Jonathan Hafichuk: Welcome Robert, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.
Robert Price: Thank you, thank you for having me.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So Robert is the owner or founder of Bode Canada, an amazing real estate platform, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what Bode does.
Robert Price: Yeah so Bode is the first of its kind, platform that connects buyers and sellers using technology and creating the capability for individuals to both lost and purchase their homes and we’re live in Calgary, Edmonton in fact all of Alberta right now, plans to expand across Canada and ultimately internationally so we launched it a couple of months age we’re pretty excited.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So how did you initially get the idea for Bode?
Robert Price: For me, I guess a good analogy is I never use a travel agent to book travel and the real estate experience the way it is today is very manual, there are multiple people, there’s four people basically in each transaction so you have the logistics and the complexity having buy agents and sell agents always with you and a manual back and forth that it takes to set up a showing or set up and offer or negotiation or contracts, all those things, so I would rather sit on my couch and book a flight using Expedia than walk into a travel agents office and signs some papers and have them do the work for me and then me pay them a fee all while taking longer and being more costly in the end so that’s one analogy but there’s many, there’s banking theres a number of other things that we do in the rest of our lives already using our device whether there transactions or plans or trips, AirBnb is another good example, so I wanted to take that experience that I have in the rest of my life and apply it to the real estate domain and right now It really doesn’t exist that way so we’re very excited to be the first to truly go all the way to a fully automated, fully tech and able solution.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Are there other similar players in this space, similar platforms, competitors?
Robert Price: Most of the market today is still doing it the traditional way, so you hire an agent, buyer/Seller agent, there are some newer entrance that have what I call a hybrid approach, so its an agent, thats basically an agent mentality, using some technology to enhance that experience a little bit and ultimately have the seller sell on their own behalf. What we do is we don’t have any agents so we’re going all the way to the end state which is taking a big leap of change and saying we’ll provide you with forms, we’ll provide you with support,with data, with everything,the tools, everything that it takes because everything it takes to be successful because you are smart. Canadians are smart particularly the ones who can afford to buy homes, they’re educated, they’re working professionals, so were demystifying the process and creating that experience that we all enjoy in the rest of our lives and at the same time charging a lot less money than anybody else so we’re one percent upon close you don’t pay anything upfront and as a result the cost savings are dramatic, seventy-five percent less than what you would typically experience with an traditional transaction.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Sounded like you guys built the platform very quickly, and acted very quickly, when did you start on it?
Robert Price: The company was incorporated in February, and then we started into our customer-centricity or co-creation plan in June so that was our alpha testing, beta testing in July and August and then launched in September so it happened very fast, we have a very capable team so it was really exciting to make that much progress that fast, but it is a living, breathing thing and when it comes to software you got to continue to make it better and always driven by what is the customer, you can think you’re brilliant and create the best thing in the world, but it’s actually the customer, the integrity of what the customer wants that should actually drive your decision making, the thing with technology is you can do anything with it so that’s its big advantage but its big challenge is you can do anything with it so how do you get into a very refined customer-centric process? You have to do that through direct engagement with customers and co-creation.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what was your biggest hurdle initially in getting off the ground?
Robert Price: Yeah I guess I would say, that’s a good question, we wanted to have, you kind of have the challenge of coming back to the team and we have so many brilliant people with all these ideas, it’s how do you prioritize the best ideas and make that trade off in terms of speed versus a comprehensive feature set, that whole discussion is the number one challenge I would say, it was for us. You could have the opposite problem which is nobody has any ideas in which case you’ve got kind of a flat uninteresting business but in our case it’s all these ideas how do we make sure we’re connecting the best ones with the marketplace, so what people want and then create a really organized roadmap to continue to do that in the future. But when you’re going to launch you can easily spend 5 years trying to build this big thing, but if people don’t like, people don’t understand it , they don’t use it then it’s a lot of waste of time.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah for sure, so what, you’ve had a few people on it so far, Soulhouse is on it, what’s their feedback been like?
Robert Price: They’ve been pretty excited, we had one of our listers sold 4 properties in 15 days an average of 15 days, some beautiful townhomes, and a total of 6.5 million if you add them all up, so high end beautiful places, she saved one hundred and fifty thousand in commissions. So she was very excited, her whole mentality was I put my blood, my sweat and my tears and my money into building this thing I owe every inch of it, I designed it, so I’m the best person to sell it and if I can do that, leveraging this Bode platform that give me this differentiated marketing and exposure and this platform that attracts individual buyers as opposed to agents, I can also save substantially as well.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what are you guys doing that’s unique to get the listings in front of potential buyers?
Robert Price: Yeah so we do a couple things, so we are technically a brokerage so we’re a licensed broker in all 10 boards across Alberta, which means upon listing we will put your stuff on Realtor.ca, on Zillow and 20 other websites, and then we’ll also in addition to that exposure where everybody goes today, we will also digitally market your exact listing so well say ok your place is in Marda Loop, what kind of place is it, what are the specific demographics that would be interested in buying this thing and hone in using hyper and geotagging the exact kind of buyer that you want and you can use a number of things including credit scores and variety of demographic information to try to get the best ten buyers to show up, do a listings and hopefully compete with a couple of offers and get you a fantastic price as opposed to bus benches or billboards and a shotgun blast approach which is kind of typical in the industry we go on the other end of the spectrum, hyper target your exact listing.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s really, really exciting.
Robert Price: Yeah it’s been fun.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So it sounds like you have a really solid and interesting management team tell us a little bit more about who your partnered with on this
Robert Price: It’s a kick ass team and the most fun part of business is working with high performers. My executive team is, we have my chief marketing office i’ve worked with for ten years at [INAUDIBLE], our broker is a good friend of mine, he did ten years of industry brokerage work so he had the old kind of agent structure and now he’s in on this because he really believes in it, Gary Scholtz is our CTO he’s worked all over the world many years in Silicon Valley, full stack guy, knows the ins and outs of tech like nobody else I know, Jordan Alred is our VPof business development he worked at Axia as well with me for a period of time, he’s a chemical engineer but has an MBA as well,from Cornel and Alan Kelly our chief revenue officer who actually moved here from Stockholm, he’s got a masters in economics from Oxford as well as being a senior exec at consultant firms and worked for King actually most recently, the Candy Crush business that’s a couple billion a year now, that was his gig there. An international, eclectic group of people but everybody i’ve worked with before or know very well personally trust implicitly and very excited to work with.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s awesome it sounds like a very solid team.
Robert Price: Absolutely.
Jonathan Hafichuk: A Lot of experience combined, so you came from a very ambitious and entrepreneurial family, you guys as a family have done some pretty cool things in the past too, so tell me a little bit about the different things your family and your dad and yourself have been involved in prior to this.
Robert Price: Yeah so, my dad, Art Price was 28 when he was running Husky Oil back in the days, so he went from engineer to CEO in 5 years somehow, he’s obviously a very smart guy and learned a lot in business in his previous through his childhood and through Sunterra which is the other family business, where working with his dad and working with his brothers to build that business, definitely rounded him out in terms of his experiences as he got into the oil patch
Jonathan Hafichuk: So was it your grandfather that started Sunterra?
Robert Price: Yes, my grandparents, both of them, but very humble beginnings they started with nothing and my dad and his five brothers and sister were right there working right from the start. You hear all the stories, no warm water, no plumbing, cold winters, feeding the pigs all that stuff, it’s all real so they started that way and obviously very inspirational for us in the next generation to have benefited from their hard work. And then after Husky, he started Axia, Husky did very well but he was very excited to build something himself so he started Axia in the mid to late nineties, and the company was founded on the bases of getting into high performance internet at a time when internet was kind of a fad, brand new concept,and so from there in 2001 basically built the Alberta supernet which is the first rural fiber network in the biggest rural fiber network in the world at the time, 15000km of fiber connecting all the communities throughout Alberta, as a long term economic development play and the we took that model to France, which is more of a regional economy and then to Singapore connecting 1.4 million premises directly with fiber so it was kind of a cool thing because we had this very unique business model, this is where I started working at Axia, about ten years ago, 12 years ago now, but very cool how the same model worked in three very different applications and three very different countries the concept was if you have a high performing network, you should empower the user to use the network however they want. So open access infrastructure that could be shared amongst everybody, means lower rates, means higher performance, means more choice and ultimately there are far more competition so as opposed to the typical telecel bundle where they’re trying to sell you on their whole vertical stack, we turn that on its side and said start with a high performance connectivity because that the one thing and then at the time this was all back in the 2000’s, early 2000’s, turn loose what would become the cloud and digital economy so that you can do whatever you want and be totally empowered an uncovered with that network. So I started that company in 2007, and was on the global business development teams in France and Singapore and some of our United States networks as well, so it was a lot of fun, great learning experience and then we ultimately sold it last year and moved on to this.
Jonathan Hafichuk: It sold to Bell right?
Robert Price: Correct, yeah Bell purchased it and actually we just sold the France business a couple days ago, as well. I shouldnt say we, I’m no longer involved but Axia was sold for 1.2 billion in France two days ago.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow, That’s crazy.
Robert Price: Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s a big number, so was that a capital intensive business to get off the ground? it seems like it would be really capital intensive.
Robert Price: Yeah, its early phases, they were government contracts, so government contracts backed but very capital intensive for sure in terms of building fiber infrastructure were literally plummeted through the ditches and hanging on poles and it’s a very physically intensive infrastructure of course so yeah it pretty much started that way and then the business that I was running at the end was the consumer the, whole revenue business side, but focussed on bringing gigabits services directly to consumers, we had what we call fiber towns around Alberta where we would build directly to your house with fiber and offer you gigabits at one thousand megabits down, one thousand megabits up, for ninety nine dollars a month which is the best performance rate per dime anywhere in the country, and the first of its kind sowe were very excited about bringing that value to the market but of course that came with a lot of investment so it’s not a business that can grow really fast, but it can be very attractive if you’re totally focussed on the customer and the customer is driving the experience.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So in the beginning, what did finiancing look like? Did the government help finance it or?
Robert Price: Yeah there was a couple hundred million, the initial grant was a hundred and ninety three million to help build out the network and Axia would have put in a bunch more on top of that, I won’t get into too many of the specifics but you could say the value of the network was five hundred million, total investment to make it what it was.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Amazing, so what countries did you work outside of Canada and how much time did you spend abroad?
Robert Price: Yeah France and Singapore and the US, were the three of them were the primary ones we were kind of going around the world looking for the best most progressive governments that really understood the value of this model that made the income and compete and where the challenge with getting the income to upgrade their networks because basically keeping the model the way it was the most profitable thing to do but that’s the most disconnected from what the customer wants so we came in with that, with that business model that worked very well from a policy perspective of its open, everybody can use it, including the Telco, so it was a great learning experience in France and the way that they do business, in Singapore it was a totally different culture, governmental culture that i’ve never experienced, everybody there, the highest status thing they do is go to , if they come out of university, they’ve got great grades, they are the best and the brightest, they will go into the government right away, that’s their mentality there.It pays higher, it has higher status in their culture so you have these meetings where, I was a young guy, I’m still reasonably young, but say you’re at a table with 30 people that are 23, 24 years old, and the government people on this project of the network that we built, it’s very interesting, very different from the Alberta experience for example, very interesting on the government how the government operates in the business culture, of course in the states you’re dog eat dog cut throat, litigious, you’re facing lawsuits all the time and that was quite a cool experience as well to just see how they make decisions, that’s kind of the downside, the upside is they’re so competitive that you bring anything that has a shred of differentiation to them, and they’re all over it because they see they have to compete to survive, that’s not even at the town level, small to medium sized town level so very interesting.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So if I remember correctly you went to school in California, what made you decide to join your family at Axia, it sounds like growing up you had a really tight knit family, you guys worked really well together but what ultimately made you decide that was the right choice for you.
Robert Price: I was locked in a car with my dad, driving home from California to Calgary and he hard pitched me on it for 26 straight hours,no he didn’t, but we did have a conversation at that time so my whole plan was and I had the first business I had was a landscaping business in Springbank filling a gap of people charging 150 dollars an hour for doing some very basic landscaping work so together with my friend Jared Good, Robert Price, the partner we created “Good Price” landscaping business, which branding is not my specialty clearly, but that helped get my through university and really wet my appetite in terms of basic as it all sounds, dealing with customers, dealing with pricing, how do you market yourself, how do you coordinate, how do you work together, we had a team working for us as well so both a great way to pay the bills as a broke student but at the same time, get a taste for what it would be like to start a business and then I took entrepreneurship in university so I was coming out of university excited to build, my plan was to build a wireless High SP business, using the Alberta supernet Axia supernet, but Art was pitching me on why don’t you just take 6 months, work at Axia see if you like it, we’ll work on at the time we were talking about using sensors in the oil field which is quite a way more common place today but that was quite a way ahead of its time, I had done that in university I had a project on it I had a whole plan so why don’t we bring that to the company and see if we can make it into a offsheet business, turned out my view of it was we were too far ahead, the gas industry needed to evolve, and adopt more technology before they would go there, but got there for 6 months, that was my plan to be there for 6 months and 10 years later I was still there but once I got into it I really saw the opportunity, continued to learn more and more and realized how much I still didn’t know, I still know that today, being a sponge is the most important thing, the most important lesson i’ve learned. So I had the opportunity to see a high performing organization, great leadership, people that were really excited and passionate about what we were doing, experiencing that culture, I always had plans to start my own business so I was either going to whenever that learning curve flattened, I was going to shift gears but it really didn’t flatten, I just continued to learn so much that by the time we were acquired I was feeling pretty good about it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s awesome, so if you went back in time and you did one thing differently with the landscaping business to make it more successful what would that one thing had been?
Robert Price: I’d probably come home earlier than I did, spend more time in the summer so I had more cash to work with during the year. It was, I would also introduce I was renting heavy equipment so I started with cutting grass and pulling weeds and like very hands on stuff, by the third year we were renting equipment and shaping land and creating berms and road [INAUDIBLE] and all that stuff, that was a better position in the market and it was also higher revenue, higher earning potential business, so I would have done that to start but I’m not a guy who really looks back and regrets anything that way, you kind of made those decisions with the information you had at the time and hindsight is 20/20 so it worked out.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That makes sense. So what advice to you have for entrepreneurs scaling a business quickly, because you’ve worked with different businesses all which you’ve scaled up, one of them to a massive level and another one hopefully here soon.
Robert Price: Exactly
Jonathan Hafichuk: What advice would you have to scaling quickly because I know a lot of entrepreneurs either stagnate and don’t grow very quickly whether it’s for lack of marketing or lack of management of whatever but I know also scaling can be capital intensive and expensive right? Growth costs money, so what advice do you have around those things for effectively scaling a business?
Robert Price: Yeah I think you want to have a concept that is, make sure that you, it’s actually kind of inverted thinking, you don’t want to go, you don’t want to turn into a schizophrenic in terms of making decisions as you are going fast, it’s easy to say okay let’s do that, let’s do this, let’s do that and just keep kind of you know turning away and never really getting a baseline making sure that you’re still consistent with your fundamental values proposition so I think people can get too lost in the details and feeling like they have to change their mind all the time and then evolve every minute,every hour. I would say better to have,it always starts with what is your fundamental value proposition, do you have a differentiated business model, it starts there and then you build ideas on top of it and then you build,you know shareholders, you build a financial picture you put it all together but if you don’t have that basic foundation,your business will be forever compromised,doesn’t mean it wont work, but it’ll always be difficult because when you’re in scale mode, you lose track of what your actual differentiation was from the start so very good to focus on, I’m a big believer in planning as well so always think ahead, the business case for Bode is 7 years looking out that far in advance of course as you go further out your guesses become worse but it is good to say here’s the phasing I see in the business as fundamental positions in the market and organizational approach to these challenges and then from there, don’t deviate from what makes you different, what makes you special, find the ways to continue to leverage what you have, don’t just change for the sake of changing, for the sake of you know you’re worried about sticking with your guns.
Jonathan Hafichuk: How do you think you tell if you have that strong fundamental foundation?
Robert Price: Ya that starts in the business case, the ideation period. When Axia was acquired,I retired for 4 months and came up with, I had a list of 18 ideas that I really wanted to work on but ideas are not businesses of course, an idea can be a business but that takes market research,that takes putting whats the pricing paradigm, what’s going on with the competition, where’s the sector going, what are the tech trends,all those dimensions you got to put those together into a comprehensive business case that makes , that creates a plan people can buy into because that’s the next thing you need is if you put a plan together you don’t have anybody that believes in it that wants to work with you on it then you kind of don’t have anything because you can be the smartest guy in the world but it takes a team to be successful.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Growing up what kind of influence did your dad have on you, what kind of things did he teach you that helped you to be successful?
Robert Price: I bought my first stock when I was 12, so apparently he had that,tell me about making investments very early and the value of investing, it was a lot of just he would tell stories and a lot of them were cool stories because he’s got an interesting job, he’s putting together government partnerships and he’s dealing with prime ministers and travelling around the world so a lot of it was just listening and just taking it all in. Some of the best thing I learned was the actual how to think about value chain so how at every step, how do you look at a problem and solve it by creating a value chain and value that works and is valuable to the marketplace as opposed to just freewheeling or taking shortcuts or getting disconnected from what the customer actually needs or what your success factors are so you’re building to see the factor chain the other part I think that he was, hes instilled in me was look way ahead, what does this look like 10 years from now, how do you get ahead so that and anticipate where the market is going so by the time the market gets there you’re in your sweet spot and that would be too for Axia, we were in the late nineties, I wasn’t there yet I was still in highschool at that point but from late nineties to 2010, you could say we were still too early, people didn’t know what fiber was, people didn’t know really how they could use connectivity in a comprehensive way they were using it of course the total like the biggest picture of this will change the world forever. That level of transformation he saw in the mid nineties, he saw early nineties. So its how do you get ahead but don’t get so far ahead that you can’t create a business in the meantime. It was quite an interesting lesson and I saw it and witnessed it and experienced it part of it at Axia as well.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Did you ever butt heads with your dad working together?
Robert Price: All the time and that’s in a good way like it’s never, its debates its not we disagree all the time but I always see, I could always see where he was coming from and that made you always respected and he always respected my viewpoint so it was never like a heated kind of personal thing it’s lets debate what makes the most sense here, were having a logical debate but at the end of the day that makes him better and makes me better if you can have a good high integrity discussion like that but they happen often, like daily.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Did you ever have doubts along your professional career and whatever you’re doing that you’re doing the right thing or you’re in the right place in your life?
Robert Price: Yeah good question, I think of two things, I think of my career and my learning and do I have and opportunity to do more within that situation,within that organization in Axia’s case. I did I was learning a crazy amount, and as long as you’re learning and you’re challenged there’s opportunity for you to do more in the organization, I need two out of two things for it to be exciting to me. I always liked entrepreneurship ive always have been wired to say what can’t that be better? Look at everything and say there’s the opportunity to make that better. I do that with products, I do that with cars, I do that with experiences, with services i’ve just always been wired that way so it’s a passionate thing for me and I get to apply that passionate business and Bode is doing that which is exciting which is why I see all that’s being done today I believe there’s a whole segment of the market that would love to do it this other way and I would also love that way myself so you’re able to apply that whole mentality.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Did you have to sacrifice certain things or give up any interests or stuff like that to be successful?
Robert Price: Ya I think, I’m a big believer in a balanced lifestyle, and in Axia case, you’re putting in pretty big hours but they were very good to say people would just burn out if you’re working 100 hour weeks and 7 days a week so you want a culture that accepts flexible working but in terms of compromises, I was a competitive tennis player as a junior and in university played in school down in the states and was alot fitter than ive been since so i’d like to be able to you like that extra time, that extra ability to travel more and work out more and experience more things in your life,in your personal life but you got to commit to the work and commit to getting it done to really make transformational, be apart of a transformational team .
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah it’s been a struggle for me I’ve competed in parkour for quite a few years but since really focussing on the business, maintaining any competitive level of fitness has been almost impossible
Robert Price: And you have to remind yourself, I get energized from working out, I get it’s also great for your mind, it’s great to clear your perspective so even if you feel like you’re taking time away from the business, you actually are you’re freeing up your mind, you’re liberating your mind to come back and do better things so there’s compromise and time there but I think overall it’s still the healthy thing to do and will make you more productive overall.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what does your exercise routine look like? Like what do you try to do in a week?
Robert Price: I’m right now in a competition with a good friend, most number of workouts in a month and loser has to buy the winner a dinner at Vintage Steakhouse just down the street here, so that does a good job at leveraging my competitive, he’s very competitive, I’m very competitive so we have to hit 30 minutes a day or more for it to count as a workout so I do Nike training has an app, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it they have all these predetermined workouts you just click a button and the person yells at you and you just do what it tells you to do, so that’s great and then I still play tennis once or twice a week I really enjoy it that amount having done it 20 hours a week for most of my young life if so it’s fun to still play 1 or 2 hours a week but that would be it and then I love I’m a big skier and every sport you can basically think of I love so.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Riley, you want to compete for a steak dinner?
Robert Price: I recommend it, our workouts, both our workouts doubled from the start of that bet.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What other things other than exercise do you find help deal with stress? You don’t come off as a very, a person that has a lot of issues dealing with stress.
Robert Price: No i’ve always found that stress comes down to two things for me is your attitude or your effort.What can you what attitude are you taking to approach problems and what level of effort are you giving. Those are actually only two things if you boil it all the way down you can control so stress comes from trying to control something you can’t control. And then now you’re out of touch, you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to deal with that, you cant impact it the way you want and it feels out of touch and that’s true in many things, but you just need to acknowledge that’s the case and don’t try to control those things. Control the things you can and then at the end of the day you see where the chips fall because you can’t control everything. But that very much starts with that mentality for me anyways and then from there sometimes it’s just as simple as getting up going for a drive or going for a walk or getting out from in front of your computer and talking to people, talking to your team, I always get energized with people, with conversations. You can get locked in on reading emails and market research and diving into everything on your computer but too much of that for too long can get you wound up its better to take some time away, talk with people you know change up your rhythm overall.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So we kind of touched on it a little bit earlier but what advice do you have for new entrepreneurs starting a business like say 6 months in?
Robert Price: I think the biggest thing to start with is in addition to some of these other things is don’t be greedy if you’re the founder, if you’re the CEO don’t be greedy. Make sure that you get as many people on your team involved that you want to be there long term and involved in your business from an ownership perspective right out of the gates. Be flexible, be thoughtful and recognize everybody’s individual situation is different and unique but if you build a team that also owns the business there’s another level of motivation, another level of pride and passion for really making that thing work so I’d go with that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Cool and what are your goals both personally and for the business in say the next 5 to 7 years?
Robert Price: Ya we would love to take the company international, and prove without a word of a doubt that this is the right model for a segment of the market so we’re excited about that. I’m not a guy who ever thinks of a flip business there’s alot of people that, or entrepreneurs can start that way, can think that way and all the power to them, I just think it’s all about long term value creation and it’s really exciting to create a high impact business that can truly empower people with cost savings and in this case we’re saving people an amount of money that is life-changing like you can save 20 thousand dollars on a deal on the average transaction, that’s your kids college fund, less of an emotional thing but making a nicer kitchen,that’s renovating your next house making it more liveable. That’s real money that’s real impact as well as instilling confidence that they can do this themselves, the empowerment that comes from it so I’m most motivated by becoming the most customer-centric, highly rated business in real estate. That is the actual goal and if we can get there, we believe we got a great start,we got some great feedback already but long term we get there then everything else works, starts with that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome it sounds like you could be a very powerful platform and I’m excited to see what you guys do with it we should definitely do another interview in a year and talk about all the struggles you’ve had over that time.
Robert Price: There will be many
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome , thank you so much for taking the time today and I really appreciate it.
Robert Price: Thank you, I love the conversation and I’d be happy to do it again.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Great, thank you.