ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE: ALKARIM DEVANI


Thanks for finding the time to chat Al. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and the story behind how RNDSQR became what it is today?
Things are great man. For sure. I’m a born and raised Calgarian who grew up in the Forest Lawn area - so I guess I’m from the neighbourhood that some refer to as the hood in this city. After I finished high school I went off and completed a marketing degree at U of C. At that time my brother was working in real estate and he recommended I get my real estate license. Naturally, I followed my brother’s advice and next thing I know I’m presenting open houses during weekends and evenings while finishing up my degree.


Once I finished my degree I went straight to work at CP Rail in downtown Calgary. At first I was super stoked about the idea of working a corporate job downtown, but after two weeks I realized there was absolutely no way I could keep doing it. It just wasn’t me. I asked my brother if I could work with him and we actually ended up starting a company called Beyond Homes. The first few projects didn’t do well at all, the next few did alright, and then everything started to change after I met my wife… she completely changed my trajectory. She was the first person to teach me that we don’t have to dislike what we do for work, that there’s far more to all of this than making a dollar, and there are a number of super interesting aspects to real estate like architecture, design, and strengthening community.  


At about the same time we were all growing tired of serving million dollar home-owners in the suburbs. We had a yearning to do something more impactful, which ultimately led to the creation of RNDSQR. The objective was no longer centred around trying to sell something, but instead, creating homes where people can live, hangout, and have meaningful experiences with their neighbours. The whole premise behind RNDSQR was to build better cities. To create more connections and collision points for the people in our community. 

 


I love hearing your story. It really illustrates that life isn't a linear path and that’s totally fine - It’s okay to make changes and strive for something that resonates on a deeper level... Do you plan on expanding RNDSQR into other cities given the success you’ve had in Calgary the last few years?
Well we have a really specific mandate, and that is to improve how we build cities and connect people. That’s it. So long as we continue to deliver on this mandate we’re certainly open to expanding and bringing similar projects into other cities across the country, or even meeting the demand from people all over the globe, however, we don’t have any concrete plans to do that just yet… 


That being said, if you would have asked me five years ago if I thought we would be doing the projects we’re doing now, I would have said “no way.” It seemed so far from reality. However, it’s definitely been my mindset for a long time that anything is possible. I think it's because my brother and I were always put in boxes growing up - labeled as the bad kids, the immigrant kids, or whatever it was. That left a pretty big impact on us and we both developed this attitude that no one can tell us what we can or can’t do - and that right there really frees up what’s possible. 


I love it. It's so easy to let labels, perceptions, or our own fears get in the way of approaching life from a place of possibility. Instead, I find we often focus on what’s standing in our way and the conversation usually ends there - as if all of the challenges we are facing are forever fixed, with no room for change. But what you and your team have built is a testament to what's possible. Everything truly is in a constant state of nuance and fluidity, with plenty of room for growth and new opportunities.
I couldn’t agree more and I think this journey applies to every one of us. We all fall into habitual ways of operating based on what we think is expected of us, but as soon as you get outside of that mental model everything can change. 

 

"We would not be here had it not been for our team and the incredible people around us."


Exactly. Given that, what would you say are some of the most important things you’ve learned throughout your journey growing RNDSQR into what it is today?
Two things. The first, you can’t do this shit by yourself. We would not be here had it not been for our team and the incredible people around us. It becomes ever so critical to find the right people and figure out who you want to spend your time with. The people I work with are so great that I honestly don’t even have a desire to go out anymore. I have all the relationships I need between my friends, colleagues at work, and my beautiful family at home. When I’m not at work all I want to be doing is spending as much time as I can with my kids - and that’s hugely credited to building such an amazing group of people to surround myself with at work. We’ve been able to authentically connect on something far greater than money and we are all chasing the same outcome. This is something I become more and more grateful for as the days go on. 


Secondly, I’ve realized how true it is that we need to prioritize ourselves in order to have the best results. If I can’t find ways to prioritize me as a person then there’s no chance I’m going to be a good leader for my team.

 


Absolutely with you on those two, but without strong intention it’s amazingly easy to let both of those slip through our fingers. Speaking of intention for the future, what are some of the development projects you’re most excited to work on? 
We’re working on two pretty exciting projects at the moment. One is a joint venture partnership with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (the team that brought us East Village) where we are basically working together to redevelop this parcel of land by the Max Bell Centre. We’re really trying to deliver something that will be a catalyst for that community and bring revitalization into that part of the city. This one is super important to me as it’s the part of the city that first housed my parents as refugees. It's pretty amazing at 36 years-old to be able to go back and contribute something to the neighbourhood that launched my family in Canada. That feels pretty surreal. 

The second is a co-housing initiative here in Calgary. I think co-housing is the future for how millennials and boomers co-exist and live together, which is something I find super fascinating. It’s basically a self-powered, self-driven community with their own buyers. The demographics are just so widespread. 

 

 

Having various demographics all under one roof sounds pretty counterintuitive to the way human beings naturally group themselves, but something I for one would love to better understand... Can you tell me a little bit more about how this works?
Well one of the things most people don’t realize is that boomers and millennials are actually after many of the same things... I find this really interesting because it’s the polar opposite to how we tend to view these two demographics. Boomers don’t want to be isolated. Millennials don’t want to be isolated. Boomers want convenience. Millennials don’t want to commute. Boomers want to save for retirement. Millennials want to save for their future. All in all, we have these two demographics driving very similar outcomes with virtually the same desires at their core. That’s why offering a co-housing environment that checks these boxes will naturally draw in people that value the same things. 


Interesting how far off that is from what I would have thought, but it certainly makes sense hearing you say it. One other project you worked on I would love to hear more about is the C33 project where RNDSQR held an open call to select two local artists to paint 100 foot murals in the courtyard... Curious to hear what sparked this idea and if you learned anything from the process?
Culture is a big thing for me. Figuring out how we define culture in our society is important and it’s been clear to me for a long time that the way we engage with the visual aesthetic of our cities plays a big role in that... But, to be more broad I think the arts in general is the largest contributing factor to a culture. Take music for example, and just think about how much it has influenced each one of us growing up. I know the music I listened to certainly shaped my own identity as a human being. Understanding this, we knew we wanted to do something that would empower local artists, all while getting the community engaged in the process. As a result, we had the local community vote on their favourite artists so that they have a say in the outcome of the projects and the artwork they will see on a daily basis. 

 



That being said, I did get some negative feedback from the artists. I learned that it felt like more of a popularity contest, and you know what, the artists were 100% correct. It should never be about who has more social media followers or the largest reach, but unfortunately at the end of the day these things did play a small factor because they helped build awareness and convince our investors to support the initiative. That being said, my hope is that by putting our business hat on, while simultaneously doing something that contributes to the arts community, we can demonstrate that it is possible to hustle and promote one's work without losing the authenticity behind why someone is doing what they are doing. 


I agree. It’s critical to remain intuitive and true to whatever it is you are creating, but it’s also important to understand that you can do all that and be commercially successful at the same time. 
Exactly. Be who you want to be. But at the same time don’t be afraid to leverage your skill-set and share what you’ve made with the world. I like to think of a brand like Supreme as a great example. I often hear lots of people say that Supreme is ‘copping’ out simply because they hit the billion dollar mark and have a massive customer base... In my view, reaching that scale is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. I have huge admiration for their ability to go from a small skate shop in New York to a global streetwear brand worth over $1billion dollars. That's remarkable.  


For sure. I’ve definitely witnessed really bright creative people turn around and go the other way once things begin to feel a little too business oriented. Anyways, I know you need to run so let’s wrap this thing up with one last question! Keeping it big picture and a tad sentimental, what is your vision for Calgary’s future? 
I think Calgary is going to be a really awesome place. No one should be giving up on it. It’s definitely experiencing tumultuous times of “what’s going to happen?”, but I think this is exactly the time all of us need to get louder and voice what kind of city we want Calgary to become... We’re at a pivotal point and I think we’re all going to be amazed.

 

 

 You can learn more about RNDSQR and their development projects here

 

 Interview by Dylan Stack

 

 


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