Startups to Watch: Project struggles? Slenke plays the taskmaster

Slenke
Ben Donaldson (left), alongside Adam Batson (centre) and Hamza Warraich, the team behind Slenke. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

When you break it down, running a company is really about one thing: collaboration. Sure, there’s money, technology and incorporated legal entities, but what makes it all run is a bunch of people coming together to do one thing (eventually, many things) well.

The best companies in the world know how to focus up and get shit done, is what I’m saying. That’s why it’s so hard. If every team in the world could manage projects better, today’s top earners wouldn’t be nearly as impressive.

It’s a pain Hamza Warraich knows well. He started his first company, Boast Technologies, in 2012, when he was just 18 years old. Back then, the Ottawa-based startup was your standard software development firm, mocking up websites or applications for various clients.

As the company grew, the workload across multiple clients put a heavy strain on the team, Warraich tells Techopia.

“We were really frustrated by project management.”

You’re an intelligent reader, I can tell, so I won’t make you guess what happened next: Warraich and his team solved this problem for themselves, and in doing so, developed a solution that they soon realized could help companies like them.

“We had no plans to take it to market,” Warraich says. “Since then, we’ve made quite a bit of progress.”

Getting it done

Slenke, the name chosen both for the project management software and the company itself after rebranding in 2016, now has customers on nearly every continent in the world.

The startup has just three employees at the moment, but its CEO Warraich – who was named one of Ottawa’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs by the Globe and Mail in 2013 – says things have been picking up for the young team in recent months. Since September, Slenke has onboarded more than 100 users through its SaaS model.

According to a 2017 report from Transparency Market Research, the global project management market is expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 9.3 per cent over the next seven years, climbing to a value of US$6 billion by 2025.

It’s not that there aren’t incumbents in this space – the startup has a list of 14 alternatives right on its site, daring you to compare – but Slenke’s combination of services helps it stand out. Its software combines task management and time tracking with a communication platform like Slack or Yammer, which Warraich says is the kind of simplified solution Boast Technologies was after.

“We didn’t want to pay for three different software (packages) to pretty much do the same thing: project management,” he says.

The most important thing Slenke offers, though, is full end-to-end encryption of files sent and uploaded through the software. Warraich says firms are often hesitant to send files over messengers such as Slack without this extra layer of security.

“Encryption is becoming more and more a requirement for organizations bigger than a few people,” he says. “We were one of the first ones to actually do that.”

Warraich says the main way Slenke has gotten into so many countries around the world has been the ease of demonstrating the software. Users can sign up for the service with just an email address, which saves potential clients the hassle of booking a demo and doesn’t exhaust the direct sales resources that are, frankly, in short supply at Slenke.

As the firm’s solution spreads, its developers are not only refining the software, but learning from its users. Warraich says the next evolution of Slenke will draw on these patterns of productivity and help users integrate best practices based on the data it’s garnered.

Stronger together

When Warraich and co. decided in 2014 to develop the Slenke platform, they immediately stopped all of their other services to focus on their own software. For an entirely bootstrapped startup, that led to some dry days.

“When there’s no money coming in, you have to somehow use your willpower to get through the period,” Warraich says. The resolute entrepreneur says he would freelance some work on the side just to keep cash flowing in and keeping the lights on in the firm’s small office.

“We did whatever we had to do to keep the company alive.”

That’s not to say they did it alone. Warraich says the firm received support from Invest Ottawa in its infancy, and mentions Klipfolio founder Allan Wille and former Fusebill CEO Steve Adams as reliable mentors.

Like most startups, then, collaboration has been a reliable fount for Slenke. What makes the promising Ottawa firm different is that it’s not satisfied playing well with others – it’s seeing a market in helping others collaborate better, too.

Slenke

Product: Integrated project management software with end-to-end file encryption
Key players:CEO Hamza Warraich, Adam Batson, Ben Donaldson
Funding:Bootstrapped