Five Minutes With Calgary’s Community Point

Startup Calgary is hosting Launch Party 2011 on December 1, 2011, giving nine Calgary companies the opportunity to showcase their products to VCs, angel investors, and A100 members. Three companies will be selected for a two-minute pitch competition on the main stage, pitching their products to 250 members of the Calgary tech community. See the full list of startups here.

Community Point is your condo building, online. It keeps the residents, the board and the property manager in the loop with a central hub to communicate everything important going on in the building, such as sharing condo documents, sending notifications, discussing issues and more.

The key to a successful startup is to offer a solution to a well-defined problem. What problem does Community Point address?

Condo building communications is pretty terrible, operating the same as in the pre-computer era. There are ratty pieces of paper up on the elevator telling you that the water is going to be turned off tomorrow, slips of paper under your door with the latest news and no obvious place to turn for requests, issues, guides and documents.

There is no centralized place for communication between the residents, the board and the property manager in a condo building. Without this communication, condo living can be a frustrating experience.

Community Point solves this problem by providing a centralized place for all the on-goings of your condo building, adding unity to your community.

How did you conceive Community Point?

Community Point was built out of an obvious need. One of the very first websites that I built was for Glenhaven Condominiums almost eight years ago. I was still in university at the time, finishing my biology degree and building websites on the side to pay my tuition. This first website set the stage for what would later become Community Point.

After finishing that first site we received a number of requests from various condo buildings to build them similar sites. The spark was lit. We realized that this was a greater problem and that a lot of people could benefit from what we were doing. Instead of building one-offs for each condo, I decided to build a web service and move to a recurring subscription model. This would result in an upfront loss of revenue but it would mean that every line of code would be an investment in our product and that it would eventually become self-sustaining.

I built out the first version myself, contracting a friend to do the bulk of the design, and began selling it. It was received really well but it wasn’t until I met Eric that the passion to be able to walk downtown and point out buildings using Community Point came to be.

We chatted about Community Point at a coffee shop while he was still working his full-time job at a media agency. Within two months we had created some amazing new features, secured some client contracts to help bootstrap our salaries and he had given his two week notice. The rest is currently being written.

What is your biggest stumbling block as a startup? What steps have you taken to overcome this challenge?

Two four letter words: cash and team.

Cash is an obvious one and is an on-going battle until your startup becomes self-sustaining. You really see what you’re willing to give up in order for you to pursue your dream. One of the toughest decisions is to let go of client work or a steady paycheck. With us, we were at the point that we were locking down some very profitable contracts to build web applications. I was almost out of debt and beginning to look at new cars and condo units.

It was at this point that I decided to throw it all into Community Point and make a go of it. The biggest piece of advice comes from one of my mentors, “Live as long as you can, for as cheap as you can.” This gives you the freedom and flexibility to take risks that many others cannot.

The other is team. It’s really difficult to do anything great by yourself. You can usually start things by yourself but to maintain energy and commitment is very hard. Finding the right people to surround yourself with gives you the energy and motivation you need seemingly from nowhere. It’s like a turbo charger on your personal engine. When you’re down, they’ll bring you up and vice versa. You hold each other accountable and the sum becomes much more valuable than the parts.

That being said, don’t rush into partnering. Having a bad or even mediocre team member is much worse than being one person short. The best way to find good people is to work on your passion as hard as you can and hang out where other people do the same. You’re going to find someone that makes you look lazy, that’s the person to talk to.

How has Community Point arranged its financing? Are you actively seeking investors?

Community Point has been completely bootstrapped thus far. We have received a couple offers from investors already but we were able to secure some client work that will keep us afloat for the next six months and we thought it was best to figure out where we see Community Point going before raising major funds. After six months, we will reassess life and based on what kind of business Community Point becomes, the plan is to raise funding or apply to an incubator like Y Combinator.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in the tech ecosystem in Calgary right now?

Honestly, the one that’s closest to me is AcceleratorYYC, the startup co-work space in Inglewood that Community Point calls home. In two months they’ve transformed a stodgy office flat into a vibrant community of tech startups with massive community support and all the RedBull and SteamWhistle you can drink.

After going to GROW this summer a lot of us had a similar idea to create a space like this. Victoria, Christian, and Pieter came back and were able to turn that dream into a reality. It was exactly what we all wanted to see in Calgary and we’re honored to have been the first startup in the space.

Inspiration frequently comes from mundane things like frustration with communications in condo buildings – what inspired your startup?