Entrepreneur of the Year 2017: Software as a Service

The annual Ernst & Young list of B.C.'s brightest business visionaries finds a fresh crop of leaders building empires in everything from renewable energy to venture capital to social enterprise

Jack Newton
CEO, Clio (Winner)

Jack Newton, founder of one Canada’s largest legal software companies, isn’t a lawyer, but he’s learned to think like one. A software engineer by training, Newton began his unlikely legal career over coffee in 2007 with the director of practice standards at the Law Society of British Columbia, who kvetched about a problem that beleaguered smaller firms. The day-to-day tasks of running a law practice—time tracking, billing, administration and, most of all, running an on-premises server—were exorbitant for small firms and solo practices, pushing up the cost of legal services. Newton thought he had a solution: what if all those tasks and documents, including sensitive client documents, moved off a firm’s expensive proprietary servers and onto a secure, legal-focused version of the cloud?

Born and raised in Edmonton, Newton studied computer science at the University of Alberta because he was interested in technology. After graduation, he took a job as a software developer working on machine learning problems in medical diagnostics at Chenomx Inc., a commercial spinoff of a project at the university. At Chenomx, he became fascinated by how a company is developed: “I got to see the process of building something from scratch, the fundraising process from the inside,” Newton remembers. “I decided that this is something that I’d really like to do myself.”

His opportunity to act on that impulse came via Rian Gauvreau, a friend since they attended the same elementary school in Edmonton. Newton and Gauvreau, then an IT manager at the law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP in Vancouver, had talked for years about starting their own company before they launched Clio in 2007. “We were two hammers looking for a nail,” Newton says. “The legal space was ripe for disruption, and we thought that there was a huge opportunity to deliver the benefits of the cloud to small firms.”

Clio is now the most widely used practice management tool for lawyers worldwide, serving 150,000 legal professionals in more than 50 countries. The company has raised US$27 million in venture capital and employs 225 at its offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Dublin. “We started off 10 years ago with pretty humble ambitions—to build a tool that would help make lawyers more productive,” Newton says. “I think we’ve succeeded in that.”

What did your summer jobs teach you about business?
That you should aim to do a great job even in the early, and potentially mundane, stages of your career. You never know what doors will open thanks to that effort

Morgan Carey
CEO, Real Estate Webmasters/Carey Group of Companies (Runner-up)

Nanaimo is far from the most obvious location for a technology company. Yet Real Estate Webmasters, the brainchild of Morgan Carey, a self-described “natural-born salesperson,” has turned a patch of the Harbour City into a small-town version of Silicon Valley North. After several years of high growth, and a stint on Dragons’ Den, Carey’s business has matured into a stable player in the web-marketing niche of real estate. It’s been a long journey for Carey, who built his reputation as what he calls “the SEO guy” in the early 2000s before settling down to build Webmasters, which creates ready-to-use websites for real estate professionals. Early on he made a decision to stick it out in Nanaimo–the company has since opened a Vancouver satellite office–when he became a father at the age of 15. “I needed to grow up quickly,” Carey says. “My son was here, and we had a life here.”

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m addicted to karaoke

Rick Perreault
CEO and Co-Founder, Unbounce (Runner-up)

Rick Perreault knows a thing or two about hard work. Growing up in Moncton, New Brunswick, in the late 1980s, “a pretty conservative place,” as he describes it, Perreault found his first job at a bakery while moonlighting as a musician in his rock band. “I had hair down to my waist, and there weren’t a lot of options for a young guy [like that] just out of school,” he says. “The guy running the bakery told me that he knew I was going to work really hard because you can’t get a job anywhere else.” Although Perreault cut his hair, his work ethic remained the same. After moving to Vancouver in 1998 and training as a web designer at Vancouver Film School, he spent the first half of his career at various advertising agencies. In 2009, with some former colleagues, he co-founded Unbounce, a maker of customizable landing pages for retailers large and small.

What other career might you have had?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, but then when I realized Star Trek wasn’t real, I started to lose interest