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Sterling Wong: Online tech fuels Search Realty growth

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“If drama sells, I’ve got lots,” says Sterling Wong, founder of emerging trail-blazing brokerage Search Realty, an industry technology pioneer.

Wong doesn’t elaborate much on this intriguing statement, other than to explain that he was born with a cleft lip and palate and spent much of his childhood undergoing corrective surgeries at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. On the plus side, this motivated him to give back to the medical community, with one per cent of the majority of Search Realty commissions being donated to the hospital.

But there have also been lingering effects that he believes continue to hold him back, despite the success of the surgeries.

“I don’t like to be in the spotlight. I’m not comfortable in front of cameras, or public speaking,” says Wong. “It’s a disadvantage.”

His wife is adamant that it’s time he got over it, he adds.

If practise does indeed make perfect, his wife will likely get her wish. Wong and Search Realty have increasingly been attracting media and industry attention since the brokerage’s inception in 2012. Under Wong’s leadership as broker of record, and with the arsenal of websites and online technology tools he’s developed, the Mississauga-based brokerage has grown to include six offices in southern Ontario and 225 agents.

Wong – who had trouble getting a job after graduating college and spent several years flipping burgers – has created a successful business model. Last year Search Realty was ranked among the fastest growing companies in Canada on the Canadian Business and Maclean’s magazine Growth 500 list. Rated on five-year revenue growth, it’s a mark of impressive entrepreneurial achievement. Search Realty made the list thanks to its five-year revenue growth of a staggering 1,942 per cent.

Search Realty puts an intense focus on online lead generation and search engine marketing. Lead generation is what makes or breaks an agent’s business, Wong says. Well aware that the vast majority of home buyers now start their search online, he feels that the recognition he and his company are receiving “underlines how effective our Leads on Demand system is for generating consistent, quality leads for agents.”

Leads on Demand is the patent-pending, lead-generation custom software platform developed by Wong over a period of many years. (“I knew I was on to something.”) It started to germinate even back before he founded Search Realty, when he was with a different brokerage, keeping a keen eye on an agent he now refers to as “the king of the internet”.

Designed to automate, leverage and manage real estate lead generation, Leads on Demand comes up with multiple types of leads for agents anywhere, in any language and in any price range. Wong says “keyword tuning” is used to pinpoint high-quality leads.

You don’t need to be tech savvy to navigate the system, he says.

Search Realty agents first log in and enter the number of leads they are looking for (having pre-determined the income they wish to achieve) along with the determinants such as location. The system will then deploy ads on various search engines based on the specified details. In a nutshell, you create an order and the software then disperses ads across the web and starts delivering leads to your inbox (reputedly within one day).

This can save time, money and energy for both the brokerage (more automation means less staff) and agents. It has the potential to free up agents’ time so they can forgo traditional marketing techniques like handing out flyers and door knocking, and instead focus on servicing clients, says Wong. This is a big advantage in an industry where the majority of real estate agents are uncertain of where their next deal will come from.

Agents put in orders for leads, which can be paid or free, Wong says. “Everything in our system is based on leads.” For example, a Search Realty agent referring a new sales rep to the brokerage will be given 25 free leads, he says. And new agents get 100 free leads right out of the starting gate.

Although Search Realty offers agents a range of digital marketing solutions, Wong says that Leads on Demand is the brokerage’s most popular product and has gained nationwide attention.

“It’s a system I’ve never seen anywhere else,” he says.

He’s currently in the midst of spinning the platform off into a separate business/brokerage. “That way, I can provide it to agents North America wide, instead of just Search Realty agents,” he says.

Wong believes that his software provides more accurate and exclusive information than other lead generation systems, most of which in his opinion have not caught up yet. He feels he has an edge due to having developed his entire business through search engine marketing.

“A lot goes on that no one knows about. We see the end results. The tech companies don’t,” he says. “People say, ‘Get Facebook leads – it’s cheaper.’ But we get more qualified buyers.”

But he is keeping an eye on Facebook for other reasons. He says, “If Facebook or Google were to get into our industry, we’d be toast. Who else is going to come up with those numbers in search results?”

Also fuelling Search Realty’s success is the internet presence the brokerage has created, with an abundance of websites (“too many to count,” says Wong) and potentially 30,000 new website visitors monthly.

A supportive workplace can’t be hurting either; the brokerage recently received certification from Great Place to Work, a global authority on positive workplace cultures. And in the same location as Search Realty is Wong’s own mortgage brokerage, Search Mortgage Corp., offering one-stop financing options.

Wong recalls starting out in the real estate business 12 years ago with no capital or database. Now he has plans to franchise across the country and even into the United States.

“There are 100,000 real estate agents in Canada and two million in the U.S. That’s a big difference,” he says, ever the enterprising entrepreneur.

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