Show us your tech! All August long, Inman will be talking to agents about the best technology they’re using now — everything from their favorite CRM platforms to the hottest 3D tours and everything in between. Plus, Inman tech reviewer Craig Rowe will work overtime on extra product reviews on the latest and greatest tech.
With a recent Series A funding round, PunchListUSA, the first real estate platform to digitize home inspection data for instant estimates and online ordering of home repair services, has secured $39 million in investments led by Sweetwater Private Equity and Morpheus Ventures along with heavy hitters like Home Depot Ventures, Second Century Ventures, Palm Drive Capital, and a significant real estate operator and investor.
The startup is led by Min Alexander who has a storied history in the real estate industry. With an MBA from MIT, she has served as GM and COO for Auction.com, CEO and President for REALHome Services and Solutions and SVP of Real Estate Services at Altisource Portfolio Solutions.
Now, she has brought her decades of real estate and proptech achievement to the startup space. As the culmination of Agent Tech Month, we asked Alexander to share with us her thoughts on that transition, teamwork and how it feels to build proptech from the real estate perspective.
How did you transition from more established proptech companies to the startup world?
I can see how, on the surface, moving from leading larger organizations to launching a tech startup would seem random. The reality, though, is that I’ve always been an entrepreneur and a builder.
I started my career by investing in rental properties and, interestingly (I’ve got some stories), owning and operating a convenience store. It was the ability to overcome challenges and drive growth that I’ve since paired with technology and processes to scale larger companies.
For example, as CEO and President of REALHome Services and Solutions, I grew our national brokerage from 12 states in 2012 to 50 states and Puerto Rico in 2014 — not an easy feat given our need to drive tech adoption across a dispersed team and navigate the complexities of local and state licensing requirements.
I then faced different but significant growth challenges when scaling operations in subsequent leadership roles at Altisource Portfolio Solutions and Auction.com.
But that’s what I’ve always loved: overcoming the challenges associated with building something meaningful and lasting. And, at PunchListUSA, we have the opportunity to create a lasting impact on homeowners nationwide through tech and process. While a startup, the growth mindset is the same.
How did you get the idea for PunchListUSA?
If you talk to any homeowner, they’ll tell you the pain points of maintaining and improving their home: finding qualified professionals, getting transparent pricing, coordinating with contractors and dealing with quality issues. These issues are universal.
I first attempted to address these issues in 2014 when I wrote a business case called HomeWorks. At the time, I was managing over 200,000 single-family residential homes for institutional clients in my day job.
My team and I had access to technology to automate complicated processes, high volume discounts and leverage to ensure repair and renovation work was completed on time and at high quality — access I wanted to share with everyday homeowners. At the time, the golden handcuffs of a safer corporate role held me back, but inspiration like that doesn’t leave you when it’s a good idea.
I’m thrilled that today, at PunchListUSA, we’re able to accomplish this in a data and tech-driven manner: part Uber in how we connect homeowners with vetted trades; part Amazon in how we can, through our exclusive inspection data, make proactive service recommendations before customers realize they have a need; and part Carfax in how we create transparency about the history and current condition of a high-value asset.
What is your team-building philosophy?
For me, building a balanced team and creating an ego-free culture based on trust are the two most important drivers of success for any founder of an early-stage company, or a company at any stage for that matter. I believe the key is finding leaders who share the same values, work ethic and commitment to teamwork.
I’m often asked what the secret to recruiting great talent is. I don’t think there is a secret; I hire leaders I would follow.
In our management team, each leader knows more than I do in the area of our business they are driving, and they bring a perspective I don’t have. We have a rule at PunchListUSA that you are required to speak up, especially to voice your disagreement — you can’t just let something slide if you aren’t on board.
This is how we avoid blind spots and the politics that can be so dangerous to a growing company. I’m incredibly privileged to lead my all-star team. For us, what we do is not just work, but a mission.
How do you bring a unique perspective to the home repair industry?
I am absolutely passionate about real estate and curiosity has driven most of my professional journey. Not all roles were linear, but each role, especially the most challenging ones, empowered me with a new perspective.
After graduating from Duke, I worked as a strategy consultant at Accenture in banking and insurance. This experience was a solid foundation to start investing in real estate as a landlord in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
One unit grew to eight and I realized I did not know enough about real estate transactions, so I got my real estate broker’s license. This opened opportunities for me to grow into renovations, construction and subdivisions.
I then realized I did not know enough about building, so I got my general contractor’s license. This, in turn, opened doors to start my own SEC-registered investment fund for real estate, which pushed me to MIT for my MBA. At every step of my journey, curiosity and the desire to learn have opened bigger doors to lead me to where I am now.
I’ve been preparing for over 20 years for my role today as CEO and co-founder of PunchListUSA to bring the perspectives of a homeowner, investor, broker, general contractor, fund manager, operator and strategist to my team. I’m still curious and learning. That’s why I love what we do: We are solving difficult problems every day and building our solutions to help homeowners.
What is your advice for anyone who is endeavoring to be taken seriously in a market or a niche where they might feel like they are considered something of an ‘outsider’?
We need outsiders in every company and in every industry to bring a fresh point of view and innovation. But to make real, sustainable change, you first have to build relationships and earn trust. Only then do you have the platform to bring the shock and awe it takes to truly make a lasting impact. An amazing disruption is only an idea if no one else joins the journey.
Take time to listen to your stakeholders and understand their needs. It may be tempting to come in like a bull in a china shop with assumptions. The insiders need to see that you understand their perspective first, and that your solution brings them along in the process.
In almost every situation where I was pushing for digital disruption, the work was challenging in itself, but the harder effort was winning the support of the insider teams who had been managing fine without new technology or solutions.
At Auction.com, we implemented a new IVR phone system in 2018. I had a team of nearly 80 full-time and part-time employees providing customer care support in our call center. Initially, there were a lot of concerns about the impact of automation.
We started tracking the volume of calls in a month — over 30,000 live calls, our time to answer and our quality scores for customer satisfaction. The teams soon realized that instead of automation taking their jobs, automation was giving them more time and energy to focus on real opportunities to support customers with detailed knowledge and sales follow-up.
For team members who were displaced, we worked to train and develop new roles that were growing in need, such as Salesforce administrators and project managers, so that anyone who wanted to continue and grow with the team had the opportunity to do so.
Innovation is about influence and persuasion. That’s why understanding and knowledge are so key to making changes that last.
How can your company provide solutions to the seemingly insurmountable problems of affordability, access, and sustainability that make homeownership feel almost impossible for young people or for those who are struggling financially?
Our first solution is our experienced field teams and Pro network to provide timely, high-quality repair and renovation services and transparency to increase access to homeownership. No one really learns how to be a homeowner unless you’ve personally struggled with repairs and maintenance or seen your parents struggle. This is a barrier to entry, especially for first-generation homeowners.
Our aim is to partner with homeowners to make home repairs more predictable, less reactive and less stressful. Home repairs and maintenance can and should be planned, the same way you maintain your car.
Our second solution is through our exclusive home data insights that can help homeowners avoid surprises and maximize their maintenance and repair ROI.
For example, performing light maintenance today, such as gutter cleaning, can prevent substantial foundation and flooding remediation costs down the road. By leveraging our data to proactively remind homeowners of needed services and replacements, we’re optimizing home maintenance and making homeownership more financially sustainable in the long run.
What is your advice for a real estate agent or broker who is looking to differentiate herself or her service and to find a way to use their real estate skills to innovate as you have?
As an agent or broker, promoting a simple, hassle-free experience that helps homebuyers and sellers maximize the value of their assets is always a winning strategy. Being able to promise that experience under any circumstances, however, is a true differentiator.
Build a strong support team. By aligning with trusted coordinators, stagers, lenders, legal professionals, inspectors, and — of course — repair and renovation professionals, real estate professionals can easily promote and consistently deliver an exceptional client experience before and after the home sale.
And, with the time real estate professionals save not having to micromanage all aspects of their transactions, agents are freed up to better leverage and strengthen their real estate skills to grow their businesses and enhance the value they provide to their clients, colleagues and communities.
Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.