Jonathan Aizen is the founder and CEO of Amitree Inc., the developer of Amitree, a tool to help homebuyers and their agents navigate the process of buying a home, organizing the dozens of tasks into an easy-to-understand checklist that is customized for each buyer’s unique situation.
Did you have causes when you were younger? What were they?
I was a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program where I mentored middle school youth in Ithaca. I also tutored children at the Bay School in San Francisco. I’ve found the experience of working with young people to be extremely rewarding, as they offer a fresh and honest perspective on the world. These experiences have helped shape my understanding that in order to succeed, we must be able to learn from and teach those around us.
If you have one cause for changing the real estate industry, what is it?
My cause is to empower real estate professionals to improve their client’s online experience of buying a home. The industry has spent the last decade focusing on the search process, but consumer expectations of what the Internet can do for them have changed dramatically since then. In a world where you can think of a product and literally have it show up at your doorstep the next day, we have to be offering homebuyers better tools. It’s a complex and daunting process, and there’s a huge opportunity for agents to hold the buyer’s hand online that’s just not being realized yet.
You seem compelled to change the industry, why?
It’s a cliche in our industry, but my personal experience with buying a home in San Francisco inspired me. I had a great agent (shout out to Andrew Roth at Zephyr!) but was shocked when I found nothing online to help me manage all the work I had to do to prepare for the process and actually buy my home. Once my desk was covered in Post-it notes I knew it was time to start building a better alternative.
What practices upset you the most?
Technology companies that have as their primary mission to “disrupt” the industry. While truly innovative products, technologies and businesses often change the way things are done, to set out from the beginning to disrupt is to fail to appreciate the complexities of the real estate industry. The “for sale by owner” space is a good example of a category in which companies often fail to understand the value that all the players in this industry bring to the table and why unseating key stakeholders isn’t the best path to success.
A healthier approach is to understand what is driving and incenting all the players around the table and build something that creates value for everyone, for the entire chain. This is much harder than charging like a bull in a china shop. It requires helping people understand how technology is changing the world, getting them comfortable with it, and learning, over time, how to build value for the industry at large, not just one player.
Why do they bug you so much?
I think within the “disrupt” ethos, there is a fundamental lack of humility and lack of respect for the human capital that goes into making this industry work.
Where do you think solutions to problems you see come from?
Great solutions are often born out of personal passion. The challenge is to leverage that passion while listening to what the market wants. Maybe what I think is a good solution isn’t validated by user behavior — so with that passion needs to come a good amount of humility and a willingness to be wrong. We need to test and learn, and know that we’ll get it wrong a few times before we get it right.
Will the market take care of bad actors? The government? The industry itself?
The market almost always does. There’s a bit of protectionism that goes on in this industry, but consumers have always been vocal about what they want, and in the end, it works itself out.
Do you ever feel your efforts are for naught?
Not really. Even when we stumble, even when we don’t get the product, business or positioning right at any given moment, we learn. There’s that Edison quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” There’s liberation in that.
What motivates you to persevere?
I’ve built companies since I was 13. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Even when it’s challenging, it doesn’t feel like a “real job.” I get to come to work with the most talented and motivated people I know, to solve a real problem that impacts millions of consumers and real estate professionals. That’s immensely satisfying and motivates me to keep going every day.
If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to change the real estate industry?
I’d speed things up. Innovations happen in real estate, but we have to work more quickly. Consumers demand it, and we’re not delivering it. Keeping up with the pace of change in consumer expectations is really hard — it’s becoming harder every day, as the rate of innovation increases — and I wish we could more quickly unlock many of the barriers that are holding us back.
Who in the industry inspires you?
The progressive agents and brokerage leaders who are constantly raising the bar. When I hear about people like Cary Sylvester, who seems to be on a mission to make Keller Williams paperless faster and better than the rest of the industry, I’m inspired. Other pioneers and innovators I look to for inspiration are Sherry Chris, Joseph Rand and others. Too many to name.
Inman News is profiling reformers and rabble-rousers who have a bone to pick with the real estate industry are advocates for change. Want to be part of this series? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about your cause.