At Propra, CEO & Co-Founder, Al-Karim Khimji knows all about the challenges facing multi-family property managers. We chatted with him about his entrepreneurial journey and what it’s like leading the helm of a disruptive PropTech company.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background?
A: I grew up in a real estate business. From a very young age, I immersed myself in my family’s hotel business and learned many things about entrepreneurship, including what it means to be part of a team, lead a team, engage customers and how to grow a business.
After my undergrad at McGill, I came back to Calgary and led the development of a hotel. I oversaw the entire end-to-end process, from breaking ground through to cash flow and everything in between, including construction. It was fascinating to see how all these pieces come together and I learned the importance of having a great team and leveraging the talent and expertise of others.
After completing my MBA, I worked in management consulting at McKinsey & Company, and in private equity in a variety of countries and industries including telecoms, cloud computing, asset management, infrastructure, basic materials, and agriculture. In these roles, I served companies, including Fortune 100, focusing on growth strategy, corporate finance and due diligence, and organization-wide transformations, restructurings and operations.
Once I moved back to Calgary, I became a landlord myself. With having the experience as both a landlord and resident, I saw all sides of asset management, which really got me thinking about defining the very complex problem that we are tackling at Propra.
Q: What inspired you to start Propra?
A: Entrepreneurship is what I know. I have always had the mindset that if something needs to be done, just go and do it.
Craig, my co-founder, and I first focused on the interesting space and problem that we were trying to solve – leveraging my past experience, especially in real estate, combined with his technology expertise. Together, we had this interesting nexus. It was a conversation with Craig that tipped the scale, as his idea of achievement – to do something valuable on a large scale, maybe for all Canadians and beyond. This was the leap for me.
When I think about the emotional journey of starting a company, it’s the highs and lows that I am really familiar with. It’s about how you consistently pick yourself up and keep going and tackle the next problem.
Q: What does your day-to-day look like?
Everyday is different; always focused around the priorities of product and growth. Foundational to all of that is the team, it’s the people. No matter the problem we are trying to solve, we are constantly identifying the greatest need and opportunity, and bringing in the right people with the right capabilities quickly to act on it.
I also take a moment to think about self-care – how do you detach and reframe yourself? I think it’s important to take time to step out of it, in order to be present each day and intentional about what you're doing.
Q: What does Propra add to the Property Management industry that’s currently missing?
Propra is focused on offering an intuitive solution that is naturally easy to use. This means leveraging technology in a way that consumers are already used to when engaging and absorbing information.
Think about your experience with SkipTheDishes, you know exactly where your pizza is, be it in the oven or on the road. You can anticipate opening your front door the moment the delivery driver pulls up, and you have that peace of mind because that information helps you feel like you're in control. It’s the same concept with UPS, FedEx, or Canada Post. So, we asked ourselves how do we bring that comfort and transparency to the resident-landlord relationship?
Next we looked at the inputs and outputs of the business; we know that a great resident experience goes hand-in-hand with great business processes. How can technology help teams to simplify processes and solve more complex problems?
For example, within any given morning a property manager could be triaging an issue and trying to understand a multitude of questions about a resident’s problem to ensure that they are sending the right person, with the right tools, at the right time.
The answer to that can be achieved with automation. So, instead of spending their first 1 to 3 hours each morning triaging problems, Propra leverages technology to simplify workflows, gather important information, and give frontline team members more time to complete higher-value tasks.
By automating processes like preventative maintenance and inspection walk-throughs, we’re also improving the resident experience. That is very valuable because if you can automate that at a small scale, the benefits directly will improve your net operating costs (NOI) and the impact gets better over time and as you grow.
Finally, we offer a very competitively priced solution. Many of the existing softwares are hard to use. You have to buy another piece of software to integrate systems or to leverage your data to its full potential. We are focused on creating an ecosystem that's easy to use. We hear a lot from property managers that they need to copy and paste from one software to another and that's inefficient. In this day and age, we should be way past that.
Q: What have you learned since co-founding Propra?
A: People first. All-day people first. In a startup, work ethic is really table stakes. Everyone on the team is here because they really believe in what we are building, and they are meaningful members of the team, all working towards achieving our overall vision. We're lucky to have the group of folks we have.
The second thing that I continue to learn and observe is that others may have a better answer and that my role sometimes is to get the problem solved, not do the problem solving.
Lastly, I’ve learned a lot about self-awareness. When you're feeling super energized, it’s important to recognize how you can share that energy with the team, and on the flip-side when you're feeling drained, not to hide it, but learn how to talk about it and explore how we can keep moving forward as a team. Building this open and transparent foundation is helping us achieve milestones faster than anticipated as we are grounded and focused as a team. Together, we will make an impact within the property management and tech industries; we have a great mission ahead of us and we are only just getting started.
To learn more about working at Propra and how we’re elevating the resident and landlord experience with our software, view our open roles.