VIDEO: Fireside Chat with OpenAgent Co-Founders
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2015 was an amazing year for Open Agent as they secured $6million in funding. We're keen to find out what their plans for 2016 are and beyond!
In the first two years of operation the site helped 5000 people through the selling process, representing a HUGE $2.6 billion in transaction values.
Q: Tell me about yourselves & what are each of your roles?
I guess we started Open Agent just over three years ago now and we met at McKinsey about ten years ago now. So Marta and I have worked together for a long time and I think that is one of the secrets of the success you know, like a long term relationship. But yeah I guess just had this idea that I couldn’t shake and managed to finally rope Marta into an idea that “this one actually made sense”.
So we met back at McKinsey in 2005 and I guess we worked together a little bit there, separately we were freelancing for the corporate, doing the McKinsey thing a little bit but for ourselves and then I guess the Open Agent thing it was one of those things that captured our attention and before we knew it, it took off and it is a train we are just trying to stay on now.
We attribute the Open Agent partially to boredom. So at the time when Zoe had this idea she was training for an Iron man and part of this.
She was training for the Ironman and she had like five hour rides and whenever it was raining she was in her garage staring into a wall, and I guess a lot of time to think and that is where the idea came up. And then my side of the story is I have taken six months to sail the Mediterranean with my husband and I was into month four, and we were bored.
So Zoe came up with this idea. To be frank I guess we saw the consumer problem. There are a lot of things in real estate that sucks for a consumer and that I guess is at the core of being an entrepreneur, solving problems and things that you see are not quite right. And actually real estate is so important. So what we do is we help people sell their biggest asset.
We were strategy consultants so we had the tool kit I think. It has been very useful in a lot of senses. I think it is great experience, but the thing we also did is work in startups and small business before and I think that was probably more relevant experience, just like rolling your sleeves up and learn very quickly and move and break some things.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit more? What was the trigger that turned you onto this?
Ah gee, well probably like most people here, Australia’s favourite hobby is real estate right? So a lot of people here have either bought a house, or sold a house, or definitely rented a house, something to do with housing, and a lot of people are having bad experiences. And I had a few bad experiences myself; varied experiences actually because there are some really great real estate agents out there. And then equally as a buyer you would turn up and the real estate agent wouldn’t tell you that the open home wasn’t on or you would say you were interested and they wouldn’t call you back. And you are like gee that is bad for me as a buyer but how is that for a seller? This is the person I am paying to sell my asset and they can’t be bothered calling me to follow up that lead. That’s crap.
So I think it was sort of a slow realization of something being wrong and then speaking to people and understanding that obviously that was a broadly held opinion.
And then it wasn’t until Marta and I started spinning back emails from the Mediterranean to the bike that we were like, “Yeah there is something here. This has been solved in other verticals and there is definitely an opportunity to do something and we think we can see a market entry strategy that makes sense.”
And from there you just iterate right and you develop and it changes right, we pivoted three times in the first three months and then you are like, “Okay now we got it.”
Q: Are you going to expand to other countries?
We have a lot to do in Australia. So real estate is like a massive space in Australia, there is a lot to do that we are focusing on doing. So it is around growing. We are still a really small start up and real estate is a really big space. So doing more of what we have been doing and doing more things and different things I think. In the last six months we have been growing the team massively and brought some great talent. And we are getting more bandwidth all of us to get to do more things and have the money to do it; so more product, more marketing, more growth, more everything.
I think they are some industries that are born global, but real estate is very local in the sense that the consumer needs are the same but the market structures and how real estate agents operate and how even the legislation of how property gets sold or rented is completely different market by market so you cannot under estimate that you actually need to do a local –goal market. So that is why it is not like international expansion from day one.
Q: As Co-CEO's, how do you make decisions?
So rationally is the answer. And the reality is I don’t make decisions, neither does Zoe; the consumer does. So you put it all there, you test it and you see what works and what doesn’t and that is the decision made for you. Another way of thinking about it is how do you decide what to do and what to test? If we disagree on it, and this is applicable to Zoe as much as applicable to any of our team that are here is you have a great idea and you are willing to put all the work into it, and you think it is going to work; be my guest. There is a lot of work behind it. So I guess it is around giving each other space as well around, “So I don’t believe in that idea but how can we give it a try without betting the house on it” and then rationally decide whether it make sense or not.
Just the longer we go on the less we get asked that question because people are like oh well I assume you are making it work. There is another way of looking at it as well which is somebody told us once Marta, I can’t remember who it was, “You have got two smart founders who can both present and do things; show it off. So both get up there and speak and whatever. Two is better than one right. There is so much work to do.
Q: Any mentors along the way?
Right, loads. I think that is really important and in that process of just going out there and meeting people who you think you can learn from and sometimes you won’t hit it off but other times you really will. And there is just this beautiful mutual thing.
One of our mentors Mitch Harper found us actually by being a user of the product and then called us up. And he was like…actually he emailed us. And I was like is this for real Mitch Harper emailing us; does he know about us? Yeah, sure enough. And then it was like you sit down with him and we thought, half an hour this will be great.
Like an hour and a half later we were just like, whoa this guy just pulls us out of the detail and makes us see the big picture, stretches our thinking, like we just have to keep catching up. And you just need to make excuses to get time. And if you have a great conversation like that they will always have a second one. “Mitch we would love to come and update you about this, we have got some questions.” And from there you just build a relationship. But they are so valuable those really good advisors when you do hit it off and they do have relevant experience and all of that I would say there would be no way we would be where we are without some of those people. So it has been amazing for us.
Zoe and Marta met while working at one of the top business consultancy firms, McKinsey & Company. In 2012 they put their shared business acumen together to found Open Agent.
Open Agent helps home sellers find the best agent by using data from more than 2 million property sales by location. In just two years, they helped 5000 people through the selling process, representing $2.6 billion in transaction values.
This fireside chat was filmed as part of a monthly event series run by StartCon in Sydney, if you would like to connect please contact us here.