Kaylie Greaves and Allison Rhodes are business founders and graduate students. The two roles demand the majority of their time and attention, and their minds are always reeling, ready to welcome the next best idea. While this lifestyle may not sound appealing to some, it is the life of these two entrepreneurs, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kahoots is an idea of collaboration that came about in the fourth year of their undergrad. Greaves, Rhodes and their classmates were tasked with brainstorming an idea for a business. They noticed that many students had really innovative ideas, but didn’t have the all the skills necessary to launch. Ryerson was a university with wide range of faculties, so why not create a platform that connects students across faculties and across campus?
As they were developing their idea, they realized this problem of collaboration was not specific to Ryerson. They then focused on creating an open platform that would be open to all postsecondary schools across Canada.
After winning $25,000 at the Slaight Communications Business Plan Competition in March, Kahoots received the funding necessary to launch. Nearly six months later, I’m sitting with Allison Rhodes, the Director of Creative Innovation, and Kaylie Greaves, the Director of Business Development. Kahoots is ready to go live, and neither business partner is showing signs of stress. Instead, the two women carry themselves like professionals ready to embark on this new business venture together.
What is the Kahoots business model?
Allison: We really focused on an expansion across the GTA and the Toronto area, and really bridging other universities together. We have this one open platform where anybody can post their projects and post their profiles. We also have these closed groups that are community specific. So Ryerson would have a community. University of Toronto would have a community. But we are really looking at bringing these other universities together and bringing the students together.
Kaylie: And that is where the revenue comes in, because it would be sales of these private communities to schools. Like Ryerson for example: if they can get gather three students from totally different faculties and launch a start up out of this thing, then its ultimately good for the school.
How did you come up with the name, Kahoots?
Allison: That was all Kaylie. We didn’t like it at first.
Kaylie: It was supposed to be a name that was specific to Ryerson, but then when we decided to do the business plan competition it was two nights before the competition, and we needed a name. We brainstormed on a Google document, and we were just throwing up words. So we came up with Kahoots. We were kind of wishy washy. We decided we didn’t like it, but we were like, okay, we need a name, let’s just go with it for now, we can always change it later. But then after the business plan competition we just got so much positive feedback that we decided to stick with it.
Did you encounter any setbacks when launching your business? If so, how did you resolve them?
Kaylie: I would say our biggest one, funny enough, was we couldn’t find a developer. The key to any tech startup is that you want to have three individuals on your founding team, and the ideal team would be one business person, a designer and a developer. Allison has a design background. We both have a business background. So we were set on those two. But we didn’t have a developer. Funny enough, if Kahoots had been built, we could have posted for a developer on our own platform. But it didn’t exist yet, so that was kind of a big struggle. For three months we were very actively looking for a developer to jump on. We ended up outsourcing some of our initial development, but we found one, so happy ending.
Allison: Also, when we won the business plan competition we should have had funding, but it just took us a while to get it. To get to that stage where we could access the money was a little bit rough for us, so we were definitely not making any money and pulling money out of our own pocket going into this when we initially thought there would be some sort of funding there. It’s fine now, everything worked out.
Kaylie: It took four months. A solid four months before we got our funding after winning the business competition. From the time we actively started incurring expenses it was out of me and Allison’s pocket and we were definitely starving startup founders for a while.
Where can students access Kahoots?
Kaylie: We have a site that is specific to Ryerson. But while that one was in development, we actually started to develop a new site. The reason behind it was, the first site wasn’t going to scale to other schools. So we kind of had to start again from scratch. So Ryerson is going to go ahead with their version, and we are totally supporting that one. But then we also have this other site on the side which is the Kahoots website. That’s where we are pushing everyone, especially those not from Ryerson. They are getting pushed to that site because that is going to be an open platform for everyone.
Who acted as your mentor through the process of business development?
Kaylie: Definitely our advisor, Sean Wise. He was our professor during our undergrad. He is an assistant professor here of entrepreneurship. We both had him for a couple of classes and then had him again for the capstone course. Just a really smart man, and he is accessible at all times.
Allison: Beyond that, when we were first getting started it was Sean Wise and Steven Gedeon who pushed us into taking that leap, and without that, and without their support, we probably wouldn’t have even done it. We probably would have chosen some easy project that we could’ve gotten a good mark on and said good day. And now the DMZ is now our support. Even the staff in the DMZ are really great.
Kaylie: There is often visitors to the DMZ. Lucky for us, most of them are from post secondary institutions. The staff is really good at ensuring that we get time to pitch in front of these guests. It started some really great conversations for us.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
Allison: Well, it means you’re never off. You’re always on. You could be out to dinner on a Friday night with a bunch of friends and in your mind your like, that’s a really good idea. You’re making a mental note of something and your not even paying attention to the conversation. Beyond that, you’re working long hours, but you get to own your own life which I think is very exciting.
Kaylie: I think it’s about making sacrifices in certain areas to get to your end goal which is to improve the way something is done. This is an issue that Allison and I experienced, and a lot of people around us experienced. So it’s exciting for us to get to solve this problem, and it’s worth the time we are putting in and the money we aren’t making.
Allison: Kaylie and I at least have each other when it comes to balancing things back and forth. When I feel overwhelmed, usually she is okay, and she pulls me back up. And it’s vice versa.
What was it like balancing school and creating a business?
Allison: Initially it was fine, because it was the initial stages of our business until we got into our graduate phase.
Kaylie: Yeah, now doing the Master’s program is difficult. I would say my studies have definitely taken a bit of a sacrifice. What’s important is actually learning the material. I’m more concerned with taking something away from the course than I am getting an A. I make sure I’m in class all the time and listening to what I think is most important. Other than that, all of our spare time goes to Kahoots. What advice would you give to students who want to start a business of their own?
Allison: Definitely talk about your idea as much as possible. The old adage about keeping your idea to yourself until you are ready to launch is completely thrown out the window. Definitely speak to anybody and get their feedback and if you have potential customers, or people who you think can be potential customers, really find out if your product is something that they want.
Kaylie: We told everyone around Ryerson what our idea was and soon enough there were people that we had told that had heard it from someone else, and it all came back to us. People were sending us ideas and resources from all over campus. The key in getting Kahoots launched was spreading the word.