Ramblings on code, startups, and everything in between
How did you end up where you are today
I started in accounting, I worked in the CPA world with a real estate background. Over time, I drifted away from the CPA path. I knew it wasn’t for me. After CPA, I got an agent license and I thought my background provided a unique skill set to the industry. Thus, I went on my own and failed A LOT along the way, looking for a tech market fit in real estate.
How did you first incorporate tech in the real estate space?
With the help of engineers, my buddy and I built a pretty cool property search platform for buyers. There was a messaging feature, between agents and buyers, that we thought was state of the art at the time. After building a ton of legacy code that nobody wanted, we realized that we weren’t really solving a problem. The buyer search was occupied by major sites, like Zillow and Trulia, it didn’t make sense for us to compete there.
As you faced these challenges, what was your outlook?
I think many people perceive life is this perpetual climb to the top of a mountain and then you finally reach the top, raise your hands in the air, and scream “I made it!!” When in actuality, life is more like walking up 10 feet of the mountain, and then falling into a 30 foot drop off, meaning there isn’t a linear climb to the top. There are a ton of ups and downs. For me, it’s all about persistence and surrounding yourself with talented people, engineers and creatives especially.
So, what do you do now?
I currently own a real estate brokerage in South Boston. I work with a rockstar CTO and a talented digital team. We’ve built a proprietary database tool which helps us stand out from the rest, it basically tells us who is more likely to sell their home.
What inspired you to leverage tech/data for real estate?
I didn’t just want to be a traditional agent/broker and sell places. I felt I needed to add a ton of value in what I was doing and building. When I look back on what really started things for me, it was on the tech and data side. I’ve owned a place in Southie for some time now. I frequently get mailers from real estate agents, enticing me to sell. I actually received one yesterday! After collecting so many mailers, I thought to myself over the years, this can’t be the best way to reach owners. I mean I’m a broker, myself, receiving these mailers with no analytics on them. So, how many of these are actually read and converted into sale? A very small percent.
How do you identify a potential opportunity to use tech in a non-traditional situation?
I try to look at things from a high level and ask where the most value is added. In my industry, Redfin, the discount broker, has gained a lot of market share because buyers/sellers are getting smarter. They have begun to question the value of an agent. There are many agents covering too much territory in order to survive. When this happens, there is very little value add to the consumer. (i.e. if you have an out of town agent repping a buyer in South Boston, often times, there is very little value add for the buyer.) Whereas, if I was representing you as a buyer, I’d be able to give you neighborhood knowledge along with off market opportunities outside of MLS.
And for sellers, I can create an unmatched amount of bandwidth (targeting buyers) for your home because of our database technology.
What are some challenges you face building as a non-technical person?
Where do I start!? Haha. I actually want to write a book about this, maybe I’ll call it, The Technical Guide for Non-Tech Founders. I haven’t seen anything like it out there, have you? Would you like to co-author with me? Making the right hiring decisions is a huge challenge, ALONG with building something a bunch of people actually need. Finding really great engineers to buy into your work can be tough. I’ve spent a lot of time in my early days on Elance (which is now UpWork) and you can get burned on there. I’ve always been bootstrapped, and when you make a mistake, it really really hurts.
Why do you think real estate is one of the last industries to adapt to new software and technologies? (calculations by hand and not through a database)
Great question! I think it is mostly because the business model has stood the test of time very well, even with the internet disruption in many other industries. 2005 and 2015, saw a wave of change. But, even with all the advancements on the home buying front, there is still a complicated and mostly analog process after the online search occurs. An end to end platform is coming and this will be interesting. Currently, there are some really talented people working on this.
Overall, how would you characterize the adoption of new technologies in the real estate space?
Real estate literally touches everything we do, because it defines our environment, our physical space. Think about this: of all the tech changes we have seen in our lifetime
ex. Amazon(goods), Facebook/Apple(communication), Google(information), Uber/Lyft(transport). Paypal/Venmo(Capital space.)
Real estate is larger than all of these categories combined. Real estate will evolve more quickly than people think. Venture Capital has poured a ton of money into the race, recently. The new wave startups are tackling a wide range of areas — building management, financing, co-working, appraisals, building amenities and empty retail space, even tech-enabled construction, management, and maintenance.
Do you think the future of real estate will evolve as they adapt to using new technology?
Yes, with the rise of technologies like autonomous vehicles, the drone, robotic delivery, decentralized workspaces, and other macro trends. These inventions are likely to lead to a complete transformation in how we utilize the spaces in which we work and live.
Posted In: General
Corporate cliches, like any cliche, should never be used. But you know what’s worse about corporate cliches, you have to hear them all the time, at a loud volume, from your manager that you don’t even like. Let’s call your manager Mike. Mike takes his job way too seriously, he always calls you out in front of your CEO when you don’t do something perfectly, and he has never taken one day of vacation in ten years. Mike shows up to every company gathering early, and complains that the pasta salad you brought isn’t chilled enough. You don’t even know who likes cold pasta anyway since you sure as hell didn’t make it yourself, and you’re just praying that Mike doesn’t say too much to your new boyfriend, if you even have a boyfriend by the end of the event. Well you know what’s the worst thing about Mike? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not his food preferences of lack of social skills … it’s his cliche sayings, his “corporate cliches” if you will.
Mike starts every call with a client by saying, “well at a high level..” he responds to every important question you have with, “let’s circle back” or “I’ll loop you in.” No, Mike, don’t do anything with me and round shapes. You are SO not hip. When mike disapproves of the work that he specifically requested from, he sends you “back to the drawing board” or “square one.” You want to know where you don’t want to go, Mike, there. But don’t worry, when you’re on ridiculous deadlines, he doesn’t tell you to go places, rather, he suggests you “hammer it out” or “move the needle.” Thank you for the encouragement, Mike… what makes these expressions so bad is that some of them really don’t make sense from a literal standpoint. Besides that, they are so overused. Just because your grandmother said them in her day, and hasn’t updated her jargon at the ripe age of 91, does not mean that it’s okay to take this terminology to the office place.
So, to help save what is left to be cultivated in the corporate world, we have made a game, Corporate Cliche Bingo. Every time someone says one one of these awful phrases, everyone else gets to fill in that square, until someone fills in 5 squares in a row, AKA BINGO. Maybe up the ante, a few drinks never hurt anyone. When Mike finally closes his mouth, or runs his wallet dry, you’ll have us to thank.
Posted In: General
At Setfive, we provide strictly B2B services. So, all of our work is client facing. Like any relationship, the appropriate response to each circumstance is situational. Thus, I composed three interviews centered around some essential factors and things to consider when handling client relationships. The three stars of my interview are: Kim Donlan, Adam McGowan, and Chris Merrill. Each of these interviewees has a different background, but is very familiar and experienced in client relationships. To learn more about these individuals, a short background can be found below.
Kim is an expert in messaging and digital strategy. Kim helps companies and individuals establish a go-to marketing strategy that gets them to a #1 position fast.
Current Position: Founder and CEO at Firefield
At Firefield, Adam primarily takes part in growing new relationships, building the customer base, and maintaining existing customer relations. Adam also does advisory work in product leadership.
Current Position: CRO for JBarrows Sales Training
Two of Chris’ main roles at J. Barrows include: providing sales training and driving and navigating revenue for companies.
Q: What are some characteristics that you look for in a client?
Kim: I look for similar values. It is essential for my clients to be aligned with my company in their thought process. I prioritize clients who are honest, not afraid of hard work, and listening to both their customers and in-depth research.
Adam: The company’s values must align. An ideal client is someone who respects the field in which they need assistance. To do so, this client needs to be open and self-aware of their abilities. This way, they can respect the decisions and expertise, on your end, without trying to override you.
Chris: Collective values and general ethos. Mutual agreement upon what is important to both of you is a necessity. Similar values and understanding come first, but it is also mandatory for a client to possess both passion and respect for their industry. A client needs to be happy current position and line of work or they will not be happy working with you.
Q: What are some red flags that a client can possess?
Kim: It is essential to take into consideration what a client is going through on a personal and professional level. When considering who is in the startup phase, you must account for the high-stakes environment. Entrepreneurs are under personal and professional financial stress, and feel enormous pressure to meet funding deadlines. In this state of uncertainty, a client can start to change the deliverables. This makes for an increasingly difficult situation to work in, especially if they do not have a clear idea of what they want or what needs to be executed. Another red flag is when a client does not have the authority to implement decisions. Without this ability, the process can be slowed down, or grind to a halt.
Adam: It is nearly impossible to work for a client when they do not fully understand their own needs, or they don’t appreciate the relative value you can provide them. Working with a client that believes they can do what our company does but does not have time / resources is extremely difficult. In addition, I caution you against working with people who lack deep experience in their own domain. Another warning sign is when a client does not have clarity on what they want to accomplish, or possesses a lack of seriousness / commitment to their idea.
Chris: The way a potential client expresses their current situation, can tell you a lot about who you do and don’t want to work with. Someone who passes blame, or does not take responsibility for their current situation, is likely to do the same in your partnership. If this potential client is overly negative on a vendor, you can anticipate that they will treat you with the same negativity and criticism. Lastly, value proposition can present as a major barrier in the service industry. Often times, people that do not have experience in a vendor’s domain can have a poor understanding of how much things should cost. This can eventually lead to disagreement and even improper compensation.
What is your idea of the “worst” type of client?
Kim: The worst possible situation I put myself, or my company, in, is working with someone that has no real plan or goal. This is less of a reflection on the person themselves, rather a scenario that can be a potential recipe for disaster. It is important to be wary of a client with no real plan or team, that does not have proper funding. I also try to avoid clients who can only offer equity for my work rather than payment.
Adam: I face difficulty partnering with someone that lacks understanding in the complexity product. It is also taxing dealing with a client who tries micromanage outside of their area of expertise. Lastly, someone who does not trust your team will probably not treat you like a partner. An example of this is when someone continues to refer to you as a “vendor” after partnership has been established.
Chris: I struggle to work with clients that do not provide feedback. When a client does not communicate openly, this can lead to surprises and unpredictable situations. It is very difficult to coordinate with someone that contributes limited to zero communication. Another major challenge can present when someone is indecisive or does not have the ability to make decisions.
Thank you to Kim, Adam, and Chris, for providing a us with a range of perspectives and experience in client relations. Keep an eye out for our next article, as these experts talk about the do’s and don’t’s of firing a client. Thanks for reading!
Posted In: Interviews
One of Setfive’s New Years Resolutions is to prioritize our internal marketing. In establishing online presence, an initial project included refreshing the @setfive Twitter following list. To do so, we built a list of target accounts that we wanted to follow and then started searching for tools to automate the following. After some research, it appeared the only existing tools were paid with weird, and “sketchy,” pricing models. So, we decided to look at using the Twitter API to implement this list ourselves.
As we started looking at the API, we learned you need to be approved by Twitter to use the API. In addition, you need to implement OAuth to get tokens for write actions on behalf of a user, like following an account. We were only planning to use this tool internally once, so we decided to avoid the API and just automate browser actions via Puppeteer. For the uninitiated, Puppeteer is a library that allows developers to programmatically control Google Chromium, which is Chrome’s open source cousin.
Puppeteer ships as a npm package, so getting started is really just a “npm install,” and you’re off to the races. The Puppeteer docs provide multiple examples, so, I was able to whip up what we needed in a handful of lines of code (see below). Overall, the experience was positive and I’d be happy to use Puppeteer again.
So why would Puppeteer be interesting to your business?
In 2019 APIs are popular, many business provide access to data and actions through programatic means. However, not all of them do and that’s where Puppeteer provides an advantage. For example, many legacy insurance companies only provide quotes after you fill out a web form, which normally, you’d have to complete manually. If you automated that process with Puppeteer, you’d be able to process quotes at a much faster rate. 24 hours a day, and give yourself a competitive advantage against your competition.
Posted In: General
Posted In: General