Typically, the largest purchase in a person’s life, buying a home should be a joyful occasion. A new beginning, setting down of roots, a place to call one’s own; a newly purchased home, whether single family, townhome, condominium or apartment, should be cause for celebration.
Anyone who has lived through the experience, however, knows all too well that this is hardly the case. Buying a home is never easy. From home search, finance, purchase, and legal, to packing, cleaning, moving, unpacking plus relocating utilities and services – there is much to manage, schedule and shop around for. Rarely does everything occur without a hitch.
And even after you settle in, the pain continues: seasonal maintenance, home repairs and then renovations as your needs and dreams change, all to ensure the value of your most significant asset.
Casey Kachur and his team at Virtuo are out to prove there is another way. Their home concierge platform was built to make home purchase, moving, and subsequent home living stress-free. The Virtuo Concierge platform connects the end-to-end journey through a seamless mix of human support and technology, leaving their clients raving about the most pain-free new home experience they’ve ever had – and wondering why it hasn’t always been this way.
“At our core, we are a customer experience company,” Kachur explains from Virtuo’s Calgary offices. “We’ve redesigned what has traditionally been a difficult and often frustrating series of tasks and events into a seamless experience. With their own human concierge to talk to, the client feels confident their needs are being met and that everything is being managed, nothing forgotten.”
Virtuo builds and incorporates technology into its platform to support a streamlined experience and create huge time savings for its clients. “For example, we use computer vision to detect, categorize and estimate the size and weight of objects in a room,” Kachur explains, “so movers will get a detailed packing list for a move – allowing them to more accurately quote and plan, and saving our clients hours of time getting multiple quotes. Not to mention shock, which occurs far too often, when the final price differs from the quote. It is a human-driven experience, but technology allows us to scale and deliver it to more people. From a client perspective, it’s peace of mind because everything is taken care of.”
Originally launched in July 2016, Kachur, who had spent most of his life working in his family’s moving business, started Virtuo as a solution to what he viewed as a broken process. “It’s super fragmented,” he laments. “The biggest purchase of your life which is supposed to be so exciting, but in today’s day and age of convenience and ease it’s still an aggravating purchase? That doesn’t make sense.”
Part of the third generation in his family’s Edmonton-based moving and relocating business – Highland Moving and Storage Ltd., founded by his grandparents in 1938 – Kachur worked his way around the business from the age of 14: in the warehouse, as a mover and on the road. It was truly where his journey with Virtuo started.
“I got to see firsthand our customers’ troubles,” he says, “working with them, being in their homes for days. I was also in operations and saw the logistical issues the service providers experienced, the lack of trust and the mess when something went wrong. It was a pretty interesting view of the industry.”
“We started working with Alberta-based energy companies, helping them build relocation programs for their teams,” he recalls. “We were delivering this amazing end-to-end, seamless relocation service to executives and their families. And yet, on the moving side, for you and I and the average person, it was still so terrible.”
This was the gap that Kachur set out to fill with Virtuo.
He started the company as a business-to-consumer venture, focusing on individual homeowners and their home purchases. “We were like every other startup – really optimistic,” he recalls. “The few clients we had told us they loved the service, so we just threw a bunch of marketing money into it and thought we’d be successful overnight. That wasn’t the case.”
For a year, Virtuo struggled to find its fit in the market. “We were more on the upstream real estate side,” he reflects. “Similar to the relocation model. We were complementary to agents and brokers, but we really struggled to get the message of our value proposition to the consumer.”
Then in 2017, everything changed: “We realized that this experience reflected poorly on all the individual players in the journey – for example, the final experience in buying a brand-new build was this aggravating move-in experience,” Kachur says. “We had interest from some of the largest home builders in Alberta and quickly signed a pilot project with Brookfield in Calgary.”
Almost immediately after, Virtuo signed a similar deal with a large production home builder. “That was the moment of ‘OK, let’s really focus on delivering this wonderful move-in experience for these home builders’,” Kachur reflects. “That’s where growth really took off.”
As a service provider for the homebuilder’s customers, Virtuo acts as the concierge for new homeowners. Once a home is purchased, the team gets to work. “We’ll get on the phone at the beginning to get an understanding of the client’s situation and pain points, what their budget is, and build out a plan for them,” Kachur explains. “Then we get to work. The pre-planning is key and the rest is smooth sailing.”
Virtuo’s concierge matches the homeowner with trusted service providers and manages the delivery of everything. “We’re accountable right to the end, we take them through the journey,” he adds. The services are provided on behalf of the builder or developer at no cost to the homeowner.
Since 2018, Virtuo has grown rapidly throughout Western Canada, predominantly through partnerships with homebuilders and community developers. Growth has also seen the company open operations in Los Angeles, and they have interest from partners in Toronto and Texas.
While the company counts the majority of Alberta-based large home builders as clients, listening to those who are more focused on truly delivering an amazing customer experience uncovered a new insight: the move-in is just one part of the story.
“There is a larger ecosystem around both the new home journey and the ongoing ‘living’ phase,” Kachur explains. “And those same challenges that make it an irritating experience for the consumer exist from the fragmented and disconnected journeys. So we thought ‘What if we could transform this entire experience the same way we did for the move?’”
With this vision in mind, in late 2020 Virtuo formalized a partnership with Qualico Communities to deliver an elevated experience to seven of their Calgary communities. It expects to sign similar deals this year. Over time, Kachur sees the service being adopted into older, more established communities as well, to drive more connectivity and engagement in them.
“2020 was actually the best year for us so far,” Kachur marvels, “despite it being a weird and challenging year. We were coming off a year of growth in excess of 100 per cent year-over-year, so we had big plans. But even we couldn’t imagine what was possible. We continued to grow over 50 per cent during COVID-19, with a growing team often working remotely, as we were re-positioning the company and built out the platform to solve this huge consumer issue and turn it into the first-class experience it should be.”
A successful seed round to fund this growth opportunity was also completed. “We had originally planned to raise in early 2020 – and opened up a round in March 2020,” he says, “which was pretty scary given the pandemic. But we ended up oversubscribed. We received a lot of Alberta-based interest and capital, which was great.”
One such investor is Maggnum Ventures Inc., a family-owned private real estate investor and developer based in Calgary. President Matthew Grieve was attracted to the unique startup tech company and is so far very happy with the investment. “Virtuo has made natural transitions to become what it is today,” Grieve notes. “They are bringing in lots of new clients that are best in class and are expanding quickly. People will always need to move and this makes it much more simple.”
One natural transition Virtuo is currently focused on is greater vertical integration with industry partners, particularly financial institutions, insurance companies, builders, developers, and utilities, to support the entire lifecycle of home ownership. “We’re helping these businesses provide end-to-end solutions to their customers, and a way they can maintain their customer relationships beyond the transaction.” Kachur explains. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Another difficulty in the live phase is finding trusted home services providers to provide hassle-free preventative maintenance around the home. “People want to just set it and forget it,” Kachur offers. “Pay your monthly fee for the peace of mind that it’s all managed – yard maintenance, snow removal, furnace servicing, house cleaners. We get you better deals at scale and by bundling services together, with the Virtuo Home Concierge as the single point of contact who facilitates it all for the customer.”
For his part, Grieve is optimistic about Virtuo’s future: “With the size of the opportunity they are solving, they are prime to grow exponentially – and maybe one day even go public,” he ventures. “I grew up with Casey and have followed his career. He is one of the brightest and most determined people I know.”
A big proponent of his adopted home-city, Kachur sees Calgary as increasingly tech-friendly. “It’s full of smart, ambitious entrepreneurs – and lots of really nice people,” he says. “And the tech ecosystem is growing fast. There’s a lot of talent and exciting companies here.” Grieve agrees: “Maggnum likes to invest in Alberta and we hope to be a part of the diversification of new and established industries that look to the future. We have a great place to live and want to retain the great entrepreneurial spirit and help it grow.”
Looking forward, Kachur is confident that Virtuo will play an important role in a more diversified, tech-friendly, Calgary. His focus, for now, is upwards: “We’re growing fast. And as a startup, at the end of the day if you’re growing, then you’re going in the right direction.”
But it’s not just growth that is on his mind. “From years of experience in this industry, and being homeowners ourselves, we know firsthand the frustrations people experience,” he muses. “People deserve better – and we’re building the platform to connect the experience, but no one party can solve it alone. It will take a collective effort from all sides of the industries involved to make a difference.” And if it is successful?
“We will have positively changed one of the most painful yet significant experiences in people’s lives today – and people will wonder how it didn’t happen sooner.”