After five seasons on the Carleton University men’s basketball team – four of them ending with national titles – Kyle Smendziuk is used to winning.
Mr. Smendziuk is hoping his latest venture, a mobile app launched Wednesday from Carleton’s Lead to Win program, will keep him in the winner’s circle.
Mr. Smendziuk is CEO of Props Social, which he co-founded along with COO Greg Dillon, CMO Mohamed Hirsi and CTO Brayden Girard.
Props gives the user a one-stop shop for following, saving or adding anyone on mutual social media networks. For now, it is focusing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
The four co-founders met when they were put together to complete an assignment in an entrepreneurship class at Carleton about 14 months ago.
“We were given 10 minutes to come together as four unfamiliar faces, introduce ourselves and figure out what we wanted to do as a team,” said Mr. Smendziuk. “At the end of 10 minutes, we had one person’s name with another person’s number, we couldn’t find people on social media because of different spellings, inconsistent user aliases. It was a big mess, so right there, from that day, we said, ‘Hey, there should be an easier way to connect.’”
That became Props, their project and now their business.
The project was a success, but turning it into a business was tricky without some money, which came when Mr. Dillon became a recipient of a 2014 Wes Nicol internship.
“Once we received that, it really gave us a new drive, solely for success. It gave us credibility, it gave us confidence,” he said.
“Without you,” Mr. Dillon said of Mr. Nicol, a Carleton alumnus and well-known Ottawa homebuilder who was present at the launch, “we would not be here today. We would probably still be a school project.”
With Mr. Nicol’s support in hand, the co-founders approached Josh Garellek, CEO of digital entertainment agency Arctic Empire.
Mr. Garellek said he gets pitched every day and turns almost everyone down, but the Props team caught his eye. So much so, he wanted in.
“I go to conferences all the time and I find it a pain to actually try to connect with people. This is really three seconds and then you’re connected,” Mr. Garellek said.
Props was then admitted to the Lead to Win program, and Mr. Hirsi brought his friend, Shopify’s Alex Bakus, on board as an adviser. Lead to Win only invites applicants it feels has the potential to generate $1 million in revenue within three years.
Props was also accepted into the Invest Ottawa ecosystem, and Mr. Dillon said the advice coming from Invest Ottawa and The Ontario Centres of Excellence has been of great value.
While Wednesday’s event was considered a soft launch, it still attracted Jerry Tomberlin, dean of the Sprott School of Business, Carleton president Roseann O’Reilly Runte, Tony Bailetti, chair of the Lead to Win council, as well as Mr. Nicol.
Mr. Tomberlin said Props “in a sense, represents the whole university.” Mr. Smendziuk is an aerospace engineering grad, Mr. Dillon is studying communications, Mr. Hirsi is completing his Bachelor of Commerce degree and Mr. Girard is working on his bachelor’s degree in computer science.
Ms. Runte said she’s known Mr. Smendziuk since he was in first year and is confident Props is in good hands.
“When there’s a problem, Kyle will stay until it gets solved and it will work,” she said.
Wesley Clover entrepreneur-in-residence Tom Duxbury was also at the event. He was the instructor who put the four students together in the first place.
“You always have your fingers crossed,” he said, noting that every term one or two groups actually form a viable startup. “This one is going the fastest, the hardest.”
Next week, the co-founders will do a harder launch all across campus and the city before heading to the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, for the North American launch.
Mr. Garellek said while the festival started around music, the film and interactive component is growing every year, adding the interactive side is as large as the music side these days.
It was at the 2007 South by Southwest where Twitter exploded onto the scene.
“You have all the top minds. Everyone who is interested in social, mobile, heads to this conference,” said Mr. Garellek. “The amount of people we can potentially reach in a very short period of time, five days, is going to be amazing.”