Scaling Your Business: From Good to Great

Graduating from small to big business means laying the groundwork for growth.

Entrepreneurs can spend years trying to crack big markets to no avail, so they often concentrate on smaller ones and pinch pennies to keep operations going. Then when a growth opportunity does come along, they find they don’t have the organization to access it, and they’re destined to stay small forever. 


The Problem

For over a decade Vancouver web developer Combustion Labs Media Inc. has been providing a website platform called Ubertor to early-adopter individual real estate agents around the world. But it could never access the mass market (local real estate boards) because the boards didn’t provide that service to their members. Then, when the real estate industry changed, Combustion Labs had to move fast.


The Solution

Real estate boards are exchanges whose members are individual real estate agents. In Canada, the Canadian Real Estate Association governs all real estate boards, as well as the nation’s 96,000 realtors. Its American counterpart is the National Association of Realtors, which governs more than 1.2 million realtors.

Until recently, both organizations ensured their member boards kept close control of listing services, which were their main sources of income. However, moves by competition bureaus in both the U.S. and Canada in recent years forced the organizations to relinquish their control of listings. 

Some of the more forward-thinking local boards started looking for new revenue sources. One of Canada’s largest, the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB), decided to offer websites for its members and in the fall of 2010 put out a call to website providers throughout the country for proposals to build the service. Combustion Labs was one of them. 

When co-founder Stephen Jagger heard the call, he was ready. The company had already instituted processes that would allow it to scale up rapidly. Last year, it founded a sister company in the Philippines that did outsourced web design – at first for Custom Labs’ own purposes, and then, eventually, as a service for other website developers. 

Instead of chatting on the phone or simply responding with a proposal, Jagger got on a plane and flew to Calgary to tell the board in person that his platform was customizable, easy to use and offered proven customer support. He also told them he could educate real estate agents on newer web tools such as online video and social media. And since he knew exactly what his scaling costs would be, he could agree on a pricing model almost instantly.

The personal pitch worked. The CREB, after considering several competitors, chose Ubertor as its exclusive supplier. 

More importantly, the CREB deal gave Combustion Labs a leg up to go after other real estate boards that might be looking for new revenue models. They’re watching what happens in Calgary before making the leap themselves. When they do, Jagger will be ready. 



• Be prepared. Although it wasn’t actively pursuing larger real estate agent groups, Combustion Labs always had them in its growth plan. The opportunity came when the boards’ models came under attack.

• Scale up your human capital. If it hadn’t already started a company that could undertake large-scale website development, Combustion Labs couldn’t have pitched its capabilities to the CREB.

• Put a human face on it. Ubertor could have simply called the board and submitted a proposal. Instead, Jagger flew to Calgary at his own cost to meet with board members, listen to their needs and offer solutions.