With the new funding, the company will continue to scale nationwide, consider more acquisitions and increase its data science, engineering, product and design teams to attempt to deliver a better, faster product.
“Our early investments and willingness to be first to market with this type of product gave us a significant head start in building our now patented technology,” OJO Labs CEO John Berkowitz said. “We have been incorporating valuable learnings into our product. Doubling down on our investments now will further accelerate our competitive edge and more importantly will enable us to deliver a truly incredible experience for millions of consumers.”
The funding round was backed by LiveOak Venture Partners, Realogy Holdings Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada, and Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures. Realogy, the nation’s largest real estate holding company, previously invested in OJO Labs during its last funding round.
“At Realogy, as we look to either build or partner with great technology that helps our affiliated agents be more productive, AI and machine learning tools are crucial to creating efficiencies that drive results,” said Ryan Schneider, Realogy president and CEO, in a statement to Inman. “About a year ago, we formed a partnership with OJO, whose virtual assistant has helped produce higher conversion rates and closed transactions across our brands, and we are proud to further invest in the great work John and his team are doing to push this leading-edge technology forward.”
OJO is a virtual assistant that engages buyers and sellers through natural conversations using mobile messaging. It’s the home process search re-imagined, in a one-on-one conversation with a machine that uses that AI technology to provide the consumer with listing information, home discovery, neighborhood selection, budget or financing guidance.
Once consumers are ready, OJO connects them with an agent to guide them through the process.
There are two vectors in which the company will look to improve the product. First, according to Berkowitz, the company wants to make the product, “faster and smarter.”
“Really letting the data dictate when do we reach out and what do we reach out with,” Berkowitz told Inman.
As the product scales, Berkowitz said they also want to use the data to offer more services, whether that be long-term financial planning and generally broader thinking beyond the transaction.
“As we look through the trends in the conversation, we can think about what features and additional value we have to put into OJO,” Berkowitz said. “The mission of OJO is, wherever you meet a consumer – whether they bought a home yesterday, are buying a home in seven years or everywhere in between – to be able to add value to them throughout the whole journey.”
The additional money could be a boon to OJO’s plans to scale nationwide, but much of building that ability to scale came with the last funding round, Berkowitz said. Last week, OJO was live in 12 markets and by next week, it will be live in 22. A larger reach means more data and better results, according to Berkowitz.
“It gets a lot better with scale,” Berkowitz said. “Obviously when you’re working with AI, the more data flowing through the system, the better the machine can make decisions.”
OJO Labs is expanding its presence in each of their three offices, Austin, Minneapolis-St. Paul and St Lucia, where they operate their AI training and customer service teams. In the two U.S. markets, the company plans to add more than 50 new jobs in the coming months.
In October, OJO Labs acquired WolfNet, a longtime IDX website builder for brokers and agents. The strategic acquisition, according to Berkowitz, ensured they could access more accurate listing data more quickly. The company continues to run WolfNet as a separate, consumer-facing product and will continue to offer it to the industry at large.
Berkowitz isn’t necessarily shopping for other tech startups right now, but admitted that, like any good entrepreneur, he’ll be on the lookout for good partnerships and acquisitions.
“I think there are more acquisitions like that, opportunistically, where you have great teams, unique technology that adds value to our product that we can then enhance,” Berkowitz said. “In those cases, we will buy and partner like everyone else.”
Berkowitz spoke highly of Schneider and the company’s use of artificial intelligence. He said he believes Schneider undersells Realogy’s AI power, at a time when there’s a lot of talk about it from competitors in the industry.
“You have this relatively conservative data scientist as a CEO which is really nice when you’re a legitimate, practicing AI company,” Berkowitz said. “He doesn’t suffer any of the fools of all this handwaving. He understands results come slowly and steadily. He’s not scared to invest.”