The BizSpark startup of the day is Tokii, based in Canada. Below you will find an interview with Karla Stephens Tolstoy, Co-founder & CEO of Tokii. All the best to them and congratulations for being the startup of the day!
Tell us who you are and your role in the company:
Co-founder & CEO of Tokii, the world's first relationship management platform providing meaningful interaction through entertaining social gaming and unique trading experiences.
What did you do before creating your company?
I was the CEO of Vodafone Czech Republic. At thirty-five I was fortunate to become the CEO of Oskar, an award-winning Czech brand telecom company. In 2005 the brand was named in Computer World’s Top 100 companies. Oskar also won the Rhodos Award for best company image in the telecom category in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
How do you feel being the most promising ‘Startup of the Day’ per Microsoft BizSpark?
We are honored to be among the innovative companies featured here. We recognize the Microsoft community is large and committed to technical diversity such as what we’re offering. BizSpark gives us access to affordable, advanced platforms that support our mission to provide easy to use, secure products to our customers.
What is your company’s mission?
According to an extensive study by esure.com in the UK, the average couple spends less than 15 minutes a day actually talking to each other. Forty-one percent of couples regularly send text messages, emails, and use social media sites like Facebook even when they are together. Couples are chewing up the digital airways with a jaw dropping 1,002 texts and 400 emails to each other every year. What research is showing is instead of technology bringing couples closer together these tools are widening the gap between many couples. Clearly the mobile and digital spaces are not being used effectively, which is where we step in. Tokii members can use technology in ways that work for love rather than against it to bring couples closer together.
We’ve moved the digital experience from an individual event to a shared experience. Everything on Tokii is geared towards the relationship rather than the individual. Instead of having a solo newsfeed we provide shared relationship news. At Tokii a couple can extend their conversation by leveraging the convenience of online and mobile tools. Our products put play into everyday activities.
In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:
Tokii helps busy couples stay in love by extending their connection across the digital space.
How did you get the idea for your company?
Today’s reality is that our busy lives make it difficult to fit in “quality time” with our partner. Personal experience has taught me that relationships fall off the radar as life priorities get in the way. Tokii was inspired because of that reality. My husband Al and I worked together in business and made time for that relationship. Once we got home, we became lazy with our personal relationship. Neither of us liked what was happening so we decide to do something about it. Sensing we weren’t alone with our reality, we dove into the relationship space.
Through many late night discussions, research, and focus groups our hunch was confirmed. We discovered 42 million people in North America live in sexless marriages. Ronald Inglehart found in his study that couples in 81 countries believe respect and appreciation are the most important aspects of marriage, but there are a lot of complaints these are missing in today’s relationship. Fifty percent of first marriages and 65 percent of second marriages in the US end in divorce.
According to IBISWorld, selfhelp is a $33 billion industry worldwide and growing and yet not many people seem happier. Online dating is a $10 billion industry but there’s no aftercare once you’re in a relationship. It was statistics like these that motivated us to find a solution that would really work. So many couples we met and talk to about this also wanted a way to feel connected emotionally and physically, but they wanted it through things they used everyday – their computers and mobile phones. This insight spawned the suite of relationship tools that make up Tokii today.
Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
We are self-funded to date. We are in the midst of raising additional funding.
How many employees do you have? How many developers?
We have two developers on staff currently with the remaining personnel outsourced. We have approx 10 employees.
Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
We are always on the look out for global talent. Our business is growing rapidly, and we anticipate needing additional people to meet those growth demands.
Which platform are you building on? Why?
We are using the entire Microsoft infrastructure stack (MS Server 2008 R2, MS SQL Server 2008) with the site built on MS .NET 4.0 Framework. We chose this platform for many reasons. Keeping Tokii member information secure is extremely important and MS .NET provides a robust framework for building very secure sites with solid performance. We have architected Tokii to be able to scale up very quickly and securely while containing our required infrastructure footprint and costs. We have a very senior and experienced development team in MS .NET.
Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
Social media sites have been dramatically shrinking our world and degrees of separation, enabling us to communicate and organize mass groups in ways unthinkable only a few years ago. However, most social media sites today are not improving the quality of our most important relationships. We believe there is a huge opportunity to help improve the quality of life for millions of people by providing social media services that really work in fostering better communications with the people in our lives about whom we care the most. We believe this is where you will see social media evolve and Tokii is right at the edge of this movement.
What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
Entrepreneurial programs like BizSpark are essential and incredibly valuable for new startups trying to get the word out. We are very impressed with Microsoft’s support in promoting our business!
Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
Building software is less than half the equation. The bigger part of the software entrepreneur’s job is collaborating with your customers. Dig in deep on the business side of the project. Understand the business strategy and requirements. Jump in and contribute to the design concept and tools used like wireframes, use case scenarios, and user experience diagrams. Pick the right tool for the right project. It’s tempting to “stick with what you know,” but what you know might not be the best fit for the job. Always start with the big picture needs before picking the software solution. This activity might push some people outside their comfort zone, but the effort will result in a superior product for customers.
Who’s your role model?
George Lucas rises to the top. His films and other cutting edge projects have proven to be innovative and unique which has helped redefine the entire film industry. It’s that kind of spirit that inspires us to keep pushing for the best solutions and experiences for our customers.
What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
A healthy relationship takes work and Tokii turns that work into play. We want couples to use the digital space to connect and reconnect in fun, inspired ways through trading and playing.