Good leads are golden. Finding the right buyer at the right time can be both an art and a science, and in today’s real estate market having a mobile marketing strategy is essential for reaching tech-savvy consumers who are always on the go and never far from their mobile phones.
For an Oregon-based startup, RealLead LLC, the key to connecting with customers is to respond to qualified leads quickly — and strategically.
Founded in May 2011 by Caroline Cummings and IDX Inc. co-founders Chad Barczak and Jeff Kast, RealLead offers a suite of mobile lead-generation tools that enable prospective homebuyers to get more information about a property by scanning a QR code (aka "quick response" code — a type of bar code that can be scanned with a smartphone camera), sending a text message, or listening to an audio recording.
Consumers choose the method they prefer, and the listing agent immediately receives a text message and an email informing her that there’s a new lead.
Depending on the RealLead pricing plan the agent has selected — pay per lead or unlimited leads — the agent will receive certain information about the prospect that she can act on.
The pay-per-lead plan cost ranges from 99 cents to $2.99 per lead, and if the agent doesn’t claim or forward a lead within 15 minutes of receiving it, it’s automatically routed to RealLead’s Lead Marketplace, where it can be sold to other interested agents (with a 10 percent revenue credit to the original agent who received the lead).
For customers of the unlimited leads plan, (normally $19.99 per listing but now discounted to $9.99 per listing for new customers), there’s no time limit on reacting to leads, but they can choose to decline a lead and have it added to the Lead Marketplace where they’ll also receive a 10 percent revenue credit if the information is purchased.
RealLead Dashboard screenshot.
According to Cummings, the company’s CEO, the real magic happens when agents use the unique mobile codes they’re given with RealLead’s Campaign Tracking dashboard to analyze where their leads are coming from — e.g., newspaper ads, fliers, sign riders on properties, postings on Facebook or Twitter, etc.
Agents can also export their leads’ contact information into their customer relationship management database and share lead activity with team members and the property owners.
Cummings met Barczak and Kast while she was consulting for two nonprofit entrepreneurial organizations, the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce. Impressed by Cummings’ networking skills and her ability to "make things happen," Barczak and Kast approached her with their idea for RealLead and the trio decided to launch the company together.
IDX Inc. has been in business for eight years and manages over $1 trillion worth of active listings data from over 450 multiple listing services. While RealLead and IDX Inc. are separate entities, RealLead is funded by the same investors who have funded IDX Inc., and Barczak and Kast are technical advisers.
In addition, the companies have an exclusive partnership that allows IDX Inc. real estate customers who sign-up for RealLead to import all of their real estate listings with one click and to automatically activate those listings with RealLead’s pay-per-lead plan.
RealLead will be exhibiting in the Startup Alley section at Inman News’ upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, which runs from Jan. 11-13, 2012, and I asked Cummings about her background as a serial entrepreneur, her decision to start a tech company focused on real estate and her priorities as CEO.
Q: What other startups have you worked with, both as a founder and as an adviser?
A: OsoEco.com was my first high-growth startup company. My business partner and I started OsoEco in January 2007. OsoEco was a Web 2.0 social shopping site focused on health and wellness products.
We were raising $2 million to fully launch into live beta. We managed to raise $500,000, but due to a series of unfortunate events our board voted to dissolve the company in mid-2009.
I’ve advised and consulted with several other startup companies over the least eight years — most of which are technology based. Advising and mentoring other entrepreneurs is a passion of mine.
My first job out of college was with Bristol-Myers Squibb pharmaceuticals, and my mentor was the chief technology officer of one of the divisions. She taught me that everyone should mentor and be mentored. I’ve taken that to heart.
Q: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in your previous startups that you’re applying at RealLead?
- Find the right people first and trust your gut when hiring and firing
- Always take "smart money" (people who bring more than money to the table)
- Invite your customers into the development of your product — and listen to their feedback.
Q: What do you think about starting a real estate-focused company at a time when the housing industry has been hit hard by the economic downtown?
A: I’ve always read, and have been told by my mentors, that the best time to start a company is during a depression, a recession or a bear market. There are several companies that have followed this model and are still surviving, and many (are) even thriving: Disney, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, McDonald’s, Home Depot, Apple, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Genentech, Southwest Airlines, and several others.
As entrepreneurs, we are categorized as a rare breed. We take more risks. We see challenge as opportunity. We welcome adversity. We’re OK being uncomfortable. And we’re very competitive.
So starting RealLead this year has been a very exciting endeavor. Additionally, RealLead’s mobile marketing technology can be used by the rental market. We have commercial property owners participating in our private beta testing. This allows us to serve a much wider real estate market.
Q: What advice would you give to someone like yourself who was considering launching a real estate-focused tech startup?
- Find the right people first!
- Be sure you’re solving a problem that exists in the marketplace.
- Secure paying customers before raising any outside capital.
- Gather a group of advisers whom you trust. I like to call this group my board of mentors. I’ve gathered a diverse group of people I respect, and I listen to their feedback. This doesn’t mean I incorporate everything they recommend, but I definitely explore all points of recommendation.
- Share your milestones with a group of key stakeholders: i.e., your advisers, investors you’re targeting, your early adopter customers, media, etc. It’s important to share your successes with others.
Q: As CEO, you have a lot of responsibilities and wear a lot of hats at RealLead. What are your top three priorities right now?
1. Customers: To listen to and serve our customers. Our customers are our No. 1 priority.
2. Team: To continue building our team and fostering a culture of trust and sustainable innovation.
3. Product: To continue building the best mobile marketing lead-generation tools on the market.
Q: Are there any other products or services in the works that you can tell us about? What about a mobile app?
A: (With) pay-per-lead and unlimited leads (services), we’ve developed our mobile tools using HTML5. So we don’t need to develop native mobile apps for different mobile devices, nor do customers need to download our mobile property information.
Realtors can add their RealLead app-like dashboard to their mobile phone home pages with a single click. So it looks and functions like an app, but it’s not. This makes the barriers to using our technology very low. It’s easy, innovative and it integrates with their RealLead account online.
The homebuyer can view property information on a mobile phone in an app-like format as well, without having to download or pay for an app. RealLead will always be free to the homebuyer requesting information about a property via mobile phone.
The Lead Marketplace is still being built out. (Currently), agents, mortgage brokers, property managers or contractors can set lead filters and claim leads. However, we are building out the auction model within the marketplace where leads can either be claimed immediately, like eBay’s "Buy It Now" button, or bid on with other interested marketplace customers.
Q: Your website says you also have a special product offering for Broker-Owners. What does that entail?
A: Broker-owners will never pay for access to RealLead’s Broker Dashboard (which is still in development). If broker-owners would like to differentiate their office(s) by promoting that their agents utilize the latest mobile marketing technologies to buy and sell homes, they will be granted access to view the mobile lead generation activity of their entire office, or to view activity at the agent level.
This will help broker-owners know where leads are coming from and how to best advise their agents on marketing their listings.
Broker-owners who implement RealLead’s mobile marketing tools in their office(s) will also receive a percentage of revenue we generate from their agents’ mobile marketing activity. Our dashboard tracking tools will help broker-owners track their office’s mobile marketing big picture, and make appropriate marketing decisions as a result.
Q: You’re still in private beta now and it states on the website that you plan to launch in live beta this winter. Can you give us more specifics?
A: We’ve been in private beta testing since September. We are working with three real estate brokerage firms in Oregon. We will be moving out of private beta and into live beta in January.
We’re very excited about showcasing RealLead’s mobile marketing tools at the Real Estate Connect conference this January in New York City because we will be introducing a special offer to agents who attend the conference to receive free mobile leads for three months.
Anyone wanting to be contacted in January when we go live should sign-up at www.reallead.com.
RealLead Lead Marketplace screenshot.
RealLead Claimed Leads screenshot.
Want to recommend a real estate tech startup for an upcoming Startup Scene? Send your ideas to Natalie Fonseca at email@example.com.
Natalie Fonseca is the co-founder and executive producer of Tech Policy Summit and the Privacy Identity Innovation (pii) conference, and the content producer for Inman News’ Data Summit and Real Estate Connect. You can follow her at @TechPolicy.