Max Galka is the co-founder of Revaluate.
Degree, school (if applicable): Computer engineering and finance, University of Pennsylvania/Wharton School
Location: New York
Social media: LinkedIn
Describe what you do in one sentence: I look for ways of finding data and turning it into something that helps make better decisions.
What’s your favorite activity outside of work and why?
My wife and I really enjoy traveling. We’ve been to a lot of great far-off places together, but it doesn’t have to be that. Last month we spent a weekend in Tarrytown, about an hour north of New York City, and had a great time. It’s just fun to get a change of scenery and explore.
What’s your favorite classic piece of literature and why?
Anything by Kurt Vonnegut. Everything about his writing style is totally unique and great: the storylines, the sense of humor, the choice of words. He has a way of expressing even very simple concepts in a way that makes you think.
Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?
Actually, I come from a pretty entrepreneurial family. One of my brothers works at health care startup, which is on its way to becoming a household name. My mom and my other brother run an outdoor design business together. And before my dad retired, he ran a business importing goods from Southeast Asia.
How’d you come up with the idea for your startup?
The idea had been in the back of my mind for a while. In my adult life, I have lived in a lot of places, so I had some good experience to draw from. For example, I was living in London a few years ago and was out viewing apartments with an agent. He pointed out that one of them was across the street from Tony Blair’s home, and that’s the one I took. I wouldn’t have expected something like that to matter, but it definitely influenced my perspective of the neighborhood.
Another example is the place we got through Airbnb for the Realtor conference last May in D.C. It was supposed to be a quiet place for meetings, but it ended up being next to an alleyway for trucks. Hard to describe the noise in words, but it was so loud and so frequent that it was pretty much uninhabitable, which is probably why it was on Airbnb in the first place. We recorded it, and you can see it on our YouTube channel.
Describe a time when you felt particularly insecure about the future of your company. How did you bounce back?
I think the toughest moment was when we first started collecting consumer feedback about the product, which at the time was basically a collection of raw data. Some people loved it, but most people already felt overwhelmed with information and weren’t really even sure what to do with more data. This feedback is what really led us to focus on our scoring system and other high-level information, summarizing everything in an easy-to-understand way. It also made us realize that we should be focusing on agents and brokers as well, since they are better equipped than anyone to interpret it.
What would you describe as your company’s biggest victory since launching and why?
In my opinion, our biggest victory was the first time our information was able to help a friend. He was considering buying an apartment, which turned out to have some significant issues; most notably, it imminently needed a boiler replacement, which would have had a big cost to him. He is really happy now in the place he ended up with and was very appreciative.
What’s been the biggest obstacle your business has encountered, and how have you dealt with it?
Our value proposition is simple. We help people better understand what it would be like to live at a specific address. But in practical terms, it has been a challenge communicating exactly what information our reports contain and why people should care. Really, it is a check on about 100 different “issues.” Some are easy to communicate (for example, “Is it energy efficient?”), but some are very specific (“Does the building have a ground lease?”). I don’t think there is a simple solution to this one. In the long run, I think the best solution is to make sure the product is helping people, and hopefully that translates into credibility and trust.
What puzzles you most about the industry?
I’m puzzled by the range of players competing in the listing portal space. News Corp., CoStar and Nationstar have all jumped in this year. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business since launching your company?
The importance of prioritization. When time is such a valuable resource, it takes discipline to stop working to carefully think through priorities. It is much easier to just put your head down and stay busy. In hindsight, though, we have wasted entire weeks focusing on the wrong things, which could have been avoided by taking a few hours to think things through first.
What’s the most overrated real estate technology?
How will the role of the real estate agent change over the next five years?
When talking about the future of the industry, I hear a lot of comparisons to travel agents, which makes no sense to me at all. Choosing a flight takes about two minutes; the only differentiator is price; and if you get it wrong, the consequences are small. Deciding on a home can take years; the number of factors involved is enormous; and it is one of the biggest and most life-impacting decisions you can make.
I think a better comparison is the finance industry. Love it or hate it, hedge funds, mutual funds and financial advisers exist because choosing the right investment is an important and complex decision, and there is demand for expert help. As we’ve moved ahead in the information age, investment decisions have become more complex, and the size of the finance industry has grown. I think real estate will follow a similar path. As more information becomes available, people will look to the professionals that are best equipped to understand it. So I think the industry will grow, and technology will have an increasingly important role.
What motivates you more: power or money?
Power. Power is usually associated with authority, but it is really just the ability to make a difference. In that sense, even being a good friend or family member means having power.
What is your biggest professional fear?
We spend a lot of time trying to think through all the reasons the business could fail. What I fear most are the problems we haven’t foreseen, the “unknown unknowns,” to quote Donald Rumsfeld.
What is your biggest personal fear?
I’m terrified of spiders.
Who do you respect most in the industry?
Rob Hahn. I don’t always agree with his views, but they are always informative and thought-provoking.
Would you like to participate in our Follow the Leaders profile series? Email email@example.com!