With new president Sarah Miller Wright, Certn targets profitable growth over acquisitions

New Certn president Sarah Miller Wright.
Following 2023 layoffs, Miller Wright must steer Certn’s global operations through a “transformation year.”

Victoria, BC-based background check technology provider Certn has brought on Sarah Miller Wright as its first president to lead global operations.

Miller Wright, who assumed the role earlier this month, brings over 20 years of executive leadership experience to Certn. She comes to the scaling tech firm from one of its investors, Inovia Capital, where she most recently worked as entrepreneur-in-residence after serving in senior roles at insurance giant Manulife and telecommunications firm Shaw Communications. 

Miller Wright told BetaKit that Certn’s strategy now involves less M&A and more product-led growth.

In an exclusive interview with BetaKit, Miller Wright acknowledged that her resume looks a bit different than that of the average tech exec. “The thing that makes me really excited about this role, at this stage where I’m at in my career, is being able to leverage being in at-scale organizations and really having a good understanding of … what great can be,” she said.

Miller Wright joins Certn as the company has set its sights on profitable growth following two rounds of previously unreported layoffs in 2023 that saw the company shed 12 percent of its workforce amid challenging market conditions

Going forward, Miller Wright said Certn’s strategy involves fewer acquisitions and more organic, product-led growth. The latter includes integrating the companies Certn has previously purchased into a single platform and expanding into other areas of digital trust—which Miller Wright’s addition frees up Certn co-founder and CEO Andrew McLeod to dedicate more of his efforts towards.

Founded in 2016 by McLeod, C3O Evan Dalton, and C3O Owen Madrick, Certn has developed a software platform to facilitate the pre-employment background screening process, enabling businesses to hire more quickly while also managing risk. The company has amassed a list of customers that includes Tesla, Interac, Bell, Deloitte, WestJet, and Saks Fifth Avenue, catering to a list of industries ranging from property management to healthcare, manufacturing, the gig economy, and financial services.

RELATED: Certn acquires European ID verification company Trustmatic

McLeod called hiring Miller Wright “a strategic leap forward” for the BC tech firm. McLeod told BetaKit that Miller Wright’s “experience, insight, and leadership qualities are exactly what Certn needs as we navigate through our next phase of growth.”

“By that, I don’t just mean revenue growth but the growth from what I like to call the ‘adolescent phase’ into a profitable tech powerhouse,” he said.

McLeod met Miller Wright shortly after she joined Inovia and said he pitched her on joining Certn within the hour. While Certn was not looking for a president at the time, the match was strong enough that the two parties crafted a role to suit Miller Wright’s capabilities and the company’s needs.

Now, Miller Wright is accountable for Certn’s strategic direction, execution, and global operations. She will continue to be based in Waterloo, situating her partway between Certn’s West Coast employees and European workforces.

With [Miller Wright] focusing on our operational excellence, it allows me, as CEO, to double down on strategic growth, partnerships, and the broader vision that will propel us into the future,” said McLeod, who feels happy with the executive team Certn now has in place.

Last April, Certn added another $40 million CAD to its $65-million Series B round at a valuation of more than $600 million. In November, the company made its third strategic acquisition in two years, purchasing Slovakia’s Trustmatic

RELATED: Certn targets global expansion of background check tech with $40-million CAD Series B extension from EDC

During this time, McLeod noted that Certn also made “proactive” adjustments geared towards improving its efficiency and hastening its path to profitability. “Reflecting on our journey since last April, it’s undeniable that the macroeconomic landscape has been tough,” he told BetaKit. “We’ve seen a global hiring slowdown of 31 percent casting long shadows over many industries, including ours.”

“Eight months ago, facing unprecedented market challenges, we made the tough but necessary decision to streamline our workforce,” said McLeod. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough so we ended up with two rounds of layoffs.” 

These staff cuts took place during the second and fourth quarters of 2023 and collectively impacted about 50 Certn employees or 12 percent of the background-screening tech company’s workforce.

“This decision was guided by a strategic focus on ensuring Certn’s resilience and our ability to continue innovating and leading in our space and creating a path to profitability, one which we’re well on track to achieve,” said McLeod.

RELATED: Toronto software firms Top Hat, Loopio, Wattpad make layoffs

Today, Certn has 420 employees. Despite these headwinds, McLeod claimed that Certn has “continued to demonstrate resilience and growth.” While Certn’s growth decelerated in 2023, the company was still one of Canada’s fastest-growing firms, according to Deloitte’s latest Technology Fast 50 list.

“My thread through all of my roles has always been about leading transformation from within,” said Miller Wright, who noted that Certn is calling 2024 its “transformation year.”  

While Certn remains open to the right merger and acquisition (M&A) opportunities, she said that M&A will be less of a priority going forward, noting that Certn plans to leverage the footprint it has already built through Trustmatic, UK-based Credence, and Australia’s InterCheck, target organic growth, and layer on some new trust-based products and services in the credential management and identity verification spaces.

“Our ambition is clear: power inclusive opportunity, and greater futures, everywhere by making trust frictionless and accessible.”

Andrew McLeod, Certn

Much of the company’s recent work on the product side has involved “taking the three versions of companies that have been acquired and putting them onto a single global platform with a single global brand … and being able to go to market with a really strong global presence,” said Miller Wright.

During the first half of this year, Certn also plans to roll out a consumer-managed wallet that will contain individuals’ verified credentials.

To start, Certn is launching the mobile application in the tenant screening space, where the business has lots of existing customers, before making it available to more industries and users.

The ultimate goal, McLeod said, is to give people access to their passports, driver’s licences, degrees, credit histories, and more all in one place to make it easier for them to securely share them with companies to access new apartments, mortgages, jobs, and other opportunities. 

“Our ambition is clear: power inclusive opportunity, and greater futures, everywhere by making trust frictionless and accessible,” he said.

Miller Wright sees “a massive amount of growth opportunity” for Certn beyond just current use cases. “We feel pretty fuelled for growth at this point, and we’re really looking at how we how we build on that and get to a place of sustainability and self-sufficiency,” she added.

Feature image courtesy Certn.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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