Connected & Ready

Technology opens new doors in real estate, with Ro Malik

Episode Summary

In the past few years, the real estate industry has seen massive shifts in the technology that connects buyers and sellers, provides easier market research, and reduces friction during transactions. Recent trends have led to rapid acceleration in both the adoption of this technology and the innovation of leading-edge solutions. On this episode of Connected & Ready, Ro Malik, CEO and co-founder of Conversion Monster, joins Gemma for a conversation about where the real estate industry is heading, the technology that’s helping sellers and buyers adapt, and why entrepreneurship is more about solving problems than it is about starting a company. Learn how Dynamics 365 Sales can help your team drive more relevant and authentic customer relationships, generate more quality leads, and improve productivity. Request a live demo today:

Episode Notes

Host Gemma Milne is joined by Ro Malik, CEO and co-founder of Conversion Monster. They discuss the current trends in the real estate industry, how technology and innovation are transforming it, and what entrepreneurs and startups should know about the industry today.

About Ro Malik

Ro is the co-founder and CEO of Conversion Monster, LLC, a company of Inside Sales Agents that help real estate agents convert internet leads into opportunities. A 15-year veteran of the industry, Ro is also a real estate broker in Chicago. 

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Episode Transcription

Music playing [00:00:02]

Gemma [00:00:05] Hello and welcome. You're listening to Connected and Ready, an ongoing conversation about innovation, resilience, and our capacity to succeed. Brought to you by Microsoft. I'm Gemma Milne. I'm a technology journalist and author, and I'm going to be exploring trends around how companies are adapting to a disrupted world and preparing for tomorrow. We're going to speak to the innovators who are bringing products, operations, and people together in new ways. Digital transformation has revolutionized almost every industry, and real estate is no exception. So in this episode, I'm chatting to Ro Malik, co-founder and CEO of Conversion Monster, to chat about how real estate has evolved over both the last few years and, of course, these unprecedented last few months. We chat about how virtual tours filled the gap and kept the industry not only afloat but booming, what the current trends and real estate innovation look like, and what have been Ro's biggest lessons from becoming an entrepreneur. 

[00:01:06] Ro, thank you so much for coming and joining us on the show. I wonder if you could start by telling me a little bit about yourself and Conversion Monster. 

Ro [00:01:14] Sure. Again, my name is Ro Malik. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Conversion Monster, which is an inside sales agent company that focuses on real estate, based out of Buffalo, New York. I also run a real estate team in Chicago and just started an expansion real estate team in Buffalo, as well. 

Gemma [00:01:32] And could you tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming founder. What you did before? 

Ro [00:01:37] Yeah, I've been in real estate now for about fifteen years. And I started off on the finance side of the business, became an investor, started my own brokerage, and then moved over to the agent side of the business. And I worked a lot with Internet leads, which really led me into Conversion Monster because I saw a niche that was very specific and key to my industry. And as I dug deeper and started to realize that this was a problem that I was trying to solve just for myself, my fellow agents were experiencing the same type of concerns. So, I made a huge bet. And I started that company about four and a half years ago with this idea that, you know, I would set out to basically help a lot of agents out. And here we are. And it was proven true. 

Gemma [00:02:23] Amazing. So, we'll get a little bit more into the technology and the sort of innovation that you guys have been working on in a moment. 

[00:02:29] But before we do that, I'd love to set a little bit of context for everyone listening. Tell us a little bit about how the real estate industry has been evolving over the past few years. What are the big changes that've been taking place? 

Ro [00:02:41] Sure. Yeah, I think I mean, obviously with the advent of the Internet, consumers are a lot more educated today about the process than they were before. We like to joke that at one time, you know, real estate agents were really the gatekeepers of information and data. And now that's really not the case anymore. I mean, there's a tremendous amount of data and information that's at the fingertips of consumers. And so what we've really seen over time is this transition from offline to online. But even more so that the consumers are reaching out much further down in the sales cycle or the sales process. Whereas traditionally, you would go to a realtor in the very beginning and express your, you know, your wants and your criteria for purchasing a home. That has changed dramatically now. Now we're finding consumers are doing all of their own research upfront first, and they're coming to an agent when they're maybe 50, 60 percent down into the sales cycle. And they've done all their education, they've done the research, they've done their homework. And now they want that expertise and that consultant to kind of guide them through that last 30, 40 percent of the transaction. So that's been the real dramatic shift, I'd say, over the past two decades. 

Gemma [00:03:52] You mentioned a shift in this sort of buying process where nowadays with the Internet, buyers kind of get 60 percent of the way through the process before they get in touch with an agent. What does that process look like nowadays? What sort of customer journey, shall we say? 

Ro [00:04:11] When people first register online, they're generally about a year out from when they're going to purchase a home. So they're starting their research really early on in the process. They're looking at the cities, they're looking at the neighborhoods, they're looking at schools, you know? They're looking at parks, they're looking at the amenities. And they start to get a feel of the neighborhoods, themselves, right? Like, where they want to live. And a lot of times what would use to happen in the past is you would come to an age and say, "Hey, Ro, I'm looking for a three bed, two bathroom home. Twenty-five hundred square feet with, you know, two car garage." They don't have to come to the agent directly anymore because all that information is already available online. So you can go look at the houses as you can go and look at the pictures. You can go start to narrow down the process, yourself, so that you already have an idea of your taste and which areas, you know, meet your criteria. So by the time they do come to you, they're already educated on the locations, the schools and neighborhoods and really where they want to be. And now they need the help of, like, refining that process, right? Like, of just kind of honing in on that final criteria, which is where they come to the real estate agent for, because it's become very local, right? So you really need to know your local market and be very special. You know, the streets and the neighborhoods. You need to know where the conveniences are. And they come to you and they're pretty much ready to, like, start looking at houses. So I think that's where the change has really happened. And that's not everybody. I mean, there's generational gaps here. But overall, I would say, that's where the consumer journey has taken. It's gone from research to becoming very educated to reaching out at the time that they're just about to start showings. And so then they give their agent their criteria, the agent hones that criteria a little bit more, and now they don't have to go look at 40 houses. Right? They can look at ten or twelve. So that's where we've really seen the journey [unintelligible] less few years or so. 

Gemma [00:06:08] So tell us a little bit about the sort of different technologies that've really started to push innovation and transformation in the way that real estate is being bought and sold kind of more broadly? 

Ro [00:06:18] Sure, yeah. I think it all really started back in the mid-90s. But really, I think with, when Zillow came around, which is around 2007, it really changed the behavior of the entire industry. Because it was a platform where agents and consumers could come together and discuss real estate. And consumers could get a tremendous amount of information and ask questions. And it really started as a board for communication and then sort of developed from there. I think Zillow was probably one of the first ones that were the catalyst from that major shift from offline to online. And then what we've seen is that, like, from that moment, things have just progressed forward. That was the first major transformation, and now, obviously, everything's online, right? And then I think the second transformation came along kind of recently, which is in the last three, four years with the development of the iBuyer. The problem that's trying to be solved here is that we're trying to, the ease of buying and selling a home. It's quite an arduous process, right? It could take 30 to 45 days. It's complicated. And so the iBuyers set out to basically streamline that process. And so this just started. And what we're seeing is different iterations of that start to come out. 

Gemma [00:07:39] What is an iBuyer? 

Ro [00:07:40] An iBuyer is someone who basically applies to a company to just get an offer on their home without actually conducting any showings or have anybody come through the house. So essentially, there's a number of companies out there that started this a couple of years ago. And what they will do is you can apply to receive an offer on your house. Now, the commission itself isn't that different, but what you're doing is you're paying for the convenience of getting an immediate offer on your house. And you have two days basically to decide at the price that they've given you if you accept it. And if you accept it, you get a written offer on your house, they essentially pay cash, they close. And then what that does is it gives you the freedom to be able to go out and purchase your next house. And so, kind of what's happened over time with the iBuyer is it's a very small segment of the market, but there is a transformation that's coming. It's really in its infancy right now. And the problem they're solving is this idea of ease of the seller and buyer transaction, right? And then really solving the other problem, which is a lot of people can't go buy a new house, obviously, until they sell their house. And then the second piece of it is, a lot of times as soon as your home goes under contract, then you go out and you make an offer on another place, but then you have to write in what's called the contingency to say, "Well, I can't buy your home unless my home sells for sure." And so what happens is, this offers a guaranteed offer to buy your house. So then you have the freedom and the flexibility to go out and purchase. And we're starting to see the innovation and the development transpire over the last couple of years. And so we're, again, we're still in the infancy of what this is right now. 

Gemma [00:09:29] So I'd love for you to talk to us a little bit about your experience. FutuRE Con, this is the technology pitch battle that your company Conversion Monster won at the end of last year. What problem are you seeking to solve with the technology, and what other innovative ideas were you seeing surrounding it? 

Ro [00:09:46] Yeah, so I mean, Conversion Monster, again, it's a very niche company. Our clients are real estate agents. The problem that I was attempting to solve is that we've seen, you know, once the transition happened online, there were a number of vendors that started to get into this space to sell leads to real estate agents. And, you know, when it first started, back in 07, 08, 09, there was probably around 10 million Internet leads that agents were paying for. And there's five and a half million home sales. So those are still pretty good ratios if you got an Internet lead at that time. What's happened over the last decade is, it's basically 10, 15-x that. So now you've got a hundred and fifty million leads, and you've got home sales that are still relatively flat. There's still only five and a half million home sales per year in the United States. And so what's happened is the conversion rates are just absolutely dismal because you've got flat number of home sales, but you've got this real high trajectory of Internet leads. And so what I did is I set out to basically help the real estate agents increase their conversion rates. So for every 100 leads you're getting, the average real estate agent only closes around one percent of those leads, one out of 100. And so that was really the problem that I set out to solve. And we did that through developing a telephone system. We went on to develop a lead management system, which is very similar to a CRM. It's kind of like a stripped down version of a CRM that was just used internally. And then we implemented a cadence, a system, and a process inside of that telephone system, inside that lead management system, so that we would be able to contact and follow up with all these leads over the short and the long term to make sure they didn't slip through the cracks. Because the idea was that from the time somebody first registers online to the time that they actually buy a home is some around eight to 14 months. And so what was happening is, just over time, leads were just slipping through the cracks. So that's what we set out to accomplish, and it was a really cool experience. We were invited to submit amongst 90 other companies and you had to, like, submit a three minute video. And then you were voted on by your peers. So the peers voted on the top twenty nine companies that were gonna get invited to Vegas. And so when we went to Vegas, then each of us had a three minute pitch in front of five hundred of the top agents around the country, and 15,000 agents that were streaming. And then from there, it ended with people voting on who their favorite, you know, business was going to be. And I can't believe it. You know, we actually we won that thing. And it was, it was quite a surprise, but it was a really amazing experience. And really, from that moment, the trajectory of Conversion Monster has just been really climbing since then, too. 

Gemma [00:12:39] Yeah. I want to talk about the sort of past six months, but I think just a comment as well. The fact that it was a peer vote is really interesting because a lot of these startup battles, it tends to be, you know, investors, that're making decisions about who wins and whatnot. So to get that sort of validation and the clear, I guess, confirmation of the need of your products by everyone else who's working in industry is really quite remarkable. Okay, so the last six months and how things have changed since that win... Actually let's start by talking a bit about the biggest hurdles or challenges you faced with the, sort of, I guess, you know, getting quite a lot of interest. 

Ro [00:13:15] From a startup perspective, it's a completely different set of issues, right? These are what we call the high-class problems. These are ones where, you know, in a startup, it's kind of like up and down, up and down, up and down over the course of, you know, a couple of years. You're like, "I love it, I hate it, I love it, you know, I hate it, what am I doing?" And then you break through, you know? If you're lucky enough, you break through at some point. That was a breakthrough moment for us. And so now it's a different set. Like, we, how to keep up with the growth, right? So we could get these are growing pains (?). 

[00:13:45] So now we're growing at like, our sales are growing at such a pace that we have to hire and train and get people up to speed on our systems and our processes and our culture fast enough to keep up with the demand. Otherwise, the whole thing breaks. And so that's, you know, obviously been the challenge, which was, you know, exasperated by COVID when all of a sudden in March, we all had to start working remotely and working from home. And we started hiring all these people that were never in our office. And we were training everybody remotely. And we're teaching everybody remotely. And they don't have the benefit of being with their peers inside of a training room and asking questions. And so it's a whole other set of issues. But, you know, we work through it, and it's actually been working out really well for us. 

Gemma [00:14:33] So you mentioned increasing your staff recently hiring more people, training more people, teaching more people. 

[00:14:39] But, of course, having to do all this remotely. How did you do that? And how do did you manage to kind of keep the culture alive and tell people about your culture and ingratiate them into your culture through, I guess, the Internet? 

Ro [00:14:53] Yeah, great question, Gemma. So I think we were one of the first ones that recognized that this was coming, even though we were, we were in Buffalo, New York, right?

[00:15:01] We weren't in New York City, but we still saw what was coming. So we adapted pretty quickly and had people start working from home. You know, we used video conferencing software, obviously, to start communicating with our team. But that was in the initial state. So we were still... At the beginning of COVID when it first started, we were actually, like, worried that are we even going to survive, you know, the number of cancelations that were happening. When that pivoted and that sort of V-shape recovery and real estate really bounced back, that's when we started going, "OK. Wow, the demand is coming back, and we have to start hiring now." And so all of our interviews were obviously done through either video conferencing software or done through the telephone. And then once we hired everybody, we were having training classes with people completely remote, right? And what we found was that, like, it was working out well, people were getting assimilated, and then we were using a very useful tool for keeping everybody engaged. 

[00:16:01] So these are people, they're at home, they're working by themselves, they've never been around any other of our employees. They haven't been a part of the culture, but it was consistent and constant engagement literally every second that we're open. And what we did is, whenever somebody got what we call a conversion, which means that they converted a lead for a real estate agent and sent over a hot lead to them, and then everybody would celebrate that conversion. And so that happens, I don't know, you know, two, three hundred times a day. And so everybody's celebrating each other's success. And then through that process, we just started really engaging as the owners of the company and the managers. And we started running sales contests. So we were just doing like, you know, daily sales contests, making things fun and, you know, different prizes and different things to really keep people engaged. And for a while, we were smashing even our conversion records, working remotely, you know, compared to when we were in the office all together. And so that was like unbelievable to us that we found that this, too, was working in such a way that we could all communicate at the same time through this app and keep everybody engaged, celebrate everybody's success and wins and watch us, you know, continue to break conversion records through it. So that was a very useful tool. 

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Gemma [00:17:47] Yeah. I mean, I guess as I was getting on to was, you know, having this high of winning this competition and, you know, kicking off your company and then suddenly having probably couldn't have never have guessed, would've been something you had to deal with in 2020.

[00:18:08] So tell us a little bit more about what's happened since COVID for you guys. Tell us a little bit about some of the hurdles that you've had to try and face. You know, obviously hiring all these people, about viewings, what about trying to tackle how to speak to your customers. Like, I'd love to hear a little bit more flavor around that. 

Ro [00:18:19] Yeah. So, I mean, I really have two different perspectives, right? I have a perspective of somebody who is running a real estate team in Chicago. So very much boots on the ground and agents that are doing showings. And then I have the perspective of being a founder and the CEO of a company that's in a completely other state. And we're trying to manage everything, not only remotely, but obviously from afar. And we had this amazing run up and we were just on this incredible trajectory. And then all of a sudden, COVID hit. And when COVID hit, you know, everything, I mean, everything was just shutting down. 

[00:18:55] Everything was shutting down, shutting down, shutting down. And, you know, real estate agents were not sure if they were going to be essential. And so with all the uncertainty that was surrounding the market, starting kind of with the Conversion Monster side, it was just massive cancelations. So we were one of the first services to go because agents were like, "Well, if we're not an essential service, if we can't show homes, if we can't go to people's houses, how are we going to make any money?"

[00:19:19] "If we can't make money, we certainly can't pay for your service. I need out right now. I need out of the service right now. I need to cancel right now." And our revenue just went off a cliff for a few weeks, you know, because people, it was just massive cancelations. And so that obviously created a lot of uncertainty in our business and what was going to happen and where we're going to go. On the flip side of that, you've got agents that were like, "OK, well, are we gonna be up to show homes or not be able to show homes," you know? 

[00:19:50] In some states and some cities, it was an essential service. And in other states and cities, it wasn't an essential service. And so in Chicago, for example, we were designated as an essential service. We were lucky enough to continue working, but in the very beginning, no one was coming to the houses. So we adapted to virtual tours. You know, we were adapting to 3-D virtual tours. We were adapting to virtual showings. And everything started to change, you know, really during that time. But business kept going. That was the beauty of the market, was people still needed real estate. People are still getting married. People are still getting divorced. People are still relocating for jobs. People are still having kids, families, expansion. You know, there was still a number of reasons. So there was still this need for real estate. And what we saw was that, I've never seen it before in my life, which was demand dropped 40 percent in the second quarter and then rose 40 percent in the same quarter. So in a span of like three months, it... you know they talk about the V shape recovery? That's exactly kind of what happened in the second quarter. And it was for this reason, which was this massive amount of pent up demand of people going, "Well I'm not going to list my house right now because no one is going to buy or sell during COVID. No one's coming. I don't want people in my houses. But then what happened is the buyers started to fuel the demand. And so what we saw was a massive inventory shortage in the market. It was down 40 percent. And huge pent up buyer demand. And then what happened is the real estate market just pivoted and it was on fire by, like, May. So, I mean, talk about a, talk about a roller coaster ride. That is, that's really exactly what happened. And so that also helped fuel Conversion Monster, because in the beginning, everybody was canceling. And then they started to realize, "OK, the market's coming back and it's actually coming back quite strong." And so there was some virtual showings, but what we really found out is we sold a lot of homes that way. 

[00:22:01] People were doing virtual tours and virtual buys. They wouldn't see the home till the inspection. But I would say within two to three months into it, people were back. Everybody was wearing masks, they were coming the showings. They were, you know, buying houses again. And that led obviously, if the real estate agents are doing well again, that's fueling the need and the help for Conversion Monster. And so, yeah, we recovered quite nicely, amazingly. 

Gemma [00:22:24] Amazing. I want to hear a little bit more about these virtual tours. Because, you know, one of the early, I guess, use cases for VR headsets and what not, it was coming out in among sort of medical and education, was, you know, for real estate, for showing houses. Has it been, you know, people wearing headsets to walk around houses, or is it more video capture? Or tell us a little bit more about the technologies and how you've be able to get them in the houses in the first place to take the capture and then deliver it on the other side to the potential buyers? 

Ro [00:22:54] Yeah, so I don't think we've really had the widespread adoption yet of VR. I think it's still kind of in its infancy from a technology standpoint, in general. And so as that starts to develop and grow, especially now, maybe that platform will start to accelerate. 

[00:23:11] But for now, we just really haven't seen it because, you know, mainly because it's just not widely available. So, you know, what we were doing is we were literally taking our iPhones, you know, or our Androids, and we were going to these houses and we're taking them through the house and answering questions, almost as if we were just doing the tour with them in person. That's the first way. The second way is, I'm not sure if everybody's heard about these 3-D matter port cameras. But what they are is, you know, they're set inside the houses and then they just take full 360 images of the entire home and in every room. So they're strategically placed at different points. And then when you're on your computer, you just, through your mouse, you can just click in different parts of the images to zoom in to get close ups. And then you can do 360 views. You can go up the stairs and go downstairs. You can go inside the washrooms. You can look outside. And so that technology has really developed, so you get a pretty good sense of the space. So we rely very heavily on those 3-D virtual tours as well. And then actually what kind of came out of it was something that made the market even more interesting, was that these virtual open houses. So you had, traditional open houses were like, you know, I don't know, two hours from one to three or 11 to one. And agents were doing them in 20 minutes. Because you get everybody on a social media platform to basically broadcasting a wide net to a large audience and say, "Hey, I'm going to be live during this open house. And I'm going to take you through this, and you can ask me questions and we can go through it." And so the platform actually changed quite drastically and made us a lot more efficient because instead of taking two hours, you're done in like 20, 30 minutes. And it lived on, right? So that recording then lives on the social platforms. So even if you only had 20, 30 people watching at that moment, if you went back and checked it for a couple of days, you might have six, seven, eight thousand views on that same open house, which could never happen under normal circumstances. And you would've just spent four hours, and in this case, you spent 40 minutes between two days. So your efficiency went through the roof. So I'd say those are the main platforms from the real estate agent perspective that we've been using quite heavily and adopted that may not go back to normal again. I think it'll always play some part in what we're doing, even after COVID. 

Gemma [00:25:41] Well, I mean, that was going to be my next question was, what, you know... Is there a, I guess, hunger for these virtual tours? I can imagine a lot of people would really want to, I don't know, get there and see it and feel it and, you know, get a vibe for the neighborhood and whatnot, as well. But are you finding that perhaps you're getting more interest from further afield as a result of these virtual tours? Like, I don't know how you perceive this moving forward, whether you think it's a viable option that's going to be adopted en masse by the industry? 

Ro [00:26:08] I think if you are in the area, like if you're in the location and you're purchasing it as a primary residence, I think that you might adopt it as an initial review of the house just to see if you're interested enough. But like, if you're in the area or in the city, actually replacing you going to the home— that just won't happen with real estate, you know? Because there's still such an emotional connection. It's a very large transaction. It's generally the largest financial transaction of people's lives. So where we will see more of it is from investors and probably from second homebuyers, right? Like, that, you're going to have a lot more traction with, where, investors are looking at it, specifically, at the properties, they're a little bit more focused maybe on OK, the neighborhood, the area, but really their focused on the numbers, right? And so for them, it's not as emotional. And we see it also with the second homes, too, with, you know, people that're buying vacation homes, second homes, which has really become a large part of this market since COVID. Because you couldn't go anywhere, you couldn't travel anywhere. So we saw a really huge uptick in lake homes and ocean homes and second homes, vacation homes, where people could go for weeks, you know, with their families. So I think we'll see the technology continue on that front. And then thirdly, I would say it's going to be from people that are primarily out of the city, right? They're out of city, they're out of state, they're relocating to the city. They're going to use that to really narrow down the field. But again, that probably helps them narrow 30 or 40 showings, let's say, you know, or 20 showings down to maybe three or four. So that when they do make the trip, they've narrowed that list down to the in-person of just those few homes. So I think that's where we're going to see the trend go on the virtual side. 

Gemma [00:27:54] Let's think a little bit about the future, perhaps even just the near future. What additional sort of changes or transformations in real estate are you expecting to see, you know? What issues or pain points still need to be solved? 

Ro [00:28:08] You know, I think the word of 2020 is definitely, I heard it somewhere, it's "uncertainty," right? There's a couple of things happening, you know? I think the biggest shift is, you know, we know that, like working from home now was, is no longer stigmatized. 

[00:28:52] You know, video conferencing is completely acceptable in the way you do business. How that's attached to real estate is that we're seeing a little bit of an exodus from the really large, expensive cities where people were sacrificing space to be closer to downtown so that they could be walking distance or very close to work, right? And now we're starting to see people say, "Well, I don't need to spend that much money. I mean, I don't need to pay that much to live in a box." And so we're seeing is a little bit of a flight to the outskirts and then back to the suburbs, which goes against the trend, really, of the last 10, 15 years, where people were wanting to be closer to the cities. And now people are opting for that space. I mean, forget about, you know, the airlines and people traveling on overnight business trips and spending three thousand dollars to, you know, just to get there for a two hour meeting and come back. I mean, this is, like, a lifestyle. And so what we're going to see is, the builders build a sentiment was like an all-time high in July than in recent years. And so we're seeing a lot of building starts and permits. And what we're going to see is builders pay a lot of attention to building homes with home offices and designated spaces now to be able to work from home, right? Because what a challenge it's been for so many of us and people with families and, you know, kids being at home and running around in the backgrounds and, you know, you know, people need designated areas. And so that's one of the biggest shifts that we're going to see, right, is to this outskirts and then the way homes are going to be built. And so as these trends continue, I think what we're also going to probably see is some of the other ideas is that like since office space will forever be changed, there's been a lot of talk that when these, the San Franciscos, the New York, you know, Manhattans, Chicagos, that people just aren't gonna need that much office space. And what we might start to see is a lot of office space and hotel space be converted into residential units, which would line up with exactly what's been going on in the United States over the last year or so, which is a massive inventory shortage. They can't keep up with demand. So that would be an easy fix to be able to transform these buildings. And I think that's what we're going to start seeing as leases start to end. 

Gemma [00:30:37]  Be interesting moving away from the warehouse, conversion from the, you know, half a century ago to the, you know, the modern office conversion. That'll be trendy in 30 years’ time. 

Ro [00:30:47] Yeah. 

Gemma [00:30:48] And I want to go back to something you said earlier about, you had a problem yourself as an agent and you wanted to solve it, and you created a company as a result. One of things we love doing in this podcast is try and extract lessons from our guests and advice from our guests for our listeners. So in your experience, what have been some of the biggest lessons that you've learned over this this sort of startup journey? What advice would you give to someone trying to incorporate a technology solution to solve a problem they have? Where should they start? 

Ro [00:31:18] Yeah, I think, you know, there's... A lot of people look at the unicorns and they look at the Ubers and the Airbnbs and they come out and they're swinging for the fences, you know? Like, "Let me have this billion dollar idea that's going to change the world." And that's great, you know. 

[00:31:34] But where I looked was inward, right? Like some of the best businesses in the world obviously solve a problem. And some of the best businesses developed that solution for a niche business, right? So I was already in real estate and I'm working in that field, I'm working in that industry, and I recognized a need within the field I was already in to help to try and solve that problem and provide a solution. And so my advice is, is that like, first of all, be prepared to work seven days a week. Work from morning to night, not get a lot of sleep, have a tremendous amount of stress. And be able to weather the ups and downs of the startup business because it's, so much of what we see is what happens after the five year journey, right? And the success people have. 

[00:32:25] And you forget about, like, what it took to really get there. And now that we're having success, I can look back upon and say that, you know. There's just a tremendous amount of ups and downs. 

[00:32:34] And the thing that I've recognized is: it's survival. You know, a lot of times it's just survival. We have very high payroll because we're very labor heavy. And so it's, sometimes it's just about getting to the next pay period and the next pay period and the next payroll, right? It's about survival at times and then thriving. And then when you start thriving, then you start to come up with different solutions and you start to increase your services and your products. And so when I look back upon that journey, you know, my advice is, you know, number one, start with something that's a lot more niche. You know, start with something that's a lot more targeted. Don't necessarily go for that uniform, you know, right away. 

[00:33:14] The second thing is, you know, really be prepared, and I mean, I cannot state that enough, is that like the hours and the time that is required that goes into a startup. And it's not a few months. I mean, it's years of that, right? And so we always joke that, you know, we gave up working eight hours a day for someone else to work 16 hours a day for ourselves. But the truth is, we wouldn't have it any other way. And then thirdly, just be passionate about it. Because if you're not passionate about your project, if you're not passionate about what you're doing, you're just, you're gonna give up. And if you give up, then, you know, then what was it all for anyways, right? And so I'm really impassioned about real estate. I love my work. I love it. But I wake up because I'm energized every day to work on real estate, to work on Conversion Monster. And I absolutely love it, right? And so if you're not following that, you're not really passionate about it. You're just not going to have the wherewithal to continue. It's pure perseverance. 

Gemma [00:34:10] The honesty and candid nature of your answers, I think, sometimes what is most valuable when we ask these kind of questions, right? I don't want you to just say what the buzzwords are of anyone else out there. And I think it's something, you know, startups are kind of, in particular, you mention unicorns, they're kind of held up as this, you know, aspirational thing to do. But you're right, really. It's about, actually, "Is there a problem that you want to solve?"

[00:34:37] Not "Do you want to be an entrepreneur?" They're are very different things, really. 

Ro [00:34:40] Correct. Yeah, absolutely. 

Gemma [00:34:43] Thank you so much for joining us on the show and for giving us some amazing insight into the world of real estate and what it means to be a founder. 

Ro [00:34:49] Thank you so much, Gemma. I really appreciate you guys bringing me on. 

Gemma [00:34:54] That's it for this week. Thank you so much for tuning in. You can find out more about Ro's work and indeed some of the broader themes we discussed today in the show notes. If you enjoyed this episode, please do take a few moments to rate and review the podcast. It really helps other people discover the show. 

[00:35:10] Don't forget to hit subscribe and tune in next time to continue our conversation about innovation, resilience, and our capacity to succeed. 

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