How OneComply and GeoComply became one

We chatted with OneComply co-founder Cameron Conn about growing up in gaming, starting his own company, and the business’s recent acquisition.

OneComply co-founder Cameron Conn. Photo: supplied.

Cameron Conn and his fellow OneComply co-founder Aaron Gould weren’t settled on the company’s original name. Conn told me that he received a message from Gould that set off his spidey senses, one with “hey, we need to talk” energy. Conn was presented with letterhead over coffee the next day that showcased different names for the company. The winner? OneComply. One catch: there was already GeoComply.

So, Cameron Conn decided to chat with David Briggs, the co-founder of the already-established Vancouver business.

“We have to call David,” Conn remembered thinking. “We have to ask permission to do this. If we don't, he would never let us live it down. Even if we succeed, he's never going to let us live it down. So, I'd rather it be a success and he [says], ‘Well, I let them pick the name.’” Conn and Briggs did link up, and came to an agreement. That cemented the OneComply moniker, an obvious nod to the company Briggs co-founded with his wife, Anna Sainsbury. While Conn joked that his company, because of the name, was a mere M&A play, the firm is in fact a provider that assists businesses in managing their personal and corporate licensing obligations when operating in regulated markets. Think gaming or finance. Its success was locked in on May 8, whenGeoComply acquired OneComply. I spoke to Conn on that busiest of days, a 24-hour-period that he described as drinking from a firehose. He had to pause our conversation to silence his Slack notifications at one point.

But, when it resumed, Conn described the uniqueness of OneComply. “No one's ever done what we've done before,” he told me. “We say it's not leading the horse to water, it's leading a horse to water and then dropping their face in it. Because this has never happened; this has never existed: this type of technology and the theory behind what we can do with this tech.”

For Conn, it’s the 2020s take on the family business. He was raised in the gaming industry, and used the word “love” to describe it. His grandfather bought the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in the late 1970s, then became something of Las Vegas legend. Conn’s mother is a titan in our own right: an American Gaming Association hall of famer. Conn got his start in development and was behind the building of various casino properties, including the early work on local fixture, Parq. But, a 2011 city council rejection of gaming expansion left Conn without work. He was the head of development at a time when casinos weren’t being built. So, on his 30th birthday, he became a dealer. That first day saw his mother, the CEO, and the president all staring at him at 7:00 a.m. looking “petrified.” After putting over a decade in the family business, Conn quit. He didn’t necessarily know what he was going to do next, and it wouldn’t be at a blackjack table. What he did know, however, was he still wanted to support the sector he loved.

“I want to protect this industry,” he affirmed. “I thought that there were holes. When you scale, those holes become really big. I wanted to be able to create technology that was going to allow [the industry] to scale with integrity and scale ethically. I believe that we used to look at licensing as a barrier or as a hurdle. But, it's the base layer of governance. There are so many companies that just hit the ground running, forgetting about the luggage that they left at the airport that they need to bring with them. It's been a really tremendous ride. And luckily, no one thought we were crazy.”

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Anna Sainsbury. Photo: Scott Little Photography for VTJ.

Chief among that group of OneComply cheerleaders? GeoComply. [The company] was a very early supporter of us,” Conn recalled. “They were there for us. They helped us. When they saw a wound open, they would say, ‘Hey, this is how you have to fix it.’ Having that alignment of vision is crucial. You don't end up with a fork in the road when everyone's trying to go straight. They support our vision, and really have the same ideology of what we feel for the industry.”

“From our first interactions with OneComply, we have been excited about the opportunity to welcome them into the GeoComply family, and it gives me great pleasure to have completed that process,” Sainsbury said.

Next on the agenda is for the two companies to merge. “It's always integration,” Conn said. “You can talk about numbers and spreadsheets and all these kinds of things. But, it has to be, ‘How do we make these teams one?’ I use this example and it may be corny. But it’s like we are pieces of fabric that make a quilt. We are now one square in that quilt. But we still have to do some stitching.”

Conn continued by reinforcing that the onus is put on making the transition great for its employees. They should feel comfortable. They should feel secure. And being acquired by a larger company also has its perks. Conn wants his team to tap into all the resources that they’ve never had. The days of thinking, ‘Wouldn't it be great if we could do this?’ are over. Still, it’ll be a delicate balance.

“You don't want to break up the DNA that made us successful,” Conn pointed out. “That grit and determination. But you also don't want them to work in silos. The GeoComply team has done an unbelievable job of making us feel welcome. At the end of the day, though, it's my responsibility to provide that ROI.”

Another unique feature of the acquisition is that both are Vancouver-based companies. Conn said his hope is that his business and GeoComply continue to put Vancouver on the map. OneComply specifically finds itself in a space that is experiencing a current flush. Conn sees the local gaming industry as a burgeoning one. He thinks it stems from the glory days of the poker scene in the 1990s and the 2000s.

Conn namechecked two local companies, Strive Gaming and FansUnite, as leading the charge. While I had heard of those two outfits, I wasn’t as well-versed when it came to OneComply. I told Conn that I didn’t really know his company’s story. He said that was almost by design. To Conn, it felt like his company existed in a niche of a niche of a niche, although the industry is massive.

“I always find it interesting, as a tech entrepreneur, to decide where to play the game,” he said. “Where do you invest in being a part of the tech community? And I think because we were gaming, you couldn't always go tell that story. But sometimes I couldn’t ask for advice because [OneComply] was so specific.”

I can, however, confidently say I know the OneComply story now. It began in a Vancouver coffeeshop with names on napkins. The phone a friend lifeline was used. Circus Circus and Parq are some of the story’s settings. A twist occurred at the blackjack table leading to a new path and a new company. Those friends even became business partners. It’s certainly one hell of a story. And it’s one that seems to be in its opening chapters.

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