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U of T Career Fair 2019

Explore employment opportunities with more than 100 diverse and global organizations. University of Toronto students from all years, all fields of study and campuses are invited, as well as recent grads.

Business Board releases reports on financial statements, university operations

Alternative funding, gender pay gap equity also discussed

Business Board releases reports on financial statements, university operations

U of T’s 2018–2019 financial statements were approved and alternative sources of funding discussed in the June 18 meeting of Governing Council’s Business Board. The meeting included reports on university operations and real estate holdings, human resources and equity, and faculty gender pay equity. 

Chief Financial Officer Sheila Brown presented U of T’s financial statements to the board, saying that the university had achieved better financial results than what it had projected in January.

The university’s net assets grew by $507 million to a total of $6.5 billion. U of T has $809 million in reserves for necessary capital projects and infrastructure over the next few years. Its contractual obligations with external builders are valued at $576 million.

Brown called the university’s preference to fund capital projects with its own assets rather than through financing “very prudent.”

University operations

In his annual report, Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships Scott Mabury discussed the successes of his department, which encompasses several offices including Ancillary Services, Facilities & Services, and Information Technology Services. He also emphasized U of T’s ongoing work on the Greenhouse Gas Retrofits Program and cybersecurity, briefly floating the idea of working together with other universities to build a Canadian Security Operations Centre, not to “win the war,” but to “stay ahead” of bad cyber actors.

Mabury specifically highlighted the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, a future hub for artificial intelligence and biomedical innovation created through a $100 million donation in March. He referred to this as an achievement that showcased all aspects of the operations department, calling the media rollout a “beautiful example of managing a narrative.” 

Mabury also discussed the development of the new student residence to be built at Spadina and Sussex, which he said exhibited how challenging the development process can be at times. U of T reached an agreement with the City of Toronto last year to develop the residence, after first proposing it in 2013. Mabury said that the period from the beginning of the project to occupancy of the building will have been approximately 12 years.

Alternative funding

Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr presented a report of the Alternative Funding Sources Advisory Group. The group’s work is structured around what Regehr referred to as U of T’s core strengths: knowledge, real estate and physical infrastructure, and financial resources. 

The report contains numerous recommendations for diversifying U of T’s income stream, ranging from developing joint undergraduate programs with a peer university, to investing in U of T startups. Regehr focused on recommendations related to the pillar of real estate and physical infrastructure, including expanding on the Four Corners approach to physical infrastructure that guides U of T’s expansion on all three campuses.

Gender pay equity

Regehr and Hannah-Moffat elaborated on the report of the Provostial Advisory Group on Faculty Gender Pay Equity, which was convened in fall 2016. One of the major findings of the report was that “on average, tenured and tenure stream women faculty at [U of T] earn 1.3% less than comparably situated faculty who are men, after controlling for experience, field of study, seniority, and other relevant factors.” 

Analysis suggests that U of T’s 12 per cent raw overall difference between tenure-stream men and women is explained by the fact that, on average, these women have fewer years of experience and work in lower-paying fields of study. There is no statistically significant difference between salaries for male and female teaching stream faculty. 

In her administrative response, Regehr announced that all female faculty who are tenured or tenure-stream at U of T will receive a 1.3 per cent increase to their base salary, effective July 1. U of T’s 834 eligible faculty were personally informed of this increase, which will cost U of T $1.8 million in the 2019–2020 fiscal year. This will be taken from the university’s central funds.

Other items

Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat discussed U of T’s smoke-free campus policy, noting that there have been no significant incidents since its implementation on January 1. She added that smoking on campus is not policed vigorously, contrary to previous concerns about enforcement of the policy.

The board also discussed the progress of the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre, which opened in 2017. There was discussion of the difference between disclosures of sexual violence and reports of sexual violence. Regehr noted that disclosures of sexual violence made to the centre are often incidents that do not involve a second member of the U of T community and thus do not fall under university jurisdiction. According to the interim report on human resources and equity, the centre took steps to address 56 reports of sexual violence in the last year under university policy.

UTSC: University of Toronto Scarborough Career Expo

Learn about UTSC career opportunities at the campus’ first career expo. Opportunities include meeting hiring managers, learning about UTSC’s recruitment processes, taking part in one-on-one resume review session, and getting a free professional portrait with a pro photographer.

U of T Sustainability Innovation Prize showcases 10 standout projects

Circular Toys, SoluSave, STP Sports claim $15,000 prize at inaugural event

U of T Sustainability Innovation Prize showcases 10 standout projects

On June 12, U of T Entrepreneurship hosted the 10 finalists of its inaugural Sustainability Innovation Prize for a pitch competition at ONRamp, a coworking space that supports U of T accelerators. The finalists, selected from a larger pool of applicants, each had three minutes to pitch their innovations to a panel of expert judges in the hopes of being selected as one of the three $5,000 prize winners.

The 10 finalists were chosen according to the opportunity, viability and impact, growth potential, innovation, talent, and communication skills demonstrated in their proposals. In April, each of the finalists was encouraged  by U of T Entrepreneurship to work with an advisor to prepare them for the big day.

Following the 10 pitches, which ranged from energy efficiency innovations to financial services, the judges announced their verdict.

Daniel McKee and Lisa Pooley’s Circular Toys; John Russell and Leanna Smid’s SoluSave; and Paulina Szalchta, Samantha Dilorio, and Tom Chen’s STP Sports claimed top honours, each earning $5,000 to be used to support their innovations.

Circular Toys

McKee’s project aims to bring the circular economic model to the youngest members of society. Circular Toys is his answer to the short use of kids’ toys, few of which are recyclable.

Circular Toys is a subscription-based, eco-friendly toy delivery service. Consumers would pick from a range of educational toy packages, targeted according to age group, and can expect a continued delivery of five to six toys every three months to their homes.

After toys have been used to the child’s satisfaction, Circular Toys encourages its customers to send them back to the company, which they would then refurbish and incorporate them into boxes to send out to other families.

McKee told The Varsity that the $5,000 prize would be used primarily for marketing, “getting the website up, and reaching the first hundred [users].” Circular Toys will launch in August.

MICHAEL TEOH/THE VARSITY

SoluSave

Life science students John Russell and Leanna Smid’s SoluSave provides a waste reduction solution for laboratories.

SoluSave aims to develop and provide technology to recycle used solvents. The two undergraduate students were inspired to develop their startup from having first-hand experience in U of T laboratories.

They hope that, once completed, their technology will make its way into more undergraduate laboratories to minimize waste.

Russell and Smid, who were participating in their first-ever pitch competition, were surprised that they were selected as one of the winners.

“One of our biggest concerns was to make sure that [our pitch] came across as pretty clear, what we were doing, and to have a little bit more of a story,” Smid told The Varsity. “We knew we were not pitching to chemists.”

MICHAEL TEOH/THE VARSITY

STP Sports

After this year’s NBA championship, Torontonians who have attended sporting events can vouch for the wasteful mess that fills an empty stadium after a game. Paulina Szlachta and Tom Chen pitched a service to reduce the wasteful nature of sporting events through a closed-loop supply chain model that diverts waste from ending up in landfills.

The pair had conducted field research, including a trip to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and a meeting with its officials.

Beyond the excitement of the prize, Szlachta was particularly excited about the fierceness of the competition. “The other pitches got me thoroughly excited about what the future of U of T Entrepreneurship is, from the use of chemical waste to sustainable toys,” she told The Varsity. “[It’s] an amazing space and this competition is coming at a really, really good time.”

A good time it was — the pitch competition featured a great variety of pitches, and despite there only being three prize winners, there were no real losers. From searching for solutions to empower women in Afghanistan, to providing portable electricity to families in Western Africa, the 10 finalists truly embodied the standard that U of T is known for.

MICHAEL TEOH/THE VARSITY

Editor’s Note (July 12, 5:50 pm): This article has been updated to correct the description of ONRamp.

Opinion: We don’t want this kind of Good Samaritan

Donation app to support homeless is divisive and cold

Opinion: We don’t want this kind of Good Samaritan

When was the last time you saw a homeless person panhandling? How did it make you feel? Guilty? Annoyed? Maybe just maybe you wanted to help, but weren’t sure how.

Well, much like food delivery and astrology, there’s an app for that. After witnessing a Black man panhandling, former tech employee Jonathan Kumar created Samaritan, a contemporary mechanism to help homeless individuals. Samaritan offers privileged passersby a way to help the homeless without needing to make eye-contact or use cash. Donations are even tax refundable.

Kumar’s program has two main goals: to provide urbanites with a convenient way to donate to homeless people in their area and to help homeless people develop closer connections with their community.

After two years of operation in the Seattle area, Kumar hopes to expand his enterprise. However, the Samaritan approach is not as good as it may appear and — despite homeless and social inequality crises in Toronto — it is absolutely not a solution worthy of import.

A seemingly straightforward system

Potential donors download the Samaritan app, which alerts them when they pass by a participating homeless person. The homeless participants are tagged with beacons that beam their photo, personal story, and financial need to the would-be Good Samaritan’s phone. In most photographs, program participants wear their beacons around their necks like crosses.

Givers can select the amount of money they would like to send and cue the transaction in a few swipes. The money is then sent to the beacon holders, who can redeem the donation at participating stores.  

While participation in the Samaritan program does not necessarily preclude the homeless from seeking other avenues of respite, it explicitly seeks to help sustain those left behind by mainstream sources of support.

While this may seem like a step forward, let’s take a closer look.

Despite Kumar’s lofty ambitions, the app itself is not particularly popular among the people it was purportedly designed to help.

In one telling interaction recorded in the Seattle Times, a Samaritan employee stood outside a temporary work placement agency, attempting to drum up interest in the beacons. One man, initially intrigued, looked at the demonstrative beacon the employee held. When he saw it, he asked, “It labels me as a hobo?”

Another reason for the program’s low participation rate is the requirements it imposes on homeless users. Not only are their choices and movement restricted, but beacon wearers must attend monthly meetings with Samaritan counsellors, otherwise they will lose access to the money on their account. The disciplinary tool swings between the collarbones of the wearer.

Gatekeepers to charity

Although Kumar has stated that Samaritan does not use institutional vetting processes for potential beacon recipients, he argues they seek out “those downtown that are truly struggling with homelessness and actively are trying to get themselves out.”

But how can they tell who is truly suffering, and moreover, who sets the definition?

Put simply, the donors determine who is allowed to avail of the service. Through the linkage of initial appearance and quick biographies with donations, participants must market themselves to their potential Samaritan. The appearances and backstories displayed on the app become weapons: a spade and a scalpel used to shape the kinds of people others want to give to.

Even if the donation is given, its very form creates other entanglements. The digital currency donated by Samaritans can only be used to buy “the essentials,” as determined by the developers who created the app and the stores willing to work with the program.

And if they do not have a cell phone or a data plan, beacon holders have no way of knowing who donated or in what amount. In order to check their own balance, they would have to find a participating store and inquire.

Siloing social classes

One might argue — and indeed, Kumar and his supporters do — that removing the cash component of roadside donations enables more spontaneous generosity, which in turn leads to more support for the homeless.

However, the giver  not the recipient  clearly benefits more from this cashlessness. It’s not just the removal of financial autonomy from the homeless person that is troubling either — reducing donations to a swipe sanitizes what should be uncomfortable.

Although some might insist that the app genuinely does help create connections, Samaritan actually works to further silo different social classes. Today’s Good Samaritans can give without looking up from their phones and feel better about themselves without actually encountering anyone. The app makes local suffering as distant as possible.

Moreover, valving compassionate impulses off through a quick dash of a digital credit card could reduce the likelihood of givers becoming more involved in long-term aid or advocacy efforts. After all, they have done their good deed of the day.

At the end of the day, Samaritan is a for-profit company, which makes donors pay up to 7.5 per cent of their total donation for the privilege of a painless transaction.

Contrary to many contemporary invocations, the parable of the Good Samaritan is not about financial generosity. In the biblical story, a man is robbed and left bleeding on the side of a busy road. Two travellers pass him by, but the third — a Samaritan — stops. He cleans the victim’s wounds, clothes him, feeds him, seats him on his donkey, and shares his room with him.

Fundamentally, it’s a story of human connection — of messy, visceral sharing between those left intact and those robbed. This is the spirit of giving we must foster. Look to the work of Eva’s Initiative for Homeless Youth, for example, which fulfils the short term needs of homeless youth in Toronto of housing and food while also offering training and emotional support.

Actions rooted in our fundamental closeness, not distance, are the only path toward resolving homelessness and social inequality in Toronto.

Mikerah Quintyne-Collins on forging her own path to the blockchain scene

U of T dropout reflects on getting started with blockchain, formal education, and research

Mikerah Quintyne-Collins on forging her own path to the blockchain scene

Right before Christmas last year, then U of T math and statistics student Mikerah Quintyne-Collins received over $100,000 USD in cryptocurrency from Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and promptly dropped out of U of T.

In a Twitter thread between cryptocurrency developers in December, Quintyne-Collins tweeted to Buterin, “I will quite literally drop out if we got $100k in ETH.” She asked and she received.

After dropping out, Quintyne-Collins, a programmer, researcher, and blockchain enthusiast, switched to working full-time at ChainSafe, a Toronto-based startup that works on blockchain applications, such as automatically enforced smart contracts. Blockchain is a decentralized method of securely storing data that relies on cryptography, the math behind encoding and decoding messages securely.

Ethereum is the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capital, next to Bitcoin. At the time of the transaction, the 1,000 Ether that Buterin sent Quintyne-Collins had a value of $100,630 USD. Now, that same amount is worth around $174,000 USD.

Buterin is a university dropout himself, having left the University of Waterloo in 2014 to work on Ethereum full-time after receiving $100,000 USD through the Thiel Fellowship, a grant awarded annually to people aged 22 and under to drop out of school and pursue full-time work.

These days, Quintyne-Collins is pretty busy with her job, working to develop a platform that may eventually be a part of a new version of Ethereum.

“The main thing that I miss about university [is] Goldring,” she said.

While her mother had wanted her to return to her studies, Quintyne-Collins does not see the need. “People haven’t asked me about my degree. In fact, every time I tell somebody I dropped out to work on Ethereum, they just say, ‘Congrats.’”

“I know myself well enough to know that this is better for me, rather than taking courses I’m not interested in,” she told BreakerMag.

When I asked about her ambitions and plans, Quintyne-Collins said that she was going to “go with the flow.”

Even before university, much of her efforts had been focused outside of school. She taught herself how to code when she was 13 by borrowing library books. Bitcoin then piqued her interest around 2011 when she was in high school and it first made the news; this prompted her to start reading research papers on cryptography.

She became more involved in blockchain during her second year, when Buterin came to U of T for a talk on crypto-economics. This also brought her in touch with ChainSafe, where she would eventually start working part-time as a project lead while continuing her studies.

Before dropping out, Quintyne-Collins was also President of the U of T Blockchain Group and had co-organized a number of blockchain hackathons. Even after dropping out, she helped host this year’s ETHUofT hackathon alongside the group’s current president. This is where I met Quintyne-Collins, as I was volunteering with registration on a Friday evening in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

She believes that universities are more useful for forming connections than learning. She added that a number of top universities have materials and resources available online for free.

“This last semester, I wasn’t doing… any schoolwork, to be honest. I might have failed some courses,” she told me.

That being said, she would not encourage just anybody to drop out and find work. “If you have nothing else going for you, then your GPA is pretty much all you have.”

Quintyne-Collins was admitted to the first-year computer science stream when she started at U of T but chose not to pursue the program of study. “I wasn’t going to pay the extra tuition… If you can get a degree for 8k a year versus 15k a year and end up with the same job, who’s the idiot? The person who paid more for it.”

She has also co-authored a study published in the STEM Fellowship Journal and is currently conducting research with a fellow U of T dropout working in blockchain. They are not sure about which journals to publish in yet, but it will at least be on arXiv, an open-access digital repository of research papers.

“For computer science, it doesn’t really matter that much,” she said, referring to the publication they will ultimately choose.

When asked how to get involved in the blockchain scene and get one’s foot in the door, Quintyne-Collins said, “Contribute to open source projects and attend events if you’re technical. And if you’re non-technical, you should organize the events.”

She emphasized the need for talent in the scene beyond just computer science, but also in communication and outreach. “If you’re good at building communities and bringing people together, that’s just as important as being able to write code.”

Opinion: $100 million donation cements U of T’s global leadership

Recent donations to AI and biomedical research propel U of T’s innovation field toward greatness

Opinion: $100 million donation cements U of T’s global leadership

U of T’s plan to build a new 750,000-square-foot innovation research complex exhibits its commitment to artificial intelligence (AI) and biomedical research leadership, which will greatly enrich our collective university experience. This breakthrough, courtesy of the university’s recent $100 million donation from Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, firmly anchors its leading status in Canada and its rising position in the world.

After hearing U of T’s plans to build hubs to stimulate innovation, the billionaire couple announced the largest-ever donation the university has ever received at a press conference on March 25 to support these ambitions. The Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, to be located at the corner of College Street and Queen’s Park, will realize the interplay of technology, culture, and society.

Philanthropic gifts such as these support universities by both expanding on existing innovation projects and seeking opportunities to launch new institutes in areas such as machine learning and biomedical and robotic improvement. At U of T, recent philanthropic projects such as the $6.7 million from TD toward data analytics, health care, and behavioural economics, as well as the $20 million for research on the biological causes of depression from the Labatt family strengthen U of T’s potential impact on innovation both domestically and internationally.

Importantly, the $100 million donation firmly ties U of T with the word “innovation,” as it is the largest donation ever made in the Canadian innovation sector. This donation will likely go down among the most noteworthy advancements in Canada’s innovation history. Other notable programs include CanadaHelps, the country’s largest non-profit platform for donating and fundraising with a focus on innovation, which surpassed $500 million in 2015, and Google Canada, which launched a $5 million prize for non-profit innovation. However, these influences are not as profound as that of the single $100 million donation. This is because the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre will constantly remind future generations of scholars, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists of the spirit of innovation, and of the university’s commitment to a brighter future.

The emphasis placed on innovation in AI and biomedicine by U of T and Schwartz and Reisman reaffirms the significance of this gift. The donation continues a remarkable industry-wide outburst of philanthropy for innovations in AI and biomedical research to prominent universities around the planet. For example, in October, the single largest donation of $350 million USD to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology prompted its commitment to dedicate $1 billion USD to research into the rapid evolution of computing and AI. That same month, the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute received a donation of approximately $17.6 million USD to foster research in advanced technology. In July 2017, a $10 million USD endowment to the Stanford Cancer Institute called for advance research in cancer cell therapy, the pioneering cancer treatment today. Six months earlier, Carnegie Mellon University had received a $250 million USD gift to fund a new robotic institution.

Colloquially, the term ‘AI’ is used to describe machines that mimic the cognitive functions of humans, such as learning and problem-solving. Biomedicine, meanwhile, applies biological and physiological principles to clinical practice, which has been the dominant health system for more than a century. Innovations, from a historic meaning, are meant to facilitate human wellbeing.

We are in the midst of a revolution focused on AI and biomedical systems. With the significance of such research, the industrial evolution that is now occurring shoulders the responsibilities of optimizing every facet of humans’ lives, from prolonging life to easing low-wage workers from heavy labour.

Schwartz and Reisman’s donation stamps U of T’s profound position as a top educational institution in the innovation industry. Thanks to generous recent donations, U of T is continuing to shift its focus to the innovation and technology spheres. The implication behind this donation also signals U of T’s rising and determinant role in the current revolution and its ambition to work collaboratively with other influential institutions to lead innovation.

U of T entrepreneurs’ journey through a startup-studded economy

ExploreTO on building a useful startup, overcoming challenges, and learning along the way

U of T entrepreneurs’ journey through a startup-studded economy

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens’ timeless wisdom certainly resonates with millennials today. On the one hand, we are blessed with an unprecedented amount of possibilities to launch new projects. On the other hand, the chance to start anew often feels imposed. Inspired by successful entrepreneurs, we detest the prospect of a career of clerical drudgeries and punching clocks, but we also fret about the insecurity of our gig economy, because the more the traditional market economy prospers, the more fleeting entrepreneurship’s promise seems.

Additionally, society’s romanticization of self-made entrepreneurs can conceal the challenges involved in launching and maintaining a startup. The road to successful entrepreneurship is a lot bumpier than one might expect. Students need to be mentally and financially prepared if they are serious about having their own business ventures.

On behalf of ExploreTO, a startup led mainly by U of T alumni, here are some insights into our entrepreneurial adventure and some survival tips we’ve picked up along the way.

Getting started

ExploreTO is a phone app that helps users find what to do and where to go in Toronto. Our four founders came up with this idea when they ended up going to the same places every time they hung out. As they saw the same faces at the same spots, they knew that they weren’t the only ones feeling tired of the same routines and frustrated by the surfeit of new options that popped up on search engines. People’s continued desire to have new and exciting hangout spots easily sorted for them is a testament to the necessity of this app.

Once they were set on what they wanted to do with their app, they began their research into the events listing industry, which consists of two types of companies: technology-oriented companies like Yelp and Facebook and content-oriented ones like blogTO and Narcity.

In the first category, companies work like aggregators that glean data from nearly every event and venue — there is nothing happening in the city that you can’t find on their apps. Despite their omnipotence, they lack original content and curation. Wading through the thousands of options they proffer, users may or may not eventually find something that interests them, contributing to the conundrum that ExploreTO seeks to resolve.

In the second category, media companies usually provide great original content. They have staff writers and editors who understand audiences’ expectations and deliver relevant content. Their apps, by contrast, are lacking severely. Most people we know either have no clue that these popular content providers have apps, or they have tried these apps only to delete them minutes after. Few system updates have been made on their apps, and with a focus on web content, their apps are generally poorly managed — restaurants in some of the reviews don’t even exist anymore.

ExploreTO targets what both of these game players miss: an easy-to-use app with carefully curated, updated, and original content. Not only does our team manually select venues and events for our collections, but we build in features that take into account users’ preferences, weather, the day of the week, time of the year, and other relevant factors. When launching a startup, the first thing to do is conduct research that helps you understand the industry. At the same time, it’s important to consider how to address some of the shortcomings of your competitors.

As the company has continued to grow, our founders have leveraged their education and spoken to a few professors who have offered valuable advice. So for any aspiring entrepreneurs, don’t let this resource go to waste. U of T also has such a large talent pool where you can meet your future business partners who share your values. Socialize as much as you can and meet people from different schools and departments — you’ll need different talents to build a successful business.

Building a team

The four founding partners are Val Neiman from engineering, Philipp Soummer from Rotman Commerce, and Liam Kelly from computer science, all graduates from U of T, as well as Ivan Gudov, a math graduate from the University of Waterloo. Between the four of them, ExploreTO had the perfect team. With Ivan as the developer building the backend database and Liam working on the frontend user interface, Philipp and Val took charge of business operations and project management.

The lesson for aspiring U of T entrepreneurs is to never overlook the importance of choosing the right partners. You will need them to be as competent as they are trustworthy, be able to meet deadlines, and share responsibility as team players, so you know that you can count on each other at the end of the day.

Building ExploreTO from scratch, our team has learned to work on everything independently and to keep costs low because we didn’t want to get funded too early and give away an outsized portion of equity. It may sound like an exciting learning experience, but in reality, it has been very daunting given how we are self-funded, and all four founders have highly demanding jobs in hedge funds, IT consulting, and project management. We all need to be resourceful and diligent, and we need everyone to play ball when working countless extra hours. Juggling ExploreTO with demanding day jobs certainly hasn’t been easy for them, and it can sometimes feel hard to stay motivated and keep a team motivated as well. Although our founders have never seriously considered quitting, the thought did cross everyone’s mind in the first two years as they didn’t know how it would turn out. But as our team keeps hitting milestones, gaining more traffic and user recognition, we believe that there is no better way to invest our time and efforts than in this venture.

Funding

Of course we do want to seek new sources of funding. The team is looking to expand and still wants to pay future interns in more than just charismatic experiences. In fact, Neiman and Soummer just auditioned for Dragons’ Den and received very positive feedback, so you may see ExploreTO with a deal on the next season!

That said, it’s not all about the money. The motivation is creating a product that people love and, if that ends up being financially rewarding, then it’s the cherry on top. But it’s also worth mentioning that while money problems can certainly be daunting — especially when they involve potential lawsuits — they are not always difficult to resolve.

ExploreTO’s issues with larger companies in the industry surprisingly only took a few emails and short explanations to resolve. People make threats and get threatened in the business world all the time, particularly related to money, but confidence and communication dissolve more conflicts than you might think.

Continued growth

It is difficult to know when to quit. It takes some intuition, which will probably come with experience. It’s important to define some goals, metrics, or milestones to judge your progress. If the project doesn’t seem to be progressing based on that outline, perhaps it’s a good time to re-evaluate. Maybe the goals are too lofty, or maybe it’s the strategic direction that needs work.

The best way to reconfigure your ideas is to ask the people who will be using your product. ExploreTO had small focus groups in its Alpha stages that involved our founders asking friends to test the app, while telling them that they were testing an app that someone they vaguely knew had developed. That way, the team could get honest feedback without testers feeling as if they were criticizing them directly. The app is currently on its 15th iteration because we takes the feedback of our users very seriously. Had ExploreTO never asked its users what they thought, the app would still look like it did a year ago. We would have liked it personally, but our users wouldn’t have.

For aspiring entrepreneurs in the initial stage of development, it’s imperative to testify the necessity of your product, coin down your specialty, and find the right partners who specialize in these areas. As the team develops, it’s also necessary to think about building a culture.

A successful startup needs to be people-oriented. Take into account the opinions, criticism, and concerns of your users, interns, and employees — those are the contributions that every startup needs.

— With files from Philipp Soummer

April Jin is a Content Writer at ExploreTO.