Few 19-year-olds see $1.8 million cheques written to the company they founded, but that’s commonplace for Toronto resident Jordan Satok, who is one of the youngest entrepreneurs ever to raise venture financing.
Satok is deeply focused on his company AppHero, a smartphone app that helps you find other applications ideal for your interests. It personalizes the app discovery process, so if you say on Facebook you like marathon running, it’ll seek to show you apps related to your passion for running. With your permission, AppHero accesses your Twitter and Facebook feeds to see what kinds of things you like, are talking about and are relevant to you.
For smartphone users, tools such as AppHero are helpful in sorting through the plethora of downloadable apps – 800,000 apps are available on Apple’s App Store alone.
Satok says his love for software development can be traced back to when he was a young child who would spend time building with Lego blocks.
“If you like playing with things and making things, coding is a natural evolution of that,” he says. By the time he was 13, he was programming websites and running a blog where he would talk about various apps, though at the time, it was computer software rather than apps for mobile devices. He would look at what he and his friends needed, and would build an app to help them. For example, when he wanted to work on time management for school, he would create a program that would do that.
He says he’s always been fascinated by apps. You buy a new device, like a computer or phone, and out of the box, it doesn’t do much, he says. Then you add software and it becomes really powerful.
With an office based in Toronto’s Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue area, Satok is all AppHero, all the time. Although he was given a full scholarship to the University of Waterloo the same year he was offered venture capital money, he chose to move straight from Upper Canada College to being a full-time entrepreneur.
“It’s exciting,” he gushes in a phone interview. “I get to work with some of the most amazing people in the world.”
The people he works with range from about 25 to 35, but the fact that he’s so much younger rarely poses a problem, he says. “We’re a team. We make decisions as a team,” he says, adding that he would never let his age stand in the way of his passion.
He says he’s never wanted to go the “traditional” route of going to university, graduating, and finding a job in a company that matches your interest. That method, he said, won’t necessarily find something that will truly feed your passion. “You have to go out into the world and meet people and start networking,” he says.
Being part of the Jewish community has helped him meet people, which he credits to the “communal nature” of the religion. He says when he meets successful Jews, they’re often willing to answer questions from a “mentorship perspective” and give him useful advice.
AppHero began two years ago, only a couple years after Satok created an App of the Day website. As a 15-year-old app fiend, he wanted to help smartphone users discover the apps useful to them, which is when the AppHero idea began to percolate.
It’s a technically difficult challenge to see why a certain app works for you but not your friend, Satok explains. The complex algorithm in AppHero is constantly being tweaked and improved, evidenced by a 2.0 version recently released.
Investors have taken notice of Satok’s determination to build an all-star app. In July, AppHero secured just under $1.8 million in seed financing from OMERS Ventures, Golden Venture Partners and ENIAC Ventures. “It’s awesome to see investors taking a chance on me, seeing the value in what I’m doing,” Satok says.
That was the biggest challenge at the beginning, he says. Having no degrees to his name, and just a little job experience, he was asking investors to have faith in him. However, his experience at a software company gave him the opportunity to prove himself to that team, and likewise to its investors, many of whom later invested in AppHero, he says.
What’s his day like? He’ll engage in team meetings in the morning, discussing what the engineering crew needs to work on and what should be coded. Even though Satok doesn’t have an engineering degree, he’ll spend time at a terminal window, figuring out anything that needs to be fixed. He’ll carve time out of his day to chat with AppHero users to gauge their response to the personalized service. He’ll talk to media one week, or meet with investors in Boston another week. “No day is the same in my life,” Satok admits.
Although some kids his age are going out to party and dating fellow students, Satok has no regrets about his chosen path. “This whole process is fun. I solve interesting problems. I work with smart people. I wouldn’t change this for the world.”
– With files from Cara Stern