Success stories from Startup Alley: FIRST

How a vendor discovered the difference between simply networking and sponsoring at Inman Connect

For real estate agents and brokers, most of their new listings will come from their sphere of influence. Which means staying in touch with people they already know is paramount to driving business.

But while the average homeowner moves every 7 or so years, the vast majority have lost touch with their agent by that time. Most people just select the first agent they talk with. Agents end up missing 70% of the deals from people they know, including past clients. Great agents know this. They pick up the phone and call their people. But time is short, and how do they focus their time on the right people?

That’s where the FIRST platform comes in. Founded in 2014, the app helps agents find the right people to connect with at the right time.

Similarly, FIRST needed to target the right audience with the right message.

But they didn’t have just one audience. Marketing Manager Joel McLean identified the two segments they needed to reach. “Our product helps individual agents grow their business through relationships,” he explained. “We often work with brokerage owners who want to give their agents access to the best technology to help them grow their business, making the brokerage a more attractive place to work.”

So FIRST partnered with Inman to be part of Startup Alley in 2017, where emerging companies can get a foothold in the industry alongside top performers and established brands. The effect was immediate because of the caliber of attendees at the event.

“The Inman audience is inherently a higher level of prospect for us because they attend events and subscribe to content. They invest their time and money to grow. It’s a nice litmus test of professionalism,” McLean said. “Inman is about access. It’s a place for gathering and community. You can have a great many of the right people together at the right time. They’re the right people because they’re the ones that treat this like the business it is.”

McLean continued. “Inman itself has an interesting mix of credibility and vision. They recognize that the industry is going through a period of change and evolution, and agents are trying to explore what the different paths are. Inman helps them think about those challenges and identify what solutions they can turn to as they grow. And the events feel more tech-savvy and forward-thinking than other association or brand conferences.”

What’s worth noting is that FIRST took a year off from sponsorship, instead choosing to send their leadership team as attendees to New York and San Francisco in 2018. But the strategy didn’t deliver as they hoped.

“It’s easy to assume that you can just attend Inman Connect to network and get the full benefit,” said McLean. “But you’re actually missing the opportunity of having a physical presence. That shouldn’t be underestimated. It matters to see the vendors in this industry. It’s about standing up for yourself, showing up as your brand. It’s a stake in the ground that shows the vendor is part of the community.

“It’s harder to build connections without a kiosk,” he said. “The kiosk gives us a stable place where people can find us and also build credibility. It shows we weren’t just trying to sneak in and work the event. We are a substantial company that’s here to build relationships.”

And those relationships are the benchmark of success that McLean and the team look to when assessing if Inman Connect delivers on investment.

“The primary way we measure success is the number of relationships we cultivate, more so than a number of leads we generate. Especially at the New York event in 2019. Most of the brokers in our pipeline now, we met at Inman Connect.”

For McLean, having CEO Mike Schneider on stage was highly valuable to the brand. “Our sponsorship gave us exposure and engagement, which helps us build trust and establish authority. And it makes it easier to network afterward.”

McLean is excited to see relationship marketing move to the forefront of agent and broker strategies in 2019-2020. “I think it is very interesting to see a re-evaluation of the reliance on lead generation. As agents try to craft a more successful relationship-focused growth model, they’ll look for tools like FIRST to help them.”

Interesting in bringing your young company to Startup Alley at Inman Connect Las Vegas? Apply now!