The province’s business startup support organization Ramp Up Manitoba held Ramp Up Wknd 3 between May 24th and 26th at the National Research Council building in downtown Winnipeg. This is an event where entrepreneurs, startup business owners and creative minds get together for a weekend ‘competition’ that allows people to share ideas and learn how to develop their businesses.
I went down on the Sunday night to meet with my business guru, and Ramp Up Manitoba founder, Chris Johnson, to see what was going on, and walked into a room full of people who had transformed an idea into a business over the course of a weekend. Participants had been working long, hard hours developing their business plans to prepare for the evenings pitches, so there were a lot of tired looking faces in the room. I got a chance to see a few of the groups taking part pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges, and all had done well facing strict time restraints and some pretty hard questioning.
While I was there I asked Chris, “Who would be a good person in this room to do a business profile on?” Chris said, “That guy over there in the striped shirt,” pointing across the room at a rather tall fellow with a baby face, spiked hair, and, indeed, a striped shirt. It was Dustin Refvik, co-founder of ScheduleAide Inc., one of the event organizers, and a Steering Committee volunteer with Ramp Up Manitoba. He came over, looking a bit weary, bit still managed to give a good, strong, confident handshake. We exchanged contact information and talked about putting together a profile piece.
Dustin was born and raised in Manitoba and is now married and a father of two young girls. He began what he calls his entrepreneurial journey when he was 18 and started to work for his father’s print advertising company.
“After a few years, I moved onto another company within advertising and eventually found myself at a local technology startup. Though my background was primarily sales and marketing, I found myself gravitating towards the technology development,” recalls Dustin.
That turned out to be a good move for him. “Within the first six months at the company, I took over the project management of their development. I spent five years working for the company building technology and eventually left to open my first business, Night Ideas Inc. I consulted technology development projects for clients for two years and found myself spending more time on my own projects than my clients.”
His business partner Matthew Doak has a similar background to Dustin having worked at the same startup for a few years before leaving to start his own business, Click.Inspire Solutions. With that company, Matt built “several large-scale websites and development projects for companies in Manitoba and abroad.”
Matt and Dustin’s current project, the one that is bringing him to the business startup competition Venture Challenge on June 19th, is called ScheduleAide. In Dustin’s words, “ScheduleAide (SA) is a web platform that promotes appointment availability for professional service providers. Our proprietary technology automatically identifies a cancellation or last minute opening and markets the availability to existing and new customers. Professional service providers are losing money due to last minute cancellations, ‘no shows’ and inefficient calendar management. ScheduleAide is a solution to this problem.”
So, the next question, naturally, is why? Why did Dustin and Matthew decide to create ScheduleAide? “I was developing a mobile application for daily deals with my co-founder Matthew Doak when my father (Kurt Refvik) explained an interesting story. While visiting his doctor, Kurt noticed a sign reading ‘48 Missed Appointments This Month’. This one office had already accumulated nearly 50 missed appointments in one month. When Kurt mentioned this to me the wheels began to turn. After speaking to my partner Matt, I decided there was a way to utilize technology to solve this problem and began building the business case for ScheduleAide.”
Okay, so Dustin and Matt saw a problem and a way to fix it. But does anyone actually want this product? Simply put, Dustin says, “Yes”.
“ScheduleAide has been well received. In the early stages of validation we reached out to ~30 local businesses including hair salons, esthetic Services, dentists, chiropractors, etc. The feedback we received was fantastic. A strong business should solve a real problem. The validation we received from potential customers solidified the problem. “
So, people see a need for it, and want to use it. That’s important. But of course, the product itself has to work well. Visiting the ScheduleAide website, I see something that is well written, stylish, simple and user friendly. This side of the project is the baby of Dustin’s business partner.
“He is the owner of Click.Inspire Solutions, a boutique web development firm in Winnipeg. With Matt’s experience as a web developer, the website was built quickly to accommodate the Alpha and Beta phases of the company. The response to the website has been great.” declares Dustin.
Dustin and Matt have been working with Ramp Up Manitoba, which has proven to be a big help to them, and was important in getting ScheduleAide off the ground.
As Dustin explains, “Although the idea of ScheduleAide was solid, we weren’t quite ready to make the “pivot” from our daily deals app. At the time of the idea, I had just heard of a new startup focused group called Ramp Up Manitoba. “
He continues, saying, “I attended the first Ramp Up Manitoba Meetup and shared the idea with the group. After tremendous feedback, I decided to take the idea through the inaugural Ramp Up Weekend in August, 2012. The weekend was a great success and team ScheduleAide was fortunate enough to win the event. This gave me the validation needed to make the “pivot” from daily deals to ScheduleAide as a full-time project.”
And the project has been moving along quite smoothly by the sounds of it. According to Dustin, “We are finishing the Application Programming Interface (API) and expect to release for integration in August 2013. We have already built out a fully-functional “full service” version which can be used by the professionals directly. The API model is designed to integrate with existing practice management and scheduling software providers. “
But, of course, this is just the start and the wheels are in motion to make an even brighter future for the company. “The long-term goals for ScheduleAide are to open the API to any scheduling system in the world. This will allow SA the ability to analyze results from service marketing and continually optimize our system. “
Before wrapping up our interview, I wanted to revisit the place where I first met Dustin: Ramp Up Wknd 3. “As a product of the Ramp Up Manitoba ecosystem, I have a great appreciation for these events. I started as a participant at the first RUW #1 and moved on to become an organizer and participant of the RUW#2 and again for RUW#3.”
He continues by saying, “These events are fantastic for entrepreneurs, designers and developers. This gives you a real shot at validating your business idea. Typically you sit at your day job thinking of this ‘great idea’ and eventually watch someone else bring it to market. Ramp Up Manitoba Meetups and Weekend events are a game changer. “
And the game may be changing soon when it comes to scheduling. Who knows, the next time you go to make an appointment with your doctor, you may find yourself using this ScheduleAide system.
Chris Hearn writes and posts videos for Spectator Tribune.
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