HALIFAX – It was a chance meeting that led Alessia Bosatra and Mario Comando to land in New Brunswick and later build their property visualization company, Renderator Technologies Labs, out of Fredericton.
When the Italian couple visited the Canadian Consulate in Milan to find information about immigrating, they were greeted by a staff member who came from New Brunswick. She told them the province needed people, and that their skills were sought after.
“That’s how we started our journey to investigate more into New Brunswick. That was the beginning,” Bosatra said.
They arrived in Fredericton in 2008, through a program for immigrant entrepreneurs. They used their background in design, architecture and marketing to set up their business.
Within 15 days, their company was up and running. They got their first client after 25 days, which Bosatra remembers to be “very moving.”
“We were in Fredericton, brand new, still using my Milan business cards and we just wrote our new phone numbers on top by hand,” Bosatra said. “It was amazing because what we loved from the very beginning, that I will always remember, is how many people helped us since day number one. In terms of neighbourhood, in terms of people that I was trying to connect with, trying to introduce myself, our company, and trying to get a foot in the door.”
Since founding, the company has moved twice. First to Greater Moncton and now, it’s based in Halifax to further its reach. Bosatra tends to clients in Toronto and New York a few times a year.
She said things moved fast from the beginning because they were “laser-focused” on connecting with the right people – architects, designers, developers. Many were intrigued by their portfolio and their story.
“They love the fact that we were coming from Italy, from Europe,” she said.
In Milan, Bosatra, who also speaks French, was working in the fashion industry when she fell in love with how stores were designed. She decided to get an architecture degree from Politecnico di Milano and a masters degree in hotel experience design. The university was also where she met her husband, who studied marketing and branding.
Their company started out with something Bosatra had been working on back in Italy, generating 3D renderings for property developers. But that market has become saturated over the years.
“Working with more real estate developers, we figured out that at a certain point, renderings become a limit because they’re static,” Comando said.
In 2016, they turned the 3D renderings into an immersive experience, allowing people to virtually tour spaces that haven’t been built yet. The models are made based on architectural drawings from developers that Renderator turns into photorealistic tours.
Renderator’s technology allows remote buyers to not only walk through model suites or commercial spaces but also play around with them.
They can change a room’s colour scheme, and find out how the space looks at night, among other things. For commercial projects, prospective buyers can look at a space as a yoga studio, a grocery store or an office, for instance. The “time machine” technology allows developers to preview an estimate of what the surrounding neighbourhood would look like across different phases of development.
Developers and brokers can also gather data that can help them understand how remote buyers make decisions.
“We can tell developers which is the room visitors love most and how much time they spend in that room. We can profile users and say most of them are between 25 and 35, they spend 50 per cent of their time in the living room watching the corner between the living room and kitchen, and they’re located in Edmonton, [for example],” Comando explained.
Similar data can be collected for sales or leasing of commercial space, so the developers and brokers can focus their marketing based on data, he said.
Renderator’s projects in the Maritimes include the Nova Centre in Halifax and the Tannery Place in Moncton, which broke ground in June with a waiting list of tenants.
Denis Foulem of DuParc Realty, the developer of Tannery Place, said Renderator’s technology helped his team to track users interacting through the website. They used it as an indication of responses to their marketing. The immersive experience also helped with pre-sales.
“We don’t have specific numbers but the 3D experience really helped our clients experience the building. As a result, pre-sales have been solid,” he said.
Foulem said innovative technology that shows what a property could look like once it’s finished has become an “essential selling tool.”
“This is now the new norm in pre-sales and people want it before committing to a project.”
A Remote Team
Renderator’s core team is made up of Bosatra and Comando in Halifax, and another person in Europe. But its sales, IT, design and other staff work remotely from other parts of the world. Comando said it’s easier to find specialized talent and to stay lean that way.
“We really believe that this is the only way to be able to run a company until you find the product-market fit because the risk is too high. Every company in this stage is very vulnerable, so we really think that we need to be lean as much as we can in order to understand which is the right price and the right value proposition for the product,” he said. “You have to run lean but still have a very good product on the market.”
With Atlantic Canada being a tight market now, Renderator is focusing on British Columbia, New York and California. There’s also some resistance in Atlantic Canada, where many developers still rely on physical brochures and model suites.
“We try to focus our attention where the product is needed, not where the product is considered as a plus,” he said.
In the long run, the couple wants to make their products more affordable by integrating more automation. Comando said automation has allowed the company to cut prices by nearly 50 per cent in the last two years.
But there’s one thing that can’t be automated: taste.
“In the end, we will always have the touch in the colours, the colour scheme, and lighting – what you actually see that makes the tour come alive,” he said.