Entrepreneur of the Year 2023: How competition and camaraderie drive the pair behind Klue

Jason Smith and Sarathy Naicker are using AI to fuel their software company

The Kickoff: In 2014, Jason Smith had 17 different ideas for businesses he wanted to launch. By process of elimination, he settled on starting a software company that helps businesses gain an advantage by using information about their competitors. But he needed a co-founder with deep roots in technology, and Sarathy Naicker was the person for the job—because, according to Smith, “he’s the full awesome.”

Originally from Chennai, India, Naicker studied computer science at the University of Michigan and helped build Perl, a programming language used for automation and web development. As Smith puts it, Naicker was the guy people lined up to meet at conferences: “He was like the influencer before Instagram, but in the geek domain.”

When the two met in 2014, Sauder alum Smith had moved on from his role as president of customer intelligence company Vision Critical (now Alida) and Naicker had just left IT security company Sophos. “There was a lot of spam and malware in the world, and my mission was to separate the good stuff from the bad stuff, and only let people see the good stuff,” Naicker explains.

Smith’s idea of distilling the right information for businesses resonated with him so much that he turned down a job at Amazon to help launch Klue, a startup, in 2015. “I had to court his wife, too, to make sure she was on board with this crazy notion of making no money for a while,” Smith teases.

Action Plan: It’s clear why the pair connected: they’re both candid, genuine and always trying to one-up each other’s jokes—which makes them the perfect people to lead a software platform in competitive enablement.

Klue uses AI to help businesses understand what their competitors are doing, and it’s growing with a focus on product development, machine learning and the acquisition of companies like U.S. market research firm DoubleCheck.

Its founders are also destigmatizing leadership. “We’re well-known to not stand on a pedestal; we very much joke and laugh with one another and make sure that we’re seen as equals [to our employees] rather than as leaders in the company,” says CEO Smith—to which CTO Naicker adds, “Having that light touch helps a lot in a leadership role.” In fact, Klue snagged Culture of the Year at the 2021 BC Technology Impact Awards.

Closing Statement: Since 2015, Klue has raised millions of dollars, grown to 240 people and established offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, Amsterdam and London. It has over 200,000 users (including Telus, Salesforce and Shopify), with revenues “well into the double-digit millions,” reports Smith.


Do you have any embarrassing obsessions?

SN [pointing at JS]He is constantly moving things on my desk.

JS: My real obsession is mountain biking.

SN: My kids are my obsession right now.

JS: Oh, I’m going to lose—my wife! My wife is my obsession!

After work, we can find you…

JS: Reheating dinner at 10 p.m.

SN: On the couch trying to catch a documentary.

Odd job you’ve had?

JS: Tree planting. I planted over 100,000 trees.