For many of the 87 million Americans who own homes, the majority of their overall assets are in real estate. As a long-time leader in the industry, Liz Young, CEO and founder of Realm, wanted to democratize access to the same information professionals get. She created a trusted financial platform for the American homeowner that provides free property analysis and uses proprietary data to show how much your home could be worth with a variety of potential improvement projects. Realm is giving leverage to homeowners in a time of record-breaking demand, and just announced a $12 million Series A today, only five months after its $3 million seed deal in February.
In this Q&A, Liz discusses the importance of narrowing your ideal customer profile, convincing early investors to believe in you, and how to leverage angel investors to help with early hires.
What’s a key piece of early advice you’d want to give a new real estate founder on day one?
Real estate is a huge space, a blessing and a curse, and your business is probably not focused enough (we weren’t until recently). Take your Ideal Customer Profile, and make it smaller initially.
What are a few key documents and/or processes you’d suggest founders focus on at early stages? Tips for making them most effective?
- Stay organized. Having all of your consulting agreements, employer agreements, subscriptions etc. organized makes closing a round a lot easier.
- Make a standardized (ish) recruiting and onboarding processes. Since the beginning, we’ve required strategy presentations, backchannels, and more for recruits. Once someone starts, we provide them with an outline of what success looks like for their first 30 and 90 days. It may feel big company, but the upfront investment in talent is worth its weight in gold.
What’s one thing you learned as you did your first few seed-round pitches? What do you think investors most want to see from real estate founders at this stage?
Early on, I scrambled to have an answer to everything and then realized a few pitches in: Your job is to convince seed investors to bet on you figuring it out, not that you’ve already figured it out—convince them on the size of the space, the severity of the problem, and that you’re uniquely qualified to figure it out.
What kinds of early hires are most important in this industry? What kinds of characteristics and backgrounds should they have and how did you approach finding them?
I don’t think real estate is any different than most industries. Early on, find the smartest, most creative problem solvers, regardless of the industry they come from. My second hire, Rohan, didn’t come from real estate, but had been a market launcher for a transportation startup before, so he understood how to build from scratch and creatively problem solve. He understood how to work at the intersection of technology and the physical world. Most of our first ten hires I met through warm introductions from angel investors. Get angel investors on your cap table that have worked at companies you admire and want to recruit from—their rolodex will be super valuable.
What was a key turning point in discovering your product-market fit? What kinds of questions do you suggest real estate founders ask themselves to get here?
From the start, we listened to our users before we invested a lot of money in building out technology. Our first “product” was a no code reports generator using Airtable, Zapier, and Excel. Building that way was great, because we were able to stay so agile—we’d listen to our customers and immediately implement their feedback. For us, the turning point on the product was when we started to see users indicating they’d be “very disappointed if Realm didn’t exist” on our surveys. We’ve been studying how those people use our product, and are working on how we can grow that base of early advocates as quickly as possible.
What tools, resources, and communities should startups in this space know about?
We leverage the communities our investors, specifically Primary, have created quite a bit—from expertise to hiring, your investors are a great resource.
What’s most exciting to you about the New York City startup community right now?
There’s a lot of capital flowing through the New York City startup community, which means a lot of companies are growing quickly. In turn that means a lot of people’s roles and experience sets are rapidly growing. That’s all very exciting from a hiring perspective, because the more successful the New York City startup scene is, the more great people with valuable experiences we can hire.
What real estate trends or predictions are you thinking about most right now?
There’s two trends that excite me:
- Democratizing access to information. We've seen this playing out in consumer fintech for years (consumers getting access to insights that were previously only available to professionals and the ultra wealthy), and we’re happy to be one of the early leaders in this in proptech.
- On the real estate side specifically, the housing market has been ultra competitive for over a year. People aren’t able to buy their dream home, they have to buy the home they can afford. Homes are being sold as is (our data shows a significant drop in renovations leading up to sale dates). This means the average consumer has to be prepared to think about a property creatively, understand what’s possible, and dedicate time and money to turning it into their dream home. We love this, because a big part of our mission is to provide homeowners with actionable advice—things they can put into motion right away.