Change Agent

Change Agents 2016: Dax Dasilva, Lightspeed

Canadian Business: Change Agents 2016
Dax Dasilva
Dax Dasilva (Portrait by Neil Mota/Rodeo Production)

Dax Dasilva

CEO, Lightspeed

Follow: @daxdasilva
Follow: @LightspeedHQ

Why he matters: Making in-store shopping a better experience

Lightspeed’s first office was located below the Montreal apartment of founder Dax Dasilva. At the end of the workday, Dasilva would climb the staircase up to his flat to code into the wee hours of the morning. Much has changed in the decade since—the point-of-sale company is now headquartered in an old château, and employs 500 people. But the biggest shifts have come in the industry the company services. “We’ve seen retail go through four huge transformations in our history,” says Dasilva, “so Lightspeed has almost been four different companies.” Lightspeed makes point-of-sale technology to help independent retailers and restaurants do everything from processing transactions to managing inventory. The company’s client roster includes more than 38,000 businesses in 100 countries, and Dasilva credits that success to the functionality and simple interface of its platform, originally modelled on iTunes. It’s no surprise, then, that Lightspeed’s CEO has roots in both programming and design. Dasilva has been coding since he was a teenager, and developed an interest in the arts at a young age. (His father was a graphic designer.)

Dasilva worked as a programmer before starting Lightspeed in 2005. At the time, retailers were increasingly bringing computers into their stores—the first transformation of the four—and the startup targeted those who wanted to use Macs, for which there was little business software at the time. Lightspeed grew its customer base by staying on top of retail trends, constantly adding new features like mobile checkout functionality, and adapting its business model to the cloud, giving clients access to data and analytics while keeping overhead low. Between 2006 and 2011, revenue jumped 878%, earning the firm a spot on PROFIT magazine’s ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. To fund its rapid headcount and product expansion, Lightspeed has raised a total of $126 million in three funding rounds since 2012, from investors like the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec and Montreal’s iNovia Capital. Chris Arsenault, a partner at iNovia, recalls being impressed the first time he met Dasilva. “He wanted to give people walking into a store a better experience,” Arsenault says. “The bulk of purchases were still happening in the real world, and the in-store experience just sucked.” Dasilva has stuck to his goal of making transactions better for both customers and retailers—an important trait, Arsenault says, since a founder’s vision can often get diluted as the board and investors exert more control. “When an investor is telling the management team what to do or CEOs [how to] spend their time, usually those are red flags.”

While no longer coding into the night, Dasilva still keeps busy post-work. Last summer, he turned a building Lightspeed had just vacated into Never Apart, a non-profit cultural space that features the work of emerging artists. Many of the exhibits are about driving social change, such as one this fall called Non-Binary, which examines gender roles and promotes self-expression. Never Apart helps feed Dasilva’s creative side—this is a guy who swapped computer science for art history in university, after all. “It’s been reinvigorating,” he says, “and has given me a lot of energy for the next stages of Lightspeed.”

Currently, that means managing omnichannel, the fourth retail transformation Dasilva spoke of. Lightspeed’s software helps customers tie together the in-store, online and mobile shopping experiences. Dasilva says independent retailers’ lack of legacy systems actually gives them an advantage over large chains in this realm. “They can be ahead and really wow customers with a blended experience,” he says. The potential has investors like Arsenault excited, too: “This is going to be a billion-dollar company.”