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Simply CEO
Simply CEO Julian Ing

The tech world has no shortage of recommendation apps and websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, but Simply hopes its personalized, curated platform can set it apart.

The Vancouver, B.C.-based startup focuses on surfacing content specific to a user, depending on his or her interests and location. It also factors in mood, season, and weather to generate recommendations for restaurants and events.

“It was originally designed to hyper-curate lifestyle and cultural content that inspires users to experience life outside of technology,” founder Julian Ing said of Simply. “We implemented deep user engagement and transparent data collection. With the data, we are able to truly curate content to the user.”

Ing founded Simply in 2014, and launched the app earlier this month. Before Simply, he founded and sold two creative agencies with Giant Interactive and Erputive Games.

We caught up with Ing for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We can recommend amazing things for you to do, based on where you are, who you are and what you like.”

Inspiration hit us when: “The concept of SIMPLY came from a combination of what-where-why frustration and a love for data. I found myself spending too much time looking, thinking and planning where to go, eat, listen to, read and watch — especially when I’m in a different city. My friends didn’t help either, as they were going through the same frustrations. We eventually ended up doing the same things or making disappointing choices. Yelp, Trip Advisor and even Google didn’t make it any easier as I spent too much time searching through noise. More is not always better, and none of them really knew me enough to make relevant and accurate recommendations.

My friends and I wanted to experience cool new things wherever we were, without the headache and time sink. SIMPLY was born.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “I bootstrapped the majority of SIMPLY and raised some funding from selected angels. Although tech investments are up, so are the number of startups. I wanted to launch the product first — before starting our seed round — which gives early investors an advantage. It also makes it easier to pitch and have an advantage over other earlier stage companies.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “The secret sauce wouldn’t be secret if I told you! OK, OK, I’ll tell you a part of it: User engagement. We’re using advanced qualitative research methodologies in our mobile application to conduct deep user engagement, on top of behavioral tracking and data mining. We’re collecting essential data that even Google is unable to collect — and with better accuracy. Don’t even get me started on ‘transparent data’ collection!”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “We’ve made a number of smart decisions in terms of artificial intelligence, research methodologies and design and user experience. Adding the action/event feed was crucial.”

simply2

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “A few of our biggest mistakes include hiring the wrong personnel. They were great people but not necessarily made for startup culture. Vancouver is seeing a major shortage of mobile and senior developers. As a startup, hiring on a small budget and getting top talent isn’t easy. We definitely had a few cold starts booting this up. It’s an ongoing process.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “I would say the edge goes to Gates. I’m big on philanthropy and he’s definitely a hero of mine in terms of that. I would like to use cultural data in the future to help organizations solve global issues. We can’t do it alone and having organizations working together and sharing resources is key.”

simply-logo2Our favorite team-building activity is: “Our favorite team-building activity is lunch. Group lunch is like family dinner. We get to really know each other. No shop talk or cell phones!”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “The biggest thing we look for now in hiring is whether or not the person has startup experience. Vancouver isn’t like San Francisco, where everyone worked for a startup at some point. Not everyone here understands startup life, which makes it hard to manage in a flatter organization.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “As a founder and CEO, think like a visionary. Hell, be a visionary! Try to be like Elon Musk in terms of building a company that isn’t just about monetary or brand success, but also about changing industry and impacting the world in a positive way. We need more Gates’ and Musk’s in the world and we can all invest in another leader that can make a major impact. We can always build a great team with money, but a leader with vision is far and in between.”

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