Digitization of Mortgage

(old french)

1. Death Pledge

CMHC released a publication on Mortgage Data Standards–analyzing the impact of initiating a system of data standards in the Canadian mortgage industry. One aspect of the data standards framework I’m paying close attention to is what the acceleration of digitization means to the future of mortages. The overarching premise is to provide the foundation for innovation development, and facilitate easier technology adoption.

The recent launch of Placekey–an intiative surrounding a universal place identifier that unifies location data–already demonstrates the collective shift toward an open ecosystem of data elements, definitions, and relationships that make up a reference model. It’s a movement of organizations and individuals that prize access to geospatial data.



From laying off 35% of its employees in April, to becoming a publicly traded company valued at $4.8 billion via merger with Social Capital Hedosophia in September, Opendoor has been the talk of the tech world as they reinvent how people buy and sell homes.

Opendoor’s co-founder, Ian Wong, spoke about the company’s meteoric rise at a recent TechTO event. Beyond the headlines, massive valuation, and all the trappings of success–when you hear the process behind scaling to unicorn status is fraught with trials and tribulations common to many a startup venture, it gives you greater perspective and confidence in pursuing your own ambitions. Their team certainly has grit, considering they’ve been on the journey since 2013, which I had been following closely as I formed my own Proptech business around the same time. Ian shared a few points about his experiences in building the team behind a once-in-a-generation company:

  • Look at talent as T-shaped. Find people that are well-versed in a particular area of expertise, yet with the ability to collaborate across disciplines.
  • Everyone must take ownership of their work, for instance doing what you say, or shipping on time.
  • Have a shipping cadence in one to two week sprints, with a sense of urgency to deliver better software continuously for your customers, as they are the highest priority.
  • Perform weekly retros to determine where you can improve.
  • Evangelize, reinforce, preach, and educate on the vision constantly.
  • Write good documentation about your company’s knowledge-base, which will make it easier to scale teams.
  • Hire not only for skills, but more importantly values, and mission.

Shaping the Future of Proptech with GIS

“A framework to organize, communicate, and understand the science of our world.”

– Esri on GIS

Global real estate is an asset class more valuable than all stocks, shares, and securitized debt combined, at $228+ trillion. There are remarkable technologies pushing the boundaries of the industry’s evolutionary curve–Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, drones–yet in terms of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), it is seemingly difficult to find consumer technology for those that could benefit from it the most. Guarded behind expensive paywalls reserved for esoteric means.

Zillow et al. have dominated the wide end of the funnel searching for real estate, and while it’s hard to argue the value these portals bring to their audience in terms of exposure, inventory, and liquidity, I feel there is much left to be desired. Credit is due for giving capital-intensive data away for free, but beyond the rudimentary displaying of information, data is most effective when telling stories, revealing obscure trends, and fostering greater transparency.


Transferring Data in Postgres

“We believe that databases need to excel at more than simple selects to be useful for complex tasks, and our positive experiences with PostgreSQL has done nothing but reinforce that philosophy.”

– David McNett

Migrating data hardly ever comes without headaches and the odd “oh shit” moments, but after getting the hang of it, you realize a great level of control.

Postgres comes with two utilities that make it simple to extract a database and restore it to another destination, with flexible options to select which parts of the data you want restored:

  • pg_dump is a utility for consistent back-ups of a PostgreSQL database, even if the database is being used concurrently.
  • pg_restore is a utility for restoring a PostgreSQL database from an archive created by pg_dump in one of the non-plain-text formats.

SaaS + Fintech

“Once one software solution demonstrates it is valuable, the customer base will consolidate around that company for all its software needs.”

– a16z

a16z released an article on how SaaS businesses can scale to new vertical markets by directly embedding financial products into their software. Founded by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz (author of What You Do Is Who You Are – one of the best books on creating business culture), a16z is one of the premier venture capital firms, with $12 billion in assets under management, defined by respect for the entrepreneur and the company building process. In other words, their expertise and insights are second to none, and in the article they provide actionable advice on how to price your product and expand to new markets.

Their thesis on Fintech scaling vertical SaaS is twofold:

  1. Revenue per user can increase by 2-5x.
  2. New verticals are unlocked, increasing TAM and lowering CAC.

Outsourcing Design

Good designers are hard to come by––it can be a costly process to find the right candidate, and you may end up paying for work you aren’t satisfied with. Now that we basically all live on the internet, meeting in-person with design teams to hammer out a design brief no longer seems like an appropriate option. Websites like Dribbble have virtualized the means of prospecting and working with designers, creating an open ecosystem to connect with the world’s top talent.

99designs Outsourcing

Journey to Nowhere

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

– Anthony Bourdain

It’s July 1st—Canada Day. Not how one would picture it. The weather is gloomy, and an uneasy sombreness fills the air. It seems an appropriate time to write about a journey I won’t soon forget. Unfortunately, it was a tragedy that had me return to Calgary. It was the first time I traveled outside of Vancouver since restrictions were put in place.

I bought a one-way ticket on WestJet, while they still had the middle seats blocked off to adhere to physical distancing. Masks were mandatory, most restaurants were closed at YVR, and everyone got their temperature checked at the gate just before onboarding. This was all prior to WestJet and Air Canada announcing they were starting to drop these safety precautions, because the airplanes now have HEPA filters installed to “clean recirculated air”, and disinfectant wipes in place of peanuts. As COVID-19 cripples the airline industry, WestJet was forced to lay off over 3,300 employees. It’s hard to know what to believe these days.

I’m glad the flight was only one hour, but it was good to get closer to the countryside. As I’ve mentioned before, and as some data shows, there is indication of an exodus from cities—notably from affluent neighborhoods. Perhaps it was more heresay at the height of the pandemic, but I don’t believe we’ll see the real effect until several months or years from now. Conversely, a report by the City Observer shows the “young and restless” (between the ages of 25 and 34) have increasingly become fans of city life. Fitting, seeing as how I am already out the other side of that age range, having lived in the Downtown core since 2010 (all too coincidental).


Streaming Real Estate Data

Big data in real estate is a prime use case for real-time stream processing–a programming paradigm that allows us to instantaneously respond to data as it arrives. It is the antithesis to batch processing, whereby all data is loaded into memory before it is delivered and processed. The real estate profession is truly a matter of time is money–if an appraisal is a day late, or there is a lack of efficiency in the transaction process, it could lead to a deal collapsing, putting the livelihood of all parties involved at stake.

The time sensitive nature of real estate demands a level of immediacy–from responding to client enquiries (now typically automated by chat bots), validating big data as it is imported into a data lake, or generating an estimate of property value upon offer request (in the iBuyer space). Real-time streaming and data processing provide the mechanisms for organizations to generate business value from their data and outperform the competition.

Streaming Real Estate Data Lake AWS
Amazon Data Lakes and Analytics

JWT Authentication

Implementing authentication for third-party access is no small feat, but is imperative in order to compete in a complex API economy and expand business capabilities. With every application, securing protected resources always poses a unique challenge, particularly considering how rapid technology evolves. New solutions come along and customers expect a level of consistency across apps, which is important to be mindful of in reducing friction (and generating revenue).

The OAuth 2.0 protocol is the industry standard for authorization. It focuses on client/developer simplicity, and enables secure access for desktop and mobile applications. Nearly everyone has come across this type of authentication with Single Sign On (SSO) options from companies like Google, Apple, or Linkedin, which keep you logged in across all of their products (view a full list of strategies).


Multiple Databases with Rails 6 and RDS

Rails 6 shipped with the ability to use multiple databases in one application, making automatic connection switching as simple as adding a connects_to method in the respective class. To go a step further, we’ll set up an Amazon RDS instance, which benefits team members by providing consistent access to the same database—which could contain a copy of production data that will be useful to test against—avoiding development environment configuration, and improving horizontal scaling.

AWS offers a free tier for RDS, with 750 hours of db.t2.micro instance usage, 20 GB of General Purpose (SSD) DB Storage, and 20 GB of backup storage for automated database backups. The free tier is available for 12 months from the account creation date.

“The service handles time-consuming database management tasks so you can pursue higher value application development.”