If you’re a tenant, how do you contact your landlord? Simon Fraser University business student Chantelle Buffie is hoping that you’ll soon be using FIXO.
A 24-year-old Surrey resident, Buffie is one of the undergraduates selected for the 2014 cohort of The Next 36 entrepreneurship program in Toronto. She will graduate from SFU in June.
Buffie cofounded FIXO with a student at the University of British Columbia and another at the University of Toronto. The startup’s product is an application that facilitates communication between residential property managers and tenants. A prototype app is in the iTunes Store, with a launch expected in May. Web and Android interfaces are also planned.
In March, FIXO won the top spot in the newcomer category of the entrepreneurship competition at the 2014 National Business and Technology Conference in Toronto. Buffie was named Enactus Canada's 2013 HSBC Woman Leader of Tomorrow.
The Georgia Straight reached Buffie by phone in Vancouver.
What led to the development of FIXO?
It was a combination of things. For myself, personally, I’m interested in the future to own and manage properties. So, I was looking for a tool that eventually in the future I could potentially use for my properties. For Jon [Yam], my cofounder, and Armin [Mahmoudi], my other one, they’re both tenants, so they have experience on the tenant side and with some of the problems that we’re looking to address. So, it came out of personal interest and talking to other tenants, building managers, private landlords as well.
What’s wrong with having a simple email list?
The problem with simple email lists is all emails get cluttered. For instance, if a tenant wants to contact a property manager, a lot of times they get lost in all the other emails that property managers get. There’s not a simple kind of categorization for property management companies. A lot of property management companies that we’ve spoken to still use Excel, still use simple email folders to organize all their communications.
When a tenant communicates with them, there’s a lot of times when they have to forward it off to different parties as well. When they do have to forward it off, it’s difficult for property managers to keep track of, “Okay, now this update has happened, now I have to relay it back to tenants.” We want to create a more streamlined process where property managers are able to keep their tenants informed a lot more easier, so they don’t become dissatisfied.
Tell me how tenants would use this.
It’s pretty easy. There’s four different features to it. Right now, a feature that we’re focusing on is submitting electronic maintenance requests. Let’s say a tenant has an issue in their unit or their home, they would pull out the application, they would take a picture of it and write a quick description, and it would be sent off to the property manager.
Another feature is the ability for property managers to send out electronic building notices. Right now, there’s still a lot of paper notices that go around, that get slipped underneath doorways, or posted in elevators. Building managers or even security guards have to walk around to each individual unit from time to time.
What’s the business model?
Property management companies would pay for the service. There would be both a mobile and a web component to it. It would be starting off at $1 per unit per month, and the more volume of units they have, the less it would be.
What kind of interest have you had from property management companies?
We’ve gotten quite a bit of interest in terms of testing with us. Right now, we’re still in the prototype phase. At the end of April, we’ll be testing with a University of Toronto student residence, out in the East, just because student residences are a hotbed for the demographics that we’re looking to target as well.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I will actually be moving to Toronto at the end of this month to be completing the [Next 36] program until about mid August. Depending where the venture goes, I’ll be looking to continue on with it after the program.
Do you have any advice for other business students getting involved with a startup?
First is to just to do it, because there’s really no risk right now as a student. A lot of times, the people that you reach out to, the people that you talk to, they’re more than willing to help because you are a student. So, definitely leveraging that is a great tool to have. That would be my top one.