Entrepreneurs Under 25 is a new series that seeks to profile up-and-coming web entrepreneurs 25 years old or younger.
For every school kid whining about when high-level math will be useful in the real world, there’s an answer: when they start their own business.
Rory Bokser and David Kleiman, friends since high school, followed a very similar path that involved math. They both attended Dawson after high school and McGill after that. But eventually the thought of starting a business intrigued them more than grad school, and they took a break from academia. Soon they launched their current venture, a text delivery service called Wizrd.
Rather than going through the academic route, people were just building their own things. And that in itself sounded really interesting.
“I did applied math and then spent my summers doing research in mechanical engineering,” Kleiman told MTLinTECH. “And then right after I graduated we decided to not do what everyone else was doing, which was going to grad school.”
Designed to be a social bookmarking tool, they eventually abandoned their first project after realizing there was no real consumer demand for it.
“It wasn’t really a company, it was more of a product. We spent a long time developing it, but never actually gave it to anyone. So it just fizzled out when we started speaking to people and realized they didn’t want it. So we did it backwards. Initially it was some complicated thing we had a big vision for, but in the end it was basically just shared folders.”
“I studied math and computer science at McGill, and then did research in bio informatics and then probabilistic analysis of algorithms,” said Bokser. “Dave started throwing ideas around for startups, which we probably didn’t understand very much at the time. Rather than going through the academic route, people were just building their own things. And that in itself sounded really interesting.”
They started brainstorming, meeting with the 20 other students in honours math and bouncing ideas off each other. Eventually they were the only two who continued on and actually pursued a startup.
“University didn’t teach us exactly how to build apps or websites or anything like that, but it gave us a really strong mathematical background. We learned how to solve more challenging problems,” said Bokser. “In a startup there are always a million things that are thrown at you. So just kind of being okay with not solving it immediately, but constantly working towards a solution, I think that’s something university taught us.”
“It’s a culture of solving problems. So we used to get our assignments in our advanced math courses, and we’d all sit together and solve problems and then you’d go to sleep not having solved the problem, and you’d wake up the next day having dreamt about the solution to the problem. So this constantly working to solve a single problem, it’s kind of useful,” said Kleiman.
The pair were drawn to the more immediate impact that solving problems in a startup setting allowed for: work in theoretical academia can take years before it is applicable.
“Knowing that the path down academia was one where you could just be working on problems your whole life that may not actually change anyone’s life was kind of the opposite of what I wanted,” said Bokser. “So just thinking of how we could apply something that we learnt to actually build things that got in the hands of users… every day we have people thanking us and telling us that we made their night. And that happening all the time is really validating. That we’re doing something that people actually really want. It’s just totally the opposite.”
With Wizrd, people can request things delivered by text. Although alcohol, tobacco, and illegal substances are not allowed, customers can request anything else available from take-out restaurants or depanneurs, an extremely useful service for many when temperatures drop well below freezing. It started off being very popular with McGill University students.
“We started building Wizrd about 11 months ago and launched it maybe eight months ago. We have been growing pretty steadily at about 30 per cent each month and usage is increasing. It’s going pretty well,” said Bokser.
They are now taking part in District 3 Innovation Centre’s Product Market Fit program at Concordia, working to maximize the value their product brings to customers. Every day they are surrounded by other entrepreneurs pursuing the dream of starting and running their own business.
“Every day you see problems that people around you are facing, and it’s nice to take a break, even for fifteen minutes, to hear someone else’s problem, help them solve theirs, and then maybe come back to your own with a fresh perspective,” said Bokser.
Wizrd is currently functional for delivery by text, and will be launching full Facebook messenger integration soon.
Have you read the rest of the Entrepreneurs under 25 series?
Retinad’s Samuel F. Poirier and Anthony Guay – January 11