At Propra, CTO & Co-Founder, Craig Adam knows a thing or two about developing value-driven software solutions. We chatted with him about his entrepreneurial journey and what it’s like co-founding a disruptive PropTech company.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background?
I'll start the story in the early eighties, which is when I started coding. I started coding as a small child before it was a very popular thing to do. My kids now, they’re growing up with technology and they're writing Minecraft mods and stuff like that. But when I was a kid, it was a pretty niche interest. There were things like computer clubs, and that's what I was a part of. So I started writing code in the early eighties. I grew up doing that. I was always the guy that people went to fix their computers.
Fast forward - I studied a little bit of computer science at U of M and quickly realized that having grown up writing code, I felt very comfortable with it compared to a lot of other people who were coming into it. In 2000, I co-founded a startup serving Manitoba First Nations. We built a SaaS to help the First Nation administer welfare programs. We stayed alive for about five years before closing the doors after a change to the funding models. During that time I learned a lot.
From there, I joined Shaw Communications. It really started off as a survival gig. I just needed to stay alive and pay my bills. I started in tech support and I did that for just a few months. They quickly realized that I had more to offer. So, I moved into a network analyst role. I was an HFC network analyst and I helped found the operations centre in Winnipeg, coordinating maintenance crews to resolve network outages in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.
I quickly moved into a role as a software specialist on that team, building out all the tools that they use to be effective. Eventually, I moved into management, where I started supervising teams of tech support folks. I moved around the country with Shaw in leadership roles for both customer care as well as supporting field technical operations. I eventually found my way to Calgary and Shaw’s corporate headquarters where I built and grew a development team specifically focused on helping frontline customer care agents be more effective.
I prototyped the original software and built a team around it that could make it much better and could keep it sustained.
Next after that, I moved into a group where I headed up some of the business transformation teams specifically focused on product management, helping to move them from a legacy system to a modern system. In 2014 I ended up back in Winnipeg, where I headed up technology for a FinTech company for a while and later did some consulting.
I’d had my eye on SkipTheDishes for a while, but I also knew that they had to grow to a certain size before they could use somebody with my background. Toward the end of 2016 though, they really did need senior management. People that knew how to scale up into an enterprise, and coming from that consulting and enterprise background, I was a great fit. The best part was that not only was it a fit for Skip, but it was a fit for me. I was really craving that atmosphere of “let's get in this, let's just make it happen, get it done, take no prisoners.” That culture just really spoke to me.
It was definitely intense, that’s the best way that I could describe it. And I loved the experience. One of the things that have always inspired me about the founding team was that they were creating opportunities for other people who wanted to work with passion and intensity without having to move to Silicon Valley or New York City or LA. I left SkipTheDishes at a point where we had successfully integrated with the parent organization. I felt like my mission was accomplished and I was really looking for my next thing.
I went on to become the VP of software engineering at a global IoT company headquartered in the US, which was fun, leading a large team that was globally distributed. I then reconnected with some of my colleagues from SkipTheDishes who matched me with Al-Karim and we started ideating around the PropTech space. Eventually, we landed on the opportunity that became Propra.
Q: What does your day-to-day look like?
I do a lot of face-to-face or zoom meetings with investors and with customers. But I also spend a lot of time on recruiting activities. So I spend a lot of time in interviews, as well as participating in events, like job and career fairs, either engaged with potential applicants or just trying to give people more insight into what we're doing and what opportunities are out there. So it goes beyond just our company but reaching the whole tech community in general.
I also have a lot of operational duties. We're a startup, and we have a pretty clear, if informal division of operational duties. So, I deal a lot with tech financing and the day-to-day payroll and administrative tasks, as well as managing the various tools that we use. Things that you’d expect from the tech guy.
But for the most part, my day is almost all spent working as a software developer. So I do the job of my team in addition to my own job. I'm writing software, laying down the foundations for a lot of the patterns. A good chunk of my time is spent kind of reviewing other people's code, coaching them, and participating in the team part of software development. Another portion is spent designing and looking forward, thinking about how we will solve future challenges. And I flip gears, somedays, I'll be working on front end React and then I'll have to switch gears to infrastructure on the backend. Then I might have to flip over to mobile dev, and back to the backend services. So I'm literally all over the place in my personal contributions to the product.
Q: Propra reimagines property management to provide a seamless experience for both property managers and tenants. What are some of the challenges with building a platform that satisfies both users?
That's exactly one of the things that we had to deal with at SkipTheDishes. We had restaurants, customers, couriers, and these are very different stakeholders with different needs and different priorities. How do you deal with that? The real answer in my opinion is segmentation. Taking a particular stakeholder domain and building an application around the stakeholder that can stand on its own merit.
When I'm writing something for the manager domain, I don't make assumptions about what's happening in the tenant domain. I also don't have to depend on anything that's happening in the tenant domain. I can run as fast as I want on the manager software. And it's independent of whatever's being done on the tenant side and vice-versa. Having that kind of organizational layout makes a very big difference in how you build the software. It also unblocks the velocity so you can deliver very quickly and meet different priorities.
There may be different priorities in the manager domain than there are in the tenant domain and they don't necessarily have to compete for developer time. As we continue to grow, we will be adding product managers and product owners across each of these different domains. They will be able to focus on just their pipelines. Of course, they'll work together to make sure that the overall strategies align, but ultimately they have the freedom and autonomy to just run as fast as they can to create as much value as possible for their domain’s stakeholder.
Q: As Propra continues to grow, what are some things users can look forward to?
Ultimately, what it comes down to is focusing on the next most important thing to do. We have to identify what that one thing is that can create the most value for our customers and for all the users of the platform. Software product development is inherently uncertain. I think that one mistake that a lot of people make is trying to put it in a box or compare it to things that are a lot more predictable. It just doesn't work like that. I would rather stay flexible and roll with the punches.
That said, we're definitely working on some cool things in the future. Right now, one of the things that I've been working on is support for condo managers. While condo management isn't necessarily our main focus, we recognize it as a need our customers have and if we can help make their lives easier, it's something that I want to support.
So, what we're building in the next little while is support for managing and keeping owner records. It's a fairly incremental add-on to everything we are doing, but it's a huge value add for our customers that manage condos. They don't have to have a separate system for rentals and a separate system for condos. They can use one end-to-end platform that does it all.
To learn more about working at Propra and how we’re improving tenant satisfaction and asset value for property owners and managers, view our open roles.