts as an add-on for existing CRM vendors. When vendors cannot provide the integration a client requires, Riva swoops in, helps the clients meet their needs and solidifies the CRM vendor’s sale. There are hundreds of CRM vendors out there, and the expert technology team must mold Riva to fit each vendor and subsequent integrated communication platform while solving a Rubik’s cube of synch requirements. Considering the CRM market is expected to be worth US$36 billion worldwide next year, it’s not a bad industry to latch on to.
Now let’s talk growth. A 53 per cent jump in revenue from the most recent year-end is an incredible feat, especially in Alberta’s current economic climate. But what’s more impressive is this was not an unforeseen blip in Riva’s progress. For the past seven years, Riva’s revenue has grown at an average annual rate of 51 per cent. Zanoni describes their growth as a “typical hockey stick.” Progress was slow as the innovative software gained its footing in the CRM marketplace; businesses had to be educated on its effectiveness and convinced it would make a worthwhile difference in the way their customers were overseen. Once decision-makers were willing to take the leap, word spread and Riva’s customer base quickly climbed. Now, three of the five largest U.S. banks, 15 of the world’s largest financial services companies and more than 35 Fortune 500 companies use Riva software. “Why do they use our software?” Zanoni asks. “Because it does what it needs to do and it does it very quickly.”
Surprisingly, Canada makes up a mere five per cent of Riva’s business, and only a small handful of customers are serviced in Alberta. Its focus is international, targeting large organizations and mother corporations that make decisions for subsidiaries. This year, 75 per cent of business came from the U.S., while the rest is scattered across the world, with a significant consumer-base in Europe. Along with its headquarters in Edmonton, Riva has offices in Munich, Germany and Sydney, Australia. A customer service team is even stationed in Pictou, Nova Scotia, to accommodate the time difference for European customers while still leveraging Canadian talent. “Rather than trying to service the globe from Edmonton, and rather than outsourcing our support to somewhere we cannot control, we’re going to leverage Canadian expertise in a timezone that is better for our customer,” Zanoni says.
Customer retention and engagement is key to Riva’s success. Customers subscribe on an annual basis, and subscription renewals are the ultimate goal. “Customer satisfaction means nothing to us,” says Jameson Van Dijk, director of operations and finance. “Customer delight is the differentiation for us: A delighted customer will renew with us.” By the end of fiscal 2015, Riva’s client retention rate was 95 per cent. This year, it’s 89 per cent.
All this, imagined by a man from Lethbridge with little software experience and a background in education. Zanoni moved to Edmonton with his wife Michele – now president of Riva – in 1978 to pursue a career with Edmonton Public Schools, where he had an unexpected but fortuitous introduction to computers. “Who better than the French teacher at J Percy Page High School to take care of the five computer labs?” Zanoni asks. “That was my introduction to networking and computers in 1991.”
In 1993, Riva started as a computer training company, and evolved as technology and the needs of consumers changed. During the last 10 years of Zanoni’s teaching career, he spent his mornings teaching and took the afternoons to focus on his business. Now retired from teaching, he puts 100 per cent of his professional time into his booming software company.