The real estate tech startup is bolstering its executive team by bringing on Chris Heller and Karen Starns, Inman has learned.

Real estate tech startup OJO Labs is bringing in a few industry heavy hitters to bolster its executive team. The Austin-based company announced Friday that Chris Heller, formerly the CEO of both Keller Williams and mellohome, is joining as chief real estate officer and Karen Starns, a former Amazon and Pearson exec, is joining as chief marketing officer.

OJO Labs CEO and Founder John Berkowitz called adding the two new executives a “special combination” for the respective skillsets each brings.

Chris Heller | Photo credit: Ojo Labs

For Heller, the move to OJO Labs is a homecoming of sorts. He served as the CEO of the Austin-based Keller Williams from 2015 to 2017. After he departed, he joined LoanDepot’s mellohome as CEO, where we worked from February 2018 until the present.

Heller had been splitting his time between his home in Austin and in Southern California where mellohome is based. Now, he’ll be spending a lot more time at his home in Texas.

Heller told Inman that one of the biggest considerations for him when joining a new company is the team with whom he’ll be working.

“One of the things that I’ve learned through the companies that I’ve served at, the leaders that I’ve served under, it takes a world-class team to really have a chance at hitting the goals and succeeding at the level everyone wants to,” Heller said. “I’ve watched [Berkowitz] assemble a team that is world class.”

For Heller, it’s also important to do something that he views as massively impactful.

“Ojo has a real opportunity to really impact consumers and consumers expectation and deliver on where consumer behavior is and where it’s going,” Heller said. “A lot of companies may say that they’re doing that but I don’t think they have a clear vision and an executable type plan to do that.”

The move also had less to do with mellohome — Heller praised the company and the growth he helped spur — and more with joining Ojo Labs, a company he’s had a relationship with since his Keller Williams days and one in which he was an early investor, after he left Keller Williams.

Adding an executive of Heller’s background will allow OJO Labs to entrench itself deeper within the real estate industry. Heller can help OJO Labs partner with the real estate industry and its agents to find out how the company can create technology and solutions so that they can over-deliver for consumers, Berkowitz explained.

“Obviously as a consumer-facing company we’ve been obsessed with that since day one, but I think that the thing that is more unique about us is that we don’t believe you need to disservice the industry professional in the process of obsessing over the consumer,” Berkowitz said. “We think they are key to serving the consumer.”

“With a lot of people it’s either we’re serving agents and our job is to serve agents, or we’re serving customers and our job is to serve customers,” Berkowitz added.

Karen Starns | Photo credit: Ojo Labs

Starns, most recently led brand and customer experience at Amazon for Echo, Alexa, FireTV, Kindle and Amazon’s entire portfolio of smart home products.

“Obviously [her experience is] extremely relevant to OJO, given Alexa is the most successful AI assistant out there currently,” Berkowitz said.

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.

OJO Labs has raised $71 million to date, after completing a $45 million Series C funding round earlier this year, and counts industry giant Realogy among its investors. With that funding, OJO Labs has been focused on technology, both in improving the consumer product and doubling down on training agents for a higher success rate.

For consumers, OJO Labs is focused on “making the machine smarter, faster, easier to use for consumers and continuously investing in the data that the product has,” Berkowitz said.

OJO Labs is powered by multiple listing service data, which was bolstered in 2018 by the acquisition of WolfNet Technologies, a longtime IDX website builder for brokers and agents.

The second part of the company’s tech roadmap is asking itself, “how do we make it easier for agents to interact and serve our consumers,” Berkowitz said, with a focus on making the technology better and faster.

“The technology basically decides when it’s the right time to engage an agent,” Berkowitz added. “When the right time is there, we hit a network of approved agents who are training on the technology. We connect them. We live transfer them. Then there’s technology provided to them so they can work alongside Ojo.”

Email Patrick Kearns

How do you stay ahead in a changing market? Inman Connect Las Vegas — featuring 250+ experts from across the industry sharing insight and tactics to navigate threat and seize opportunity in tomorrow’s real estate market. Join more than 4,000 top producers, brokers and industry leaders to network and discover what’s next, July 23-26 at the Aria Resort. Hurry! Tickets are going fast, register today!

Thinking of bringing your team? There are special onsite perks and discounts when you buy tickets together. Contact us to find out more.

Show Comments Hide Comments
Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription