Redefining Real Estate … and the Region
From an unconventional office setting in Southwest Florida, a collaboration between computer geeks and real estate agents has been a catalyst for the creation of technology solutions now transitioning throughout America’s real estate industry. This same t
On any given day of the week, Coconut Point Mall in Estero is host to thousands of customers who come to peruse and purchase offerings from the more than 140 leading brand name stores, fashionable boutiques and fine restaurants amassed among 1.2 million square-feet of retail operations. Most are oblivious to a corridor of executive offices located along a perimeter of the mall’s posh Fashion Drive. It is here, within one such obscured suite found just across from some of that delicately transparent attire Victoria touts as “secret” and above the wardrobe deemed proper by Boston Proper, the principals of three autonomous technology firms are focused on their work. That may not be immediately evident given this cadre’s casual dress in sandals, shorts and t-shirts, not to mention the constant streaming of classic and alternative rock music which pervades their workspace, but make no mistake, these entrepreneurs are very serious when it comes to their respective enterprises. Their youth and exuberance may likewise obfuscate the fact that these fellows are seasoned experts in their fields and the very source of a spectacular array of technology solutions increasingly sought out by real estate brokers, agents and professionals of other industries. To fully account of that compels consideration of the services and leadership emerging from each company. Meet Jason Dolle, President of Testimony Tree; Lu Doan, “Chief Problem Solver” of Agent Shield Technologies; and Ryan Tremblay, the Chief Technology Officer and visionary behind Refindly.
Testimonial Tree specializes in software that allows client testimonies to be captured and conveyed through a solution that conveniently integrates with websites and social media platforms. Dolle (who is also a Realtor®) says, “Imagine your happy, loyal customers telling their friends about you through a positive review while linking to your website … it helps drive new traffic to your website and helps generate more sales.” Testimonial Tree is the exclusive testimonial/ review system engaged by institutions such as
98 FOCUS of SWFL 2014 Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, a network of more than 500 premier real estate firms representing 120,000 sales associates in some 50 countries; regionally, that network includes real estate dynamos like John R. Wood of Naples, Sarasota Sensation Michael Saunders & Company and numerous others. Testimonial Tree has, however, branched out to serve trade associations, chambers of commerce and companies in a variety of other industries beyond real estate. In the way of testimonies on Testimonial Tree, consider remarks provided by Gulfshore Insurance Director of Brand Management Crystal Hoover, who says, “We know there is no greater lead generation tool then a referral from a trusted source,” she says. “The insurance industry is very competitive, and for that reason, it’s very important to showcase our agency strengths. We anticipate this tool doing just that, and are very excited about our partnership with Testimonial Tree.”
Agents of Shield
Agent Shield has also patented technology that allows for an easy add-on to an existing website, in this case, tools that not only assist with marketing of agents and new property developments, but also solutions that help protect the agent from adverse sales interactions. In explaining company products such as Website Shield and Agent Tracker, Duon says, “Agents and brokers are sometimes hesitant about linking to a developer’s website out of concern of losing customers who may contact the developer instead of the agent. This also impacts developers who lose out on traffic to their website as well as sales opportunities.” Website Shield therefore enables agents to utilize a developer’s website as their own marketing tool. Agent Tracker works similarly, but when a customer is reviewing a developer’s website, the contact information is converted to that of the agent as opposed to that of the developer. Another company product is Agent Toolbox, a resource that allows real estate professionals to rapidly acquire relevant floor plans, home designs, pricing data, renderings or other material. As Duon says, “This allows developers to save time from repetitive tasks but also empowers them to work with agents more efficiently.” For Duon, it wasn’t too difficult relating to the advantages of such technology … he spent years in the real estate trade before focusing on the software.
Reliable & Rewarding
The final member of this collective is a real estate technology provider called Refindly. The company was founded by Ryan Tremblay, a native of Naples who formerly served a stint with the global software company of ASG before launching his own website design firm known as RT Design Group. Tremblay ultimately sold RT Design and could have conveniently retired at the ripe age of 30 were it not for two factors: one, he actually prefers to stay busy; and two, he just so happened to have some friends who are real estate agents. Over the course of conversations, Tremblay was made aware of the extent to which the real estate industry could benefit from the creation of affordable technology exclusively customized to suit their needs. In turn, Tremblay spent more than a year developing an entire suite of enterprise software culminating in the delivery of a revolutionary Customer Relationship Management system, a lead generation platform, an IDX integration solution that’s speedier than most any other in the industry, and other tools that not only help real estate professionals save time and money, but achieve more sales. According to Tremblay, “Real estate companies would typically have to contract with a range of different vendors to secure the capabilities that Refindly provides under one roof.” Even then, Tremblay notes an unfortunate, if not expensive, byproduct of that process is discovering that varying applications don’t communicate so well with each other … sort of like what happens with some forced marriages. In Refindly’s case, the products were designed to allow for integration with a singular platform. In terms of other advantages, imagine that you’re a real estate agent and you have a website featuring various properties available for sale. Obviously, you want potential customers to visit your website. You might also want to know that the website visitor was someone named “John Q. Public” and he’s looking for a three-bedroom home with an attached garage in a certain price range, in a certain neighborhood. With such data in hand, the real estate agent can quickly contact that lead and, hopefully, convert him into a customer. To do so, might require several communications back and forth, a process that can be complicated by the need to conduct property showings that take you out of the office, not to mention the work in just juggling all the details about the customer, the property desired, what you last said and when you said it. Refindly’s platform facilitates communications with the customer who, in turn, sees those messages as coming from the agent, not the software. For a home buyer or home seller, Refindly’s IDX solution help ensure property information is timely. Imagine identifying a home you want to buy, but then contacting the agent to discover it is no longer on the market. Or, if you’re a home seller, you want to make sure that the propriety is listed as fast as possible. Refindly’s IDX solution refreshes every thirty minutes, essentially if a property is listed or no longer available, that information is communicated across the platform is as fast as thirty minutes. For a broker, the technology provides unprecedented means to measure and monitor performance. If you have agents working with your team, you’d like to know if they are responding to leads in ten minutes, ten hours or ten days. You’d like to know if they’re following-up with customers weekly or biweekly.
Those factors especially resonate with Broker Michael Burke who leads a team of Realtors® affiliated with Keller Williams. Burke says he realized early in his career that technical tools and systems were needed to maximize business. He says online solutions are particularly fundamental since 92% of buyers and sellers now start their real estate searches on the Internet. “You can’t afford to not be there and leverage yourself,” says Burke. Though his team has always relied on a range of technical capabilities, Burke says growing pains and intent to stay ahead of the competition led his firm to revamp technology tools. “One of the best tools we added is the CRM from Refindly. My agents love it! I am able to track how many leads come in and where they come from,” says Burke. “One of the best things is how easy it is to follow up with buyers and sellers. Every day they log on and can see who they need to talk to and about what. I can see their pipeline and what they are saying and sending to their customers. We are able to track closing ratios and track their performance. If an agent is struggling with something it shows up early in the tracking process. When we see an inefficiency we are able to help coach them where they are struggling, whether it be time blocking, scripts or follow up.” Burke further describes Refindly’s technical support as “outstanding.” He notes, “They have even taken some of our suggestions to help improve the product accordingly. They are listening to their users to continually improve the product. While the system is relatively new, it is light years beyond much of the completion and I expect the system to pay for itself because we have lost less business with better tracking and follow up!” Burke’s validation is especially appreciated by the team at refindly, after all, beyond his leadership at Keller Williams Burke is also President Elect of the Bonita Springs-Estero Association of REALTORS®. What’s more, Refindly has earned similar accolades from a principal of one of the region’s largest real estate firms, Michael Hughes, the Vice President of Downing Frye, a company comprised by some 600 agents which achieved $1 billion in closed sales volumes last year. Hughes says Downing Frye is very committed to helping its agents acquire tools to build a successful career, “But we want to effectively serve our customers too … we view Refindly’s technology as something that helps us save money by working more efficiently and provide greater convenience as well as enhanced services to our customers.” The endorsement resoundingly resonates at refindly, particularly because Michael Huges is President Elect of Naples Area Board of Realtors. Then again, agents of Downing Frye were among the earliest to provide feedback and serve as beta testers for Refindly’s technology. Tremblay says the guidance and encouragement from firms like Keller Williams and Downing Frye helped his team of techies hone the applications and technical capabilities most wanted by real estate professionals. After a composite of Downing Frye agents demonstrated how they were able to double their sales volume and lead conversions through use of Refindly’s tools, the company struck an agreement last month that enables all to now access this technology. It gets even better, since debuting the technology at the recent Florida Association of Realtors® in Orlando, Refindly has expanded into markets of California, Louisiana, Maryland, North & South Carolina as well as throughout Florida.
Teaming with Talent
Beyond designing and refining Refindly’s technology, Trembly says his focus has been finding the right team of people to help drive the business. REFINDLY staff includes Data Scientist Matthew Crowson, a Northwest University graduates who formerly served as a programmer analyst at America’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and as a Business Process Analyst at Infinity Software. At REFINDLY, Crowson parses code and analyzes customer and agent interactions with REFINDLY’s platform as part of a plan to develop more products and services. “Data is REFINDLY’s secret sauce,” says Crowson. Then again, staff suggest “sauce” isn’t just a technical proclivity in Crowson’s ponderings; he’s been rumored to be rather quick-handed in pinching the last slice of pizza. Designer Ed Siebert is a native of Naples and web designer who has produced literally hundreds of websites for discriminating clients throughout the region. Siebert is also very adept in explaining what makes Batman superior to Superman, or the virtues of one gaming system over another. During breaks from duties at REFINDLY duties, one may find Siebert engaged in a kind of computer game known as Goat Simulator. When asked what is the objective of the game, Sibert nonchalantly replies, “To be a goat.” The office is described as “very different” from that which Human Resources Director Doris Lemcke has been accustomed throughout her career. Lemcke has formerly fulfilled human resources roles for major manufacturers and companies which include Source Inter-Link, the former heavy weight in the world of media distribution. “The office dynamics at refindly are nothing like what I’m used to,” says Lemcke. When asked to explain what it like to work among a music-loving, pizza-munching team of techies, Lemcke almost seems to wink when she says, “It’s refreshing.” While the team from Refindly occupies almost half of the office space, Testimonial Tree and Agent Shield claim the rest. Dolle, Doan and Tremblay each affirm that by sharing the office, each company has benefitted from the mutual support, encouragement and insight each respectively offer. Though each company is autonomous, they each respond to different needs within the real estate industry, but in so doing, they’ve been able to share something else with one another - referrals.
Tek Industry Advocacy & Awareness
While Southwest Florida’s economy has been fundamentally driven by tourism and the building industry, Jason Dolle says that there are small technology firms which make-up the market too, but these aren’t always at the forefront of people’s awareness. “We do have several large companies, but there’s a number of smaller enterprises which are not so recognized,” says Dolle. The team is now in the process of establishing a new organization, or alliance, designed to bring greater recognition and greater business opportunities to such firms throughout the region. Branded as the Sunset Coast Technology Consortium (SCTC), Tremblay says the group will provide a means for technology firms to network together, engage in specialized programs and forums, and ultimately become better acquainted with the services and products each company respectively offers. Tremblay sees this as helping firms secure more referrals and generate more business. As such has been the case with a couple of technology firms sharing one office, the group feels something even more positive could result from uniting professionals throughout the region. There is, at present, another technology-focused organization in the region, but Dolle says the SCTC’s programs and focus will be different. “This will be a more grassroots driven group comprised of actual technology companies, not the companies who use technology, but genuine technology companies,” says Dolle. “Our focus won’t delve into government lobbying initiatives or regional economic strategies, rather what we can do to help refer business to one another, provide ideas, solutions or feedback to one another and increase exposure of the excellent technology firms that do business here.” While more formal announcements involving the formation of the Sunset Coast Technology Consortium are forthcoming, for now, the principals of Agent Shileld, Testimony Tree and Refindly are sufficiently busy growing their businesses. For Agent Shield, that includes extending into international markets. The team from Refindly is currently preparing to step into a national spotlight during this month’s National Association of Realtors Conference that will be held in New Orleans. “We’ve been very encouraged to see the way real estate professionals have reacted to our products, in many ways, our customers have become our best marketing tool,” says Tremblay. “We are growing nationally, but we’re going to stay mindful that none of this would have got off the ground were it not for the help and support we’ve received here at home,” adds Tremblay. “We’re compelled to return the favor by doing what we can to help other firms here in Southwest Florida.”
Michael Burke of Keller Williams