10 Minutes with SmartZip President and CEO Avi Gupta
SmartZip, the national leader in real estate analytics and predictive marketing, is a member of the REach® 2014 class. SmartZip President and CEO Avi Gupta was part of the company’s founding team in 2008, and has been instrumental in every aspect of its growth. Over his 20-year career, he has taken many software-powered products from concept to launch to successful market adoption at public companies such as Mentor Graphics, Cadence Design, and Intel Corporation, as well as startups like arcadiaOne (acquired by GXS).
We sat down with Avi to discuss the benefits of launching a technology startup focused on the real estate industry, his experience in REach®, and to share a few of the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Tell us about SmartZip and how it benefits the real estate industry.
AG: Our core product is SmartTargeting. It is intended to help agents and brokers get more listings, more sell-side business, with what we call Predictive Marketing. Using lots of data and hyper-local math, we predict who is most likely to sell their home in any given neighborhood and then automate online advertising, social advertising and direct mail advertising to those targeted homeowners on behalf of our clients. The end goal is to get our clients more business, faster.
SmartZip and SmartTargeting can probably provide benefits for verticals beyond real estate, but you’ve decided to put focus first on real estate. Why?
AG: First, real estate is a huge industry. It’s a trillion dollar market with about 5 to 6 million residential home sales every year and billions of dollars in annual marketing spend. Second, we started this company in 2008 with the vision of using analytics to help the real estate ecosystem and as we got to the know the industry deeper, we recognized that most solutions focus on getting home buyers, and there was practically nothing to help with sellers. So, SmartTargeting was born.
We have done pilots in adjacent markets like solar to help companies identity and acquire new business. Over time we plan to expand into other adjacent markets like mortgage, home insurance and other financial services that are closely associated with the real estate ecosystem.
What advice do you have for other startups looking at real estate as an opportunity?
AG: Real estate is a huge market, but one has to approach it in a slightly different way than say, enterprise software. First of all, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovators because real estate has lagged other industries in many ways in getting up-to-speed on wireless, mobile and other technologies. There’s lots of room for growth and improvement.
We have had to learn a little bit the hard way that real estate is a very unique industry. Unlike most other markets, for example, nearly all real estate agents are fully commissioned sales people. Their demographic profiles are very different, and it’s really important to understand the audience and customer base so you can build products tailored for them.
When you joined REach® what were you hoping to get from the program and how has the program helped you?
AG: We had a couple of goals. One was to broaden our reach (pun intended) in the industry, especially to leaders and influencers. We wanted to build more awareness with brokers and franchise owners and companies like Realogy. Before we joined REach we had quite a bit of traction, but primarily with individual agents or small teams. I think we have made good progress with larger entities thanks to REach. We’ve also gotten a lot more speaking opportunities from aligning with the credibility of NAR and the REach program. Just from the exposure alone, we have definitely seen an uptick in traffic to our website, which has led to higher awareness and demand for our solutions.
Another goal was to leverage REach’s network of agents and brokers to help us refine our current products and define new ones and bring them to market. REach’s mentor program and Insights Panel have been a big help for us in this regard. The REach Insight Panel is a fantastic network of over a thousand agents and brokers who volunteer to give feedback on products, user-interfaces, and so forth. As we speak, we are leveraging the Insight Panel for a new product called SphereTargeting that we just launched in alpha this month. It’s also using analytics and targeted marketing to help agents generate more business from their existing sphere of influence. We had some really good feedback early on to help us test the value proposition and UI even before it was built.
The REach mentorship events have blown my mind. We’ve had two or three of these events over the last few months. We’ve met with 15 to 25 mentors each time, sort of in a speed-dating format. Many of REach’s mentors are industry luminaries who’ve been around the industry and have expertise and very deep insights.
What else have you learned the hard way that you wish you knew before launching SmartZip?
AG: When we realized that real estate companies and brokers and broker owners don’t typically pay for marketing, we started off by selling individually to real estate agents. Most brokers let the agents do marketing on their own dime. So, we had to grow a sales team around selling directly to agents. We are now starting to see more traction with brokers and teams, and are building out broker-level interfaces within our products. I believe brokers can realize even more ROI from our solution, plus they can be a more efficient and scalable sales channel for us. I wonder if we should have started off with the broker in mind.
We also learned that the demographics of real estate agents are very different from most of the industry, so you have to build the right product for them. The average age of a REALTOR is 57. You have to be cognizant of this as you develop user interfaces, mobile apps and other applications for this audience.
What companies and leaders do you admire?
AG: In the marketing automation space, I really admire HubSpot, which is a marketing automation platform for small business. There‘s a lot of parallel between them and us. In some ways we are servicing the small business audience as well.
I personally admire LinkedIn a lot. The way it has built the company and its content with crowdsourcing has added a ton of value to other businesses and business professionals. They’ve barely touched the surface of what’s possible.
For leaders, I would have to say Mark Zuckerberg. It sounds like a cliché, but in a very short time, he basically changed the world and how people live their lives. It’s absolutely marvelous. I aspire to that same goal for SmartZip. We started SmartZip six years ago with the mission of improving the way consumers and businesses buy and sell real estate. I think we’ve come a long way towards reaching that goal, and we are now well positioned to help other industries as well.
For more information about Avi and SmartZip, please visit www.smartzip.com.