Mike Kirkup hired Brian Zubert 10 years ago at BlackBerry.

For the two men, it was the start of a great working relationship, and a long friendship.

Fast forward to spring 2014. Kirkup was the director of Velocity at the University of Waterloo. Zubert had left BlackBerry and was looking for a new opportunity.

The two men caught up while Zubert was looking into Communitech’s programming. He would go on to join Communitech as an Entrepreneur in Residence.

But Zubert also had baseball on his mind.

The stats-loving developer had recently started charting his recreational baseball team’s game play in a “Moneyball”-type of Excel tracking form.

He was seeing rapid success.

“In one season, we moved from the bottom-three ranking to the top three,” Zubert said.

He felt that he had an idea that could be turned into something more.

Kirkup wasn’t sure. He listened to his friend’s pitch, and then went on holiday with his family.

The serial entrepreneur couldn’t stop thinking about Zubert’s idea.

When he got back into the country, Kirkup contacted Zubert to let him know that his original dismissal of the idea had turned into, “You might have something here.”

And, oh yes, he’d drafted up multiple pages of ideas and wireframes during his family holiday.

The two men were excited to work together again. Zubert had the passion for the game and an enormous mental library of baseball rules and trivia.

Kirkup, who still isn’t crazy about the game, was focused on the challenge of bringing his friend’s idea to life.

This month, Kirkup and Zubert launched Score More Baseball, a cross-platform app that simplifies baseball game scoring and tracking. Based off of sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of baseball, Score More Baseball allows amateur, recreational, or youth baseball teams to apply the same optimizations as professionals.

The data that the user inputs into the app is analyzed to help a team develop the best batting lineup so they can play better and score more runs.

The year-long adventure saw Kirkup and Zubert combine their skills and talents to build out a product fairly quickly.

Kirkup had just shut down his last startup when he went on holiday with his family and drafted the first sketches of Score More Baseball.

The two men combined their software development and business skills, and Zubert coached Kirkup on the finer points of baseball. Two months into the project, they realized they had a problem.

“We were building something really ugly,” Kirkup said.

While they had started testing with friends and families, no one could see past the sparse and technical skeleton of the product at hand.

Kirkup and Zubert found a designer, Matthew Aubie, who was passionate about baseball, and they contracted him to help them get the look of the app right.

“We realized that our users valued the look as much as the product,” Zubert said. “Our customer discovery changed from night to day when we had a designer create the look.”

The small team created an minimum viable product (MVP) with lipstick, as Kirkup called it, and saw the product progress rapidly. The team began to get useful feedback from their testers, who, thanks to the design, could see themselves using the product -- and not just in a test scenario.

As the product developed, Zubert and Kirkup hired their first employee, Scott McGregor, whose love of baseball and talent in sales made him a perfect fit. The three men often chatted over email past midnight to keep development rolling.

Zubert’s passion project could have easily stayed a hobby. Both Zubert and Kirkup have young families and full-time commitments outside of their company.

Kirkup was all too familiar with so-called hobby companies. Through his three years at Velocity, he has seen many entrepreneurs fail to get their companies off the ground because their biggest problem was just getting their company started. All too often a company comes to Kirkup with an idea, but through the founders fear of launching and failing, they spend months and sometimes years fine-tuning a product, and never putting it in the hands of users.

"You need to build something,” Kirkup said. “You need to launch. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”

Kirkup and Zubert had always planned to have a launch date of spring 2015 – in time for spring training.

They worked towards their launch date of March 17, 2015 as if it was a corporate release date like the ones they were used to at BlackBerry.

They did have help getting to that launch, though. In November 2014, a potential customer who had been in contact with them wanted to use a beta version of the app at an all-night baseball game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

With two weeks notice, the team worked day and night to get a working product together. Kirkup spent hours watching old baseball games and inputting the scores to test the product.

In the end, the customer ended up forgetting his phone and never used the app at his game; but for Kirkup and Zubert, the demand forced them to get beyond an MVP faster than if had they just worked at their own pace.

“You need to find customers who are willing to provide feedback at every stage,” Kirkup said. “You build for them.”

That external accountability helped the team get excited for its March launch.

As the app was refined, Zubert began to spend more time thinking about the tactics surrounding the product launch.

“We realized that our own personal brands would be on the line,” he said. “We had to build the app for the BlackBerry because of our connection to our company. We had to launch correctly because of our work mentoring startups doing the same thing.”

The men felt the pressure.

For now, it looks like their hard work is paying off. They were featured in BlackBerry World in the first week. Zubert engineered the launch as carefully as he had engineered the product: they planned their press releases, courted users, leaned on personal relationships and hoped their unique blend of sales, marketing and technical backgrounds would show some success.

“The build-it-and-they-will-come concept doesn’t exist,” Kirkup said. “You need to go out and make the customers and sales happen.”

Kirkup and Zubert are trying a variety of sales approaches and weeding out the ones that don’t work.

“Most people just pick a type - ‘We’re going to do direct sales’ - and just expect it to work,” Kirkup said.

When those approaches fail, he notes, most companies are sunk because they’ve put all their resources towards that one area.

If companies develop their product through market research, why wouldn’t they approach their sales in the same way, Zubert said.

The two men continue to hold down full-time jobs. Asked if they’ll leave to focus on Score More Baseball, Kirkup shook his head.

“You’ll know when it’s time to leave the full-time job,” he said.

Kirkup and Zubert have set their goal for success on selling product and scaling the company in 2015.

“Our goal is to sell 100 units by the end of the year,” Zubert said.

“If we can’t sell, then we shut down the company – the demand isn’t there,” Kirkup said. “If we achieve (the 100-unit goal), then we talk about what’s next.”


While spring training is happening down in Florida, it may seem too frigid to think about bases, hotdogs and beer up here. I see and hear that... Tonight, March 25, is Beer and Bingo at THEMUSEUM. The event runs as part of the beers+ series, where craft beer is paired with an interesting and amusing activity. Starting at 7 p.m., you play bingo at THEMUSEUM, 10 King St. W. in Kitchener, while enjoying delicious pints from Imbibe Restaurant. Your $20 ticket also gets you in to see current exhibits at the museum prior to 7 p.m. ...This Thursday, March 26 is the pre-inaugural demo night at Axonify, 460 Phillip St. in Waterloo. The event is termed as an open-mic for projects and startups. Attendees have 10 minutes to pitch their ideas - with no nudity or weapons allowed... The annual Elmira Maple Syrup Festival runs this Saturday, March 28 from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Elmira, ON. Enjoy a packed day that celebrates the sweet life, from a pancake breakfast and an old-fashioned maple toffee-making event, to a pancake-flipping contest and a sugar-bush tour and a pony ride. Most events are outdoors, so bundle up and get ready for a sugar rush!