As part of our recent series 'RESAAS Talks Tech', we sat down with 'Spark' founders and #RealEstateNerds, Simeon Garratt (who you'll know as Sim throughout this article) and Cody Curley to learn more about the brains behind the tech company who's disrupting the real estate industry.
Me: Who are you guys?
Cody: I'm Cody
Simeon: I'm Simeon
For this article, we'll go ahead and refer to Simeon as 'Sim'.
Me: How did you guys get started?
Sim: I'd spent most of my life growing up in Asia - 16 years in China and 6 years in Malaysia. Once I'd moved to Vancouver 5 years ago, it was an easy transition for me to move into real estate since I was able to speak fluent Mandarin and Cantonese.
Cody: I was a designer focusing on print and branding. I did everything from designing city reports to logo design. Basically, the whole gamut of design. It was while I was doing this that I got approached by a friend of mine who ended up co-founding the company. I had a little bit of coding experience but I definitely knew how to make something look good. Since then I learned all that I could learn about front end design.
Sim: I left my job, partnered up with Cody and his startup team and we started developing a platform the new development space.
The result? A couple of #RealEstateNerds aptly named as Spark (formerly known as Spark CRM).
Everything on Spark's front-end was hand-coded by Cody.
Cody: We founded the company in 2012. We initially marketed our product offering as a marketing platform for new development real estate. At the time, it was more of a portal where new developers could go and import all of their projects into and get leads flowing through.
Cody and Sim had found a niche. There wasn’t a platform that delivered all of these components in one.
Cody: It was unique because we had a micro CRM in the back end which would allow users to manage their upcoming projects, see which leads were coming through and use a calendar for events. It wasn’t long that our clients gravitated more to that part of the platform and less towards the front side of it.
Me: Why do you think that was?
Cody: We think it was because our clients saw the value in being able to get a registration page up and running in 30 minutes - something that would usually takes them weeks to do with developers.
With all of that said, Cody and Sim knew they needed to expand on this. Soon thereafter they started rolling out new updates to the platform which helped draw in more attention from potential customers.
Cody: After that, we created our first version of Spark which wasn't anything like it is today but it was definitely still usable. We had a couple good beta clients and that was about three years ago.
Me: How has Spark evolved from then to now?
Sim: Now we go through the entire process of bringing in and nurturing leads - from registration, contact management, inventory management to email marketing, email tracking, conveyancing and commissions.
Let’s not leave out RSVP tracking, contract tracking and reporting.
This got me thinking - how is it that companies decide to expand on their offerings? Is it a matter of seeing the need internally and providing the client with something that they think they need or does the client say what they want and it gets built based on their request?
Sim: I think it’s a bit of both. We had an idea of what we needed to build to stay ahead of our competitors. Above and beyond that, we received a good amount of client feedback. We made sure to tailor our product growth based on our users behaviours.
As the offerings grew, so did the attention of some big industry players. In the four years Spark has been on the scene, their client list has grown exponentially - both locally and internationally.
Sim: Half of our business is in Vancouver, another 30% of our business is in New York. The remaining is spread between Toronto, L.A., and Chicago. We've actually just signed a new client in Dubai.
Locally, Spark has cemented themselves as a household name to one of the largest new real estate development companies - Shape Properties. With projects such as the Lougheed Mall rebuild and Brentwood Town Centre, Spark has positioned themselves well to be a leading force for Shape to run some of their day-to-day operations
Me: How did you end up getting connected with all of these clients?
Cody: In the beginning it was Sim's relationship having been in the industry. Our first big beta client was Colliers International which came from one of Sim's previous relationships. Word-of-mouth played a part in it too which is huge in the development space.
Both Cody and Sim keep close relationships with their clients.
Cody and Sim keep a great relationship with their clients. At the base line relationships is a core value for the Spark team. They are constantly engaging with their clients and being very involved with them as much or as little as they would like.
Sim: A good example is Shape Properties - we have a very consultative relationship with them. We bring to them our previous knowledge coupled with experience. We offer them recommendations on how they can move forward with certain aspects of the platform based on their usage and behaviour.
And while they aren't necessarily as hands-on with all of their clients, they are happy to connect with any of their clients.
Sim: We comb through every piece of data ourselves. We understand the value in that data for our clients. At some point in the future we will be able to take that data and evolve a new unit for the company.
Scalability of any company is always a concern, especially when it comes to startups. I wondered how Cody and Sim were able to grow so large with just a small budget to start with. It wasn’t until most recently that Spark made waves in the local tech scene by raising $1M in fundraising to help the company continue to grow
Sim: We've been trying to raise money for about three years. The platform and the product just wasn't there yet. Since then we've been able to sign some big clients, expanded to New York and internationally. We've really established ourselves on the small budget that we initially received. We realized that we needed to find more institutional ways to go about our business.
Long story short, they started pitching to a network of institutional brokers rather than angel funding which most startups do. It was through investment banks and private equity firms that they were able to raise the funds.
Cody: The way we were able to raise the money was really what set us apart. Most tech companies will get their funding from angel funding. It’s rare for a tech company to go the route that we did. We pitched to individuals who were investing in companies like mining and non-tech related industries. What made pitching a bit easier was that we were able to say to these investors, “look at these buildings around us, most of these projects are powered by Spark".
Now with some funding behind them, Cody and Sim are on a mission to expand into new markets and build a brand as well as a product.
Sim: It's such a cliche thing to think about but some of us feel as though we have more of an attachment to our Apple phones than we do an Android or vice versa. It’s having that affinity to the brand that we want to create for our clients and Spark. Most of our users are so used to using software that is very cold - with data cells, tables and complicated fields - so what we're doing is designing a product with a humanized brand behind it.
What’s next for Spark?
Cody: We’re continuing to evolve the platform to meet our clients’ needs. The latest offering to the Spark platform is an email marketing component.
When Cody and Sim had first built the platform they knew how many event emails their users were sending out. Rather than having their users take the frankenstein approach - using different systems and software to do different things - they wanted to evolve Spark so that it really could be the ultimate all-in-one system.
And so, Carpenter was born - Spark’s email marketing component that allows users to create beautifully designed email templates
From the easy-to-use dashboard, clients can schedule campaigns, preview designs across different platforms and review campaign analytics.
Cody: Our platform is so robust and such a powerful too, there's nothing in the local market that has been developed. This much we know just from using all of these archaic tools ourselves.
With the expansion into the Dubai market and the million dollar fundraising, there's no slowing down in sight for Spark.
Time will tell which continent they'll take over next.
If you're a tech company providing a new, innovative solution for the real estate industry, we'd like to hear from you!