Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine – Boom Bust & Echo – February 2005

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Below Article From: Vancouver LifeStyles Magazine
February 2005

Stephen Jagger and Michael Stephenson may not have come to the business world with as much experience as the players in SPORG, but they’ve got more than luck behind them.

These two young entrepreneurs look as though they’d fit the mold of the dotcom boom and bust entrepreneur, but once they get talking it becomes quickly evident that they are not headed in that direction. As owners of Combustion Listings, they have created the hottest thing in real estate since the mortgage broker.

Combustion (www.combustionlabs.com) started out in 1999 as a web hosting company. Jagger, 27, and Stephenson, 29, were friends from their days working as debt collectors. They saw hosting as a good niche to start a business using Jagger’s entrepreneurial training and Stephenson’s work experience designing websites. They did well right away, attracting U.S. and Canadian clients.

From the get-go, they knew they needed to appear bigger than they were. They hired a top-notch design firm to create their corporate branding, and an answering service to hide the fact that they were still working out of their bedrooms in their parents homes.

When they started hiring employees, it got a bit difficult to have staff turning up at Jaggers house in the morning, working off the end of his bed. Thats when it became time to find an office. And it wasnt long before they needed a bigger office.

Thats what led them to the real estate business. They were working with a real estate company to find a unique space when they began hearing about problems their realtors were having with web designers. Jagger and Stephenson knew they could do a better job for the same price. So they did.

They created on-line software to set up and maintain websites for the real estate industry. Combustions technology allows realtors to manage their websites without a webmaster. The listings engine allows realtors to easily add, remove and edit listings. With a variety of website templates, it becomes very easy to set up a realty website.

Combustions website boasts that they are fast, they are secure, and we’re great at what we do. In fact, we’re renowned for providing the best customer service and technical support in the industry.”

In just three years, theyve signed up thousands of realtors who are singing their praises from Langley to Florida and Vancouver to San Francisco.

“These guys know what theyre doing, and they know how to sell their product,” says Patricia Houlihan, a realtor with MacDonald Realtys West Side office (www.vancouverviews.ca). “My website was so easy to set up, easy to maintain, and I dont have to worry about it at all.”

Jagger and Stephenson say theyve had plenty of offers to take the business public, but theyre not interested right now. Its important to them to control the direction of the company.

“We saw why a lot of companies went down,” says Jagger. “We study failures, and were always researching what other companies did wrong so we can sidestep their errors as well as learn from our own.”

They learned a lot from their days as debt collectors. Like how to stay out of debt as much as possible.
“Weve been pretty much profitable since day one,” says Jagger. “We grow as we can, expand as we can, stay debt free as much as possible.”

They say their youth is an advantage in having the time and energy to build the business. “Our lack of obligations outside the company aids us to be more focused within the company,” says Stephenson.
“Were agile with this business,” adds Jagger.

“The company is our child,” Stephenson jumps back in. “We all work to bring it up. Once its grown up, once the company is a teenager, then well have our own kids and start again with them. Right now the company still needs parenting.”

Their baby may grow up pretty quickly. Revenues are currently well above $1.5 million, with growth at 150 per cent every year. Plans to expand further into the U.S. are brewing.

Combustions current open-concept offices near Commercial Drive have become too small for the growing company, so theyll be moving into custom-built premises in Yaletown next month. Their growing roster of employees will still enjoy catered lunches, personal trainers, expensive equipment and all the perks, but now will be able to walk to work.

Jagger and Stephenson come across as buddies, and even finish each others sentences. When asked about their future goals, Jagger starts talking about dominating the real estate software market and honing the products they currently offer. But Stephenson lets loose with some of their bigger dreams.

“We want to redefine the business of real estate, just like Google redefined search and EBay redefined auction,” he grins.

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