The business: PlanHero
Founders: Dave Chmiel and Kyle Huberman
Founded: September 2011
If you’ve ever tried to organize a group event or trip, you know what a hassle it can be to get everyone on the same page. Which restaurant should you host the birthday dinner at, and how many people should the reservation be for? What time works best for everyone? Who wants to pitch in for a charity donation, and how much should everyone contribute? Who is in charge of collecting the money for the office fantasy football league?
Making life easier for planners is what David Chmiel and Kyle Huberman set out to do with PlanHero, a Facebook app that lets them ask group members what they want to do, when they want to do it and can even collect payment for activities through PayPal.
“We wanted to solve an actual problem. There’s a lot of startups in the city and really, everywhere, that are just doing a startup for the sake of doing a startup, but they’re not necessarily solving a need,” says Chmiel. He says they came to PlanHero as an idea after their own difficulties planning group events.
The story so far…
Chmiel, Huberman and friend Sean Collins started work on what would later become PlanHero in April 2011. They had considered several other ideas before focusing exclusively on the social planning aspect. Shortly thereafter, they recruited Graham Swan as their fourth co-founder and developer, after local venture capitalist (and Graham’s older brother) Kevin Swan recommended him.
In September, they started work on the app in earnest, setting up shop in the old Nexopia office in Edmonton’s Boardwalk building. Chmiel and Collins handled business development, while Huberman specialized in design and Swan did the actual app development.
Huberman says Swan, who was still a student at the University of Alberta at the time, had the bulk of the workload. “At the end of the day, he was the most important person on the project. Everything rested on him to get it done so [Chmiel and Collins] had something to sell or I had something to design. Without an application, the project doesn’t get done,” he says. They brought on a second developer to help out, but he only lasted a few months. Ultimately, the team decided to reallocate the company’s equity and give Swan a bigger stake.
After completing the alpha version of the app, Swan decided to spend the months following his graduation in May travelling, and Collins left to work on other projects. That left Chmiel and Huberman to find a new developer.
Over the summer, they hired Richard Aberefa as their lead developer and first employee. “We’re actually paying him as opposed to just doing it for the fun of it,” says Huberman. “It’s a very different type of experience.” Now, with the beta version of the app released and working (mostly) well, and PlanHero relocated into Startup Edmonton’s space at the Mercer Building downtown, Chmiel and Huberman are deciding where their startup should go next.
First up, says Chmiel, is getting the app off Facebook, or at least giving users the option to use it independently of the social network. With many people growing leery of apps that post unwanted messages on their Facebook timelines, he hopes that by making PlanHero more independent they can attract a broader base of users.
Thanks to Startup Edmonton’s Flightpath, Aberefa’s salary is guaranteed until March 1. After that point, Chmiel and Huberman say they’ll evaluate where they’re at and if they want to continue with the startup. “We’ve always said that if we’re not where we want to be by then, we’re just going to stop doing it. This is not the kind of startup where we’re going to lose tons of sleep over it,” says Huberman. But at this point, they’re still not sure where they hope to get by then. “If we have a user base of even 500 users, or 50 users, we might say, ‘Okay, let’s keep doing this.’ Or we might have a user base of 5,000 users and say, ‘Let’s close down shop.’”
Next Wednesday: We introduce BeauCoo, the Calgary-based startup creating a social network that lets women share photos of clothes with other users who wear the same size.