UBC Sauder grad puts best foot forward

Published on Sunday, February 12, 2017


View original posting from Toronto Star

While Ryan Smith was working on his Part-Time MBA at UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School, he and his colleagues in the Technology Entrepreneurship course happened upon an idea.

“We looked at many markets, among them clothing and apparel,” Smith recalls. “We noticed online shopping return rates were super high, especially in footwear, and came up with a solution that involved personalizing recommendations for people to find the best shoe match.”

Their idea was simple but compelling: use a smartphone camera to measure customers’ feet accurately in 3D. Smith, founder and CEO of FTSY (pronounced “footsie”), part of Digital Animal Interactive, took the idea with him to other courses in the MBA program, including Consumer Behaviour, Strategy and Creativity.

As Smith’s vision became clearer, he started assembling a team. Paul Cubbon, UBC Sauder’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship group leader, became “our mentor and advisor,” says Smith, “challenging our assumptions, helping us get a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour.” Cubbon set Smith up with another UBC Sauder grad, PJ Worsfold, who, after leaving his job at, joined FTSY as head of product. Another of Smith’s mentors at e@UBC (a cross-campus program supporting entrepreneurship) was Michael Henson, who had experience building similar products and joined as chief technology officer.

The FTSY team is now working with beta partners to launch the app in stores across Canada. “By April, we’ll have sales associates using an app in select stores. In 2018, FTSY will roll out with a consumer version so that people can shop in store and online with confidence.” They now have shoe brands interested in the U.S., Europe and China, as well as in Canada.

With the first $1 million in venture capital raised, Smith has put together a veteran team and assembled an advisory board with executive experience from Nordstrom, Ali Baba, Nike and Zappos. Smith credits much of his success to the on-campus support he received from UBC Sauder and Paul Cubbon.

“We provide lots of academic underpinning and we get students from business, engineering and other faculties working together,” says Cubbon. “We guide students through a lean start-up approach and we encourage them to make mistakes early and learn by failing fast.” They also provide a full range of support at the university through e@UBC’s programs, including early-phase financing, mentoring, legal advice, customer acquisition and more.

To help the technology ventures with the most potential to scale rapidly, UBC Sauder recently launched Creative Destruction Lab – West, a milestone-based, seed-stage program for massively scalable ventures, in partnership with the successful Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto. FTSY is among the first 25 ventures at CDL – West.

“We are bringing together the right combination of experts to help the ventures move forward, with hand-picked mentors who have significant experience and who will be able to help with seed funding,” says Cubbon, who leads CDL – West.

Though not everyone taking entrepreneurial courses at UBC Sauder goes on to start a company, Cubbon says, “for every one that founds a company, we teach skill sets that benefit hundreds of others who go on to successful entrepreneurial careers within organizations as corporate innovators.”