Specific financial terms were not made public but the deal involved a mix of equity and stock.
The founders of both companies, who had previously been working together on a partnership wherein OJO was using multiple listing service (MLS) data from WolfNet, said that the deal made sense because of the synergies to be found between them, merging a new consumer-facing property search tool in the form of OJO with a trusted agent-and-broker focused software and data company in the form of WolfNet.
The Austin, Texas-based OJO was founded in 2015 by David Rubin and John Berkowitz, and offers an early-stage mobile SMS platform with an AI assistant that buyers can text and ask questions about specific properties, areas, and other real estate topics — freeing up agents’ time, but connecting buyers with them later.
The OJO text-based assistant is only currently available in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore (Maryland), Boston, Columbus, Denver, Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. for now, but plans to add more markets around the country.
WolfNet, founded in Minneapolis in 1996 by CEO Joel MacIntosh initially as a more general purpose website builder, has become something of a real estate industry standard, offering custom IDX websites and property search, MLS data services, and support.
It counts 80,000 agents and brokers among its WolfNet IDX users, and is available in over 640 different multiple listing service markets across the U.S. and Canada. With its other services, it says it reaches 500,000 agents. The company says it has information from 100 million property records, covering 99 percent of all active MLS listings in the United States and Canada.
A major facet of WolfNet’s services involves MLS data standardization, an essential need for accurately translating property information across various platforms for consumer outlets and agent marketing needs.
OJO Labs was already using WofNet’s listing data, so the new deal marks a deepening of the existing partnership.
“We looked at where WolfNet was, and said, ‘this is not something we just could go do ourselves,'” said OJO Labs Co-founder David Rubin in a phone call with Inman. “These guys are years ahead of everybody else, so lets put resources into that instead of trying to re-invent it.”
The founders of both companies have known each other for a couple of years, having met at a conference in Las Vegas.
In a press release on the deal, Rubin said that WolfNet’s software will not only get faster and smarter, but that “…the consumer’s real estate transaction experience in the future is going to get better.”
OJO’s recommendations increase in accuracy with each use, using a device’s GPS, for example, to better understand preferred neighborhoods. It also uses image metadata of previously reviewed properties to make listing suggestions.
With more property data from which to draw, consumer users can be better informed and in turn, agents will theoretically benefit from more engaged, market-savvy leads.
OJO partnered exclusively with Realogy last year to notify listing agents when OJO users looked at their for-sale properties, nurture and cultivate the lead, and then transfer it over to the Realogy brand agent. Realogy is also a major investor in the startup.
WolfNet recognized in OJO a faster, more efficient “highway” on which to transport property information to homebuyers.
WolfNet Joel MacIntosh told Inman that days ago, before any news of the acquisition surfaced, “An employee was asking in a meeting, ‘How can our customers get data as fast as OJO delivers theirs? We need to do it like that.'”
The new company will remain headquartered in Austin, Texas, while WolfNet’s Minneapolis employees will remain in place and continue to be managed by founder MacIntosh.
The acquisition brings OJO Labs’ total workforce up to 290 employees. The two companies will not alter branding or individual, customer-facing operations, according to Christine Jacobson, head of marketing for OJO Labs. Jacobson said informing customers is a priority, and that they are being emailed and called.
MacIntosh believes OJO Labs offers something unique. “I’ve been in this business for 19, 20 years, and we’ve seen startups come and go, tons of companies flicker in and flicker out, but this is a different deal. What they have and bring to the marketplace is at a different level, a different feature set that will make a fundamental difference in the marketplace. That’s what made us so excited about moving forward with this deal.”
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