Big tech wants your attention. Not on Setori’s watch

Toris are AI companions that help users focus. They grow and evolve as users acc
Toris are AI companions that help users focus. They grow and evolve as users accomplish tasks and goals.
Velocity startup Setori, developed an artificial intelligence companion to improve Gen Z’s focus and guard against procrastination and raised $1 million USD in pre-seed funding. 

Setori is co-founded by two University of Waterloo engineering alum Logan Jeya (BASc ’14) and Marc Simard (BASc ’14) and solely staffed with Waterloo co-ops and graduates.

Following a successful first test of 200 users across five countries in North America, Europe and Asia, the startup is launching a beta test of its browser extension, Tori.

"We are helping younger generations reduce procrastination and putting things off, which is a common, anxiety-inducing problem," says Jeya, CEO of Setori. "Major tech companies are spending big dollars and hiring staff specifically to get people to stop doing what they are doing and spend time on various online platforms. It’s going to get worse. The growth of this problem will be exponential."

After nearly a decade working at various tech companies and consultancy firms, including Microsoft, Uber and McKinsey & Company, Simard, along with Jeya, became increasingly concerned about rising procrastination trends. They worried that this struggle for the attention of Gen Z and even younger generations could hinder their ability to achieve educational, professional and personal goals.

"We have to adapt to this new reality, and we believe the only way to win this fight for attention is AI like ours and helping people figure out what they need to focus on to reach their goal," Simard says.

With design inspired by the popular Japanese virtual pet Tamagochi, Setori customers download the Tori browser extension and set up their individual goals. Tori tracks how users spend their time online, and users can proactively set up stretches of times for deep focus and divert attention from specific websites. As users achieve their goals, their Tori companion grows and evolves with them.

"Tori helps you say yes to starting and allows you to optimize your time by saying no to distractions," Jeya says. "Our users who used to spend many hours a day on social media and experienced heightened feelings of anxiety due to putting off tasks, now see increased productivity and decreased anxiety."

Waterloo grads make for ideal startup staff

As a budding startup, the co-founders prioritize hiring individuals not only for their technical skills but also for their ability to propel growth and execute the company’s strategy. Jeya and Simard find that Waterloo alum stand out during the hiring process, resulting in the company hiring several Waterloo co-ops, two of whom have been offered full-time positions.

"We aim to recruit the best talent, regardless of their background," Jeya says. "While we consider candidates from major U.S. and Canadian universities, we find Waterloo grads stand out. Their co-op experience sets them apart. They’re enriched with industry experience, having completed work terms at major tech companies in some cases," he explains.

Waterloo has the largest co-op program at a research-intensive university in the world with more than 70 per cent of students completing up to two years of employment experience during their studies.

"Waterloo alum bring distinct strengths that are particularly powerful at a startup," Simard says.

"What we continually see is that they know what it takes to build and grow a startup," Jeya adds. "Waterloo students’ co-op terms are like attending NBA training camps while others spend time watching March Madness. We might be biased but ultimately, we’re running a business and want to attract the best employees."

Setori’s raise includes an investment from Velocity Fund. Waterloo is Canada’s first post-secondary educational institution to invest from its endowment into a venture capital fund.

Velocity Fund was spun out from Velocity and is run by general partners Ross Robinson and Akash Vaswani.

Robinson and Vaswani say that over the course of several months of getting to know the founders and monitoring the startup’s progress they recognized key factors that made them excited to invest, including the company’s well-rounded talent.

"The co-founders’ unwavering focus on this specific problem space and their passion for creating unique, well-thought-out products that could positively reshape our behaviour, convinced us that investing in Setori was a winning opportunity," Vaswani says. "The fact that the founders and staff are Waterloo alum clinched the deal, and we were eager to provide our support." 
Naomi Grosman