From University to Startup, the story of Castle — Part 1

The Interview

“I love Reddit.”

With such a huge collection of highly-engaged communities, it’s so easy to connect with amazing people by just joining in on conversations which interest you. That’s exactly how I got to meet Leo, one of the co-founders of Castle.

Leo and I got talking after I posted a call for founders willing to be interviewed on r/startup after the launch of Inkbike.

A few people responded to the post but among them, Leo immediately stood out to me. It wasn’t just that he was personable, but that his focus, dedication and passion were so immediately apparent as soon as he got talking about his business.

Even though I was nervous about interviewing someone over messages for the first time (every other time has been a recorded face-to-face discussion), I was confident that Leo’s experience would make for a fantastic interview and that there was an incredible opportunity to learn from his unique experiences.

I was absolutely not disappointed, and I’m incredibly excited to share Leo’s experience with you as a fascinating insight into creative marketing and carving a space for yourself in a niche digital market.

“I’m Leo, a student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and I co-founded Castle — a startup rethinking how Real Estate Agents do marketing.

We differ from our competition in that we provide agents with a fully customised website using a monthly subscription offer instead of a major one-time fee like traditional web design agencies.

We did this to solve the big issue with the one-fee model, where you might hate aspects of your website only a few months in after you spent $5,000 on a normal agency. Technology and design standards change every few months, and you’re therefore left with a website that looks obsolete.

By opting for a subscription model instead, your website benefits from continuous development and support by the same dedicated team that built it for you from scratch.

What I’m most proud of in Castle however, is the way we provide another service that is so far unique.

We intend to build Canada’s most comprehensive database of real estate agents, providing each with a online profile composed of a bio, testimonials pulled from across external online platforms, language, ethnicity, niche neighbourhood, target age group, listings... These profiles rank #1 for each agent name on search engines depending on how much value they provide the consumer.

Without signing-up, homebuyers and home-sellers will be presented with the agents that suit them best.

I love that — the platform you’ve built to profile the Agents is something I’ve never seen done before and it feels like it actually humanises the process of finding property online, which is absolutely something I’ve never seen attempted before.

I’m glad to hear you like it! It means there’s a market fit for our idea.

You phrased it perfectly with “humanise the process of finding property” because there are 15,000 Agents in Vancouver alone (where we are), which makes no sense given that they all do the same job. I mean, why choose one over another?

One way to go about it as a seller is finding an agent who’s transparent, fits your personality and specializes in your niche (e.g. Millenials in West Vancouver). That’s already a challenge in itself as for many, real estate Agents have such a bad reputation.

Photography by Aditya Chinchure

Brilliant — I couldn’t agree more.

Another part of the Castle story that I really love is that you met your business partners through Reddit — what’s the story behind that happening?

We started Castle a year ago, when I partnered with 2 other university students I met through this very Reddit post, share on the subreddit of our University. Twenty people commented on that post, 6 followed up and 3 actually met. That’s us. Since then, one other person has joined our team.

We know our work is leading to something much bigger than what we intended. We want to make it a unicorn company , just like we learnt in a class on entrepreneurship, yet we also settled with the idea that we needed to build stable revenue before doing anything crazy. Many startups go straight to building a crazy innovative product before they realize they can’t sustain themselves financially for another 3 years without proper revenue building. Castle is tackling the tech-startup symptom by building stable revenue first using some light innovation in the pricing structure before switching to building a radically disruptive product to the real estate marketing world.

With regards to our relationship, it’s very special. We have very different backgrounds, stories and interests, but I guess what unites us is our passion for experimenting with, and building a start-up.

We got to work on the very first day we met up, without having discussed any ideas beforehand. Since we’re all quite serious, we quickly settled on holding a weekly meeting — Sunday 10 am to 2pm — which was mandatory to attend.

Everyone attended each meeting every single weekend for the first 4 months.

In that time, we settled with the idea of designing, coding and maintaining fully custom websites for Real Estate agents. We saw this idea as being a niche market since it uniquely combined:

  1. being a real estate agent;
  2. seeing value in design and in a custom website;
  3. wishing new technologies were integrated to their website every now and then

So the startup concept was defined. The next step was finding out whether there was demand for it. That’s the tricky part…

[To be continue in PART 2]