Primo Listings acquires Ottawa startup UniqueHomeSites.com

Put up the sold sign: UniqueHomeSites.com is officially under new ownership.

The Ottawa real estate site startup was sold to Ireland-based Primo Listings, a website with a similar model of providing unique domains for property listings.

Under the new deal, users with accounts, credits and domains under UniqueHomeSites.com will be automatically transfered to Primo Listings.

The company, founded in 2007, got its start in the accelerator run by Invest Ottawa, then known as OCRI. The founders saw a gap at that time in marketing properties on the Internet and started the company to address it.

Brian Baxter, one of the founding members of UniqueHomeSites.com, says a serious concern they had back then was whether or not its consumer base would have widespread access to high-speed Internet. But he says that in the ten years that followed, the Internet revolution raced past the company.

“I think we got left behind a bit in terms of keeping up with technology, and it was starting to do a disservice to our clients and ourselves, really.”

Mr. Baxter says that while he believes in the idea and thought it would scale well, the reality fell short. He attributes some of their failures to communication problems amongst the team.

“Like any startup, there were some creative differences along the way, and it was kind of frustrating,” he says.

At its peak, Mr. Baxter says UniqueHomeSites.com had revenues in the six figures and a user base of around 3,000 individuals. Despite rapid growth at the start, a disengaged team and an unfocused approach lead to an eventual plateau, according to Mr. Baxter.

“If you’ve got people asking for stuff, and they’ve got their credit cards out, you want to please them. But you have to know when to say no,” he says. “Don’t try to be everything to everyone, because that almost killed us a few times.”

Despite the roadblocks, the business model is still one that the team believes in. When Primo Listings approached the company with interest, Mr. Baxter saw a chance to pass the torch.

“They had a similar vision and a business plan I knew would be successful,” he says. “They’re kind of (like) us, fast-forward ten years.”

Primo Listings purchased UniqueHomeSites.com for an undisclosed amount, but Mr. Baxter says it “wasn’t millions.” The deal was made in cash and includes a revenue-sharing tagalong, whereby the team will help transition existing users and bring new ones to the Primo platform over the course of the next year.

At the end of the journey, no matter who is delivering the solution, Mr. Baxter is glad the business model is being executed.

“I feel relieved. I’m happy that our customers are able to have the product that we had envisioned,” he says.

Now, he plans on taking the many lessons he has learned about marketing, client interaction and team dynamics and sharing them with members of the Ottawa startup community.

“I certainly would like to pass on my knowledge to anyone I can because I know there have been so many people along the way who have helped us. … There’s a really great community in Ottawa for that, in terms of just people’s willingness to get together over a cup of coffee and share ideas.”