I’m excited to bring you my next post in the #InnovatorsRE series. Each month we will be featuring companies in real estate – brokerages, franchises and technology companies who are ‘shaking things up;’ not just providing great technology solutions – but providing great customer and agent experiences.
This month I had the pleasure of connecting with Avi Gupta, President and CEO of SmartZip Analytics. He and his team have really harnessed the technology and possibilities for creating useable tools to help you grow your real estate business. I really have loved working with them as one of my clients and watching what they bring forth the the real estate industry.
Q: How did you get started in this industry and how did SmartZip get started? Talk a little but about the growth you’ve had as a team.
A: When SmartZip first launched in 2007, our vision was to empower investors and homebuyers with home scores to give them confidence in the biggest transaction of their life. I had been a real estate investor myself and was seeking better ways to quickly compare homes and understand which ones were really worth buying for the long run. These scores were the industry’s first-ever MorningStar-like investment rating for homes – they looked at not just the current value of the home but more importantly at the long term potential to appreciate or cash flow, relative to other homes in the neighborhood or across the U.S. This was at the peak of the subprime crisis when the fear factor around real estate was at its peak – as they say, necessity is the mother of invention!
As we started to dive deeper into algorithmic modeling to predict home value trends and real estate transactions, we realized we were on the verge of something really big. The industry had, and still has, been focused on buyers, yet home seller are the holy grail of most real estate agents or companies. We decided to leverage our strength in real estate analytics to help the industry identify and acquire home sellers. This led us to invent what has now become our flagship product, a targeted marketing system for real estate professionals called SmartTargeting. SmartTargeting uses big data and predictive analytics to pinpoint the homeowners most likely to sell within a hyperlocal area. And in addition to providing insights into these top seller prospects, SmartTargeting also provides “air cover” by automatically putting their brand in front of seller targets across all marketing channels – on the web and Facebook, and via email and direct mail. It’s a smarter, more efficient and systematic way to farm and accelerate your listings business.
We’ve been growing steadily since the day we first launched SmartTargeting in mid-2010, but it has especially picked up steam in the last two years. Between 2012 and 2014, our employee count grew from 50 to nearly 130, while revenues grew over four times! That earned us the spot of the 2nd fastest growing software startup in the U.S. last year on the Inc. 5000 list, and 42nd across all startups! At the same time, we landed a sizable round of growth equity funding late last year which was another great validation of our traction and market acceptance. That will help us accelerate future growth to take advantage of the huge market opportunity for our solution – not just in real estate but in equally big adjacent industries like lending and financial services. And we couldn’t be better positioned to build upon to bring greater value to real estate, as well as start to expand to some of these adjacent markets.
Q: What do you think has contributed to your success personally and as a company?
A: I think primarily it’s grit, passion and a dash of foresight. When we started in 2008, big data wasn’t necessarily a big word yet. We saw the opportunity to do something innovative. We weren’t afraid to try a few different things before we landed on the current solution. And when we settled on it, we became feverishly passionate about being the best at it, always striving to better understand our customer, catering to their biggest needs, and never letting up through our journey to solve some very hard problems.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?
A: Always think of the customer first. Solve the problems that are burning pain points, keeping them top of mind. Do right by them, never give up, and the rest will follow.
Q: If you had to give advice to a new leader in real estate (i.e. brokers, owner, manager, executive) what would it be?
A: Real estate is a very unique industry. At the end of the day, it’s a “people’s business,” unlike retail or autos or travel, where we as consumers are comfortable making decisions driven mostly by technology and the internet. As home buyers, owners and sellers, we are very cautious of our largest investment – our homes. So, while technology can certainly help grease the wheels of the real estate transaction, it is only half the solution. It has to be humanized, science has to be blended with art, to be truly effective and game-changing.
Q: Why do you think you’ve had the success you’ve had so far? What are the one or two things that you can point to that have helped?
A: Focusing on the hard, yet unsolved problems, that are important to our customer has been a key aspect to our success. We saw that most solutions in this industry focus on helping agents and brokers get home buyers; almost none help identify and acquire sellers/listings, which is really the holy grail of this industry. We set out on a mission to build a more systematic, predictable and efficient way for the industry to grow and accelerate their listings business. This is a hard problem, and our focus has helped make tremendous progress in addressing it.
That’s the other key reason to our growth and success so far – Focus. We have been careful not to get distracted trying to do too much too soon. And not to get easily disheartened by the bumps in our journey. We’ve kept our focus on the value we are trying to add and we continue to relentlessly pursue it.
Being part of the 2014 NAR REach program was also invaluable for us. It’s described as a strategic technology accelerator, but that doesn’t even begin to describe what REach and Second Century Ventures did for us in terms of helping us better understand the industry, connecting us with key leaders and mentors, helping tune our product, and overall growing our awareness. All of these are key factors in growth.
Q: Is there anything people would be surprised to know about you?
A: I am starting to take on some of my childhood passions – drumming for starters! I’ve also found it to be a great stress reliever – just pound the drums harder and let it all out! Don’t think you will see me on a band anytime soon, but one never knows!
Also, despite the busy-ness of growing a startup, I am a keen family man. I love to spend what little time I get with my wife and kids, especially in sports and travel. My daughter, who will be a teenager soon, is starting to run with me. I’m aiming to do a half marathon with her soon.
Q: What’s next for SmartZip?
A: We are working on some cool apps to help “close the last mile” between the agent (who is our customer) and the homeowner who may be looking to sell. Currently, our product does a tremendous job of pinpointing the most likely home sellers using predictive analytics, and then helps put our customer’s brand in front of such seller prospects using highly targeted and automated online/social/offline marketing.
The last mile is to maximize our agents’ and brokers’ chances of winning the most listings. This includes enabling them to prospect in a systematic way, follow up with a lead in real time, identify the hottest opportunities to focus on, track actions and next steps, and keep on top of their business in a very intuitive, easy-to-use and fun way.
In addition to SmartTargeting’s focus on high-tech farming, we are also integrating predictive marketing for sphere of influence into our platform, to help maximize repeat and referral business from an agent’s existing database
And since mortgage is so closely related to real estate, we’re also in the early stages of adapting our product for that industry, which will allow lenders and loan officers to focus on who is in the market to move, refinance or buy a new home.
Q: Anything else?
A: We’re growing like crazy. If you’re in the Bay Area and are looking for a fast-paced job in anything from data science to client services, we may have a job for you! Head to http://smartzip.com/company/careers for our current openings.
Also, if you would like to follow along with what’s happening at SmartZip, be sure to check out their blog!
Thank you so much Avi and the SmartZip team for sharing your insights!
Do you have a question for Avi and his team or would like to recommend another innovator in real estate to be recognized? Leave me a comment below or send me a tweet!