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Ottawa Realtor Innovates With Smartphone App

By Sara Bedal |

Ottawa realtor Ian Charlebois is only in his 20s, but he knows firsthand how cut-throat the real estate industry can be. While open houses and "For Sale" signs are standards in his marketing arsenal, he recently released a new smartphone application that streamlines the tedious process of buying or selling a home.

With the app, buyers can flag properties they're interested in and the phone's global positioning system (GPS) identifies their location and shoots that information to Charlebois-no address required. Sellers, in turn, can receive a free market analysis of their home online.

Behind the innovation

Charlebois had done his research and knew that it was only a matter of time before someone would tailor an iPhone app to the Ottawa real estate market. So his first priority was finding a firm that would help turn his vision into reality - fast.

"I needed to find a company that believed in the technology, could deliver on my ideas and have the people power to produce a high-quality resolution product that consumers would love," he says. "I needed this to be a consumer product first and a business and lead-generating tool second."

He found his match in a California software company. It had already developed a real estate platform for the iPhone so Charlebois hastily gathered everything the firm would need to customize the app-from a logo that would fit on an iPhone to active real estate listings for the Ottawa area. Within a month, his free app went live on the iTunes App Store.

It wasn't so smooth finding a company that would develop a similar application for the BlackBerry, Android and Windows platforms within Charlebois' budget.

"I literally searched for weeks online for a software company that would be willing to build a real estate application from scratch," he says. "This was a daunting process and I soon realized I would be forced to search globally."

He finally found a firm in the United Kingdom that is developing the product for $2,500-"peanuts" compared to the $10,000-plus that North American companies had quoted. Charlebois expects the application to be released shortly. The U.K. firm can then apply the software to other industries.And Charlebois, hopefully, will have more power in his arsenal with which to attract potential buyers and sellers.

Keys to success

Within one month of releasing the iPhone Ottawa Real Estate app, Charlebois had more than 400 active users. He attributes his success to:

  • Convincing himself that his idea was sound.
  • Swinging into action once he had made the decision to invest in the product.
  • The application's nifty ability to tie in with a smartphone's GPS. This was the "big kicker" for Charlebois. Once he realized the app could increase efficiency for homebuyers in this way, he decided to go ahead with his idea "without question."
  • The sales leads generated by this premium service. Charlebois' name and contact information are always just a click away.
  • Creating a "buzz" around his idea by telling everyone he knew about it and touting it to the media.

Learning from the innovation process

It's been an exhilarating ride for Charlebois, but not without some lessons learned.

He soon realized that not everyone quickly grasps what a smartphone application can do. "My generation easily recognizes how useful apps can be," he says. But not everyone has the technological savvy of Generation Y so Charlebois immediately set out to build a website that showcases the product in easy-to-understand language (

Now, he also has a greater appreciation of just how exacting app users can be. "The general public will always demand more of a product," he says. To keep them tuned to his app, he plans to continually enhance the relevance of its offerings.

Best advice to other entrepreneurs

"Prove to yourself that your product or service works - then build on it!"

Critical Statistics

Entrepreneur: Ian Charlebois
Industry: Real estate
Innovation: Real estate smartphone application
Launch date: February 2010
Initial investment: $600
Revenues: Approximately $11,000 in real estate commissions from use of app

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