GeoComply's Anna Sainsbury
Credit: GeoComply

Sainsbury is ready to get her hands dirty as the betting market picks up the pace

There are some awards runs that boggle the mind. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won six Emmys in a row for her portrayal of Selina Meyer in the political satire Veep. Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Anna Sainsbury seems to be on one of those runs right now.

In just the last couple of years the co-founder and CEO of Vancouver-based fraud prevention and cybersecurity company GeoComply won the RBC Momentum Award, was recognized by Business in Vancouver as a 40 Under 40 recipient, was a finalist for this magazine’s Women of the Year Awards and was featured on the cover of our leadership issue.

So it’s fairly fitting that the red carpet is being rolled out once again for Sainsbury by EY. It’s also hard to argue with the designation. GeoComply has grown exponentially in the last several years and Sainsbury took back the CEO chair from her husband and co-founder David Briggs earlier this year after originally handing it over (and serving as chair) in early 2018.

“It felt like the right time to come back in and get my hands dirty and get a little busier in the day-to-day,” says Sainsbury. “It’s so fulfilling and great to be back working with the team and seeing some progress in relation to the markets that we focus on.”

It’s a significantly different role from the one she left. “At the time, the betting market hadn’t picked up, it was still very much a poker market across the U.S.,” she remembers. “Now the conversation is sports and the NFL season is what we all orbit around. At least it’s really clear when you’re going to be busy, that helps.”

GeoComply was founded in 2011. For much of that time, the only people using a VPN were those with in-depth knowledge of the internet. “When I started GeoComply, I’d tell my parents I have a geolocation company and they were like, What is that?” says Sainsbury. “Now, the average person complains that they couldn’t use a VPN to watch whatever sports content they were hoping for. My grandmother would complain about that. The average human being is more aware of circumventing location data and anything else they might want to. Before, if you were doing anything, you were probably sophisticated.”

When Sainsbury originally left the CEO chair, GeoComply had some 60 employees. Now the company has around 500 across the globe, with plans to expand boosted by a recent investment from New York giants Blackstone Growth and Atairos. As such, Sainsbury’s leadership style has had to change.

“Being a very strong communicator—not just in-person when someone is next to you, but across the globe to international offices—that’s important and something I definitely have had to focus on and require support to make sure I do,” she admits.

Even for someone with a list of accolades as long as hers, it can all come down to a simple yet frustrating concept we all learned a long time ago.

“It’s sort of like that game of telephone—the message usually changes a bit from the first time you say it until it comes back to you,” she says with a smile. “Ironing out kinks like that so that we’re all on the same track with the same knowledge is so important.”

10 Questions With Anna Sainsbury

What was your first summer job?

Mowing my parents' friend's lawn.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

Made.

What is your definition of success?

Being content.  

What other job might you have had?

I thought I would have a sock company for quite a long time. 

Name one thing people would be surprised to learn about you.

I studied interior design, not engineering and law.

Finish this sentence for us: Entrepreneurs need a lot more...

Creative time.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Signy Arnason, associate executive director, Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Yoga.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I strive to be democratic and pacesetting.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

Hairbrush!