Jennifer Denouden, President and CEO of Avana, is reinventing real estate development to be driven by purpose. – Women of influence

Jenn Denouden is President and CEO of Avana, a Saskatchewan-led real estate development company that has grown 9,888% in five years, owns 45% of Regina’s new development permits and has been named the tenth fastest growing company in Canada on the Profit Growth List 2020. Moving from a career in private banking to real estate, Jenn founded Avana in 2014, with the intention of disrupting the male-dominated space of real estate and real estate development while offering quality housing for people. Additionally, Jenn is passionate about helping women and children victims of domestic violence find safe and affordable housing with privately funded housing support through her work with the Avana Foundation.

How did you manage your business finances during the pandemic?

Sadly, during the pandemic, women and children needed our business more than ever. As a result of the economic downturn, homelessness is on the rise in Saskatchewan. This means that the need for affordable housing is at an all time high. That being said, our team has continued to grow at a rapid pace. Not only have we not laid off any of our employees, but we have significantly expanded our team in order to continue providing housing to those in need. Although we experienced slight disruptions due to shorter processing times, we did not see a significant impact on cash flow.

The only government program we used was the $ 40,000 Canada Emergency Business Account loan, which we paid back that same year. Because we have continued to grow and develop so aggressively thanks to COVID, the reluctance of financial institutions to provide assistance during the peak of the pandemic posed the greatest risk to our strategic business plan, but we were able to navigate successfully.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed?

Like most businesses, when the pandemic first hit, we were forced to pivot what had already been done in person to online or virtual spaces. When you’re a home rental business that has traditionally relied on potential residents seeing each other in space, the pandemic has made it more difficult. However, the reality is that you can either pivot and try something new or try to stick to old habits that no longer serve their purpose. We chose to pivot, making sure that we could still offer our potential residents the Avana experience in person or virtually: social distance views, 3D tours of our homes, better videos and photographs on our listings and a more holistic and personalized approach to each request.

Our marketing strategy has constantly changed over the past seven years of operation. As we grow and progress into hypergrowth, our marketing needs change. The pandemic was just another factor to consider as we reflected on our strategy for the next few years to come. Over the past year and a half, our digital presence has grown exponentially. Of course, the pandemic put additional emphasis on your digital marketing being where it should be, but it was inevitable. Digital marketing, social media, and engaging online content are at the forefront of the new era of marketing, and COVID-19 has just accelerated that transition. We have started to invest heavily in these channels and will continue to do so. Not only did we put more emphasis on our digital efforts, but we also decided to bring in an in-house marketing team.

How has technology played a role in your business during this time?

In our efforts to implement more efficient and effective procedures, we have greatly improved the technology and the systems we use. We relied heavily on our property management platform. We needed to quickly provide rental, maintenance and support services to residents, with as little in-person interaction as possible. This meant that we had to digitize our interactions with residents. Our software system allowed us to communicate and interact with residents through the platform. This helped reduce our interactions and face-to-face contact while continuing to provide the care our residents needed.

Without these platforms, we would have seen a significant drop in our ability to properly support our residents; However, we have seen our positive ratings and comments increase. This pandemic was a direct opportunity to show us some of our blind spots. A more automated and less manual pace of our resident support processes has benefited our team and our residents.

How did you manage your mindset (and that of your team)?

I avoid burnout by making sure I always find moments for myself. My moments are spending time with friends and family, having a glass of wine before bed, geeking out on spreadsheets, or preparing a meal. No matter how busy or chaotic things have been or will be, I will always take opportunities to do the things I love the most. It also helps if you enjoy what you are doing by driving with your purpose and ethics first. Before anyone starts with Avana, we make sure they have similar values ​​and beliefs; it helps them achieve long term success at Avana. While we do a good enough job in the recruiting process, the work rarely looks like work for the hired team.

It is a rigorous process to find people who are so motivated by their own beliefs that they wholeheartedly believe in Avana’s mission, but it has proven to be the most critical step. We are looking for great thinkers who can help us on our journey to a better future. When an organization has employees who understand that work will lead to greater social change, they will stay motivated. Our relentless pursuit of gender equality inspires and rejuvenates our employees. Being side by side every day with people who share that same passion is a huge motivator. On top of that, regular recordings and as much communication as possible were and are essential for our team during the pandemic and beyond.

What advice would you give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

In order to lead the way, to do something that has never been done, to change the status quo, you have to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. In order for your business to be great, you will have to make some tough choices – the kind of choices that can keep you from sleeping at night. Stay true to your values, lead with your goal, and overcome fear. Take calculated risks and trust your instincts. Don’t apologize in your quest to become goal driven. Our business changed forever when we “turned to a goal” a few years ago, and our hypergrowth really started. Throughout the pandemic, it was more important than ever to stick to this approach.

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