Interview with Addo Smajic, Keith Loo and Miroslav Jeliaskoff, founders of tout.it
By Rick Emrith, Staff Writer
As more and more people are graduating from post-secondary schooling they are finding it increasingly difficult to find careers in their field of study. One route to take is to create your own job and embark on the path of the entrepreneur.
Three men decided to combine their skill sets and love of sports to create a company, tout.it, that may become a major league social media stop for sports fans. Arbitrage staff writer Rick Emrith talked with tout.it founders Addo Smajic, Keith Loo and Miroslav (Miro) Jeliaskoff to learn about what it takes to create a start-up company in Toronto.
Q: What is tout.it?
Keith: tout.it is the ultimate sports experience for real sports fans. We spent a lot of our waking hours online on our favourite sports, teams, and leagues – and all of us found the experience to be subpar at best. So, the three of us got together and decided to change that by taking cues from the best experiences out there and creating new ones to fill the gaps – we believe we’re almost there in building a kickass sports interaction experience.
Q: Where did the idea for tout.it originate from?
Keith: Addo and I were at a bar when we had a heated discussion about the Raptors vs. Celtics game – long story short, our heated debated lasted hours after we went home. The discussion went on via instant messaging, text messaging, forum posts, and phone calls where we had other sports fans involved. That was when we realized we just needed a place where we could talk sports and only sports without being interrupted by drunken photos, soap operas, and teen pop stars.
Miro: Addo already thought about solving this issue for a few months and making it a business. So, both of them confirmed the viability of the idea one more time. They invited me to the team and we started a company.
Q: Could you each tell me about your role with the company?
Addo: I came up with the vision of the company and do a lot of the boring stuff like operations and finances and keeping the ship in shape.
Miro: I am in charge of the technical aspects of the product. My official position is CTO (Chief Technical Officer) although in a start-up we wear many hats – from product design and marketing to social media and investors’ relations. And the best thing: all the people on our team are awesome. We are a bunch of enthusiasts that are working on our dream and having real fun while doing it.
Keith: My primary role is to build partnerships and to foster a community. I work with our corporate, team, and league partners to ensure their priorities are met and to ensure we have a mutually beneficial relationship. Whereas, I work with our sports fans communities to ensure that they have the best possible experience.
Q: How big of an impact has the MaRS JOLT program been on you individually and as a company?
Addo: MaRS Jolt has had a huge impact on me personally because they really helped us to hone in on what’s really important to the end consumer and identify those things and build on everything and keep testing on end users.
Miro: MaRS and JOLT were one of the great decisions we, as founders, made. These people help the youngest companies in Toronto push through a challenging start and connect us with many advisors, industry specialists, and investors. The four months were quite intense and very successful. We focused on developing the important parts of our business and delivering the product to our users.
Keith: As an individual, it really allowed me to grow and it made me work at a level that I did know I had. The program was phenomenal in providing plenty of resources, advisors, and connections our way – which was fantastic. At the same time, we had to be master time managers in order to best absorb everything while still building a company.
Q: If you could each name the most difficult challenge you faced as a start-up company what would it be and how did you overcome it?
Addo: There was a few. One of them was having to wear multiple hats within the company. You get to learn a lot of stuff but it’s difficult because you have to do things you may not want to, but it will benefit the company. I overcome it by pushing through it and never forgetting the vision I had at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.
Miro: I guess the most difficult challenge for me was to balance all demands from external stakeholders with the needs of the development team and the platform. The solutions were simple: on one hand I delegated decisions to the people that we can trust, which helped those employees rise to the challenges, and on the other hand often worked more than ten hours a day, including weekends. It is easy when you like what you do and if the product is helping a global issue of making the social media lifelike. I still see it as part of my life and not as a job I have to go to.
Keith: Time – there’s just not enough of it. We overcame it by not sleeping.
Q: Was there one defining moment for you when you realized just how much potential success tout.it has to achieve?
Keith: Every day that goes by is another defining moment. It’s truly humbling to have so many smart, successful people believe in what we do – and we’re truly thankful for that. At the same time, it reassures us that we are truly onto something.
We were fortunate enough to be advised by Sue McGill, Peter Evans, Marc Faucher, and Michael Garrity – just their buy-in alone was truly amazing.
Miro: For me, such a defining moment was when we presented the pitch to close to 50 people and after that many of them came and said they are sports fans and that they have the same issues, so they want to see the platform realized. Since then, we always get calls from sports fans that want to invest money in the company.
Q: What are some of the most rewarding aspects of being a start-up social media company?
Miro: These days it is difficult to get peoples’ attention for long. Luckily, what we are doing has a different effect on the sports fans. When we start explaining the idea or show them the platform, they always ask for more information and start suggesting extra features they want. It is really engaging.”
Keith: To not be a me-too company. On a personal note, I’m not much of a fan of creating experiences that are similar to others. I realize it’s a necessary evil, but there are reasons that (we feel) that the sports engagement experience could be even better than it is today. So the most rewarding part to me is that we are creating a completely new and awesome experience that we know sports fans will truly love.
Q: What can we expect from tout.it in 2013?
Miro: We are finally out of our beta testing and ready to launch the final version. We realize there will be some fine-tuning while we add more features. Our peer-to-peer challenges will be one of the new things we expect before the middle of the year,as well as the expansion to many new leagues and sports. This year, our fans and our team are making tout.it the ultimate engagement platform for sports fans.
Addo: Expect us to be everywhere in North America, have an app rolled out for IOS, android and windows phone. You should expect a big surprise in 2013.