Avi Gupta is president and CEO at SmartZip.
Describe what you do in one sentence:
We help agents and brokers get more listings through data-driven targeted marketing.
Age: Feel like 27 :)
Degree, school: Computer science degrees, including Ph.D. from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; master’s from University of California, Berkeley; and bachelor’s from I.I.T. India.
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
What’s your favorite activity outside of work and why?
Almost anything outdoors — I love the sun! My top favorite activities include tennis, running, biking and traveling to new places, especially internationally.
What’s your favorite piece of classic literature and why?
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. It teaches tolerance and compassion, and standing up for what’s right.
Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?
My younger brother and I started our companies at about the same time. We both come from different tech backgrounds. But, as luck would have it, we both started companies in the analytics space at about the same time around 2008, focused on different industries.
Why’d you decide to start your company?
I had started to invest in real estate as a long-term strategy and realized there was no rigorous and systematic way to analyze and compare homes around the nation, like you can do for stocks and mutual funds. SmartZip’s original vision was to create a Morningstar-like rating system for homes, which we launched in 2009.
Describe a time when you felt particularly insecure about the future of your company. How did you bounce back?
Nearly all startups go through ups and downs, more of the latter! We started working on the idea in 2008, which was arguably the worst time in the real estate/mortgage industries (hence, a great time to launch a company!). We were nervous but the stakes were low, so we were fearless.
By the time we had 40-plus employees in 2012, we realized that we were burning too much cash too fast, and trying to do too many things instead of becoming really good at any one thing. This was hurting us in many ways from both the inside and outside.
The stakes were much higher now, and we had to make some hard decisions — we recognized our core competencies, pulled back from distractions, rallied around a unified strategy and buttoned down for the long haul. It was a painful pill to swallow. But not only did it help us bounce back quickly, it instilled a discipline that will help us endure other bumps down the road.
What would you describe as your company’s biggest victory since you started it?
One of our biggest victories was our decision back in 2010 to make data and analytics “actionable” for our clients by wrapping it within an automated marketing solution. So, instead of just giving agents and brokers “raw analytics” in the form of a list of the most likely seller targets, we decided to help them connect with and convert those prospects. SmartTargeting is a fully automated, targeted and turnkey marketing system, and it includes a prospect management system, complete with a mobile app for analytics on the go!
What’s been the biggest obstacle your business has encountered, and how have you dealt with it?
The biggest obstacle has been the lead mentality of agents. While they recognize the importance of building relationships to win business, many agents expect technology to be the panacea.
The truth is that even with the “science” of excellent predictive data, seller prospects have to be nurtured through the “art” of marketing, follow-through and relationship-building. Some of the “art” is baked into our technology platform, and we complement that with training and education to help our agents realize the maximum success from our solution.
What puzzles you most about the industry?
Restrictions around access to listings data, especially when it is meant to help improve the lives and business processes of the industry professionals and their end clients, homebuyers and sellers.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business?
The truth in the cliche, “5 percent inspiration, 95 percent perspiration.” Ideas abound, but execution separates success from failure. And good execution requires the right combination of people, planning, patience and perseverance.
What’s the most overrated real estate technology?
Enterprise-level CRMs for real estate agents. For decades, a CRM has been a noncustomizable drip email system with time-consuming contact management.
The next-gen CRM needs to mesh data and analytics with “smart” multichannel marketing that engages clients one-to-one via email, video, mobile, social and more. It should also keep the agents excited about the prospect of follow-up — right now, they dread logging in, and they lose business as a result of not keeping in touch.
How will the role of the real estate agent change over the next five years?
I believe the agent will evolve gradually to become even more of a financial and lifecycle adviser, rather than just a real estate expert helping to sell homes. While information will become ubiquitous, and the transaction will be automated, we will look to agents to help us navigate the plethora of information, plan and execute the biggest transaction of our lives, and get us the best deal.
What motivates you more: power or money?
Neither — it’s the freedom to pursue your dreams, on your own terms — for the most part :-).
What is your biggest professional fear?
Disappointing our customer. This is why I like to operate with a “no customer left behind” mentality by focusing on exemplary customer service with attention to detail.
What is your biggest personal fear?
I fear that in the hubbub of a startup and entrepreneur’s life, I could lose out on precious time with my family and loved ones.
Whom do you respect most in the industry?
Alex Perriello of Realogy. He is one of the most forward-thinking leaders, who also recognizes that both technology and human skills are necessary ingredients for success in this industry.
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