Rob Warburton has always been passionate about real estate. From drawing floor plans as a child to owning his first house at 18, he always had his finger on the pulse of the real estate market, despite choosing a career in adventure tours.
Guiding tours is what initially brought him to Yellowknife in 2005 before becoming one of the original partners in a new businesses which would eventual turn into CloudWorks.
“Me and a couple friends, in 2012, decided we wanted to do something together so we started a company that helped other companies get started, before it morphed into developing real estate projects,” said Warburton.
Over the years one of the originating partners left for Montreal and Warburton, along with Sam Gamble – another original partner who handles the financial back end – have built a ‘turnkey’ real estate company. The company allows flexible and easy access to spaces in three commercial buildings and, although it fluctuates, around a dozen residential units.
“In traditional real estate you have long term leases and fees not included that you have to pay for yourself and it’s very inflexible,” said Warburton. “We’ve decided to make it flexible and friction-less.”
He noted that rather than describing them as a traditional real estate company, it would be more accurate to describe them as service based company with real estate.
“Think of running real estate like a hotel, it’s a service we’re providing that happens to be in spaces as opposed to solely renting out spaces,” Warburton said.
At the core CloudWorks develops its properties, repurposing spaces for a higher use and providing a full range of services for clients all rolled into their rent.
“We just try and find poorly used spaces and find better uses for them which creates value, which creates money, which we reinvest over and over again and keep growing,” he said.
They bought their first building CloudWorks 1 on 52 Avenue in 2014, made it condominiums sold them which allowed the company to have the commercial space on the lower levels, which is now home to Let Me Knot, Yellowknife Rainbow Coalition, Northern Industrial Construction and many more.
“We provide whatever the customer wants, for one price. Everything from coffee to Wi-Fi to a community manager in the building, everything they need to just show up with a laptop and go to work,” said Warburton.
This includes residential properties for corporate accommodations, all taken care of so clients can just show up with a bag.
CloudWorks tenants, whether co-working out of a shared space or a larger tenant, have membership with the company which gives them access to boardrooms in any CloudWorks buildings, they can book a car through a car-share and access the accommodations.
CloudWorks has iPads in their spaces and an app and traditional website for members to arrange bookings.
For example, Warburton says there are multiple CloudWorks clients who only work in town for a few weeks at a time.
“The client comes in, needs a meeting space like board room, a place for their mail to go when they’re not here and a place to stay in one of our residential units,” he said. “They come to us with what they need and (we) supply everything.”
Being as flexible as possible means there are different levels of memberships to meet the different needs of clients.
“The first level you get access to co-working shared spaces like boardrooms and tables but also cars, residential and all the amenities.” said Warburton. “The next level will get dedicated desks in semi-private offices and the next level is private office space.”
The on-demand approach that CloudWorks takes is ahead of the curve of most traditional real estate markets.
“Real estate is one of the last industries to join the modern consumer world on demand,” Warburton said. “You can get everything else you want when you want it, real estate is really old and rigid. We’re just providing what people want.”
This flexible take on providing space for businesses in town has made taking that first step for growing home businesses much smoother.
“We have people come in who operated home-based business and have outgrown the space and need an office, but they’re price sensitive so we might go month to month and I’ll give them a furnished office space,” Warburton said.
“It’s a ginormous commitment and huge burden to take that step from a start up or a small business to that next iteration and signing a five year lease,” he said. “It’s a huge contract and it can be terrifying.”
CloudWorks provides businesses with what they need at the moment, and stay flexible to their needs so they can grow, or shrink, with them as needed.
Warburton said that he and his partners are here for the long haul and will continue to expand and work to grow CloudWorks.
“We’re always working on adding properties, we have more demand than there are spaces right now,” said Warburton.
“I have a list of people I’m trying to find spaces for,” he said. “There’s this appearance of vacancy in town but there is a high demand.”
Describing himself as “hot-to-trot” for Yellowknife, Warburton said they also spend a lot of time doing advocacy work for businesses in Yellowknife, hence why he joined the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce board of directors and has been involved with the Win Your Space YK contest, providing lease credits to winners.
“The city is doing a ton of work on their zoning and bylaws,” Warburton said. “There’s a ton of ways we try and engage on a civic level, maybe even engaging in things against our financial interest that are just good for the city. I know there’s a lot of debbie-downers about what the economy may hold in the next little while, but we’re ready to handle dips in the market.
“We really enjoy operating in the city and we’re trying to make sure what we’re doing has a good social benefit.”