TYLER MATHIES (LEFT) AND ALEX MILLER (RIGHT)
Photograph by Stuart Kasdorf
Few Saskatoon entrepreneurs have made the list of Canadian Business/Profit Magazine’s Top 500 Fastest-Growing Companies in Canada. Innovative Residential has achieved this four years in a row, from 2012 to 2015; its highest rank was fourth. Now, after ten years in business, the company has built over 1,000 multifamily homes. Alex Miller and Tyler Mathies reflect on their experience as partners running this high-growth company.
Miller and Mathies came at the business differently than most homebuilders. Both are mechanical engineers and naturally question traditional ways of doing things. As Miller explains, “Saskatchewan was in a trade crunch in 2008. We built modular units in a controlled environment. That ensured access to labour and improved product quality.”
It was also natural for these entrepreneurs to reinvent the customer’s financing process. They saw a market opportunity for affordable housing and worked with City of Saskatoon administration to develop financial assistance programs that helped people with modest incomes buy their first home.
As Mathies recalls, “We went out on a limb and did something very different in how we built homes and helped customers pay for the home. The toughest thing about doing something different is that you naturally question yourself. If it was so obvious why was nobody doing it? You have to trust your instinct.”
Once established, Innovative Residential continued to push into new areas but with less success. The company hit a low point a few years ago after it had drifted from its core business. Miller says, “We took on too many opportunities. We ended up going ahead with initiatives that we should not have undertaken.” Innovative Residential has since restructured by shutting down parts of the business and refocusing on others. This meant letting people go, which was very hard on both partners. Miller says, “These were good people. I’m a relationship guy. It really hurt to eliminate these positions and dissolve a huge part of what we had built over the years.”
Miller and Mathies are comfortable questioning themselves and each other in the belief that the best solution will emerge. But a joint-ownership structure has strengths and weaknesses. Mathies says, “When you have one owner you don’t have a sounding board. With two partners, you have a sounding board but you have two different visions that have to be reconciled.”
When asked what advice they would give new entrepreneurs, both quickly agree on the value of persistence. Entrepreneurs will experience failure and need tenacity to stay the course. As Miller explains, “In the early years, keep learning. In the beginning you just need to figure out a business model that works.”
First published in the March 2018 edition of The Business Advisor.