“We’re big believers in trying to make change on a community level,” says Brennan McEachran, leaning back in his chair in the HitSend office. McEachran, a graduate of Ryerson University, is one of the co-founders of the small group known as HitSend.
Situated in the heart of downtown Toronto, the Hitsend office is a surprisingly quiet one, mostly because everyone is hard at work. No matter what they’re working on, they’re all dedicated to one fundamental idea: helping communities achieve their goals. This is what has become the driving force behind their first commercial product: the SoapBox app.
The app is relatively new, but its creation extends back to when McEachran was a second-year commerce student at Ryerson. One day, McEachran and some of his friends were discussing how to make Ryerson better, brainstorming new ideas. Although nothing would come out of the conversation, the ideas wouldn’t stop floating around in McEachran’s brain. That night, he had trouble sleeping, tossing and turning repeatedly in bed, conversations and ideas swirling through his head.
Admitting defeat and realizing he wasn’t getting any sleep that night, McEachran turned on his computer and Googled the President of Ryerson, Sheldon Levy. He proceeded to write an email detailing his conversations and how he wanted to make things better for students at Ryerson. When he was finished, McEachran began to have second thoughts. “I just sucked it up and hit send on the email,” he says with a smile, recalling the moment.
In that moment, with the sharp click of the “send” button, McEachran’s life changed – it also inspired the name of the organization he would go on to create.
It seemed like McEachran’s efforts were pointless, but after two weeks, to his delight, he found that Levy had replied, asking him to meet to discuss his email. “I ended up quickly going on Facebook to gather some ideas,” he says. McEachran walked into Levy’s office on the meeting day feeling less than confident about his ideas. Still, the meeting ended up going well. “I said to him ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could give every student the opportunity you’re giving me right now?’ ” Levy agreed.
This conversation would lead to the creation of both HitSend and SoapBox. McEachran’s next step was to assemble a team to turn the concept of SoapBox into a reality. SoapBox is an app based on an idea from 19th century England. Somebody would stand up on a soapbox (a raised wooden platform) and give a speech about a topic meaningful to him. If people liked what they heard, they would gather around and listen, and more would join the crowd. If the speakers’ words really the crowds, they would march to Parliament and demand change.
Hitsend’s SoapBox app is based on the same principle. 200 years later, SoapBox is providing a platform for people to speak their mind and a means for them to make change.
Just like the historic idea it’s based on, the SoapBox app is absurdly simple; somebody posts an idea about an aspect of Ryerson they believe needs changing. If other people like the idea, they give a “thumbs up”, and if they don’t, a “thumbs down”. If the idea attracts enough popularity, HitSend sends it to Ryerson’s administrators and they will act based on students’ feedback.
Despite launching only three months ago, SoapBox’s has already had an effect on life at Ryerson. It has been welcomed by the students and faculty at Ryerson University since being added to the Apps section of Blackboard in September. Hundreds of ideas are already posted on SoapBox, with more being posted every day. Some ideas have led to changes, such as the extension of library hours. Students are happy to have a chance to have their voices heard.
“I haven’t used it extensively, but I think it’s a good platform for students to address issues that are important to them on a more direct and grassroots level,” says Michael Chen, a second-year student.
Ryerson isn’t the only organization using HitSend. Well-known retailers such as Chapters and Roots are already using it as a platform to provide better customer service and improve their respective businesses. “It’s working great,” says Matthew Price, an employee at Chapters. Price says that the SoapBox system is being used in two different ways: at the customer level and the employee level. The former, which takes the form of Indigo Ideas, is a feedback service, similar to what is in place at Ryerson. It provides customers with a place to share their concerns, with the goal being an improvement in customer service. Chapters also uses the platform to get internal feedback from employees, Price says. “We get feedback from our employees about the things we can do, both internally and externally. For example, if we’re not selling a certain product and someone thinks we should be selling it.” Price is extremely happy with the success of SoapBox in the company. “It’s a big part of the engagement process,” he says.
SoapBox has been an extremely successful product for HitSend, one which they hope to build upon. HitSend is currently focusing all its resources on improving SoapBox to be the best it can be. “The more we do for the user, the more we believe they will interact with the system,” says McEachran. He has plans to expand. “HitSend wants to grow faster…we hope to expand across Canada with other schools as well,” he says. “We’re doing our best to deliver a great experience.”
SoapBox has become a leading frontier for change across local communities. McEachran has taken the smallest of ideas and made it into a reality that will benefit many people. Just by hitting “send” on his email, McEachran got exactly what he wanted: he gave everybody else the opportunity to be an important part of their community. He gave them a voice for change.