Year in Review: Vancouver Entrepreneurs

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After three years and over 70 Vancouver entrepreneur interviews, you start seeing patterns of how quickly entrepreneurship in Vancouver is evolving. 2014 was an exciting one filled with diversity as I interviewed local startups working in areas to further innovate travel, fashion, sharing, connection to sports and even access to medical Cannabis.

Here is a recap of who was featured and where some of Vancouver’s best entrepreneurs have grown their startup throughout the year.

Slipnote (formerly Ku)

Slipnote

Update from the Founders:

Over the last few years, content over the web has become more and more visual, while text messaging remains pretty boring. Current mobile messaging apps (WhatsApp, kik, Telegram, etc.) are text oriented and great for practical communication such as, “meet me at 8,” etc. THE PROBLEM!? People often think in a visual way, yet there is no messaging app that lets people communicate on that level and share the funny/quirky ideas that they have with friends. Slipnote translates every thought into a visual message in seconds and serves as a platform for visual messaging.

Slipnote for iOS is a pivot from KU (originally Heyku). Taking the lessons that they learned after one year and 100,000 users on their creative social networking app, KU, they pivoted into the messaging realm with Slipnote-graphic messaging.

Sniply (formerly Covr)

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Sniply is a simple marketing tool that allows you to attach your own call-to-action onto any piece of content you share. With over 27 million pieces of content shared each day, Sniply has become the cornerstone of some of the most innovative marketing strategies in 2014. Experts say that over 50% of what you share online should be other people’s content, yet prior to Sniply there was no way to drive conversion through curated content. With Sniply, users can share any piece of content, include a call-to-action, and drive conversion through curation.

Update from the Founders:

Back when we chatted with Vancity Buzz earlier this year, our team was working on the music platform, Covr. After struggling to build a revenue model despite having a rising count of 250,000 monthly unique visitors, we decided to explore new ideas after the first quarter of 2014. By April, we came up with the concept for Sniply and launched our first minimum viable product, which was quickly voted up to the front pages on Hacker News, Product Hunt, and various Sub-Reddits. As the first-ever marketing platform allowing users to attach call-to-actions on curated content, Sniply quickly generated buzz in the realm of online marketing.

Throughout the year, Sniply was featured on several key publications by marketing influencers including Michael Stelzner and Neil Patel. Sniply’s current enterprise users include Salesforce, Blackblerry, HubSpot, Outbrain, Accenture, Deloitte, Unbounce, Experian, Remax, and many more.

We were actually inspired to build Sniply from our experience with Covr, where original artists were leveraging “other people’s music” to promote their own music, thus inspiring Sniply, which allows users to leverage “other people’s content” to drive conversions. It’s truly fascinating how a shift in thinking and a brave step forward changed the trajectory of our team so much with a small witty pivot.

Picatic

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Planning an event can be stressful. Whether it be dealing with promotion strategies, cancellations, or taking the hit on the transaction fee, lots of potentially great events go under. Picatic, a new recruit to the Vancouver startup community, is changing the online event ticketing landscape by helping you better plan and manage your events. Their main unique approach is a pay-what-you-want model which gives you the power to control the fee you pay for them hosting your event.

Mobio

Mobio

Mobio is a social media platform that connects celebrity influencers and brands directly with their fans. It differentiates from Twitter by allowing influencers to create the kind of high-quality content their followers are asking for and share in the revenue it generates. Just two months since its official launch, Mobio has attracted more than 30 celebrity influencers and boasts 2.5 million unique visitors and counting.

Early Entrepreneurs

Early Entrepreneurs

Kim Cope started Early Entrepreneurs to educate elementary school students on the principles of entrepreneurship, financial literacy and global awareness. They provide classes with $100 of seed funding to create, launch, and operate their own business. Early Entrepreneurs encourages students to set a goal of $500 and donate their profits to our partner charity, Free The Children, to build schools in developing countries

BOOMiGram

BoomiGram

UP Studios creates world-class family entertainment for fans in over 90 countries, and is the first studio to ever present a tour across Apple stores in China. Their characters include BOOMi and Piggy in Love, and their products include cartoons, toys and apps like BOOMiGram.

Update from the Founder:

Since we last spoke, I have signed with North America’s most renowned children’s literary agency, UP Studios has been featured at the World Animation Summit alongside Disney and Dreamworks, and next week BOOMi will have his own massive exhibition at a shopping center with over 100 sculptures and displays designed by our company.

Keycafe

Keycafe

Keycafe solves the problem of letting someone into your home while you are not there. The idea came from a personal pain point of the co-founders using Airbnb to rent out their homes on a regular basis but having many hours of lost time in trying to get the keys handed over to guests. They knew there had to be a better way.

Anthony Taylor’s SME Strategy

Anthony Headshots

Anthony Taylor is the CEO and principle Consultant at SME Strategy. They work with management teams, boards, and CEO’s to facilitate their annual strategic planning sessions. They also help their clients year round by advising them on their operations, project management and overall business strategy.

Update from the Founder:

Before the year has even begun, 2015 is proving to be very exciting for SME Strategy. We have been selected for the second year in a row to be working with Brussels invest and export and the Belgian Trade commissioner here in Vancouver; helping Canadian companies that want to expand into Europe.

We are also working with the Canadian Holistic Nurses Association on their 2015 strategic planning, as well as putting partnering with CGA BC to present a webinar in February titled: Strategy and decision-making: more than crunching numbers.

Since last year we’ve had over 100% growth, and hope to replicate the same success in 2015. I (Anthony) was selected as one of 3 BC representatives (out of 20 Canadians) to represent BC at the Small business of the North Americas conference in Texas, a congress designed to create trade linkages between Canada, the US and Mexico.

R-TOWN

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RTOWN provides integrated digital marketing tools to help local businesses succeed. Their products (everything from providing a rock star online presence to a mobile app that helps improve customer loyalty) work a la cart or in a bundle to help local businesses get customers, listen to them and keep them. They pride themselves on offering innovative “big business” tools at an affordable, local business budget. 

Update from the Founder:

In 2014 we entered 5 new markets in BC (Kamloops, Nanaimo, Whistler, Vancouver & the Fraser Valley are all RTOWN!!). We launched 4 new digital marketing tools for local businesses including the RTOWN Loyalty App and three Web Design packages. We’re now serving over 200 customers on our path to accomplish our audacious mission, mentioned above. And finally, in celebration of our 1 year anniversary on July 1st 2014, we codified our Core Values at our company retreat. 

I am humbled by the rapid growth of our customer base and the accomplishments made by my incredibly talented, driven team. 

What’s to come from RTOWN? In 2015 we’re entering 5 new markets, launching 3 new products for SMB’s, and doubling the size of our team by April (apply here!)

Rosterbot

Edmonton Oilers v Carolina Hurricanes: Game 7

RosterBot is the internet’s leading automated Team Management service and social tool, with apps for Android, iOS, and on the web at http://rosterbot.com. It is co-founded my Ian Bell and NHL Stanley Cup winner, Bret Hedican.

Update from the Founders:

  • Raised >$1.2M from Paul Reinhart-led venture fund, as well as Brent Holliday and David Tedman (Hootsuite)
  • Dragons’ Den Episode

BitLit

BitLit-Team

BitLit is a free app (iOS / Android) that lets you get the ebook editions of your paper library for free (or at a HUGE discount). To find our which of your dusty paperbacks are eligible for digital upgrades, just use the app to take a “Shelfie”. The apps gives you a complete inventory of your library and a bunch of free ebooks.

Update from the Founders:

2014 was a big year for BitLit. We launched our app in January and have seen 40% month on month growth ever since the launch. We were accepted into GrowLab’s (now Highligh.vc) spring cohort and spent 3 months in Vancouver and San Francisco raising our seed round. We signed deals with over 200 publishers including HarperCollins, O’Reilly, and Elsevier, offering over 80,000 titles as bundled ebooks. And, BitLit amde an appearance on the season premier of Dragon’s Den to launch the “Shelfie” feature of our app.

EcoAction Recycling

Nick-Amado

EcoAction Recycling provides a simple solution to office food waste by providing stylish bins that are placed in your office kitchen where staff are encouraged to dispose of compostable items. Their team will then come into your office, pick up your waste and have it recycled back into soil. EcoAction makes recycling organic waste effortless while allowing you and your employees to continue focusing on day-to-day operations.

Update from the Founder:

EcoAction measures its success in tons, and not in dollars. 2014 has been a great year for this sustainable thinking business as they have helped businesses divert literally tons and tons of compostable waste from the landfill. With the upcoming ban on food waste from the landfill starting January 1st, EcoAction looks forward to helping businesses across Metro Vancouver reduce waste with a solution for their office. Make the right choice for your office and a responsible choice for the future. Let EcoAction Recycling effectively assist you with an in-office food waste recycling solution.

Hidden Garden Foods

SONY DSC

Hidden Garden Foods is a local food manufacturer that makes gluten free cookies packed full of hidden vegetables.

Update from the Founder:

Since we profiled them this past summer, they completed a successful launch in Eastern Canada and secured cross-Canada distribution with two of the largest natural foods distributors in the country. We are now setting their sights on the US market and will be launching south of the border in March. With an expanded product line in the works and continuing growth in their production capacity, 2015 promises to be an exciting year for Hidden Garden.

KurateStyle

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KurateStyle is an online personal styling platform for men and women. It is a destination where people find their personal style and create a look they love.

KurateStyle began from a desire to help people feel empowered and be the best version of themselves, and out of my love of fashion and tech.

Tantalus Labs

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Tantalus Labs is a Canadian Medical Cannabis producer, developing the first legal, purpose-built facility of its kind in North America – ushering in a new generation of Cannabis tailored Greenhouse technology. Tantalus Labs aspires to a simple, elegant user experience through which patients can purchase a variety of product strains online and have world-class Cannabis delivered to their doorstep. They believe that natural, Sungrown cultivation methods will enable Cannabis to rise out of the shadows and into the light.

Update from the Founder:

2014 laid the foundations for Tantalus Labs’ public launch in 2015. With conditional permits and licenses in hand, we are excited to finish the construction of our unprecedented production facility. We believe that Cannabis is currently undergoing what will be the single greatest societal shift of the decade. We are more excited than ever to push Cannabis cultivation into the place of craftsmanship and transparency that we think it deserves.

Thuggies

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Thuggies make the comfiest clothing you will ever wear. From adult onesies to the signature extra long hoodie known as the Thuggie. They’re out to change the way you camp, apres ski, sit on a boat, change at the beach, or lay on the couch. The quality is next to none and once you put their products on you will never take them off.

Update from the Founders:

In 2014 Thuggies doubled in growth and continued to push into markets around the world from Norway, UK, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, and more. In fact, they shipped products to over 37 different countries in 2014. Their direct to consumer approach, amazing customer service (emails typically answered within an hour), and key retail accounts in strategic markets has allowed them to out compete other local and international brands with ease.

Through the year Thuggies launched some epic new products to continue to fill their fans’ closets. The launch of their Towel Thuggie was welcomed with a huge success providing beach goers, swimmers, bath lovers and water rats with a 100% hooded cotton towel that keeps you warm and dry while providing the ability to change in public. You know what that means….No more showing your junk in public!

Shnarped

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Shnarped is a new social platform that connects athletes and fans in a positive, youth-friendly community. Two of Shnarped’s cofounders – Dustin Sproat and Kyle Hagel – played professional hockey and previously created a charity called Hockey Players for Kids to help players engage with young fans in their community. Shnarped arose as a way to scale the face-to-face interactions using new technologies.

Hockey Community

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Hockey Community, a local startup committed to making hockey more accessible through technology. You can download their free app on iOS and Android.

HC’s slogan is “Your hockey life all in one place” – they want to help you play more hockey by making it easy for you to meet with other hockey players online and offline. Last year they integrated rink schedules and this year we are working with leagues.

VIVO Masks

vivomasks

VIVO Masks is a online retailer of high-end masquerade masks. They import their masks directly from Italy and use a US based fulfillment center to help them ship orders to people attending special events all over the world. In the last year they have sold to household name celebrities including musicians, athletes, and adult film stars. They’ve also supported dozens of organizations’ events (including the American Cancer Society & American Institute of Graphic Arts) through donations and profit sharing.

Update from the Founders:

2014 was really exciting for us. It was our first full year in business and it’s been great to see steady, year round sales. 

We spent the beginning of the year streamlining our operations. Our goal was to automate the daily tasks so that we could focus 100% of our energy on growing the business. We switched to a new fulfillment center who was capable of integrating with each of our sales channels and we systematically outsourced the repetitive marketing tasks. The second half of the year we focused on optimizing our business/accounting systems and becoming incorporated near the end of the year.

Because of VIVO Masks’ success, we are launching a new company in early January focusing on another niche in the fashion accessory business. Stay tuned for details!

Beach Travellers

Beach Travellers

Do you need to escape the winter chill? Are you needing some serious sun? Look no further: TJ Hermiston and Graeme Barker will hook you up with an amazing vacay through Beach Travellers, their award-winning adventure travel company. Beach Travellers offers off-the-beaten-path trips to Costa Rica, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos. The trips last anywhere between 13 to 40 days, where travellers can truly immerse in the local culture and life-changing experiences. 

The company continues their philanthropic work by supporting orphanages and an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. One of their most recent accomplishments includes building a well in a Cambodian village, a project led by Alix Mehslen, a guide for Beach Traveller’s Thailand-Laos-Cambodia trip package. 

Guusto

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Guusto is a mobile gifting app (iPhone & Android) that allows people to instantly send food and drinks from their phone. They are taking the idea of picking up the tab at lunch for a client or buying a friend a drink and allowing you to do it when you can’t be there in person. And to really make someone’s day, they donate one day of clean drinking water for every gift sent.

Grouplend

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Grouplend is on a mission to help hard working, responsible Canadians save money and improve their lives. They offer personal loans that are more affordable and convenient than what is offered by banks, credit cards and other lenders. They provide a fundamentally different way to pay for life’s expenses, driven by technology and data networks, rather than antiquated paper-based systems. The days of business hours and waiting in line are dead. 

Update from the Founder:

Since launching earlier in 2014, Grouplend has been growing exponentially. Having recently expanded nationally, we are excited to be helping more and more Canadians pay off expensive bank and credit card debt, finance life’s expenses in a smart way and generally work toward financial freedom. We’re excited to be launching some new features in early 2015 to reach an even broader audience in an effort to reinvent banking as we know it. 2014 was a great year, but there’s so much to get done in 2015 and ownard!

Indochino

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Indochino is the leader in custom online menswear. They provide the modern gentleman with high quality menswear that fits your body perfectly. Their quick 10 minute measurement process can be done from the comfort of your own home; no tailor required. All of their products are hand tailored and delivered to any part of the world within four weeks. Indochino makes it easy and affordable for customers to get custom tailored menswear for a look that is professional, fashionable and truly sophisticated.

Tangoo

Dragons' Den Valuation Screenshot

Tangoo solves the pain and indecision of wasted time while searching for and organizing a social outing that must match everyones mood – in the moment. Picture Mike, getting off work at 4 p.m. and looking for a spontaneous plan for Happy Hour drinks, to watch the game with six single friends. What restaurant/bar in the area best matches this mood and how can he efficiently plan this with his friends before people settle on “the usual”?

Tangoo takes people’s moods and social context to deliver smart social outing recommendations of restaurants and venues tailored to what people feel like.

Update from the Founders on best moments of 2014

  • Airing to 1M+ Canadian’s on CBC’s Dragons’ Den on November 26, 2014
  • Raising capital in Vancouver and attracting Dragon and celebrity chef Vikram Vij, as both an advisor and now investor with Tangoo (all done off the show)
  • Launching Tangoo’s new app on my birthday in the late summer and growing to 7 cities across Canada
  • Doubling our team size and landing our first office in Mount Pleasant!

vij+tangoo

Last year around this time Tangoo opened up early access for Tangoo as we pivoted the model. To sit here a year later (still alive and well) is gratifying, and to see our progress in a short year is humbling. I credit a large part of our progress to the Vancouver community and the participants of the Vancouver Entrepreneurs Series from over the last three years, as well as the invaluable advise and relationships I have developed with them.

You can download the free iOS app here and follow our journey into 2015.

 

Final thoughts for Vancouver Entrepreneurs

Constructing this year’s recap was a little more special than other years, as I gained even more perspective on Vancouver’s entrepreneurship culture in parallel to reaching new heights in my own startup, Tangoo.

What I believe makes Vancouver entrepreneurs unique to any other city is the diversity in problems we tackle and the unique solutions we combat them with. The reason for this is the values our city stays true to, and the rich diversity in people’s backgrounds. I, like many others, immigrated to Vancouver from Mexico. To bring with you a distinct culture which is accepted with open arms here in Vancouver and supplemented with the beautiful quality of life and cutting edge spirit of entrepreneurship, is the perfect alchemy to build your golden dreams upon.

As more great companies solidify their home bases in Vancouver, talent from all over the world starts to flock here for job opportunities and inspiration to build their own companies. And who said Vancouver wasn’t social or good for dating? We have the world leaders in social media and online dating as HootSuite and Plenty of Fish (refer to founder Markus Frind in the main image of this article) continue to grow their mini empires and pave the path for Vancouver entrepreneurs.

If there is a main thesis of advise I have gathered from Vancouver’s top entrepreneurs it revolves around these main points:

  • Start today, fail forward, learn, and keep at it. Overnight successes take years.
  • Build a support network of mentors, advisors, other entrepreneurs who can guide you.
  • Make sure your team is passionate, diverse, and willing to be in it for the long haul.
  • Read a lot. Exercise and keep a stable mental mind. Don’t lose sight of life’s pleasures.
  • All your assumptions are wrong until your customers say so. Build your product around validated learning.

The hope of Vancouver’s entrepreneurs and myself is to inspire action in you to be a contributor in the the world of entrepreneurship. If you want to join this crazy world, start now. If you know someone in it, understand and respect their situation. Have pride in the amazing things people are building around you by using it, giving feedback, and spreading the good word. Help us help you.

 

Vancouver Entrepreneurs is a series on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs and startups that are making a local and even a global impact. As Paul will be committing more time into Tangoo and beyond for 2015, if you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send an email to tips(at)vancitybuzz(dot)com to explain why you’re an ideal candidate – good luck.

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About the author

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Paul Davidescu Founder of Tangoo, the pocket concierge app that delivers the most personal and seamless way to organize the perfect social outing at restaurants and social venues matched to your mood: (www.tangoo.ca/app). Former editor of Vancouver Entrepreneurs series, UBC Sauder alumni, public speaker, startup mentor.
@pauldavidescu

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