11 Oct Dax Dasilva’s LightSpeed Creates ‘Apple Store’ Experience for Retailers
It all started when Dax Dasilva received a Mac for his 12th birthday, growing up in Vancouver, Canada. He soon began programming, and landed a job as an apprentice at an Apple AAPL -0.63% developer just a year later. Fast forward to 2005, Dax leveraged his experience to found his software company, LightSpeed, in Montreal, creating inventory-centric point of sale systems that retailers could use to bring the then-revolutionary â€œApple store experienceâ€ into their stores. He wanted to help others re-create what makes online shopping great (convenience, personalization, rich product information) in a physical retail environment, the way Apple did so successfully with its Apple Stores and Genius Bars. Today, LightSpeed works with cutting-edge retailers like Harman Kardon, Frank & Oak and STORY, helping them to manage their business and create a superior customer experience across all channels, whether in-store or online or from any device.
Daxâ€™s fast-growing company processed over $6 billion in transactions in 2013, up more than 120 percent from 2012. This momentum helped LightSpeed achieve 60 percent revenue growth last year. â€œOur mission is to provide retailers with the simplest way to build, manage, and grow a business, and create a better shopping experience. That comes from our roots in the Apple platform, but weâ€™re multiplatform now. Weâ€™re bringing the best of the digital age and e-commerce experience to brick and mortar retail by helping them evolve in this age of the omni-channel consumer, who shops on all channels and expects a certain level of information, service and experience,â€ says Dasilva.
When I built LightSpeed, I decided to build it for all retail verticals. From 2006 to 2011 we had 1900 percent growth and were named one of the fastest growing companies in Canada, all without any outside investment.
Itâ€™s all about having the right product for the right shopper at the right time, with all of a retailerâ€™s systems working in sync. LightSpeed tools help brick and mortar retailers do more on mobile and tablets as well as online. â€œOur platform is powerful enough to do complex inventory, so weâ€™re focused on the inventory-centric retailer that does an average of half a million dollars in annual revenue. We have about 17,000 retailers on the platform at the moment, totaling about $6 billion in transactions annually. Our core customer may have a few stores, but we also work with chains of 40, 50 stores and we see that increasing in number every year. This type of retailer canâ€™t be solely brick and mortar anymore,â€ says Dasilva.
LightSpeed seeks to bring the big box, enterprise technology that might have previously been only available from the likes of SAP or Oracle to independent retailers. â€œWeâ€™re democratizing it for all levels of retailer by bringing this omni-channel approach to everyone,â€ says Dasilva. For big brand companies like Adidas, theyâ€™re deploying the LightSpeed experience in select stores, but connect back to an ERP that serves their entire company.
â€œThis all goes back to my days as a teenage Mac fanatic. Itâ€™s funny, the Mac just had its 30 year -anniversary, and I remember getting my first one at 12 years of age. My dad was a graphic designer. He used to bring home the original Mac when I was 8 or 9, and I just thought it was magical. It brought simplicity to complexity through a graphical interface. I was always entranced by the beauty of the interfaces that Apple created. When I started programming in my teens for the forestry companies and Apple dealerships in BC, I started to love building software. By the time I was in my 20s, I was working for a large Apple dealership and they wanted to run their four stores on the Mac platform but there wasnâ€™t great inventory management or point-of-sale software for the Mac at that time,â€ says Dasilva.
The software Dax then created to fill that gap made a name for itself amongst Apple dealers in the U.S. and Canada, and was so strong that he decided to start LightSpeed to capitalize on that success. â€œBut when I built LightSpeed, I decided to build it for all retail verticals. From 2006 to 2011 we had 1900 percent growth and were named one of the fastest growing companies in Canada, all without any outside investment,â€ Dasilva continues. The Apple dealers that originally bought the software were the companyâ€™s original 150 customers, who then became the sales channel. â€œThey went out and spread the gospel of the experience that you can create in your store with deep systems and rich sales tools that would thrill customers,â€ says Dasilva.
The company has two platforms: its original platform, now known as LightSpeed Pro, is for retailers that seek an Apple-esque in-store experience. They also have a new product called LightSpeed Cloud, launched last year, which is device agnostic and cloud-based. â€œWe were definitely ahead of the curve by bringing the best of what we know to the cloud, for a different profile of retailer,â€ says Dasilva.
One of the interesting phenomenon that we see today in retail is that retailers have to be curators. If theyâ€™re going to become a destination, they have to be curators of unique products and their systems have to help them identify popular items and replenish inventory. â€œSTORY in New York City on 10th Ave is a good example of this phenomenon in actionâ€“every six weeks, they completely change the theme of the store. The storeâ€™s theme could be art. It could be New York City. It could be the holiday season or America. They reinvent the store and completely change the inventory and everything that you know about what theyâ€™re selling, and really LightSpeed is the only system that can pull this off for them,â€ continues Dasilva.
Daxâ€™s journey to software company CEO is somewhat unconventional. â€My dad, an immigrant from Africa, came to Canada in his early â€˜20s where he took a course in welding and ended up in a manufacturing company, Ebco Industries in British Columbia. Management saw a spark in him that allowed him to segue from welding into graphic design and communications. He eventually became a right hand man and advisor to the CEO. He saw that company expand, contract, bust and boom many times over. Over the years, I took on a lot of mentors, but in the early years of LightSpeed, I relied a lot on my father for advice,â€ says Dasilva.
Dax grew up in Vancouver and moved to Montreal in 2001. â€A lot of my friends were in our mid-20s and we decided that the European flavor of Montreal was alluring. Plus, the East Coast energy and aesthetic was something that we were all excited about. LightSpeed builds serious tools, but we love to incorporate beautiful design into our products. Montreal is a fashion, design-oriented city. Itâ€™s very close to New York, the retail capital of the world and where we also have an office, so itâ€™s been a great place to build a company. We now have offices in Ottawa, New York, Silicon Valley and Washington State with about 170 employees in six locations,â€ Dasilva continues.
The company only recently took its series A funding of $30 million from Accel Partners in 2012. â€œAccel Partners first met us at the National Retail Federation show. They had just written a white paper on the â€œApple-izationâ€ of the enterprise and the revolution in payments, and they were operating on an investment thesis that there is a major evolution coming in retail and that Apple is leading the way. They saw this trend exemplified in what we were doing, and wanted to help us go to another level with what we were building. In June 2012 we announced that investment. We have since grown from 50 to 170 employees and 7,000 to 17,000 stores using our solution, as well as rolled out new product lines that have brought the LightSpeed vision to multiple platforms,â€ says Dasilva.
Running and building a business has been a personal learning process as well, as Dax has evolved from the guy programming until 4am in the morning to a leader who sets the tone and direction for the company. â€Every couple of years, you have to reinvent your business. My job has changed from being that person who did everything to someone who can lead the company to the next peak,â€ says Dasilva. But he hopes he can retain the small company, family feel to the business as it continues to grow. â€œI hope LightSpeed is a great example of how a larger company can still have a soul,â€ continues Dasilva.
What does the future hold for Dax and LightSpeed? â€We sell in 30 countries, but primarily U.S., Canada, Australia, and Britain. In the U.S. alone thereâ€™s about 2.8 million retail businesses, a million of which fall into the verticals that we service, many of whom are running legacy systems that may not allow them to compete as well as they could in this omni-channel, consumer driven age,â€ says Dasilva. He feels he has the growth potential and resources that will allow LightSpeed to build out market share in the U.S., as well as expand internationally, to become a significant-sized business with no immediate plans for an IPO or need to seek out buyers.
Bruce H. Rogers is the co-author of the recently published book Profitable Brilliance: How Professional Service Firms Become Thought Leaders now available on Amazon http://amzn.to/OETmMz