Friday Flash: Earnings, angst and the home shopping opportunity
Buyfolio is part of growing cadre of applications that leverage the sharing behaviors that web users have gotten used to in the large social networks to create smaller, more focused “micro networks”. Launched initially for New York City home buyers, Buyfolio is currently mulling over a national expansion of the service. Matt and Susan Daimler, co-founders, recently took some time out of their busy schedules to talk to me.
JB: So tell me, what is Buyfolio?
SD: Buyfolio provides buy-side agent technology and a homebuyer experience in a dual facing platform via both the web and mobile apps. Buyfolio streamlines the search, organization, and communication of a home search into an unparalleled collaborative experience for real estate agents and their buy-side customers.
JB: Where did the idea come from?
SD: After selling our Seattle apartment in 2007 via Zillow’s Make Me Move (true story!), we moved to NYC and started looking for an apartment to buy. We immediately found it difficult to communicate about our home search, with each other and with our agent. To make it easier, we used an Excel spreadsheet to organize the properties we wanted “To See,” the ones we “Saw and Liked,” and the ones we “Didn’t Like” and emailed it back and forth. The idea for Buyfolio was born.
JB: But isn’t this just saving properties on a site and sharing them with my agent? Lots of sites do that.
SD: The first version we launched in 2010 was exactly that, a simple save and share interface. But we soon realized that to get agents and homebuyers to truly engage and collaborate with one another, we had to provide a fuller experience – a platform – not just a repository. We gave both agents and homebuyers the ability to search while keeping the option to add listings they found outside our system.
For agents, we also focused on client management tools, branding, and workflow. We wanted to give them all the opportunities to add value, interpret data and the market, and share their knowledge with their buyers – whether those buyers were prospects or longer term relationships – at all the right times and in one central hub.
For homebuyers, the important aspects were an attractive UI, organizational tools, and the ability for each person involved in the search (spouse, family member, etc.) to have their own account to share and comment under their own name. Everyone having their own accounts is critical to the concept of collaboration, but it’s something that even the biggest consumer sites and brokerages haven’t tackled.
JB: What’s the revenue model?
SD: We probably aren’t done figuring this out. Our last web venture had over 5 million page views a month monetized via Google AdSense and direct ads, but we’re doing something different with this business. Today we offer a freemium model and a $24.95/month Pro version of our product. It’s going well, but getting agents to commit to yet-another-monthly-fee on their credit card is no small task.
JB: Right now Buyfolio only works in New York City — which is a totally different market from the rest of the country, lots of rentals, no MLS, etc. — are you intending on scaling Buyfolio out of NYC?
SD: Having no major NYC MLS has its pros and cons. On one hand, access to data wasn’t an issue, but on the other hand, it took us over 6 months to build a system that scrubs and digests the data we do have access to.
We are already in the planning stages for expansion outside NYC. As they say, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. We hope that adage remains true as we grow.
JB: How do you even begin to tackle a challenge like that? What are the brick walls you’re hitting?
SD: We’re talking to a lot of industry people – data providers, service providers, MLSs, brokerages, etc. The real estate landscape is like no other and we want to be best prepared to navigate it. At the same time, we’re passionate about collaboration and the much-needed bridging effect it can have on the unsettled landscape. We’re excited to be in the mix and help move the conversation past data and towards all the potential that lies on the other side.
We’ll certainly run into more data hurdles, but so far the reception has been warm and new innovations like the Spark Platform could accelerate our entrance into new markets.
We have been surprised to see the friction between large brokers and MLSs. While they would both claim their goal is to strengthen the tools and performance of their agents, they have different ideas of how to do that while maintaining their own influence on the marketplace.
JB: You built SeatGuru and sold it to Expedia in 2007. How is the travel industry different from real estate in your experience?
SD: In Online Travel, good content brings users and a good service leads to conversions and transactions. The content and transactions aren’t typically happening on the same website, but the conversion bridge is established and works well.
In real estate, generally the people who’ve built the best content experiences are struggling to connect their visitors to someone who can convert them into buyers/sellers. The percentages are low because the bridge is weak, both in the structure and value added.
If you looked at airline tickets on United.com, would you want a United rep calling you 5 minutes later – to ask you again, where and when you wanted to go? Yet, that’s the first instinct of a real estate agent who gets an online lead: I’ve got to call him/her. The industry needs to embrace that great customer service can be delivered in the online domain and that is actually what many homebuyers want. And no, we’re not talking about emails.
JB: If you could go back and change one thing you did at the beginning when launching Buyfolio, what would it be?
SD: In the beginning we didn’t require users to create an account because we were worried it would be a barrier to use. But we quickly realized that not having an account actually prevented real collaboration – people would forget to add their initials before their comment, they would erase someone’s comment before all parties had a chance to read it, etc. True buyers haven’t been deterred by the required sign-in and we wish we started that way.
JB: How is your product going to be different in two years time? What trends are you keeping an eye on?
SD: Currently our iPhone and Android Apps complement our web/ desktop experience, and that strategy will likely carry us for the near term. But as mobile app usage grows, we’ll be required to rethink entire parts of the industry. Photos are a good example. The trend is for them to increase in quality, resolution, and size, but what happens when that collides with the mobile trend and the majority of them are viewed from 4″ screens? Soon there could even be a demand for life-size photos as we virtually walk through an open house with our Google Goggles from our couch.
JB: Any other advice for other real estate technology entrepreneurs?
SD: This industry is stubborn, but it’s also filled with some very smart people, it’s full of potential, and it’s ripe for change. Because it’s stubborn, it takes longer for ideas and concepts to flesh out. Don’t pivot too early!
Also, don’t be afraid to introduce new behaviors. We’re showing agents that most prospects and buyers do not like getting listing links over email and they don’t want to “discuss” properties via email or on the phone – it’s cumbersome, difficult to track, and not time efficient. It’s a new concept for agents, but moving forward, we see it as critical to their success. And to this day we still don’t have an option to Print from our product. Sure, we’re saving trees, but we’re also taking away the agent crutch of show sheets. Most buyers don’t want paper clutter with stale data. It’s taken time, but agents are starting to think more about what today’s buyer wants and needs.
You can sign up for a free Buyfolio account here. You can also follow them on Twitter (@buyfolio). Finally, if you’re an MLS or brokerage that is interested in bringing Buyfolio to your market they’d love to chat: email Susan at susan at buyfolio dot com.
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