StartUps Snapshot

Three Smith grads tell us about their startups on the following pages. Learn about other new ventures from Smith alumni at ssb.ca/startups.
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Hyla Nayeri and Adrien Bettio
Commerce
2017

437 Swimwear

In third-year Commerce, Hyla Nayeri and Adrien Bettio both went on exchange to Europe. There, they loved exploring out-of-the-way beaches. Lounging by the water, the pair dreamed of businesses to start. They didn’t have to look far. “We love swimwear. Adrien has a really good eye for fashion, and I really like the whole e-commerce startup scene,” Hyla says. Why not launch a swimwear line?

Named after the Johnson Street address in Kingston where Hyla and Adrien lived as students, 437 Swimwear launched two years ago. Its selection of playful designs at affordable prices was aimed directly at Hyla and Adrien’s university-age peers. But a year after starting the business, they reconsidered that strategy. “We wanted to be a bit more sophisticated and mature but still a little bit playful,” Hyla says.

In summer 2017, the pair spent two weeks in China and a month in Bali selecting fabric, creating new designs, updating the 437 Swimwear logo, and rebuilding the e-commerce site. Last November, 437 Swimwear was rebranded with one full-piece swimsuit and three different mix-and-match sets of tops and bottoms. The suits are 92 per cent polyester and eight per cent spandex. Prices range from $120 to $150. “Our fabric and the way we slightly modify simple cuts really emphasizes and hugs a woman’s body and her curves,” Hyla says of what sets 437 Swimwear apart from competitors.

Service, she believes, is another distinguishing factor. “We treat every single customer like a friend.” Hyla and Adrien personally respond to every email, handle online chats, and include a handwritten card and gourmet candies in every swimsuit package delivered.

Hyla says sales have been brisk so far, especially to international customers, and 437 Swimwear recently moved into a Toronto showroom. Work is also underway on a new line of ribbed swimsuits.

This summer, Hyla and Adrien will focus on growing 437 Swimwear’s Canadian customer base. Explains Hyla: “There are a lot of swimwear brands in America, in Australia, in Europe, but there aren’t that many in Canada. So, we think we have the advantage of being from Toronto, of being a Canadian brand.”

Ryan Peterson, Robbie Mitchnick, Donald Gawel and Cord McGee
Commerce
2013

Naughty Otter

While at Queen’s, Ryan Peterson, Robbie Mitchnick, Donald Gawel, all BCom’13s, and Cord McGee, BCom’13, GDA’13, shared a brew now and then. After school, they launched Q4Q Beer Company, maker of Naughty Otter beer products. Ryan, the company’s president (pictured left), explains the business: 

Why we started the company: We set out to fill a void that we felt existed in craft brewing. There was a lot of great craft beer starting to come out of Ontario, but we felt the industry was losing sight of the fact that craft beer is meant to be fun. We wanted to form a brand and a beer that recaptured that, by creating super sessionable, easy-drinking, fun craft beers that were still of the highest quality.

What sets our beer apart: Naughty Otter is a brand that stands for fun and playfulness. It’s about staying connected to good friends and the best times of your life. For us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of that is the great times we all shared together at Queen’s. Our “Stay Naughty” slogan is more than just a mischievous appeal; it’s a deeply felt call to keep alive the fun and rebelliousness of those great times.

The most fun we’ve had so far: Last summer we significantly increased our beer festival presence and were part of more than 20 festivals. It made for some hectic weekends, but we had a ton of fun pouring beers, meeting passionate beer drinkers, and finding out what people love about ours and other craft beers.

Something we tried that didn’t work: Last year we tried to brew a funky style of beer that no one else was doing, and we settled on an English bitter. It was better in theory than in practice. That particular brew never made it to market. And that’s probably for the best.

The most important thing we’ve learned about starting a business: Focus on the people first. In our first year, we experienced the highs of working with some really great people and the lows of working with people who didn’t live up to expectations. So, build the right team and you will succeed! 

A Smith School of Business connection: Two years ago, we established the Queen’s 13 Brewers Award. Our company contributes one per cent of all sales to this fund, which is awarded each year to one entrepreneurial-minded student entering the Queen’s Commerce program on the basis of demonstrated financial need, academic achievement, proven leadership skills, and involvement in school or community activities. In addition, two more Commerce grads, Cyrus Symoom, BCom’15, and Andrew lu, BCom’11, have become partners at Naughty Otter.

Damon Richardson
2017
Sam Battista
Commerce
2016
Matt Graves
Commerce
2018

PropertySpark

Billboards, newspaper ads, door knocking. These are the oft-used tools of real estate agents to drum up business. But Sam Battista, BCom’16, has a better way. His company, PropertySpark, lets agents more easily reach homebuyers and sellers through social media. We spoke with Sam, PropertySpark’s CEO (centre in photo left), about the venture.

Explain how PropertySpark works?
PropertySpark is a software platform by which real estate agents can advertise their properties and themselves on social media. Agents with a home for sale can upload a picture and information to propertyspark.com, decide where — by city and neighbourhood — they want it advertised and, with a few clicks, launch a campaign on Facebook and Instagram that’ll go to the people most likely to be in the market to buy a home in that area. 

Why is social media better for real estate agents than, say, newspapers?
People’s eyeballs are no longer in print. They're on their mobile devices, usually on social. We've found people are nine times more likely to engage with a real estate agent directly on Facebook or Instagram than to call the agent or go to the agent’s website.

How do you make money?
Agents pay us a monthly fee. They can start with a 14-day free trial. Since we launched, we have serviced over 1,000 agents. About 70 per cent of those have been in the U.S.

How did PropertySpark start?
I knew after graduation that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial but wasn’t sure what. I started working with my dad in his real estate business, doing everything from email marketing to social. I discovered that Facebook ads worked really well, and social media affected his business tremendously. We actually doubled his commissions.

What’s next for your company?
PropertySpark is B2B, but we have something new, called Candor, that’s for consumers. Right now, in the U.S., you may go to Zillow to find a home, then to LendingTree for a mortgage rate, then Geico for insurance, and Yelp to find a mover. There’s no single place. Candor is Expedia for home buying. It’s a platform that’s going to help people through the entire home-buying journey. ▪