Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Suitecity

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 Your weekly dose of inspiration; one founder shares her challenges and how she overcomes them.  

Sarah Fong, the founder of SuiteCity, based in Toronto, shares her biggest challenges, how she keeps inspired, and her advice for other female entrepreneurs.

By Jane Wang (Writer, The Wang Post)

Let’s start from the beginning, where were you born? I was born in Toronto, Canada, but both sides of my family moved here from Hong Kong in the 1960s. My father’s family settled in a small northern Ontario town about 14 hours north of Toronto, and my mother’s side moved to Toronto.

Tell us about growing up. What helped you along the way to become an entrepreneur?

When I was 11, while all my friends went to camp for the summer, my dad (a computer programmer) decided to make his own “summer camp” at home for me by teaching me how to code. This was before the internet too, so there weren’t any graphics or even a browser to view the output of your code. It was just me and a black MS-DOS screen computing basic input/output functions like mathematical equations.

I didn’t appreciate learning to program as a kid until I got my first “real” summer job as an intern in university. I was working at a very small consulting firm and was told to build the company’s first website! I was given no training and didn’t have any manuals. I picked up a book called “HTML in 10 minutes” and spent the summer hacking it together. These were the days before WordPress, when there were no plugins and you had to code every pixel from scratch. I was grateful to have gotten “trained” by my dad nearly a decade earlier in basic programming skills.

That’s old school. It’s very fortunate to be technical, but more on that in a bit. What was your FIRST job?

My first job was playing piano for student performances in music class during high school. I charged a $25 flat fee per student and got permission to get out class half the time to play! The job taught me that good quality work will bring you more business. By the time I finished high school, I had increased my market share significantly amongst my classmates and was hired by the school to play piano for the choir.

What was the inspiration /motivation behind your company, SuiteCity?

The inspiration behind SuiteCity came from years of working as a real estate analyst and hearing countless stories from friends who had bought/sold condos with an agent and felt that the services they received were not in-line with the cost of using an agent. The average price of a resale condo in Toronto is $350,000, and in a typical real estate transaction in Ontario, the commission rate for using an agent’s services is 5%. This translates into $17,500! The commission fee-based business model that is tied to the fluctuation in home prices simply does not make sense.

I wanted to use technology to give digitally savvy buyers and sellers an alternative to using a real estate agent. The focus of SuiteCity is to bring value to the consumer and shifting the power back into their hands. With digital technology being more accessible than ever before, buyers and sellers can connect directly and find all the information they need for conducting their own purchase and sale.

Now tell us about SuiteCity: how can we use it?

Suitecity.ca is an online platform that helps condo buyers, sellers, and investors manage the entire process of sale from the search/list stage to negotiations and close. We facilitate private sales of condos and take the buyer and seller through all the steps to conduct the entire process of sale on their own. We also connect them to all the services they need throughout the process such as real estate lawyers and mortgage brokers. We’re currently preparing to launch in Spring of 2014 in the Toronto market, but users from Canada and the United States can sign up now at Suitecity.ca!

What are your next goals for yourself and for your business?

Our goals are to build an online community of condo buyers and sellers in Toronto and to empower consumers with the knowledge and confidence they need to make the right decisions when buying and selling condos.

What was a challenge while designing, developing, or launching SuiteCity? How did you manage it?

My biggest challenge as a sole entrepreneur is managing all aspects of the business at the same time, especially the “departments” where I lack expertise and experience. As the founder, I’m responsible for marketing, technology, accounting and finance, legal, and business development. Being a non-tech founder of a tech-based business, this is the toughest area to handle. Learning how to back-end code well enough to build the product was not an option for me because it would take years of experience to build out what I need. However, I wanted to learn enough to be able understand the technical requirements I would need from a freelance web developer. I knew this would be a challenge right from the beginning, so as I was building out my business model, I also spent at least 4-5 hours every night brushing up on my skills in HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Ruby using Code Academy. I followed  up by teaching myself enough Ruby on Rails to create some pages with basic functionality and to understand the framework of how it all comes together. I did this for a few months and found it to be helpful to be able to speak the language that I need with web developers and designers.

What advice do you have for new female entrepreneurs?

As women entrepreneurs, we tend to doubt ourselves probably more than our male counterparts, especially when you first start out and don’t yet have everything in place. Ignore those who criticize you, but pay attention to those who criticize your product. Almost everyone you encounter will be giving you their feedback and you need to learn quickly whom to trust and what to believe, whether it is good or bad. Friends and family will always be supportive and have nice things to say about you and your product (which is great because it helps you keep a positive mindset!). But you should also seek feedback from trusted peers, industry experts, potential customers, and even the naysayers because they are the ones who will give you critical insights that will help you succeed. Stay focussed on achieving your end goal, but be open and flexible to making changes to your roadmap to success.

If you could have one superhero ability, what would it be and why?

I would self-duplicate! Running a business is tough and it’s always nice to have an extra person on hand, and nobody knows your business better than you do!

What are the biggest lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?

This post originally appeared on The Wang Post.

janeAbout the blogger: Jane Wang is a writer and a technologist. She is passionate about storytelling and technology, enjoys identifying cultural and technological trends in China and United States, and formulating hypotheses with data.