In terms of global success, the lesson learned for Calgary’s Blackline Safety is that the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line.
Founded in 2004, Blackline GPS originally focused on wireless location technology for automotive security. However, the company changed gears in 2007 after identifying a growing opportunity to apply its technology in another industry – safety monitoring.
“Over time, as our portfolio grew and we measured where we were finding success, we evolved into a safety-focused business, abandoning the automotive and covert tracking sectors,” says Blackline’s Chief Technology Officer, Brendon Cook, who has been with the company since it opened its doors.
Seven years later, Blackline Safety is developing and manufacturing world-leading lone worker safety monitoring solutions, utilizing technology that blends communications, location technology plus automatic incident detection features with manual safety triggers.
“Our goal is to provide an employer the ability deliver help in the fastest possible period of time,” Cook adds. “With real-time knowledge, no longer should an employer deliver help in hours – it should be a matter of minutes to achieve the best possible outcome for the employee.”
In the global environment, exports account for approximately 30 per cent of revenues, with the U.S. and U.K. being the largest markets. Blackline’s diversification efforts have resulted in securing clients in various sectors, including Heineken Ireland brewery and American e-commerce giant, Amazon. Currently, the company has a footprint in 40 countries.
“We are a global player and we’re very focused globally,” explains Cook. “As time goes forward, our exports will shift to the majority of our revenue coming from the U.S. and Europe, the largest two markets. We see the Middle East as another region of significance plus Australia, New Zealand and the Far East.”
Unlike the European market, one of the biggest challenges in making progress in the U.S. market is the lack of understanding about the term ‘lone worker’, which is any individual working without close supervision and with no visual or audible contact with another worker who can provide or call for assistance. In 2015, the UK reported 0.46 deaths per 100,000 workers. The U.S. rate was 3.4 per 100,000 while Canada recorded 6.8 per 100,000 workers.
Blackline was committed to capitalizing on the ‘American advantage’ – a huge and close market to Canada that offered lots of potential opportunity.
Yet Cook says when company reps would explore the subject of risks to lone workers to their prospective U.S. clients, “Sometimes their eyes would glaze over. They would say ‘Lone Ranger?’ What’s that?”
“We had to address that.”
EDC resources to help you export
Blackline launched an educational campaign south of the 49th parallel that included revamping and creating new marketing materials that explained lone worker in greater detail.
“This was our three-second elevator pitch,” Cook adds. “We just wanted to get their attention so we could explain in a way they would understand.”
Overall, Blackline’s export journey can be described as both strategic and systematic.
“Based on our leadership team’s experience, Blackline has not jumped into situations where we were out of our depth. We’ve progressed methodically, using our experience and judgment to make decisions,” says Cook. “Relationships are very important and finding the right people to expand our team is crucial, to build the confidence and trust that decisions will be made to the benefit of the business.”
Blackline will build on this approach by relying on on-the-ground expertise to continue expanding the company’s global footprint.
“Overall, many of our international channel partners are enthusiastic about moving forward. Other partners will require a bit more work to help them progress with promoting our solutions with success,” Cook says. “We will continue to expand, like we did in the U.K., where we made the decision not to open an office right away.
“We worked with a known leader who helped to conduct some business development in the region for approximately a year. This enabled our company to test the marketplace and monitor customer acceptance before becoming further invested.”
In Blackline’s case, challenge has accompanied global success, but the key is to mitigate risks, be prepared for the unexpected and roll with the proverbial punches as they come, Cook says.