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mark evans

It is always interesting to discover the different ways in which startups were spawned.

Some come from pure inspiration, some arise after running into a problem, and some are simply good ideas that nobody has yet stumbled upon.

Toronto-based Viafoura Inc.'s roots go back to a sports radio show about who was the better boxer: Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson.

After Viafoura co-founder Ali Ghafour and a friend waited 45 minutes to express their views, the show ended. Frustrated, they went online to see if they could find a similar debate. What they discovered were websites with a sea of irrelevant comments, and no way to quickly see if any of these people had any expertise or credibility.

"They say necessity is the mother of invention. So being passionate sports fans, we created a website where fans could engage in meaningful dialogue through text, audio, video and images," Mr. Ghafour said in a recent interview.

"All the content was ranked in order of relevance to the subject based on various factors. Without any marketing, the site started growing at an incredible rate. We knew then that we were serving a clear need in the market."

While the website attracted a lot of attention, Mr. Ghafour said that he and co-founder, Jesse Moeinifar, realized there was a bigger opportunity to provide the technology that large media companies were seeking to offer a commenting tool that encouraged engagement, more time on site and repeat visits.

Unlike many tools that simply let people make and reply to comments, Viafoura sees comments as a vehicle for publishers to deliver multiple services.

In fact, Mr. Ghafour said Viafoura doesn't see itself as a commenting tool but a "social monetization platform" that enables conversations so that publishers can gain better insight into what users want and do.

"By understanding these conversations, we're able to surface the most relevant content which entices users to want to engage," he said.

"There are companies that provide commenting systems, which service small and large websites. However, the usage patterns and needs of a site with millions of users is very different than a site with a few thousand users. It's at this point where generic commenting systems don't fit the bill. Publishers implement Viafoura to drive revenue and solve their specific engagement challenges."

Viafoura's clients include a growing list of well-known brands. The company makes revenue by charging a monthly licensing fee.

With a couple of years of experience under his belt, Mr. Ghafour said the biggest piece of advice he can offer is that there is capital to be found in Toronto for startups that position themselves properly, have a well-balanced team and develop a product that sets them apart.

"Don't just build a product," he said. "Build your team and revenue at the same time. A strong network of advisers is also a must. You would be surprised how much time and money a good adviser can save you."

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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