FeeDuck started over a couple of neighbourly beers at an Oakville backyard barbecue. Having moved to the neighbour within a few months of one another, Sharn Kandola and her future FeeDuck co-founders – Lisa Abreu, Paulo Vital and Warren Mascarenhas – were talking about their experience. The conversation moved towards fees. “We realized there was such a huge discrepancy in the amount of commission that we paid,” recalls Sharn.
After doing a little research, it occurred to them that while real estate markets and housing prices were shattering records in place like Toronto and Vancouver on the regular, agents were still using the same fee structure.
“If you look at the last 10 years, the prices of homes have gone up so much and real estate commissions are still sitting at five or six per cent,” says Sharn. “So agents are earning a lot more by essentially doing the same amount of work.”
So they decided to try and flip the commission model on its head by building a platform where buyers and sellers fill in their house details or desired home-buying criteria and agents bid down their commissions or offer cash-back to woo business. There”s no obligation, with the purpose of real-time auction being to establish a meeting between agents and home-buyers or seekers.
“We started in the GTA, that was our circle on the map – it was just word of mouth and then CBC did a massive story on us,” says Sharn. “After that everything just exploded, we couldn't even keep up.”
Today, the service has handpicked and thoroughly vetted agents bidding for homebuyers' and sellers' business in every major Canadian city. They've since quit their jobs and focused full-time on the startup, incubating in Ryerson's DMZ. “It's the ideal spot… we want to be in Toronto, that's where the energy is,” says Sharn. And she should know, given that she moonlights as the director of the Toronto Chapter of Startup Grind, a global community boasting a 400,000-strong membership in over 200 cities. In Toronto, Sharn pegs the community around 3,000.
“The goal is to help people make friends not connections, it is networking but it's a very different vibe, very laid back,” she says. “We really try to foster a community that's collaborative and helpful.”
Through the organization, which Sharn took the helm of in November 2015, she's found herself at the apex of Toronto's startup scene, while at the same time living through it as FeeDuck navigates the hurdles any young company might face.
“It's so hard to be sitting alone in a silo, trying to start a business and then on top of that you go to some of these networking events and people are very hush-hush about what they’ re doing,” says Sharn. But at Startup Grind, the emphasis truly is on community; even the nametags don't differentiate between founders, venture capitalists or recruiters.
While Sharn enjoys the success of FeeDuck, she says she hopes other entrepreneurs will find their “neighbours” through Startup Grind.
“I would be the happiest person alive if five or ten years from now, stories come up like ‘me and my co-founder met at Startup Grind and created this company' or ‘my company partnered with that other company and this is the product we came up with and we met at Startup Grind,” she says. “People are so forward with information and supportive and that's one of the best parts about Toronto.”