POWERED BY YORK REGION TECH SERIES
As part of York Link’s ‘Powered by York Region Tech‘ Series, we are taking you around to different technology companies in the Region to highlight what they’re working on, the impact they have, and what they look for when it comes to tech talent.
In this episode, the York Link team went to visit pricing analytics software company, Cornerstone Capabilities, located near the Highway 7 / Highway 27 intersection in Vaughan. The company is focused on helping packaged goods company across Canada and internationally improve their pricing strategies and they have recently introduced artificial intelligence into the platform to increase efficiency and generate easily executable outcomes that provide value to the customer. We took some time to explore their office and speak with CEO & Founder, David Zur, about how AI has changed their software, what was a game-changer for the growth of the company, and why he see York Region as a fit for their business.
Nathan Allen (NA): I’m Nathan Allen with York Link, part of York Region’s Economic Strategy team. I’m here with David Zur, Founder of Cornerstone Capabilities. The company is in software tech related to pricing analytics. For someone who comes across your business and isn’t familiar with what that is explain what the technology is and how it helps.
David Zur (DZ): Cornerstone Capabilities is a pricing analytics and software company. We tend to work with large consumer packaged goods companies that are seeking to make smarter pricing decisions that lead to more profitable growth.
NA: Nice. Now I know you have a quite a varied history. You came from PepsiCo before this? What lead you into developing this pricing analytics company?
DZ: It’s a great question, back twenty years ago companies tended to do more one-time pricing studies and they were very limited. They would look at one product at a time in one region and those studies tended to be very expensive. By the time companies got around to executing the recommendations from those studies, six months had passed and everything within the industry had tended to change. We wanted to build capabilities in the language of the packaged goods industry – not really as much a market research tool – and we wanted it to be more of a core competency within an organization as opposed to a one-time event.
Also, the years of experience in the packaged goods industry that experience and expertise is now embedded in our software. It makes for very intuitive, user-friendly tools for our clients.
NA: Now beforehand, I had a chance to go around to meet and chat with some of your team. How many staff are you up to now?
DZ: We’re a team of fourteen and it’s a pretty diverse team functionally. We have Data Scientists on the team, Web Developers, and pricing strategy individuals that get out and work collaboratively with our clients. We’re not just a software company. We’re very much a combination of software and consulting.
NA: What’s a big draw for tech talent out there that might be looking for a role within your company? What sort of skills are going to set them apart and what’s an attractive feature that you offer to incentivize talent?
DZ: We’re really looking for great technical skills, computer skills, mathematical skills, and analytic skills. But as well, we’re also looking for people that can work really well as part of a team; in addition to being individual contributors. In terms of what we have to offer: we’re unique. We’re definitely looking for those technical skills. We’re located outside of Toronto – here in Vaughan, York Region – and we see that as a great selling feature to many of the candidates we’re looking for.
One of the big things we offer is the ability to work for a company where the individual’s working directly with the owners. We have 25 years of relevant experience and they’re going to be given a lot of responsibility from day one and really feel like they’re making an impact for a fairly young and dynamically growing company. We think we have a ton to offer and the icing on the cake is this great work space that you’ve seen here today and a fun environment.
NA: It very much is a beautiful work space, you’ll see some of that throughout the video. I met a new graduate, there’s some very senior people, you’ve got a broad range of skill levels working for you. Do you offer internships?
DZ: Yes we have had some interns, which have been great. We’ve also even put fairly recent graduates on-site at some of our clients. That’s a great opportunity not just to learn about Cornerstone and our capabilities, but to embed oneself directly within a big packaged goods company; in situations like that you get the best of both worlds.
NA: You’re on Highway 27, just north of Highway 7 in Vaughan. York Region is the second largest tech cluster in Canada next to the City of Toronto, was there any driving force behind setting up here in Vaughan?
DZ: Yeah, it’s a really vibrant area. Short of being in downtown Toronto there’s lots of great places to go eat, lots of growing businesses in the area so it feels like there’s an ecosystem developing here. Also selfishly, I live in Richmond Hill so it’s a nice easy commute for myself and one of the other founders also lives in Aurora. We see this area as growing and providing an alternative to being in the tech industry, but not necessarily being in the downtown core.
NA: Customer base wise, are you selling locally, nationally, globally? What’s the goal there?
DZ: Yes, yes, and yes. We have our closest customer that’s about a five minute walk from here, which is Saputo Dairy, just south of Highway 7. Many of our customers are here within the Toronto area, but we’re making a big push right now to expand our footprint in the US and Globally.
NA: I know you’re using lots of tech and I think you started recently introducing some artificial intelligence. What’s the end goal with integrating new technologies into the software platform?
DZ: There’s a lot of buzz about AI and right now in the last couple years everyone wants to get into the artificial intelligence game. For us bringing in Data Scientists into our organization has been game-changing for us. It’s the most game-changing thing we’ve done since we started the company.
AI really takes our capabilities from more of a guess and check approach – so a user saying I want to try this, I want to try that – and let’s see what the results are to putting in some simple constraints and let the machine churn through tens of thousands of scenarios and very prescriptively putting forth the optimal result. It’s time saving and drives a huge amount of creativity versus what the end-user might come up with.
We’ve also been told by many of our clients that are looking to apply AI to their business that we’re about a year ahead of anyone else in the space. It’s a tremendous development for us and as we’ve rolled it out over the last few months the recommendations that it’s producing are very executable because we’ve done a good job building those constraints into the new capability.
NA: Awesome, that sounds fantastic. We look forward to seeing your growth. For people who are interested in learning more about Cornerstone Capabilities where should we point them to?
NA: David, thank you very much for your time today and best of luck with the future.
DZ: Thank you, Nathan.