How a BC upstart became a key player in the real estate software industry

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Credit: Spark

Simeon Garratt started Spark in 2012 after leaving China for Vancouver

Spark, co-founded by Simeon Garratt, now speaks to real estate developers in 80 cities in North America and beyond

Before getting started Spark RE Technologies, a Vancouver-based real estate software company, Simeon Garratt could not have lived a more different life.

Garratt grew up primarily in China and Malaysia, where his Canadian parents, who now run their own non-governmental organization, did the work of Christian help. (Julia and Kevin Garratt were detained and imprisoned in China in 2014 after being accused of espionage. They were both released and deported, but only after Kevin Garratt spent 775 days in jail.)

Garratt started in the cosmetics industry in 2008, as a liaison between a Chinese manufacturing group and major private labels in North America.

“I would go to big shows,” he says of this business development job, which has taken him to work between cities in southern China, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and fly to places as well. distant than Beijing and Italy. “I was traveling with a suitcase full of makeup brushes, eyelash curlers and the like, going to stores and suppliers and trying to negotiate better prices. And then I would make plans for these private labels to be incorporated into their next production run. “

It didn’t last long. “It was a great job, but living in southern China, especially in this part of southern China, is a real chore.

About ten years ago, Garratt jumped on a plane. “I didn’t want to go back to Toronto, where I was born, and I ended up in Vancouver.

There he quickly found a new career. “Basically, I was a white man who spoke Mandarin and Cantonese in 2010 in Vancouver, and I got into real estate because everyone who bought houses here was from China. “

Garratt spent the next two years helping agents, developers, and marketing firms sell projects between Vancouver and Asia. Along the way, he noticed that big developers in his new hometown, Toronto and the United States, were using what he called “archaic” software. “It was about Excel spreadsheets and legacy platforms,” says the co-founder and CEO of Spark, with a BA in marketing from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. “It didn’t work very well abroad.

Thinking he could do better, Garratt met up with the other members of Spark’s original team, including Cody Curley, who is now co-founder and product manager. “We decided to try and create a platform that we could then sell back to the guys I was working with. “

Condo presales from A to Z

To make Spark a reality, Garratt spent the next year and a half working in his living room with Curley and three other colleagues. In the beginning, the team self-financed this effort through ancillary works. Thanks to a loan of $ 150,000 from Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) in 2014, they were able to hire their first employees and move into a coworking space in Gastown.

Spark’s customer relationship management software is intended exclusively for developers building pre-sale condominium projects — a model that originated in Vancouver with people like Rennie and Canadian MP. “We’re all the back-end information behind a developer’s selling process,” says Garratt. “We’re not reinventing the wheel in a specific way, but what we’re doing is we’ve organized different software into what fits this very, very specific niche. “

As a result, Spark has no direct competition, says Garratt. “Nobody really does it from A to Z like us. “

From day one, says Garratt, the goal was to create a platform that works wherever new developments are built, whether in Vancouver, New York or Miami. “That’s why it took us so long to launch the platform originally, because we had to consider all of these different markets when we were trying to build the system. “

While Spark doesn’t turn away customers from elsewhere, 95% of its business is in North America, Garratt estimates. Today, the company is present in 80 cities. Among its local clients: Adera Development Corp., Properties of Aragon, Beedie, Concert properties, Intracorporation and Shape properties. “We have about 45 active projects in Vancouver right now,” says Garratt.

In addition to allowing users to report on sales and marketing, ROI, and more, Spark offers insight into past data, he notes. For example, the company started working with Intracorp last year. “Not only did they integrate their brand new projects that they were launching, but they also took all the data that had been saved from each historical project and put it into the system as well,” says Garratt.

READ MORE: Real estate report 2021: British Columbia’s real estate market is reinventing itself

“If a person signs up on one of their new projects, they can reference and say, Hey, that person actually bought with us seven years ago on this project,” he adds. “Here’s the process, here’s the salesperson, here’s what he did. So that gives them a really good set of data to then work on and understand their information a little better. “

Room to grow

Spark is one of the largest North American players in the real estate software market, says Garratt. “We’re not even getting a few percent back,” he said, adding that there is still no dominant player.

“It’s still a market that isn’t even really adopted in a lot of places in North America, and it’s always one of those big waves that comes in,” Garrett said of presales. “So I think there will still be enormous growth that will occur, both on the real estate side of new developments, but also on the software side. And I think they’re probably in tandem.

After raising funds in the wake of the BDC loan, Spark considered going public but decided against it. Last July, to help accelerate its expansion in the United States, the company secured approximately $ 6.5 million in a Series A financing round led by BDC Capital and based in Vancouver Pender Ventures. It has since seen a hiring surge, dropping from 23 to 32 in July, and 10 more positions are currently filled.

True to the roots of its co-founder, Spark has always done charitable work, especially with his parents in Asia, says Garratt. Back home, the company launched its Reduction and Replenishment Initiative, a partnership with Trees Canada, in September.

“Every digital contract that we write in partnership with a developer, we try to plant a tree in compensation for that,” Garratt said. “We’re trying to find ways to be a little more involved than just being a software player in the real estate market here. “

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