Startup Spotlight: Tasytt (Obie.ai)
Hey guys, welcome to the very first Startup Spotlight here at SinC (Startups In Canada).
This is something that we’ve been planning over the past couple months and we’ve finally got around to kicking things off. Exciting things for us and hopefully for you as well!
For our very first Spotlight, I had the privilege of interviewing a friend of mine (and someone who lives the daily hustle), Chris Buttenham. Chris is the Co-Founder & CEO of Tasytt (Obie.ai), a company from Hamilton, ON (out of The Forge incubator). Him and his team were also just recently accepted as one of the companies in 500 Startups’ latest class, batch 20.
Tasytt‘s mission is to help companies organize their knowledge and make it universally accessible and useful. The company’s goal is to make work easier, to help new members get up to speed faster and to foster a culture of knowledge-sharing. They’ve recently developed a chatbot named Obie to help teams access knowledge quicker without leaving Slack. Pretty amazing things!
So here we go, below is my interview with Chris.
KB: When did you start your company and what was your source of inspiration or motivation for starting up?
CB: The concept for our company began about 4 or 5 years ago. My co-founder Ravinda and I worked together at the time for a small local company. When we started this job it quickly became apparent that access to the information and knowledge we needed was going to be a challenge.
To try and fix this we decided to build an in-house solution that would enable our co-workers to share knowledge they had in their head. Once it was successful we were eager to share this concept with other teams—we quit our jobs and Tasytt was born. Unfortunately, we quickly ran into a new problem—the market didn’t want more software. This is when we decided to develop Obie to embed knowledge management into workspaces teams already use, as opposed to trying to convince them to adopt a completely external piece of software.
KB: What is the meaning behind your company’s name/ how did you come up with that name for it?
CB: Tasytt [tac-it] is derived from the word Tacit Knowledge which is used to describe knowledge or information that isn’t codified and inherently difficult to share. Tasytt has always set out on a mission to make team knowledge universally accessible and useful.
After pivoting our solution to a conversational interface, we needed a name and design for the chatbot and wanted to create an inviting and friendly brand that our users could connect with. Obie the beaver comes from our previous company name “OneBase”; O + B with a dab of our Canadian roots.
KB: Do you have any co-founders or employees? If so, describe your team’s dynamic and how you connected.
CB: There is an extremely resilient and diverse team behind Tasytt. Ravinda Seunath, Alex Sopinka and myself founded the company after knowing and working together for many years. We quickly recruited fellow McMaster alumni Carolyn Chong, Fady Makram as well as John Kyeremeh to join the vision.
KB: What have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced with starting up? Describe them a little bit for us.
CB: It’s all really hard! I think early on it’s easy to listen too much to external opinions from people who don’t know you or your business. It’s easy to get caught up with cheap advice and it can add an incredible amount of confusion and lead to a lot of wasted time chasing the wrong ideas and opportunities. I also think building the correct team and culture early on is fundamentally important for success and not an easy feat.
KB: Have you reached any significant company goals or milestones that you’d like to share with us?
CB: So much has happened in the last year! Since Obie was released in July we’ve signed up almost 1200 teams and were able to leverage this interest for our acceptance into the 500 Startups accelerator program in San Francisco.
KB: What’s next to come for you and your team? Any big plans (that you can share with us, of course)?
CB: We are currently heads down working on the next iteration of Obie for our users. We’re excited to share our progress at 500 Startups Demo Day in May of this year.
KB: If you could pass on one piece of advice to entrepreneurs just starting up, what would it be?
CB: If you’re not passionate about what you’re building you’ve already lost. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending how you look at it—entrepreneurship is a constant game of getting punched in the face and putting out fires. Only those who are extremely passionate about the problem they’re trying to solve will be resilient enough to keep on keepin’ on.
KB: What’s your favourite quote or saying that you’ve either heard or say yourself? Why is this your favourite?
CB: “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” – Walter Bagehot. This one resonates with me, because who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
KB: Finally, as a Canadian entrepreneur, how has your experience been starting up in the Canadian ecosystem? Do you feel that you and your team have received significant support?
CB: Let me start by saying we are extremely grateful for the support we have received from the Canadian startup ecosystem and can honestly say we wouldn’t be where we are today without it.
Having said that, there is definitely room for improvement. There is clearly numerous obvious benefits Canada has working for it; access to talent, proximity and affordability—though, there’s a reason silicon valley exists.
From our personal experience, access to relevant mentorship has been a difficult challenge. I feel our ecosystem i too heavily academic and should focus more on practical and entrepreneurial leadership.
Second to that, access to capital is simply a greater challenge. The pool for funding is smaller, government subsidies are more work than they’re worth and the investor community is much more risk averse than their southern counterpart—an obvious challenge for early stage startups.
Startups In Canada (SinC) is a startup directory, showcasing and featuring local Canadian startups, their founding members and their vision. Our vision is to further accelerate and strengthen the startup community here, within Canada.
Have a startup you’d like to submit and list with us or know someone who would be a good fit for our Startup Spotlight series? You’ve come to the right place!