Jason Kealey is Vice President of Strategy at FranConnect, the leading provider of franchise management solutions. Jason became VP in January 2021 following FranConnect’s acquisition of FranchiseBlast, a software company Jason founded in 2007 and grew to represent over 100 franchise brands and multi-location businesses. At FranConnect, Jason focuses on technology innovation, bringing his extensive knowledge of operations, above-store leadership, and business process modeling to drive solutions to real-world problems. Jason is a licensed software engineer and earned his master’s degree in computer science from the University of Ottawa. In 2021, Jason was named one of Ottawa Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 in technology. He is a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) and actively involved in the International Franchise Association, Canadian Franchise Association, and technology community.
FranConnect has established itself as the leading provider of franchise management solutions. What does that mean, exactly? How are the needs of franchise restaurants different from those of non-franchise chain restaurants when it comes to technology?
Franchise systems benefit from having technology that’s built specifically to manage their day-to-day operations and scale with the brand as it grows. There are nuances to franchising, and not all technology providers understand this unique business model. FranConnect is widely recognized for having technology that simplifies important aspects of operating and growing a franchise, including improving unit revenue and profitability, driving franchisee engagement, streamlining operational data, and awarding more units.
These needs are very different from non-franchise / corporate chains, which have full control over every aspect of their business. At the unit level of a franchise system, the franchisor — the industry term for the corporate office — only has control over certain aspects of the locally-owned and -operated businesses, such as the brand standards and products and services offered, with limited or no control over other areas, such as hiring and training. Franchisors need to work collaboratively with their franchisees (the local business owners) for success, and the right technology makes that possible.
What key benefits does the FranConnect platform deliver? How is the solution different from others that are available to restaurant franchisees? Does it integrate with third-party solutions?
FranConnect’s solutions are focused on helping franchisors operate and grow their business, whether they’re an emerging brand or a mature concept with tens of thousands of locations. We do this with a cloud-native SaaS platform that provides all departments — including sales, operations, finance, support, and marketing — a single, shared view of the franchise business. Our tools help them address their needs and challenges, resulting in improved franchise development, unit-level profitability, and streamlined royalty management, to name a few. FranConnect is a unified system of record. We have many integrations with other platforms to make this happen.
Can you provide some examples of how restaurants are using your solution in ways that have enabled them to increase revenues and profitability? Any success stories you can share?
Two great examples come to mind. First, Paris Baguette — an international, French-inspired bakery with more than 4,000 locations worldwide — used FranConnect’s powerful franchise sales system to beat its aggressive growth goals. The brand had an existing database of leads for prospective franchisees, of which over 6,000 were considered latent and had not been touched in over four years. After a review and cleanup of the database, last year Paris Baguette quickly launched an outreach and nurturing campaign via FranConnect targeted at the latent leads and exceeded its goal for closed deals well before the end of 2021.
Auntie Anne’s is another strong example. The brand has more than 1,700 locations across 48 states and more than 25 countries, and also has a variety of footprints, from malls and outlet centers to universities, airports, Walmarts, travel plazas, military bases, and food trucks. Auntie Anne’s needed a technology solution to equip its franchise business coaches with the tools to improve performance. We provided the tools to both improve brand consistency and improve franchisee performance. Thanks to sophisticated predictive analytics, FranConnect helped identify the most important operational standards which drive growth and increased customer satisfaction.
How has FranConnect’s platform capabilities helped restaurants navigate the pandemic? Have any new features or functionalities been added as a result of the current market environment?
When the pandemic hit, the heightened focus on safety made us realize very quickly the need for franchisors to communicate to every one of their stores as fast as possible, and frequently. At no point in their history have brands ever had to do that. The FranConnect platform allowed brands to share information about new cleaning protocols, social distancing signage, temperature checks before shifts, mask mandates, and more. But the platform also could help franchisors ensure stores were following the new operations guidelines. With travel restrictions, it was suddenly impossible for field teams to visit stores for their usual in-person check-ins. FranConnect allowed central teams to monitor compliance without being on-site.
Tell us a bit more about your career trajectory. I know you served as president of FranchiseBlast, also a franchise management software provider, prior to that company being acquired by FranConnect in January 2021.
I started my first company, a web design company, at 16 years old to pay for my studies in software engineering. I graduated at the top of my class from the University of Ottawa and went on to receive a master’s degree in computer science. Right out of university, I launched a franchise management system, FranchiseBlast, which over the next 14 years grew to be used by over 100 brands globally. In January 2021, FranConnect acquired FranchiseBlast and I joined the company as Vice President of Strategy.
How did the acquisition of FranchiseBlast come about? Was there a lot of overlap in software capabilities and have all the features now been integrated on a single platform?
Over the 14 years we spent growing FranchiseBlast, it emerged as a respected provider of franchise management solutions serving the specific needs of field operations teams. FranConnect recognized an enormous opportunity to enhance its enterprise operations and performance management solution with FranchiseBlast’s capabilities in field audits and self-assessments, as well as its reach into the unit level. FranConnect saw that together we could deliver an unmatched platform for brands seeking to drive operational success across the franchise system. When FranConnect approached us to discuss a potential acquisition, we were thrilled to join the largest, most established software company in franchising and the company that has set the pace for technology providers in the franchise technology marketplace. FranchiseBlast was very complementary to what FranConnect offers and I’m excited that the two platforms are close to being fully integrated.
Recent technology innovations at FranConnect reportedly include new dashboards and analytics, expanded AI tools to automate lead generation and boost sales effectiveness and improved unit onboarding tools. Which of these new capabilities do you view as being the most valuable and to what extent are they benefitting your customers?
In my opinion, the most exciting new functionality FranConnect offers is our operations solution, which helps brands define the characteristics of a successful store, develop an annual success plan for franchisees, measure performance through established KPIs and scorecards, and then take corrective action using automated playbooks based on best practices. To do this effectively, you need to solve for the complex problem of getting a lot of data in one place, visualizing it in a simple way, and equipping franchisors with tools to run the process while holding franchisees accountable to improve their performance. I also think our new store opening tool is equally valuable for brands. We’ve recently introduced significant improvements in onboarding tools to make the franchisor more efficient in opening new locations — and that process is repeatable and scalable, which is important in franchising.
Anything new and noteworthy in terms of platform capabilities, strategic partnerships, customer wins, etc., you would like to share that we haven’t already mentioned?
2021 was FranConnect’s most successful year in the company’s history, with our highest-ever bookings and rate of customer acquisitions. We added or expanded relationships with more than 100 franchise brands and multi-location businesses — spanning more than 60,000 franchise locations.
We also delivered on several new investments in technology, such as expanded use of artificial intelligence tools for lead generation and fully automated E-signature capability for franchise disclosure documents. Those innovations combined with strategic partnerships we launched — such as the integration of FranchiseBlast and establishing a Consulting Alliance Partnership Program with several industry-leading consultants — added up to exciting momentum that is powering our growth in 2022.
Do you think that most restaurant franchisees have done everything possible to weather the storm? Any thoughts or insights about where they should be focusing their resources and efforts going forward?
Yes, I believe that most restaurant franchises have done everything possible to survive this pandemic. And we see that in the accelerated adoption of technology and getting creative with additional revenue streams. Going forward, especially with the continued labor crisis, restaurant operators need to be focused on empowering their teams and retaining talent. If the last nearly two years has shown us anything it’s that we really don’t know what’s next, so it’s prudent to prioritize operations.
What, in your view, are the biggest obstacles franchise restaurant operators are likely to face over the next few years as they look to rebuild their businesses? How can technology help address those challenges?
Consumer behavior and expectations are changing at a faster pace than ever before and restaurant operators need to be aware and react quickly. Technology can automate processes that otherwise can turn into a kink in the chain. We’ve seen restaurant brands using technology at every point in a store’s lifecycle, from hiring and training employees to getting the doors open, managing inventory and utility costs, driving profitability, and increasing revenue. If you have a technology partner that’s just that — a partner — it makes the obstacles much more manageable.