As far as business ideas pitches, Anthony Rinella’s initial pitch to Modu Design was pretty casual.
“I popped my head in the door and said ‘let’s start a business, let’s do a little fun project even just to pay for rent,” recalls the serial entrepreneur.
Given that Rinella had his own office just down the hall at the Toronto Business Development Centre, the branding and digital design agency’s co-founders – Adrian Kostic, Josh McInerney and Tim Finlayson – knew him well and loved the idea of collaborating. But what was even more enticing to the Modu team was getting the chance to incubate an idea in house, without worrying about the client.
“We wanted to approach this unfiltered,” says Kostic. “We didn’t want it to be tainted by clients’ perceptions, we wanted to put all of our knowledge into our own thing and build that.”
They began hashing out ideas and the pet project started to take the shape of VIV, a dating app.
“As we started to do some financial analysis we realized, hey, we might have something here,” says Rinella.
Sure, at the lowest level VIV is just a dating app. But the team is quick to dispel any notion that it might be just another online matchmaking tool.
“We're closing the date loop,” says Rinella. “As of right now we do matching but we’re looking at dating as a lifestyle thing – even if you’re married for 25 years you’re still dating your wife.”
On the matchmaking side, the app only allows you to send five messages, nudging users to set a date rather than just use it to chat. The limit also gives users confidence that they won’t be harassed by people they’re not interested in. Both were major complaints about online dating that they had come across during the research phase.
What separates VIV from other dating apps is the back-end approach. VIV collects data about users via their social media, gathering up their likes and interests and using that info to point them towards places to go and unique date ideas.
“It’s like a Songza for dating – it builds a playlist of things to do for a date and it’s all based on the things you like,” he says.
For the project they created a four-headed joint venture of sorts combining Rinella’s technical acumen with Modu’s digital branding wherewithal.
“It’s been a great marriage,” says Kostic. “Our primary goal was to create a business idea that had revenue streams ready to go already built into it.”
VIV plans to partner with hip, local businesses and draw revenue streams that way.
“We will never have a Jack Astor’s on there or a Tim Hortons or Starbucks,” says Kostic. “It’s not even about high end or low end, it's about having real experiences.”
But it’s a gargantuan task, especially when you consider Toronto’s foodie trend slants towards chic, below the radar spots usually with a predilection towards not offering reservations.
“That was definitely one of the primary business hurdles we looked at a few months ago,” says Kostic. “We can’t possibly go to every venue that we see in the city and ask them to join, you’d need a massive sales force.”
Realizing they needed to take a top down approach, Kostic turned to Michael Donahue, Business Development Manager at the TBDC.
“I was talking to Michael about the idea of trying to work with Tourism Toronto,” says Kostic. “We're trying to work with some sort of oversight organization we can present our ideas to and then they can disseminate it to their membership as well.”
He also says he’s been using Enterprise Toronto as a sounding board – both to connect with their sprawling client relationships and coordinate how they’re going to bring their tool to Toronto businesses and venues.
“I think we've been very blessed and lucky to have gotten the input that we've had along the way,” says Kostic. “It always comes down to the smallest of things, those little nuggets that you miss along the way and then you’re bouncing ideas off key advisors and you’re like oh, I didn’t think of that – they’ve been very helpful.”
By Andrew Seale