A mortgage is the biggest purchase most Americans make. And Nora Apsel thought that making it easier would also make it more fair.
“Most people don't know that they can get their mortgage online,” Apsel told Forbes. “They think that you have to go to a traditional bank, or the one that maybe your parents are referring you to.”
That’s why she cofounded Morty with Adam Rothblatt and Brian Faux. On their platform, homebuyers can shop real-time prices from over 20 lenders and close in about a third of the time it takes to go through legacy application processes. Morty most recently raised their Series B funding of $25 million and has expanded to over 36 states.
In this Q&A, Nora discusses the key to being a founder in the real estate industry as making meaningful connections with other companies and people, hiring generalists, and nailing the initial customer acquisition strategy.
What’s a key piece of early advice you’d want to give a new real estate founder on day one?
Establish strong relationships in the real estate ecosystem early in your company’s trajectory. Connections you make with other companies, founders, advisors, and investors in the sector will serve you well as you grow. Real estate is a vast industry with a lot of different players. There are tons of opportunities to work with, partner, and learn from fellow businesses and experts, so start networking as soon as you can.
What are a few key documents and/or processes you’d suggest founders focus on at early stages? Tips for making them most effective?
Staying focused is so important, especially for early-stage companies. Setting clear goals and metrics over time, via company key performance indicators (KPIs) and team objectives and key results (OKRs) is the most effective way I’ve found to keep everyone aligned.
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?
When you’re first starting out, look to hire adaptable generalists. Startup challenges evolve quickly, so you want a team that is also equipped to evolve with the business. At Morty, some of our most senior team members today came in the door several years ago as like-minded people who shared our mission. They weren’t precious about exactly which job title they held back then. That attitude was just what Morty needed and set them up for big career opportunities as we have grown.
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?
The moment you nail your initial customer acquisition strategy is a big turning point for any startup. When we identified the acquisition channels that consistently delivered customers for us at the right moment of the home buying process, and saw those customers engage self-service with our product, we knew we’d hit product-market fit.
Whether you’re a founder in real estate or any sector, an important question to ask is, “If my main acquisition channel went away tomorrow, what would I do?” Being able to think through and preemptively strategize for that moment, even if it never comes, helps to build resilience. It’s a question that also helps to distill exactly how to define product-market fit.
What tools, resources, and communities should startups in this space know about?
A lot of the connections Morty has made in the real estate industry have come from the one-to-one networking I mentioned above. Nothing beats direct outreach, warm or cold, to start a conversation with the right person in the ecosystem, if it’s coming from a place of mutual interest and value. As a Techstars alum, we are grateful for the community they provided us early on, which continues to bear fruit. I also love what NYC Fintech Women is doing to bring women from proptech, real estate, and financial tech together with programming. Finally, having a specialist real estate VC like Metaprop on our cap table is also a huge help.
What’s most exciting to you about the NYC startup community right now?
Quite frankly, it’s the community itself! I find people working in tech locally are not only well connected but always willing to help.
What real estate trends or predictions are you thinking about most right now?
Every day, more people go online to find their mortgage. It sounds simple, but it’s a big behavior change (and one we’re obviously tracking closely and excited about). I think 2020 was a turning point year for home buyers across all age ranges and income levels in terms of not just getting comfortable with, but actually preferring, to conduct their real estate transactions online. That said, mortgage still lags behind the digitization of other aspects of real estate. We are only at the beginning of the digital mortgage evolution.