OJO Labs, a technology startup that uses artificial intelligence to match consumers with the homes that might best suit them, announced today that it has expanded into Canada.
The announcement marks the first time the firm has officially expanded beyond its home turf in the U.S. In a statement, OJO Labs revealed that it has appointed Natalka Falcomer, a former agent, to lead the expansion as president of the company’s Canadian division. And as of Thursday, OJO Labs’ services were available in more than a dozen Canadian markets including Toronto, Ottawa, southwestern Ontario, Vancouver and a number of other regions.
John Berkowitz, OJO Labs’ co-founder and CEO said in the statement that in 2020 his company “scaled our services to millions of new consumers, as home buyers turned to digital services to select and purchase the right home.”
“This year, we’re excited to expand into Canada and help even more consumers navigate the complex home buying journey,” Berkowitz added.
As part of the expansion, OJO Labs has also struck up a partnership with RBC Ventures, which is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada. The collaboration will give OJO Labs’ users access to RBC mortgage professionals, according to the statement, and should provide OJO Labs itself with an “extensive set of knowledge on the Canadian real estate market.”
OJO Labs is best-known for OJO, a virtual assistant for consumers. The assistant uses artificial intelligence to walk would-be homebuyers through a series of questions about their preferences. The platform then pinpoints and suggests specific properties based on the buyers’ responses.
In a phone call, Falcomer told Inman she initially approached OJO Labs a year and a half ago after learning about the company and “falling in love” with its offerings. Those conversations continued, with Falcomer “literally pleading with them to have me lead out the expansion in Canada.”
“I thought, ‘These guys got it. They solved the problem for the consumer in a way that makes sense for them,'” she explained. “I really wanted to be a part of this brilliant new platform.”
Falcomer said OJO Labs has actually been “quietly” operating in Canada for months as part of a kind of soft launch. During that time, the response from both consumers and agents has been positive. Agents in particular have been “blown away,” Falcomer added, by the quality of leads they get from OJO Labs’ customers.
“You the consumer go through a very stringent process to make sure you actually want to speak with a Realtor,” Falcomer said of OJO Labs’ referral philosophy.
OJO Labs previously embarked on another unofficial soft launch in Canada years ago, though that was ultimately paused until the present.
Falcomer also said the Canadian market has a number of unique nuances — there are fewer multiple listing services and different property laws, for example — that set it aside from the U.S. Those differences have tripped up other real estate startups that have tried to expand north, some of which have failed by treating Canada “like just another state.” Falcomer ultimately praised OJO Labs for “understanding that Canada is different.”
“They understood all of those nuances,” she said, adding that bringing on Canadian team members such as herself and partnering with RBC gives OJO Labs access to a Canadian perspective.
The company’s statement notes that the expansion comes at a significant time, with the Canadian housing market reaching “record heights” during the last year, as well as facing tight inventory much as is the case in many U.S. markets.
OJO Labs itself has also been especially active over the last year, raising $62.5 million and acquiring residential search site Movoto last summer. The company also acquired financial technology startup Digs last fall.
Speaking of the Canadian expansion, RBC Ventures Vice President Simon Maycock said in a statement that his firm is “thrilled to be collaborating with OJO Labs in order to help solve some of the consumer pain points within the homebuying journey.”
“OJO Labs and RBC Ventures are both committed to providing Canadians with the trusted expertise, tools, and resources they need,” Maycock added, “to make well informed decisions when it comes to purchasing a home.”