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Direct from the six, world renowned, Canada’s largest city, with Canada’s biggest thinkers, visionaries, and hustlers. This is start up talk, featuring the founders, funders, innovators and community leaders who’ve led Canada’s start up ecosystem right here in Toronto. You’ll hear the challenges, failures, the successes. Toronto’s start up podcast gives you the full story, direct from the entrepreneurs and influencers who’ve made a difference. Now the host of start up talk, the founder of Toronto’s starts, the Startup Coach.
Startup Coach: Hey it’s the start up coach here and welcome back to another edition of Startup Talk. And on today’s edition I talk to. Daniela and Zuzana. The amazing sisters from BooknBrunch. It’s a great interview, let’s get right into it. welcome ladies.
Daniela: Thanks for having us.
Zuzana: Thank you.
Startup Coach: So, you’re sisters.
Daniela: We are.
Startup Coach: And so, before we get into BooknBrunch and the entrepreneurial spirit and what led you to that. What were you like growing up? Were you best friends? Did you fight?
Daniela: Growing up. So I’ll start with… We grew up in, we were born in communist Czechoslovakia. We came to Canada as little immigrant girls. And we fought a ton. We did not get along for the first part of our life. Z can share the moments if she wants to. The body slamming moments.
Zuzana: Right so, I think our mom was very concerned at one point that we were fighting like boys. Physical fighting. I think that’s because we’re so different, but we grew to love our differences. And we’re best friends now.
Startup Coach: Did you go to the same school? High school?
Daniela: We went to the same school all along. We…
Startup Coach: Same circle of friends? Or different friends?
Daniela: Totally different.
Zuzana: Different, yeah.
Daniela: We barely… We didn’t even hang out.
Daniela: And then we would get home and beat each other up. Over the remote control.
Startup Coach: Sounds like me and my… I have an older brother and an older sister.
Daniela: So then you know.
Zuzana: Yeah, and don’t take my space on the couch. There was a line, that you did not cross.
Daniela: That’s right. Now one point we were sharing a room and we had some kind of fight. I’ll never forget this and I think I took a permanent marker and just drew a line down the middle, of the room. And I was like “ This is my side, that’s your side.”
Startup Coach: Sounds like a sitcom.
Daniela: Yeah, it was ridiculous. One of us had, I had the washroom, but you had the exit.
Zuzana: Exit. So you couldn’t leave.
Daniela: Yeah. It was… we used to fight like cats and dogs. Tearing each other’s hair out. Lots of physical stuff. I don’t even know why that is.
Zuzana: I know, but I feel like when you did that line it was really strategic. You can have the bathroom and I got to take the exit.
Daniela: I get to leave the room. We fought a lot. It took us a long time I think, into our adulthood to finally figure out we’re amazing.
Zuzana: Probably when, 18, 19. When, I turned 18 you were 15. I think that’s when we started to get closer.
Startup Coach: I don’t necessarily consider that adulthood. Most people don’t normalize, boys and ladies until about the 25ish. You’re saying you normalized at 15 and 18.
Daniela: That’s her take on it. I think it took a little longer than that. But we hadn’t figured it out yet. We weren’t gelling quite the way we do now.
Startup Coach: Fantastic and did you the different schools? From a university point of view. What happened when you left the nest?
Daniela: Z left first.
Zuzana: I went first. I went to Ryerson university and moved downtown. That was really exciting because we grew up all over Thornhill and King city. I was excited to leave, just to be on my own. I think when I came back in the summers we were closer because we had that space.
Daniela: That’s right.
Zuzana: I think I started to miss you a little.
Daniela: I visited you a few times at university and I felt so cool. Because, I was like, “I’m going to university” Drinking and whatever. Then I left a few years later to Carlton. So I went to Ottawa and I studied journalism, because my plan was to be a war correspondent.
Startup Coach: Very nice. I was four years younger than my brother, was going to university, and I got his ID and snuck into all the bars and stuff.
Daniela: So you know.
Startup Coach: Yeah
Startup Coach: What was the next step in your careers? Because, it took a while to get to BooknBrunch. What did you do after?
Zuzana: I took graphic communications’ management at Ryerson. So I have a Bachelor of technology within marketing degree. I went to corporate Canada. Did some sales and marketing. I was a sales lady and accountant, a director lead, that’s what I did.
Daniela: Myself, I studied journalism and then right out of school, out of nowhere. I decided to buy a burger joint. A fast food, old school burger joint.
Startup Coach: I’m learning a lot about you today.
Daniela: Yeah. It was called Big Burger. I was entrepreneurial right from the start. So, I had this restaurant and I was really young and naive. I was like “I’ll just have this restaurant on the side, while I do my war corresponding” No it doesn’t work like that, I learned the hard way. Then went from the restaurant, kind of drove me stir crazy. So I started to volunteer my time. I started to volunteer my time at the Toronto International Film Festival. That was my PR school. Volunteering there, then they hired me. I worked there for a few years. I loved it, I met a lot of international journalists. Then I decided to go out on my own and I launched my own PR agency. Had the PR agency until we launched BooknBrunch.
Startup Coach: I think I met you because of the PR agency.
Daniela: That’s right.
Startup Coach: Because, you come in and mentor some start ups here in Toronto Starts.
Startup Coach: Our marketing PR workshops and other things. When, did the idea of BooknBrunch come into play? You have a full time gig, you’re doing your thing.
Zuzana: It came into play 2011. I’d say eight, nine years ago.
Daniela: As an idea.
Zuzana: As an idea. Got out of a really bad relationship, came to live with Daniela and her family, back in Toronto. I was living outside, in Richmond hill and I really did not have many friends back in Toronto. Or I felt like that, I felt like an outsider. So I’ve been out of Toronto for about five or six years and I was coming back. And I’m like “I need friends” I was pretty depressed, laying on the couch all the time and just not wanting to get out. Always loved reading and I wanted to do a book club. I didn’t want to do it at the house because it wasn’t my place. I was in the middle of things. You’re like “Why don’t you get out more” She was like “Get out there and start a book club with family and friends. Just go brunching” I’m like “Yeah, that’s brilliant actually. I want to go brunching around the city and learn more about the city again”
Zuzana: Started with family, friends and grew to this big membership. That we couldn’t really save seats at the brunch table. It was a huge wait list and Daniela like “You know what lets build it. Let’s do this” That’s kind of how it was born. When I was going out there it helped me get out of my depression and I felt compelled to empower others to do this. Host and attend these events, I really wanted to get up and help these people attend them. See how I felt because I literally before that, was not getting off the couch. Then I had something to be excited about and meet people in real life and have that connection.
Daniela: For me, as her sister and close friend. And at the time she was living in my basement.
Daniela: https://media.blubrry.com/startup_talk/content.blubrry.com/startup_talk/Startup_Talk_Episode_16_booknBrunch.mp3I was witness to this transformation. Suddenly my sister was this other person, who was crawling out of the dark. On top of that, through my PR work, I was also supporting some market places. For instance Turo, which is like air bnb for cars. So I was like “These market places are happening, my sister is being lifted out of a depression through this. We have a 200 to 400 person wait list for what she’s doing” All these things came together, then we were like “Let’s build it” So we started down that path.
Startup Coach: Loneliness is a problem. It was the reason I started my first start up Simple Suitor, here in Toronto. There’s a lot of start ups that I work with, that are trying to solve this problem.
Startup Coach: 50% of North Americans live alone. People who self identify as being single, most of them haven’t had a date in over two years. And people need to connect, people move to a city, they don’t know anybody, they don’t know how to connect. People don’t look at each other in a line at Starbucks, or hyper connected globally knowing what are friends are doing across town, or across the world. But we don’t know what the persons doing, or how they’re feeling in line in front of us, or who we’re talking to across the table because we’re obsessed on the phone. We built this technology of being disconnected, and we really need this connection.
Startup Coach: It’s fantastic what you’re doing. The other thing, the problem with loneliness is people don’t wanna say they’re lonely or feel lonely. Being motivated around something they love, like books and food, is a great idea. Here you are , you’re motivated to do this, to get out of the house, to host these events, to get around people. You have 400 people on your wait list. You’ve said “Okay, let’s go for this” What happens next?
Daniela: I guess the first piece was, well we had to come up with a name. But you’d already named it informally. It was already BooknBrunch. We couldn’t believe the domain was available. Which is like, never happens. Then the second piece was, neither of us are tech founders. We have no idea how to do this. We gotta find someone who’s gonna develop it and build it for us.
Zuzana: Exactly, then incorporation. We wanted to corporation with just an online thing. Originally we started to go down the path of agency. We wanted one stop shop. We wanted to have the design work with the developer together and just have one person manage it. As we started to go down that path, really expensive, really pricey and obviously we are bootstrapping this company. So, we have to keep it lean. You reached out to your network.
Daniela: Yes. So my great friend and former client Jordan Axani. I don’t know if you recall him, he was the trip around the world guy. His story went viral. He had bought a ticket for his girlfriend, for a trip around the world. Then they broke up, so he went on Reddit and he’s like “Anybody with the same last name, same first and last name, you can have this ticket” It went viral and he needed some PR, to help manage. We came on board, I came on board, we became friends. I knew that he had, he’d started his own start up. He was in the circle. I asked him “Do you know anybody who can do this?” And he brought us Matt.
Daniela: So Matt came on board, pretty quickly actually.
Zuzana: Yeah. Sometimes I think you go, well I always go with my gut. I think we talk about this, it’s about timing and the passion. Does the person get your vision? Do they have “Birds of a feather, flock together” as I always say. I just instantly hit it off with Matt and he became our CTO. It just… We had a meeting. Just everything was easy. I think when it’s right, it’s easy. That’s where it happened. That was 2016 and the path, taking it with contractors and all that stuff.
Daniela: By 2018 we launched
Startup Coach: I know I’ve talked to lots of start ups who aren’t programmers, and they’re going out, to figure out how to get their platform done. They get quotes from $20,000 to $800,000. And they’re trying to figure out how to do this. They’re all over the map and which one’s good, which one isn’t. Having someone on board, you met him, you clicked, you felt it was good and it didn’t take long to get a launch.
Startup Coach: So, now you’re launched. You have this platform and what happens?
Daniela: I was freaked out, I’m going to be honest, I was freaked out. I’ve done a lot of crazy things. But I was freaked out because I’m a PR person. So I was like “It’s got to be this big thing. It’s got to be this big” but how the hell do you launch something, even if you have a PR background, with no real money and resources. This is the big question mark, right. So, we put out the press release and nobody knows who we are, nobody cares in a way. That was really interesting and challenging for me, personally. Because, I’ve launched so many amazing companies, I launched Turo into the market place, to over 360 pieces of media coverage in 30 hours. That’s the magic I can produce, why wasn’t I able to produce it for myself.
Daniela: Really interesting exercise.
Daniela: But, we did get some media coverage, which was great. We started to invest in Paid a little.
Zuzana: So, Paid. We invested in Paid ad on Facebook.
Daniela: Small amount of money. That’s how it started to grow, that and word of mouth. Now of course we have all these plans for how we’re going to continue to grow. It kind of slowly started to trickle in.
Zuzana: We saw early on, social media is where it’s at. And that’s why we went the Facebook ad route. That’s where we get a lot of our people coming into it and learning about it. Because we’re in the discoverability stage. People still need to get to know us. Building that audience, social media’s helped us a lot, through Instagram and Facebook. To build our audience and for people to come to the in real life.
Zuzana: Once, they come we have a really great loyalty. People just keep on coming because of the feeling that they get. It’s about how they feel when they’re at our event in real life. That’s what we talk about, building trust round books and food. The feeling you get, the love, all the support.
Zuzana: One of our manifestos is surprise and delay. When you come to our events, you always expect the unexpected. We do ask of our host, give us a couple of ideas for your surprise and delays that you’re going to put into an event. One of the events was, a knitting event and the book had a recipe for a muffin. The host put together dry ingredients in a mason jar and gave that away, to everybody.
Daniela: So its always something different. Everybody has different surprise and delights. Sometimes the chef will come out, or sometimes you’ll get a free something from the venue. Sometimes the host will bring a goody bag. It just depends.
Daniela: The beginnings we had all this expectation, we weren’t sure how it was going to go. It went okay, but I was also nervous to launch it huge, without fully testing that things would work properly. Because we’re talking about money exchanges, a marketplace. So we have venues on one side, we have our community members, we have our hosts and all of those three parties need to be kind of serviced. Those three channels need to grow as well. So there’s all kinds of challenges. But slow and steady and now we’re in a great place. I can’t even believe this because it’s only been like 10 months.
Daniela: We have members in 35 cities around the world, including Paris and LA. We have inquires every week from chefs, from restaurants, from people who want to host. So it’s going really well and I just think there’s something special about this combination of books and food. What we say is “The book is the ultimate icebreaker” It relaxes people, it makes people feel like “Okay I’m happy to go to this event because at the very least I have this entry point” Which is whatever the book is about.
Startup Coach: Yeah and that, it works out great. At bringing networking together. You know I run networking events all the time. Our most common lists are drinks and what brings people together is the pitches. We ask people to come up and pitch. A lot of people do because they’re trying to promote or practice or do whatever, and connect to the community. That really brings people around from a support. We always get people who didn’t want to pitch, pitching at the end because they’re more than willing to do it. Take all the support and love the can. They feel that they belong and that it was okay. It’s great when you can impart that in people and just around something that. “Hey here’s this pitch, what did you think?” Verses, it’s not me “Here’s this book, what did you think. Let’s talk about it. Let’s be analytical.” And that’s great.
Startup Coach: I don’t understand the book club culture. What problem does your application and platform solve for people?
Daniela: The larger problem you’ve already hit on the head, which is loneliness. Actually, interestingly about loneliness, just a few stats that I was just shocked by. The stat is, one in three people, are lonely and that the world economic form recognizes that loneliness is greater risk factor for us, than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s actually a huge global issue, but I never really thought about it that way until I saw that this loneliness grow into depression in Z. Then watch as the club kind of lifted her out.
Daniela: That’s the bigger problem, but from a technical standpoint, we’ve solved a problem around event planning. Anytime you go to plan any group event, even dinner for your family. A, you got to find the venue. B, you got to negotiate food cost, unless you’re going a la carte. The awesome thing about BooknBrunch, from a planning perspective, is that a host can just scroll through and all the venues and preset menus are there for them to choose from. Similarly, to how if you’re traveling and you use air bnb. You have a whole variety of homes, accommodations that you can book.
Daniela: So, it takes minutes to plan an event, versus potentially hours or negotiating all of that.
Zuzana: Or days. You have to go back and forth with the restaurant.
Daniela: Well that’s what you were doing. As Z was planning it, she was using different kinds of sites to do it. And it didn’t have the functionality that you needed. So we went and built those things into the platform.
Zuzana: And not everyone feels comfortable negotiating with venues and restaurants and things like that. It kind of takes that out of that equation as well.
Startup Coach: Sounds like it takes a lot of work out of it.
Daniela: We try to make it easy.
Startup Coach: Everyone talks about hustle. What are you doing to get traction and build your audience now?
Daniela: We’ve got, I mean on the PR front, I’m pitching as much as I can, of course. We’re going to be in Toronto Life soon. We’ve got, I’m tracking for at least one good piece of coverage per week. Earned media, which doesn’t cost you anything, anyone can pitch themselves, is super powerful once it arrives and hits. We’ve got earned media.
Daniela: We have plans to do a tour. We’re going to call it the in real life tour, going from city to city. Talking about the importance of connecting in real life.
Daniela: We’re, of course, using our paid strategy. We have some ideas for some crazy stunts coming down the pipeline. We’re going to be putting into effect a really awesome referral program. We think referral programs are where it’s at for growth.
Daniela: There’s 10 million other things, I don’t have the list in front of me.
Zuzana: We’re talking about hosting coaching. So, host coach, putting people in place on our side. Just to have… create a community for the host. Where, they feel supported to keep on putting events up. Just a host venue coach, kind of.
Daniela: That encourages people to continue to plan events.
Zuzana: Or if they have issues. They’re our superheros. I’ll call them super powers. Both sides that we need to also, as much as we need to take care of the members. We also need to take care of the venues, and the hosts as much.
Daniela: Then also on the growth side, I forgot about this. This ones important of course, in today’s landscape is working with content creators. Some people call them influencers, I don’t really like that word. People who have large followings, we’re going to be, your co hosting, or having them host events. As a way to organically grow, because their reach is broader than, say the average person. We have some of these people already lined up in London, in LA and in certain markets and we’re really excited about that. I think it’s going to go ‘poof’ from there.
Startup Coach: Sounds exciting.
Startup Coach: Do you have any tips for founders?
Zuzana: My thing is, ride the wave.
Startup Coach: Ride the wave. What do you mean by that?
Zuzana: Just let it go the way its supposed to go. Trust the process.
Daniela: And maybe enjoy the process.
Zuzana: Trust and enjoy it.
Daniela: There’s a lot of ups and downs. That’s the ride the wave. Z always says this and I love it. She always says “Best is better”
Daniela: We’ll be putting together a line in a press release, or in a pitch deck or something. Then we’ll tweak it, we tweak it, we love Slack and we’re always back and forth. She’ll just be like “Best is better” Always pushing people to do better.
Daniela: And I think don’t be afraid to make big asks. Even today we sat down with an investor and I could tell, suddenly I had this moment where I was like “I could probably ask her big. She’d be okay with that” But I still didn’t do it. So I had to catch myself.
Daniela: Releasing your fears around asking for the exact thing that you want, when you want it, as you want it. Go big or go home.
Zuzana: Also, A/B test. Really keep on iterating about…
Zuzana: Everything. Everything, your process, everything and just seeing what catches.
Daniela: What’s better. And listen to your community and/or your customer. We do a ton of that, we ask for a lot of feedback. We’re going to be starting a Slack channel or WhatsApp channel, for our community. So, that we can have a direct line to them. Really be serving them in the way that they want to be served. So listening is a huge one.
Startup Coach: There’s a lot… There’s a handful four, five, six tips there to take a look. Is there any advice specifically for female founders that you might…
Zuzana: I’d go back to… I think as females we have a hard time asking for what we want. I’m going back to that because I think we’re afraid. We don’t, as women, we don’t ask for what we want. We need to be direct and go for it.
Daniela: I think, specifically to female founders, I would say to look to your network. Women love to support other women. There are other female founders who want to support you. There are women in the VC community who want to support you. Find those people and network where you can, lose the fear. It’s not about being a female founder, go for the thing you want to go for.
Startup Coach: I’m going to ask you a few questions, specifically we’ll focus on the first one. What books would you recommend
Daniela: My favorite book, one of my favorite books for start ups and for business in general is, Rework.
Startup Coach: Good one.
Daniela: Brilliant. It’s an easy read, and its just game changing for your perspective. Also, love the classics like, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Those would be my tops.
Zuzana: I’m into more fiction and I loved Too much happiness, by Alice Monroe. A Canadian author, lots of short stories, I feel like short stories build into a bigger story. The stranger by Albert Camus and I loved Becoming by Michelle Obama this year, which I thought was really great.
Daniela: Also, Educated by Tara Westover, amazing memoir.
Daniela: Unbelievable memoir, read it.
Startup Coach: What resources and communities would you recommend for start ups here in Toronto?
Daniela: Obviously this one, Toronto Starts is amazing. You’re incredible. MaRS is really excellent. I’m part of their entrepreneurship 101 Slack channel and I became a part of it, because I was helping them with PR and supporting some of their… but now I’m on the other side of it, so many amazing resources there. 500 Start ups does a really good job. Who else the DMZ at Ryerson they’ve actually been reaching out and supportive. There’s a ton out there actually. If you just do… Whoever you’re talking to, just ask Craig and you’ll be fine. He has all the answers.
Zuzana: He does.
Daniela: I feel like, it’s particularly in Toronto, we’re, they say silicone valley north, we’re really lucky to have this ecosystem. So many amazing people. Did I miss anyone?
Zuzana: No I think that’s… you hit a lot.
Startup Coach: Where can people find out more about you and BooknBrunch?
Daniela: BooknBrunch is just BooknBrunch.com.
Zuzana: The letter N. So Book N Brunch.com
Daniela: About me, I mean Clutch PR is my PR company. You can find out all kinds of things there, you can just google me. I’m around, I was in Toronto Life, on the cover a few years ago. My whole life story is out there. And you?
Zuzana: LinkedIn, Instagram you can find me under Zuzka S.
Daniela: Instagram @BooknBrunch. We’re actually both in that inbox. If, you want to talk you can reach us there.
Startup Coach: Fantastic. Its always great dealing with you lovely ladies. Your energy is fantastic. Thank you for being on StartUp Talk episode 16.
Daniela: Thanks for having us.
Zuzana: Thanks for having us.
This has been StartUp Talk episode 16, Toronto’s startup podcast. For more exclusive content, the episode vault and to be part of TorontoStarts community. Visit torontostarts.com. Get your name on the newsletter mailing list and check out our upcoming events. For more episodes, subscribe now and please recognize the time and work behind the scenes, put into connecting you with the biggest visionaries, entrepreneurs and innovators in Toronto. By leaving a five star review. Join us for more next episode from Toronto’s most active entrepreneur and start up community. On Startup Talk.