‘Labour of love’ nets unexpected sale for Ottawa app maker Sliced Bread

Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
March 21, 2011

Click here to view this article on OBJ.ca.

Local entrepreneurs to use proceeds to cook up two new products

Chris Saracino.
Sliced Bread CEO and ‘dough practitioner’
Chris Saracino.

When Chris Saracino and his partner Steve Palmer put the finishing touches on their Hello Referrals web-based software, the full expectation was they would just let it “linger on the web” and grow on its own, with the two entrepreneurs perhaps putting a little bit more work into explaining the application’s benefits to target users.

So when they got the call from Madison, Wis.-based Refertrac with a five-figure offer to buy their flagship product, it was rather a pleasant surprise. Refertrac had a competing tool, geared specifically towards the financial industry, but the U.S. firm saw an opportunity with Hello Referrals.

Within 48 hours, Mr. Saracino said, a deal had been set up, leaving the two Ottawa entrepreneurs and their company, Sliced Bread Inc., with cash to fund two other apps on which they were already working.

“We were always under the impression it was something that would take a bit of ramp-up and anticipated having a bit of adoption time,” said Mr. Saracino, who describes Hello Referrals as a tool for groups such as chambers of commerce or trade associations to exchange and follow up on referrals for business leads.

He said he and Mr. Palmer, as members themselves of various networking groups and chambers of commerce, found group members were often using hard-to-track methods such as exchanging slips of paper, casual phone calls or random e-mails whenever a connection recommended a business opportunity.

“What we were hearing was that beyond the initial attempt or even second attempt at contact, most leads were falling off the map, since they were somewhat outside regular attempts at getting business,” Mr. Saracino explained. “We thought this was a little backwards since referrals are precious opportunities that come with somebody’s endorsement.”

As such, the pair – who have day jobs in the media production and interactive industries – set up Hello Referrals as a sort of Google Groups for business networks that would allow groups to see their business leads in one location, as well as the actual dollar figures for earnings from a particular referral.

Mr. Saracino said Hello Referrals got one paying customer, the Burnside Networking Group in Nova Scotia, with other groups testing the software’s beta version for the 10 months prior to the tool’s formal launch in February. Though it was a small pool of users, the company was getting a lot of positive feedback.

“People said they were closing more business, since there were weekly reminders to follow up on referrals. The group was mobilized,” he said.

The fact that users were generating a return from Hello Referrals was really “the biggest kick” for Mr. Saracino and Mr. Palmer, who’s currently based in Vancouver, so the sale was just a bonus.

Mr. Saracino said it hadn’t been Sliced Bread’s intention to seek funding to build up Hello Referrals as a stand-alone business, since the two entrepreneurs had essentially “completed the cycle” with the software and had just planned to move on to the next project.

“We always had this very grassroots, bootstrapped approach. It was really a labour of love,” he added.

The next step for Sliced Bread, Mr. Saracino said, is to use half of the proceeds from the sale of Hello Referrals towards an “intensive six months” of preparing the company’s new property management tool for beta testing.

While he said he can’t reveal too many details, he noted the application will be focused on matching up property managers and real estate owners. As well, Sliced Bread’s portfolio already includes another product called Standard Vinyl, which is capitalizing on the vinyl resurgence by allowing musicians to put their tunes on records.

“We’re just having fun developing these apps,” Mr. Saracino added.

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