Billion-Dollar Babies: Ross Video’s Canadian vision
December 14, 2022
In mid-June, the Communitech accelerator in Kitchener, Ontario unveiled its “Team True North” initiative, to identify, promote and support Canada’s top-performing/highest-potential tech companies.
Communitech identified an initial cohort of 35 Canadian firms that it expects, based on objective data, to have the highest probability of reaching $1 billion in annual revenue by 2030.
Research Money subsequently launched a new series, which we’ve called “Billion-Dollar Babies,” to profile some of these top performers, featuring interviews by our writing team with the companies’ CEOs/founders.
In mid-October, Communitech added 26 more companies to its Team True North roster. This profile focuses on one of these recent entries, Ross-video, an eastern Ontario-based company that produces professional video production equipment used in television studios around the world.
- Founded: 1974
- Located: Iroquois, Ontario
- Employees: 1,350 worldwide
- Core business: high-end video products and services
- Backing: internally financed
Ross Video was founded by John Ross in the basement of his family’s Montreal home. He had just refurbished a wood and fabric WW2 training aircraft, which he sold for $3,500, which, along with $500 in personal savings, launched the company. By the late 1970s, the fledgling enterprise had established a foothold in the specialized market for video production switchers, which mix video live, just like an audio mixing console. Fast forward to today, and Ross now has 27 categories of products and services and has grown into a global leader in its industry.
Ross has a large manufacturing operation in the eastern Ontario town of Iroquois, Ontario, as well as a three-building campus in nearby Ottawa. In addition to two more Canadian offices in Kanata and Toronto, the company has R&D and sales operations in the US, UK, Germany, Austria, Australia, Singapore, and China.
Ross Video’s global customer base now includes most of the world’s television broadcasters, sports stadiums, educational institutions, government legislatures, mega-churches, and concert production firms. “You could say that we’re in the business of helping keep our famous customers famous,” says John’s son David, who is now CEO.
Research Money interviewed David Ross.
Why do you think Communitech chose your company to include in its list of Canada’s highest-potential tech companies?
Since 1991 Ross has managed a streak of 31 continuous years of growth. The average growth per year has been 17 percent, roughly doubling every 5 years. If you do that consistently for enough years, you start to reach some rather large revenue numbers. You can also develop a really good view towards future growth.
What does your company do that is unique and innovative?
Quite a few things actually, but the big picture is that Ross has the broadest and most diverse range of products, technology, and services in our industry, which can then be organized into well integrated, customer-focused solutions. You might say that no one does it as well as Ross, because there’s literally no company quite like Ross. Ross is also unique in that we don’t just offer products and services for video productions and experiences, but we also have a live video production company for customers that want us to just do it all for them.
Is your company mainly supported by VC investment or private investors or both?
Neither. Ross is 80 percent owned by the Ross family, and the rest is primarily employees. Ross is also essentially net debt free.
How close is your company to reaching $1 billion in revenue and when do you expect you will reach that milestone?
Ross revenue for our just-completed 2022 financial year was about $330 million. For 2024 we are targeting about $440 million. At our current pace, may hit the $1 billion milestone in about 7 years. Part of the Ross success since 2008 has been organic growth, as well as growth through the successful acquisition and integration of 19 companies. We’re planning an IPO in two or three years which may allow us to invest faster, and do bigger acquisitions that might lead to the $1 billion milestone even sooner.
What sort of support are you expecting from Communitech, since they now have you on their Team True North list?
Obviously the higher profile may really help the IPO process. Shorter term, facilitating ongoing connections with government and educational institutions, to attract top talent, is always appreciated.
Would you like your company to stay in Canada as it scales up? Do you expect that it will?
I’ll tell you a little-known fact. The hue of red of the Ross logo was intentionally chosen to match the colour of the Canadian flag. We’re very proud to be a major tech company in Canada. As we grow and continue to be more global, we will obviously become more community-focused everywhere we have offices, but our roots are Canadian and our intention is to keep our head office Canadian. For any cynical readers, we have a dual share structure with super-voting shares that I personally intend to preserve through the IPO, to ensure control stays Canadian and well grounded for years to come.
As CEO, do you regard innovation as a defining feature of your firm’s progress? How do you define innovation and what does it look like in practice?
We’re a tech company. Generally, if you’re not constantly innovative, you’ll fail, no matter what else you do to win. Given that we currently spend close to $100M per year in R&D, I certainly hope we’re innovative. That said, innovation by itself is not a path to success. I believe that providing a superior customer experience, investing in sales and marketing, caring about your employees, and building a solid company, are equally important parts of the success recipe.
The Canadian and Ontario governments frequently touts its desire to promote innovative firms. Have any programs based on that policy ever helped you? What more could they do to help you succeed?
You name it, we’ve used it: SR&ED, NSERC, IRAP, FedDev, EODF, BDC, EDC and more. I will be eternally grateful for all of the help that all levels of government have provided Ross over the past few decades — it would have been significantly harder going it alone. That support made the difference allowing us to be able to grow internally funded, instead of looking for private equity in those really tough times that do happen. If we’d have taken any private equity, it likely would have been US-based, and I expect that today we’d be looking at becoming US-owned instead of heading towards a major Canadian IPO.