Innovator In Real Estate
In this episode we're joined by Walter Melanson, the Co-founder of PropertyGuys.com, a Canadian-based real estate and technology innovator that's transforming the market. Walter breaks down the history of the company that was formed over 20 years ago and how that wealth of experience has led him and his fellow founders towards building a company that truly understands the needs of an ever-evolving housing market, both in Canada and now in the US.
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Host - Monique Mills: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of Unpolished MBA. Today I have Walter Melanson with me from PropertyGuys.com. Walter, I want to welcome you today. Thanks for joining us!

Guest - Walter Melanson: Well, thanks for having me. It's my pleasure.

Host - Monique Mills: I'm going to ask you the same two questions I ask everyone, and I start out with: are you an entrepreneur or corporate employee?

Guest - Walter Melanson: I am definitely an entrepreneur.

Host - Monique Mills: MBA or no MBA?

Guest - Walter Melanson: No MBA.

Host - Monique Mills: I wish I had a drum roll for that because everyone is waiting to know, “does this guest have an MBA?”. Most of the most successful guests that come on here do not have an MBA. What is actually your background anyway?

Guest - Walter Melanson: Before co-founding PropertyGuys.com with my two partners I was in the banking world and mostly around mortgage origination.

Host - Monique Mills: So that explains Property Guys, right? I'm going to let you explain that to our audience…what it is…but I think it's kind of self explanatory that it has something to do with real estate, right? I'm going to let you explain it though. I'm not going to interrupt. Go ahead and explain what Property Guys is about.

Guest - Walter Melanson: Thanks. At least our choice of name worked out really well. A lot of folks understand and know we're involved somehow with properties. PropertyGuys.com, my partners and I started the business. We think it was a great idea. We had a little less than a hundred bucks…what we wanted to do is launch a proof of concept where we could help folks that weren't using real estate agents or brokers to market their home.
They call these people often FSBOs or For Sale By Owners. Another term we use around our office is private sellers.

We wanted to create a system and program where we could help these private sellers achieve their goals, which was to sell…without the high cost of a middleman. We set out to do that close to 20 years ago.

And we've been building out this idea of this marketplace, this program, and our system for the past 20 years. We always laugh and say that this is a 20 year old startup.

Host - Monique Mills: Yeah, I actually like startups that started a while ago. I've met another founder, they had a 27 year old startup that is still rocking and rolling. And the thing is, the premise of real estate and transactions is never going anywhere. So you can always innovate in your space. Always, always.

Guest - Walter Melanson: Yeah, you got it. And because the market is forever changing and so is the opportunity and with the speed of adoption, technology and digitization of all things we get to pick and choose every single day, which direction that we feel the market's moving in.

And then we're able to put arms around that and really pounce on any market-driven opportunity that we can see or carve out for our folks.

Host - Monique Mills: Yeah. So with PropertyGuys.com, you mentioned FSBOs, which I come from a real estate background too…I use the acronym, but I know a lot of people that listen to this aren't in real estate. I'm just going to spell it out again. It's For Sale By Owner, and that's just basically someone that's trying to sell their property themselves without a real estate agent, which now through the introduction of the internet and different platforms is easier than it was when you first started, but still not a totally seamless process. But you help with that. How does PropertyGuys.com help with that?

Guest - Walter Melanson: Well, one of the big things that we did early on as it relates to value innovation was really trying to understand what exactly folks that were going on their own were giving up instead of using a real estate agent. And we tried to really level the playing field as it related to that.

So Monique, things like signage; property signage. So instead of black/orange signs that they would maybe put in front of their house, those for sale by owner signs, we thought for sure one thing that would make them look better, attract more people, would be professional signage.

So early in the day, that was a thing, giving them that professional signage and leading back to a platform, a website called PropertyGuys.com. We would go in, take pictures. We would develop the film back in those days. We would upload that onto a system. And then folks would drive by, they would see a sign, they would see the old www.PropertyGuys.com. They would go to the website. They would be able to engage with that particular property and moreover engage with the seller. And engage directly and start a conversation around the property, around seeing the property, around making an offer on the property. And so that was the baseline MVP of PropertyGuys.com, the minimum viable product.

And then what we began doing was saying to our users, “What else do you need? What else do you need? What else do you need?” And, we reiterated the business over 100,000 transactions, continuing to ask that very question. “What else do you need?” And today, the PropertyGuys.com platform does as much, or as little as a user wants us to do, because we've brought in all the ancillary services that you would naturally think should be part of our marketplace, like property conveyancing and mortgages and insurance, and all these different factors; help with offers, help with establishing and setting an asking price, help with your showings. Help with your lockbox system, a customer experience group that handles your phone calls and booking.

So we really built out a very simple idea to be a bit more complex, but I only set that up to say, it's not like we set out to build a more complex system. It's just our user group just needed and wanted more and more and more. And every time we would be willing to take their lead and develop something, we could immediately see if there was uptake if they wanted to use it. And if there was a service market fit and we find ourselves continuously in that type of service market fit dev cycle.

Host - Monique Mills: So is there anything unique about what you all do, especially now that that market has kind of exploded over the past 20 years? Is there anything unique about it right now in 2022?

Guest - Walter Melanson: Yeah, I think that our marketplace first approach is quite interesting, really saying that the uniqueness is that we've not really adopted a one size fits all scenario or strategy. We really, in the evolution of the company, kept allowing more and more choice from the user base.

And I think that makes us really different because we've now set up with one type of approach and said, “here it is, use it exactly as prescribed. Here's the pricing. Here's how it works” instead, or more along the lines of “we will do as little or as much as you need us to do.” And there's not a lot of folks within our category that would do it that way, as you know, the traditional method is “I don't ask you what you need. I tell you what you need and I charge you what everyone else charges you. And that's just the way the game is played.”

So part of our differentiation strategy is exactly saying, “you know what? Let's get to know you---Monique and your needs as a seller, as a buyer, and really figure out what you need and give you something that you need instead of something we want to sell you." So I think that makes us very different.

Host - Monique Mills: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, because when you're custom making things for each person, it can be hard to scale the business. Some people are like, “Hey, I'm going to sell this. And that's all we sell”, but you definitely have a more customer focused, customer sensitive approach, which is fantastic.

Now you're headquartered…you actually were sprung out of Canada and we met through your association with Atlantic Canada. The FinTech organization there. So as you're venturing into the US market, what are some of the pros and cons and differences that you see in your company there in Canada versus rolling it out here in the US?

Guest - Walter Melanson: Well on the pro side, for sure, the United States is an amazing market opportunity for us because of course, Canada is 10 times smaller than the United States. So when we look at the United States, we see nothing but a huge market opportunity. And that market opportunity for us is our 10X. Now, what challenges come with a market opportunity like that is that the United States is such a big market and there's a little bit of differences we're learning from state to state.

So the whole dynamic and makeup of the United States is, it’s bigger…it's a bit more complex, but lucky for us, the way real estate works is much the same because Canada and the United States have adopted a very similar real estate framework. And that framework, most people recognize and know that it is all around that agent centric framework. Those big real estate brands that folks know. And they operate in a certain way and PropertyGuys aims to disrupt those models because we fund an approach very different from these other models.

So we're kind of lucky in that way, Monique, that the disruption value innovation model that we built for Canada…it needs to kind of butt up against the same type of problem that we are trying to solve in Canada. And unless the problem is there, our opportunities are not there. So I'm pleased and proud to report that the problem that users have in real estate in Canada, being that real estate commissions are uber-expensive, is a US problem also so it's awesome that we're working on solving that.

And, I want to mention too, because I missed it and I knew you’d come back on the question, but we are a franchise system also. And that's what makes us unique from a platform perspective is that we've got this really cool disruptive system and platform, but the way to get it out quicker or further and acquire more users for us is to franchise it. So that's what we're doing in the US, we're getting ready to begin entering with our franchising model and we’re kind of slowly but surely planning around that and we're looking forward to a really good 2022!

Host - Monique Mills: So if I wanted to open a PropertyGuys.com here in Atlanta, I could?

Guest - Walter Melanson: You could, in fact, I'll sell you one, for sure.

The way it works with us is…we award exclusive franchise territories, which is a bit unheard of. Some real estate folks in brands that I talk to say, “you know what Walter?! Exclusivity does exist and they give you a fringe case where it's been granted, but…

Host - Monique Mills: It's not common.

Guest - Walter Melanson: It's not common. And for us, one of the great things that attract a lot of people to PropertyGuys.com franchise opportunities is the ability for someone like you, for example, to say, “Hey, I want Atlanta”. And that you are going to be in the marketplace in Atlanta, and you have exclusive territory and you know that your investment is going to build over time. And you know that we're not going to take that away from you.

And a lot of entrepreneurs liked that concept of exclusivity, especially in franchising. I mean, if I'm going to get a franchise, I don't want you to open one next door to me. And then when you’re next door to me, we figured that out early and that's what really excites a lot of people that find themselves becoming a PropertyGuys.com franchisee.

Host - Monique Mills: Yeah. I'm going to have to talk to you about that a little bit more after this.

The thing is, when I met you through Atlantic Fintech, I had already seen PropertyGuys, as I mentioned online, and many different things that I went to because I'm always looking at real estate stuff and I was like, wow!

You're like, following me all over. I guess your cookies are on my computer, but that's a good thing because it made me look deeper into what the business was about. And so when I was able to connect with you, it was great for you to explain more. And even to know that there are franchise opportunities is awesome!

And then thank you for sharing that with the audience. As I mentioned, you and I met through the Atlantic Canadian FinTech group and community delegation, as far as the intersection of real estate and FinTech, what do you see the future of real estate being with that in mind?

Guest - Walter Melanson:  Well, I think the first thing is, this whole proptech versus FinTech is an interesting dialogue, but if you look at real estate as very important, and they often coined it as one of the most important transactions a person makes during their lifetime…

Host - Monique Mills: It’s probably the most expensive outside of college.

Guest - Walter Melanson: Most expensive. Yeah. But I mean, isn't that so important because it's a financial transaction. And so I would say it's a financial transaction and that's what leads right into FinTech, I think is the willingness of platforms like ours. For example, to look at this a little differently saying, you know what, it's not purely PropTech because it's a financial transaction. It's a financial decision. And our willingness, I guess, to look at the world that way has us wanting to make sure that we put our arms around the different things that our users need. And a lot of them are looking for that holy grail of an offering, which is an end to end solution that includes everything.

So it's not about just listing your house and putting it on Property Guys.com. We know that you're probably going to be selling, you're going to be buying. So if you're buying, we want to help you on the buy-side. And if you're buying, we probably want to help you get a mortgage. And if you're buying and getting a mortgage, you're probably going to need some insurance and you probably need a buyer agent, and you probably need a preferred conveyancer and title folks. And that's where the marketplace comes in. And that's where that Fintech piece fits in. It's a financial transaction. You try to make that financial transaction as seamless, as possible, as smooth as possible.

And when you look at it that way, we see nothing but a lot of opportunity coming our way because we are entrepreneurial and we're forever looking at improving the way folks interact over our platform.

Host - Monique Mills: Yeah. And I see nothing more than those two separations now; proptech and FinTech becoming more of a collaboration in every single way from the beginning part all the way through to the end. I wanted to ask you this because it's very rare that I've met entrepreneurs that have operated in a group for as long as you guys have as partners. So you said, you have a couple of partners, were these the same ones from the beginning? And if so, how did you come together to meet and do this?

Guest - Walter Melanson: Well, that's a great question. It brings me back, you're right. Our partnership has lasted longer than most marriages.

Host - Monique Mills: Absolutely. I have to give you a high five on that one.

Guest - Walter Melanson: Thank you! No, it's crazy. One thing though, I can say…first I'll go back to…we met around Property Guys as the thing that brought us together. My partners were university students at the time. I had finished university a little bit earlier than them, but they were getting a lot of press because they put their arms around this idea called PropertyGuys.com and they made a bold prediction that the internet would change real estate the way people market and sell houses and that they wanted to be part of that. And what made it a story is these folks are still in college. They're still in university and the press really liked the idea of university folks working on such an important project. So that caught my eye. It was on the front page of our local newspaper.

And I had been working, like I had told you at the opening, I had been working in finance and more particularly in mortgage origination. And part of my origination practice was reaching out to private sellers, telling them that I could help them because I noticed they didn't have help right. They chose not to have help from a traditional real estate agent. They never said for one second, they didn't want help. So I would call them and say, “Hey, listen, I really want to help you. It's not going to cost you anything. I just want to get close to your transaction because the person that's going to buy your house…if I help, I'm going to be close to them and I can probably offer them a mortgage solution that's going to fit their needs
and by the way, if you're buying, you can pay me back the favor and you could maybe mortgage through me also. And so this was my idea at the time, and as I was exploiting it with great success.

Host - Monique Mills: So smart Walter, I just got to say that was so smart.

Guest - Walter Melanson: Well, thanks. So when I saw someone looking at the problem differently than me, but still having almost a similar idea, which it was…”how do you help these folks?”

Now, what they brought was the “well, Hey Walter, it's not just the knowledge, the help and the work. It's this thing called technology. And it's this thing called the internet.”

And so that is the thing that when I saw that, I immediately told myself I have to do what I can to get involved with these guys. And I bet you that they would be open for a conversation. I bet you somehow I can become part of this group because I really am excited by what they're saying. And everyone's saying it's a good idea. And I too think it's a good idea. So I wanted to get involved and lucky for me, here I am. One thing for sure about starving students, if you're willing to pick up the tab for supper, you can probably become their partner.

Host - Monique Mills: That is in fact true. That is very true, but you know, not to discount you as well. I've spoken to you a few times. You're a really great guy, very smart, very creative. And so I'm sure that it's a match made in heaven with your trio there.

Guest - Walter Melanson: Thanks for saying that one thing I wanted to add, though, it could add color for folks, is we’re very different. A lot of people think partnerships are like a partnership of the same. And to me it would make no sense, right? Like if my partners were just like me, well, there'd be two extra guys in the business that don't bring much value. So what's interesting about our partnership and I guess what has made it last the test of time has been that each partner in the business brings a very specific tool set to the business, a different way of looking at issues, looking at problems and different things within the business excite us differently.

And so, one partner is very focused on distribution and franchising and the other partner is very focused on efficiencies and financial reporting and getting that stuff right. And then you get another partner like myself that's more of a customer journey, more about service market fit, more about what's the next program.

And I don't mean that we work the business in these silos. But these are just natural interests and then what we do is we get together, Monique, and we make decisions that are important to the group going forward. So that's kind of the foundation of that partnership.

Host - Monique Mills: Well, it's worked well for a few decades now and I expect it to continue to, so, you know what, when we mentioned your company, we always mentioned “dot com”, we always say PropertyGuys.com. So I think everyone knows where they can find you now. And you're also on LinkedIn and for franchise opportunities, they can also go to the website?

Guest - Walter Melanson: A hundred percent you can go to the website and there's a Franchise opportunity section on the website. They can find their way through there.

Listeners that want to connect on LinkedIn, just use Monique as your reference point. And if you want to have a conversation around PropertyGuys.com in general, or the franchising opportunity or a partnership opportunity, I'm easy to connect with and find me through LinkedIn.

Host - Monique Mills: Yeah. I'd have to agree. He is easy to connect with. Well, Walter, I want to thank you for sharing more about yourself with us and PropertyGuys.com with our audience. And it was a pleasure to have you today. Thanks for joining us!

Guest - Walter Melanson: Well, thanks for having me. It was real fun. Thanks.

The Unpolished MBA conversation continues, and you can be a part of it by going to unpolishedmba.com. Thank you for listening.
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