University is all about balance, including your academics and social life. To help you to achieve a work-life balance, York U has the academics side covered! York U offers a variety of resources to support your academic career, from helping you to become a better writer to developing your learning skills. For more information about available learning resources, take a look at our previous #YUBlog post, “A Guide to Learning Resources for the New Term.”
When it comes to managing your social life, the start-up Socero, founded in 2017 by York U students, has your back. Derived from combining the words, “social” and “hero,” the team at Socero Inc. wishes to enable people to live life to the fullest. Socero is an app that provides personalized event recommendations to its users and is available for free download on the Google Play Store and the App Store.
I had the opportunity to interview York U alumni David Kim, Socero CEO, and third-year York U computer science student, Daniyal Anjum, Head of Marketing, to discuss their entrepreneurial story and learn more about how their York U student club turned into their company.
Tell me about the team at Socero Inc.
DK: We are a team of approximately 20 members, one-third of whom are developers and coders. The rest of our team works in marketing, business development and design. The Socero team is a diverse group of people. Most of us are from Toronto, but we have members from around the world, including Italy, Pakistan, Singapore, India and Dubai. We are all passionate about Socero and want to share our vision of allowing people to find out what’s happening in their city in an intelligent way.
How was your start-up, Socero Inc., first formed?
DK: I have always been passionate about social action, so I had an idea which I turned into a York U student club called Agents of Change Community (ACC). ACC is a social activism club committed to empowering students to become “agents of change” by taking immediate action in the local and global community. We share ideas every meeting, vote on the best idea and execute it by the end of month. I was looking for an app to use at the club, and in 2016, I went to a hackathon at York U. I pitched my idea for an idea sharing platform and met future co-founders, Jimmy and John.
That was the beginning of Socero. Fast forward about a year and I was not thinking about pursuing Socero as a potential career. I was doing a second undergraduate degree in psychology in preparation for medical school and things were going well. At the same time, Socero started to gain more interest and everyone was coding at my house once a week.
In December 2016, I struggled with my identity and impulsively went on a month-long trip. I went to a few countries and saw this problem of social connection. While we have all these social media platforms meant for connection, there’s still a large disconnect between people. As a result, we changed our focus to events instead of sharing ideas to encourage people to be engaged with their community.
In January 2017, we officially started developing Socero. We started coding at my house every single day. We started with six people and eventually grew to sixteen people, and that brings us to today!
Fun Fact: On February 21 to 22, York University will be holding its third Steacie Library Hackfest. Students have the opportunity to collaborate on bringing project ideas to reality. More information can be found on the Steacie Library Dungeon Hackfest 2018 page.
How did your education at York U help launch a start-up?
DK: Personally, I did a lot of academic research and that has taught me the value of research papers and continually learning. The value of being a lifelong student is super important. Reading something that you’ve never read before, taking a course you’ve never taken before and opening your mind to new perspectives is a core part of university that has helped us so much in understanding other people’s perspectives on our product and how much value it creates for them.
Gathering information and validating the credibility of that information is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in post-secondary education. Being in a start-up, you need to do a lot of market research to see if there’s something worth solving. Overall, you don’t need to have a computer science degree to be part of a tech start-up or to create an app. I’m the proof for that. You can have any background, but all in all, know how to use Google well! If you know how to Google, you’re 9/10 the way there.
Can you give us more information about the app, Socero?
DA: Socero is like Tinder for events, where you are recommended events one at a time. You swipe right if you’re interested and left if you’re not. The app saves you time and effort because it gives you personalized recommendations of events that you are interested in from a variety of sources. For example, if one person enjoys chess events over checkers events, the application will learn from this and present more chess events! In other words, the more you use the app, the better it understands your interests. With Socero, you can see all the events happening near you and get timed notifications.
What is the biggest challenge in being involved with a start-up, and how did your team overcome it?
DA: One of the biggest challenges is to have a thick skin because for the first few years, not everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows. There are a lot of bumps in the road and the challenge is to keep learning from the bumps. You need to keep getting back up and keep doing what you are doing. At Socero, everyone is dedicating themselves to this common problem. It helped us to stick together and go forward.
DK: I completely agree with Daniyal. The whole start-up idea is idealized. It’s 0.1% sexy and 99.9% very not sexy. It can be very demoralizing in the beginning, so it was especially important for the whole team to care and believe in our product. We created something from nothing. We have to roll with the punches and that takes perseverance.
What is it like to run a start-up?
DK: For me, it really is about collaboration. As the CEO, I have a lot of conversations during the day, whether it be with the development team, marketing team, or even online meetings with our developers in India. Every single day is different. Today, I’m focused on recruitment and business development so I will be conducting interviews, working on the business plan and improving the product design. Most people think that there is a clear order of operations. For example, you think that you would recruit your team first, then develop the product and move on to marketing. But actually, it’s all happening at the same time and that’s the reality of being in a start-up. Everybody wears many different hats, but you learn a lot of things every single day because they are so different.
DA: As the Head of Marketing, my role is much more focused. I concentrate on developing the marketing strategy and implementing it. For example, if we need to work on social media, I’ll talk with the Social Media Director and we’ll make a post on our platforms. If we need to work on outreach, I’ll talk with the Outreach Director and we build more relations with clubs. It is tough, since I am also doing part-time work and I’m still a student at York University on top of all of this. At the end of the day, most of us are students, so juggling many responsibilities at a time is typical for us.
Success Tip: Want some extra advice on managing your time and developing great organization skills? Read the #YUBlog’s post “Time Management Tips for York U Students.”
What attributes were key to your success in running a start-up?
DK: Similar to what Daniyal said, it is hard to create something that’s really valuable to even just one person. You really have to be passionate about it and balance your idealism with realism. You have to understand the problem you’re solving and understand how it’s different from everything else. Then you need to think about how you are going to generate revenue and keep it running. For us, we have had a meaningful journey, because we are pursuing something that has a purpose for us. It’s super cliché, but it takes a bit of experience to truly understand it on a deeper level.
How has York supported your success?
DA: The students of York University have helped us a lot by providing feedback to improve our app. Actually, most of the team at Socero are York University students. Also, we have established a lot of great relationships with York University clubs, such as Appdroid, Lassonde Student Government and Schulich Toastmasters. These relationships helped us to grow and unlock new opportunities.
What advice would you give for other students who aspire to build their own start-ups?
DA: Simply put, you live or die by the market. It doesn’t matter how good or radical you think your idea is. Sometimes people don’t care about your idea because it doesn’t solve any problems, or the world is not ready for it. You need to do market research and find out if this is something that people will use or do people just think it’s cool.
If you have an idea, pitch it to strangers. Don’t say it’s your idea or else people may be reluctant to be fully honest with you. If it doesn’t seem to be viable, you should look for something else. Once you have your idea, do as much as you can to build the product and gather like-minded people.
DK: It really is about gathering intelligence around your idea to validate it and the second part is creating a minimum viable product to see if this is something people will use. You have to constantly do this if you’re in a start-up. Too many people have great ideas and don’t execute on them. There’s no perfect time, so buckle down and try it out.
What are Socero’s next steps going forward?
DK: Our vision is to allow people to discover the events that they are missing out on every single year. Right now we have very humble beginnings with about 1,000 users. By the end of this semester, we are aiming to expand our user base to around a few thousand. Ultimately, we want to enable people to be more engaged with local happenings. It’s about helping people discover new interactions and enhance their day-to-day lives.
We are also working on new features for the Socero app. It’s still under development, but this new feature will bring people closer than before and make it easier for people to go to events. Ultimately, we want to integrate more social accountability and we hope to have this released by the end of March.
Connect with Socero
Are you involved in a student start-up? Comment below or tweet us on Twitter at @YorkUStudents