Canadian Startup Seeks to Broaden Portfolio Platform

As one of many young journalists trying to make a name for myself and compete with the ever-growing amount of content now available on and offline, I am naturally disposed to keep my eyes out for platforms that can broadcast my work in the best possible light.

Luckily, amongst the crowd of eager entrepreneurs and intrepid investors swarming last month’s Montreal FounderFuel demo day was Jeffrey Howard, co-founder of the professional digital portfolio platform

Constantly connected, Howard was a mere tweet away. He offered Techvibes a sneak peek into’s future. Spoil alert—it’s looking bright, elegant, professional, simple and customizable.

Almost four years in the making, was in fact first released in digital form in 2009 before it reverted back to a print magazine a few months later. “Timing can be everything,” Howard tells me. “And back then, people still weren’t too sure how things like author’s rights would be handled. It was before Facebook and other social platforms really exploded. People just weren’t ready to freely broadcast their work online yet.”

The print publication offered journalists and essay-writers across Ontario’s university campuses a platform on which to publish their work and thesis’ indiscriminately to audiences far wider and more diverse than their university professors and class colleagues. “My co-founder had written a few academic essays he was really happy with and he kind of felt that it was a shame that his profs would pretty much be the only ones to ever read it.”

Before they knew it, the team was handling more content than could realistically be fit in a single magazine. So in 2011, Howard and his co-founder Neil Martin stepped it up to the level at which page space and storage would never be a problem. Once again, they brought the publication online.

The platform they created evolved into what eventually became their online blog-like interface, a relatively linear profile and page that neatly and aesthetically contained your best work. They included a main page that would suggest user generated content and social elements that enabled sharing and “liking.” Think a spunkier LinkedIn that didn’t ask for a slew of details and that actually contained your full articles as opposed to project links and headlines.

It caught on; the audience grew and impressive young journalists were taking notice. But as most ambitious entrepreneurs do, the team had dreams well beyond their existing platform.

After years of listening to their increasingly loyal user base and adjusting and tweaking the platform to accommodate them, the team realized they would need to change the core of the platform in order to create the product they really wanted to make; one that would cater to “creatives” and “non-creatives” alike.

“We have a friend who is a professional rower and self-taught filmmaker,” Howards tells me. “He called us saying he had had an interview with someone in the film industry who had requested a portfolio of his work before taking him on. It was a really interesting challenge to build a portfolio showcasing experience as diverse as rowing and film. It was also a good way to experiment with the different ways people might choose to organize their work.” Upon those foundations, the model and concept for their new platform and domain name (which they managed to score after a particularly long road trip and with a gift of token Canadian beer) was built.

One of the most distinguishable elements of the platform is its customizable classification system. No matter how diverse or different your expertises or projects are, you can now browse, organize and showcase them as you wish. With so few professionals now sticking to a single field of practice and job—it seems logical that work and projects not be displayed in a timeline fashion. Second and possibly most exciting for young journalists who are tired of having their portfolio link include a monologue of platform names such as “blogspot,” “blogger” or “tumblr,” – portfolios can now simply be registered under slash your desired username.

The interface with which users will interact with their portfolio display options is also quite different. Images and multi-media can now be moved around seamlessly across text and content, backgrounds can vary and the user page is sleeker and smoother to navigate. Moreover, the social element of the platform has been boosted and has made it easier to share content on integrated social platforms, to comment on another’s work and to favourite/follow different contributors.

Howard’s team of designers, dreamers and programmers (one of whom, Rares Crisan, made a spontaneous decision to drive straight from Vancouver to Toronto to dedicate all of his time to the project) is still looking ahead though, with ongoing experiments in scalability and increased navigability and seamlessness. “We’ve embraced the idea that even someone without any coding or design ability whatsoever should be able to have a really great looking portfolio,” Howard reinstates. In essence, the Konekt team would like their grand-mothers to feel comfortable building up their page.

Another priority comes up constantly as they build the team up: thinking about their approach and doing things differently while encouraging other entrepreneurs to do the same. An easy example of their unique approach is their office space, which has turned into an experiment of its own and is now referred to as Project:RHINO.

In an impressive open-concept industrial space in Toronto’s hip recesses, the team manages the renting of desks to other entrepreneurs or freelancers looking to be at the hub of an energizing creative space. Comfortable couches, a surprisingly equipped kitchen, a constant rotation of art on the walls, a separate presentation space and a SteamWhistle sponsorship make for an interactive and dynamic working environment for workers of all stripes.

The team also hosts bi-weekly Drinks and Demos evenings in their presentation space, and invite innovative entrepreneurs to drop by to share and learn from one another. “We really try to take on a different approach than most and to challenge conventions or stereotypes,” programmer Rares tells me. “I think that’s part of the reason why most of the guys wear suits to work every day; because it’s not expected from programmers or web designers. It’s just another way of showing people that things can be done differently.”

One challenge remains though as their new online platform shapes up: there is no actual advertizing on the page. So how are they going to make their money? They’re thinking about it.

“We would really, really like to avoid having to charge people for the platform,” Howard tells me. “We also want to avoid having to rely on advertising, so we’re exploring lots of options.” Among the considered options are premium services or content for an extra cost, paid access to a pool of high-quality workers for potential employers and editors and add-on pay-per-features.

As the team commits to its third product pivot, their decision in the matter is likely to have a massive impact on the direction they take next. For now, the team is exploring the terrain, testing and accumulating feedback on their yet-to-be-released platform and scoping out the San Francisco tech scene. That having been said, you might want to go reserve your domain name before it’s too late—or professionals and amateurs from every walk of life might just beat you to it.