In May 2020, during the early days of Toronto’s COVID lockdown, a lot of people experienced isolation from their homes. That feeling was particularly strong in urban condo buildings, where many neighbours who live so close had no way of communicating. In Dan Flatt’s mid-Toronto building, a Facebook group that he’d started a few years earlier became a life-line connecting neighbours, allowing them to discuss everything from mask etiquette in the elevator, manage noise complaints while people worked and went to school over Zoom and even combining ecommerce orders from IKEA to split their flat delivery fee. Through this process, he saw an opportunity to connect with his community. The idea to take orders from neighbours for a weekly Costco run soon became a fun weekly activity that also saved money and allowed neighbours to split bulk-sized packages into more convenient “condo sizes”. Inspired by the Chinese company Pinduoduo’s CGB (Community Group Buying) model, Dan created a Shopify-based website as the first version of his vision for a platform that would encourage local communities of neighbours to connect as they combine their buying power to save when they buy as a group from local businesses. It’s called Naborino.
When he set out to advance his platform, Dan partnered with WIMTACH to develop a custom Marketplace. The goal of the collaboration was to develop an analytics-based web application that connects community residents with local businesses for bulk or discounted purchasing of goods & services. The collaboration supported Dan’s mission to connect local communities and neighbors while adding social and economic values to communities with every purchase in the Naborino Marketplace. “The idea is that group buying will be a foundation and a context for people to feel like they have a reason, permission, structure and even incentives to start building connections with their local community of neighbours,” he said.
With over $79,000 of NSERC funding secured by WIMTACH and Centre for Explainable Data Analytics (CEDA), the project launched in July 2021. Over the course of several months WIMTACH and the Naborino team worked remotely to develop a custom Naborino platform. Dan and his team were very impressed with the expertise of the Student Researchers on the team. He was also pleased with the great ease created by the efficient organization and leadership of the WIMTACH Research team especially with writing proposals, securing funding, as well as with the management of on-boarding of team members. “Once we started the program and started working with the team, it was really amazing to just see the level of enthusiasm, the creative problem solving, the attitude and the output, the actual quality of the development work that the team was delivering on a week to week basis,” he said. “I was really impressed.”
The outcome of the collaboration was the Naborino app which features many functions including its own independent two-sided E-commerce infrastructure which enables vendors to log into their own portal and manage their products in the system. Additionally, the application has social networking features which help eager group-buyers to see which of their “naborinos” are joining their favorite group offers and how many more are required to unlock a discount! Naborino is also building a machine learning algorithm that conducts exhaustive analysis of user data in determining and recommending the right vendors for individual needs. Users are able to learn about the deals and discounts in their area with ease and business owners are enabled to customize their business presence to decide many considerations including when and where an offer is released. “This is my first time building an app from the ground up and I got a little lost when we got into some of the conversations of backend deployment! But the WIMTACH team always made sure that I understood so that we could make the best decisions for the product.” he said. “The only bottleneck that I think would have allowed me to gain more from the partnership has just been my own capacity and time as a solo founder!”
Dan was especially pleased with the adaptive nature of the research team and how flexible they were in accommodating changes and redirections throughout the development process. “It really has been very smooth,” he said. “I’m looking forward to celebrating with the team once we launch the app.”
In the end, the finished application has been effective in enabling Naborino’s pilot user communities to have a unique experience. Ultimately, this project collaboration enabled both Student Researchers and the Naborino team to learn and grow. It was particularly helpful for Dan to learn more about how to approach project management and how to operationalize his vision for the future. “One of the challenges that I had was defining the scope early on,” he said. “This collaboration has helped me to learn a lot about how to approach project management going forward.”
The long-term mission for Naborino is to connect local communities and to give them a reason to network with their neighbors online and in person. To this end, Naborino will collaborate with WIMTACH on another innovative project to enhance the Naborino platform and add additional features. Dan is very happy about his partnership with WIMTACH, so much so, he recommends WIMTACH whenever he can. “Whenever I talk to other early stage start up founders and hear about their challenges … I love telling them about how I found this hidden gem in WIMTACH.” he said. “They’ve exceeded my expectations and I want more people to know about them!”
Naborino is currently launching in select Toronto apartment and condominium building communities and accepting group buying offers from local businesses. (They’re also hiring!) To apply for early access or create a group buying offer visit naborino.com for more details.
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