Real estate agents who use Riley, a concierge service that sends text messages on behalf of agents, sometimes wake up to a treat that’s better than breakfast in bed: buttered-up leads. Now, the company has clinched $3.1 million in funding, fresh off its graduation from the prestigious startup accelerator Y Combinator.

  • Riley stands out because it uses real people to cultivate leads exclusively through text messages.

Real estate agents who use Riley, a concierge service that sends text messages on behalf of agents, sometimes wake up to a treat that’s better than breakfast in bed: buttered-up leads.

The “text center” has grown by leaps and bounds in the last year, and now the company has clinched $3.1 million in funding, fresh off its graduation from the prestigious startup accelerator Y Combinator.

Riley is one of a growing number of alternatives to traditional inside sales assistants (ISAs) that can help agents boost the return on investment of lead-generation products. Other options include customer relationship management systems (CRMs) with auto-responders, lead-“scrubbing” call centers and virtual assistants.

Lightning-fast response time

Riley stands out because it uses real people to cultivate leads exclusively through text messages.

Riley concierges respond to leads within minutes of receiving inquiries from sources such as listing portals and Facebook ads. Then they ask a series of follow-up questions to tee up the leads for agents. Numbering in the hundreds and spread across the world, concierges will go to work on behalf of agents 24/7.

Prospective buyers, such as the one featured in the conversation below, are often impressed when they receive lightning-fast responses in the wee hours of the morning.

Pricing starts at $200 a month for engagement with up to 50 leads. Agents can sign up for a free two-week trial if they like.

Concierges try to gauge a buyer’s search preferences and qualifications, with the aim of building some rapport in the process.

Mixing business with small talk

Concierges might ask buyers if they’re pre-approved for a mortgage and whether they want to buy in the near future. But they also can “shoot the shit a little and empathize with them when necessary,” said Riley CEO.

Daniel Ahmadizadeh

Daniel Ahmadizadeh

For example, if a buyer reveals she wants a backyard with grazing room for nine horses, the concierge might respond: “Oh, wow, that’s a lot of horses!”

Riley has a steadily-growing repository of recommended texts for concierges to fire off in specific scenarios. The degree to which they can customize these texts depends an agent’s preferences. Agents have the option to prescribe questions, responses and engagement guidelines.

Professionals who receive leads from Riley can see the text exchanges that took place between concierge and lead in the company’s mobile app. They can also track conversations between concierges and leads in real time and take over whenever they like.

Growth and accolades

About 1,700 agents are using Riley at the moment, according to Ahmadizadeh. Riley’s paying customers have jumped tenfold in the last three months, with the company currently handling about 120,000 conversations a month, he said.

This includes conversations from “drip campaigns” that Riley conducts on behalf of agents, in which concierges will periodically text leads over time. These campaigns, Ahmadizadeh said, allow agents “to put their follow-up/nurture on autopilot” without sacrificing a human touch.

Riley was judged the fifth fastest-growing startup in its Y Combinator class of more than 100 startups, according to Mattermark, a research site for investors. Other Y Combinator graduates include Airbnb, Reddit and Dropbox.

Investors that contributed to Riley’s funding round include Social Capital, Kleiner Perkings Caufield Byers, Fuel Capital, Rough Draft Ventures, Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel and Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, according to Ahmadizadeh.

Lead generation drilldown

In addition to nurturing leads, Riley can help agents figure out if they should tweak their investments in lead generation products.

For example, an agent can see what percentage of leads from a listing portal respond to texts from Riley, and of those that respond, what percentage are pre-approved for a mortgage.

Some agents who advertise with Zillow Group are such fans of Riley’s approach that they’ve asked Zillow Group not to use its own concierge service to qualify their leads, and leave the work to Riley instead, according to Ahmadizadeh.

These agents like that Riley concierges identify themselves as personal assistants, rather than Zillow Group employees reaching out on their behalf, Ahmadizadeh said.

Riley concierges do not have real estate licenses, meaning they’re legally prohibited from asking or answering certain questions.

In New York, for example, real estate agents can use unlicensed assistants to qualify leads and confirm listing information, but not to answer detailed questions about listings (“Does this listing have a fireplace?”) or neighborhoods (“Where’s the closest grocery store to this listing?”), the director of legal services at the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR) previously told Inman.

Ahmadizadeh said Riley concierges respect such restrictions, and he notes that agents can dictate how they want Riley concierges to interact with leads.

Email Teke Wiggin.

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