Home Accessibility Ryerson students launch successful web conferencing startup during COVID-19

Ryerson students launch successful web conferencing startup during COVID-19

by Nojoud Al Mallees

First Class Conferencing Facilitation expects to bring in $500,000 in revenue by the end of 2020

Maddy Hearne, left, and McKenzie Day, right, are co-founders of First Class Conferencing. (Courtesy of McKenzie Day)

When Maddy Hearne and McKenzie Day metl at Toronto’s Ursula Franklin Academy five years ago, they never expected to launch a successful startup together by the age of 20. 

Hearne and Day, both Ryerson students, co-founded First Class Conferencing Facilitation, a startup that provides technical support, moderation and training services for web-based conference calls.

The idea was borne out of one important aspect of the struggle of working from home: virtual meetings. Hearne found herself helping her mother, an arbitrator, set up and run legal proceedings remotely via web conferencing platforms. Soon, Hearne and her mother realized there was a demand for this kind of technical assistance. Through word of mouth, and with her mother’s support, Hearne launched First Class Conferencing Facilitation with Day on April 1, during the beginning of COVID-19. 

Hearne, a second-year business and marketing student, is currently working full-time hours, in addition to taking a full course load at Ryerson. Day is working at the startup until September 2021 to fulfill the co-op requirement for his computer science degree. 

“We didn’t mean to [create] a start-up. That was never our intention,” said Hearne. “My goals were always to be a CEO of a large company. But I never intended to do it when I was 20.” 

First Class Conferencing Facilitation now employs 20 students and is on track to earn $500,000 in revenue in its first year of operation. While its initial clients were from the legal sector, the startup now facilitates everything from shareholder meetings to interviews. 

Hearne and Day know there is still lots of work to be done to prepare their company for a “post-COVID world.” While the resumption of in-person work will likely decrease the demand for online conferencing to some degree, the co-founders expect virtual meetings to remain a favoured option for businesses looking for flexibility. 

“Some of our clients have said it makes more sense to do it over Zoom or Microsoft Teams rather than have to fly out to a different location,” said Day.

The pair say they are also focused on treating their employees well and investing in them. “A big goal of ours is to take care of our workers,” said Hearne. “It’s such a unique and privileged position to have such a large group of students, and so we are putting in mental health support for them and financial literacy.”

Both Hearne and Day say they have Ryerson to thank for their success. “Even with first year accounting, all of that stuff has been really useful with everything we’ve been doing so far,” said Hearne. Day says the training he got in project management at Ryerson has helped him manage working with a team and setting goals. 

Hearne encourages other students who might want to start a business but are intimidated by the prospect of being bold and staying committed. “When you see an opportunity, seize it. If you’re really interested in something, seize it and see it through.”

She also recommends playing to your strengths.

“Work hard on what you’re good at. If you’re really good at [the] sciences, then keep working hard at that. Don’t push yourself to other things that you think you’ll make more money in.”

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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