We’re starting a new feature on the blog this week – 10 Questions – where we interview entrepreneurs and innovators in real estate. If you want to chat, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Andrew Machado, Founder, Open Home Pro
Open Home Pro first caught my eye a couple of years ago. I thought it was a real clear signal of things to come. The company had eschewed traditional platforms like the desktop and the web and, instead, focused its development efforts on a new device, the iPad.
A few months later, the iPad 2 shipped and the tablet rapidly began transforming from a “content consumption” device to a real productivity tool. I figured there was real opportunityfor someone to start building real estate software for this emerging platform.
Andrew and his team did just that.
JB: Describe your company/product – give me your your elevator pitch.
AM: Open Home Pro empowers real estate agents to collect and convert more leads at open houses. We do this by telling agents which leads are hot, giving potential buyers a beautiful way to sign in to an open house and automate the followup without the agent having to lift a finger.
JB: I’m still not sure I understand what the product does exactly.
What it does is allow a real estate agent to replace the pen and paper or laptop they currently use when they ask walk-ins at an open house to sign in.
I always tell people this, the next time you walk by a Whole Foods Market and the people outside hit you up to support cancer research or a 5k run, notice that they are using clipboards with pens. Imagine if they were showing videos, or big beautiful numbers on a screen to draw your attention instead. That would immediately change your perception of them.
JB: Got it. But why would anyone sign up for anything at an open house?
Great question. I ask myself the same thing every day. I hear reasons that vary from “my seller requires I have everyone sign-in” to “so we can send them a market report on their current home” as reasons to convince a home visitor to sign up. We try to help the agent with that by giving them other reasons that aren’t verbal, and more visual. With Open Home Pro we take photos of the property, and then cross dissolve them and add a big ‘Touch to Begin’ button that hopefully communicates to the walk-in that this is cool.
JB: When did you start your company? How many people (who) were involved?
AM: The idea came in April of 2010. I was chicken: I registered the url, LLC’d the company but didn’t really start development till August of 2010. It started as two of us – Angelo Dinardi (who is now at Google) and myself. Now we’re a bit bigger.
JB: What was the motivation or inspiration behind your idea/product?
AM: The inspiration behind Open Home Pro falls into a few buckets. So stick with me. First off, my girlfriend had been a real estate agent for only 4 months and where they start you is [running] open houses. Sadly, she’d come home with incomplete or blank sign-in sheets every weekend. We’d sit on the floor sifting through them and at that point I figured we could improve this dramatically.
Another reason is the challenge is enormous. See, people just see it as a sign-in form, but when you think about what’s going on it’s much bigger than that. The interface has to require zero learning. The person typing in their information may have never used an iPad. They don’t know how to retract the keyboard. The user may have an internet connection or may not.
All of these things add up to an entirely different experience than what the obvious answer is….a bunch of questions on a single screen.
JB: How many users/customers do you have today?
AM: I think our last public number was on Inman at 17,000
JB: What feature are you most excited about now, or coming on the horizon?
AM: We get asked a lot about this. We’re quietly (and maybe not so quietly now) launching user pages for every agent this week. This allows agents to see how they might be doing from leads collected to number of homes sold against their peers. We think this is impactful because using Facebook Connect keeps people accountable, but at the same time we allow agents to show off not only all of their listings, but the ability to celebrate their achievements.
For us it’s a delicate balance. We want to be very simple, yet very powerful when you need it. We do things like sync data dynamically down from our website to the iPad quietly in the background, and let you modify and collect data without an internet connection. We support unlimited photos which a lot of services don’t…and we do it for free.
JB: How is your product going to be different in two years time? What trends are you keeping an eye on?
AM: I ask myself that constantly. We’ll have some stuff over the next few months that hopefully sets the stage for the next year or two of our business. I think the big buckets right now to watch are how mobile, social and location intersect – how to build a new type of experience for your customer that lets them experience something new quickly and away from their desktop computer.
JB: What was one thing that surprised you about developing software for real estate?
AM: I think a lot of people lose sight of their customer. Most of our customers are not twenty years old, so you make design and functionality decisions with that in mind. Touch to edit is something we’re really proud of. It was born from the idea that our customer isn’t going to quite understand edit buttons and the screen changing states to modify information. So we thought “what if you could touch anything to change it?”
JB: If you could go back and change one thing you did at the beginning, what would it be?
AM: Rely less on server side features. They take a long time to develop, test and can lead to lots of problems. The upside of doing things like this is they really do delight your customers, but it’s so much work and the cost is very high.
JB: Any other advice for other real estate technology entrepreneurs?
AM: I think any entrepreneur needs to wake up every morning living, sleeping and breathing their product. If you aren’t then it’s probably not for you. You need to be able to realize you are going to be on top of the world one day and the next you feel like life is over. We’ve messed up hundreds of times along the way. But you dust yourself off and claw for that next inch up the hill.