When the youthful software developers at Anow need a break, they might challenge a coworker to a game of ping pong or foosball, play video games or practise their golf chipping.
These and other recreational pursuits are options at the 2,000-square-foot office in downtown Red Deer where Marty Haldane and his staff are changing the way real estate appraisers across North America operate.
Anow, the name of which is derived from Appraisers Now, has created cloud-based software that simplifies the administrative duties associated with real estate appraisal work. Subscribers gain access to a suite of management tools designed for the industry.
“Basically, everything from managing their order data base to assigning jobs to employees, scheduling appointments, driving routes, tracking receivables and sending invoices out,” said Haldane, the CEO and founder of Anow.
Such chores have traditionally consumed much of an appraiser’s time, he said, describing the experience of one Anow customer who oversees 13 appraisers in Chicago.
“It became a full-time job just keeping track of what all 13 of them were doing. He’s an appraiser himself and he didn’t have time to appraise anymore.”
With Anow’s software, that customer is now managing his staff more effectively and efficiently, and earning more money from his own appraisal work, said Haldane.
Another benefit of the system are the insights it gives users by instantly generating reports on how well their business is doing, he added. That enables them to make better business decisions, faster.
Released in January of this year, Anow’s software has caught on quickly with appraisal firms across Canada and the United States.
“We’ve got New York City, Hollywood, Vancouver, Toronto and everywhere in between,” said Haldane, adding that his firm is also servicing clients of all sizes.
“Our customers are from a one-person shop who works out of their house to large enterprise customers who are growing to hundreds of appraisers.”
For many, their dealings with Anow have also been their introduction to Red Deer.
“They expect us to be in California. When you say Canada, let along Red Deer, Alberta, they’re like, ‘Really?’”
But Haldane is proud to have assembled his four-person team of programmers, which includes himself, in Red Deer. Ranging in age from 24 to 34, all have roots in the city and are an “awesome” group, he said.
Typical of the millennials who populate tech companies like Google and Facebook, the four enjoy mixing hard work with the recreational opportunities that exist in their office.
“We want it to be a fun place to work.”
Haldane exhibited an early aptitude for computers, starting a web-design business when he was 14. But he opted for the appraisal industry, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father — both named Bill Haldane — with Bill Sr. starting Haldane Appraisals in Red Deer and Bill Jr. operating it now.
Marty Haldane joined the family business in 2005, and went on to complete some 5,000 appraisals. But he recognized that the industry needed a more efficient way to operate, and by 2010 was pondering options.
In 2011, Haldane began developing software with the help of another programmer. By 2013, he’d enlisted the support of several tech company heavyweights that he’d met through an Accelerate Alberta mentoring conference.
After raising $1.1 million in investment capital, he assembled his current team of programmers and in January 2014 set to work on commercial software. They spent time at his father’s office to get a first-hand look at the industry, but also organized appraiser focus groups and tested the system in firms.
Haldane’s background as a licensed appraiser helped, as has the ongoing direction and support received from an advisory board made up of the mentors Haldane met through Accelerate Alberta.
“We are 10 years ahead of where we would have been without it.”
The Anow team continues to modify its software, using customer feedback to identify potential areas of improvement.
“I feel you have to be evolving, and if you ever stop that’s when someone is going to take over,” said Haldane.
Because the system is cloud-based, customers can quickly and easily sign up and use it on any device.
“We made it so you don’t have to install anything. You can sign up in two minutes and get started; you can add a hundred people on your team in five minutes.”
Haldane said the software could be modified for use in other industries, with work on such alternative applications underway.
“We’ve actually had some interest already from property inspection organizations.”
Cloud-based appraisal software is another area Anow is looking at. And it’s still only scratched the surface of the market for its current system.
“It’s a big market and it expands across the world,” said Haldane.