Like many young Torontonians, Jonathan Yam, a 23-year-old U of T engineering grad, knows a thing or two about the aggravations of apartment living: the elevators conk out; the fire alarm test occurs when no one expects it; a window pane from the tower being constructed next door crashes onto your balcony.
Yes, these incidents really do occur. But Yam, who heard the story about the falling glass from a condo dweller, noticed something else about that episode: before the cleanup crews came to gather the debris, the property manager had to trudge from apartment to apartment, requesting that tenants stay off their balconies.
The abundance of such stories and complaints represents the fuel behind a nascent business venture Yam has launched with two partners, Armin Mahmoudi, a mobile app developer, and Chantelle Buffie, a Simon Fraser University business grad. Through The Next 36 entrepreneurship program, they developed Fixo, a mobile app and web platform meant to take some of the sand out of the often prickly relationship between tenants and property managers.
When Yam and his partners began developing the idea last winter, they interviewed people on both sides, then built a prototype. The app allows tenants to report problems and submit work order requests, as well as share digital photos of the problem. It also preserves any exchanges between tenant and landlord over the status of repairs. For property managers, the technology creates a one-stop platform for communicating with tenants and providing updates on everything from out-of-service elevators to the installation of new appliances.
From their research, Yam and his colleagues discovered that many tenants were often frustrated in their dealings with their property managers, who mostly communicate through email or require tenants to fill out paper forms. Some tenants said they often didn’t bother submitting work orders because of the complicated process.
Fixo aims to change that equation. All interactions between the tenant and manager are electronic and logged. Both parties are notified as updates arrive, so messages don’t get caught in a spam filter or lost in a stuffed inbox. Yam also plans to include third-party repair contractors to capture everyone involved in the process. The Fixo business model is that property managers would subscribe to the service as a means of improving tenant satisfaction, reducing turnover in their buildings and avoiding the costs associated with finding new tenants, estimated to be about $300 per unit per year.
Armed with $5,000 seed capital from The Next 36 and another $2,000 from winning an entrepreneurship competition, the trio has developed a beta version of the Fixo app, and is testing it in a handful of U of T student buildings. Yam and his partners, meanwhile, are going to spend several months living together – in “true start-up style,” Yam jokes – to work out the kinks and recruit the first paying clients.
The Fixo team has made inroads with a handful of property firms, and are in the process of testing pricing schemes. But Yam’s vision goes well beyond the inhabitants of apartments. As he says, residential is only the first floor of this business venture. “Our ultimate vision is to improve communications in the entire property management sector.”