How Homesnap attracted 1 million real estate agents – and keeps them coming back

November 2, 2018

Homesnap can count Facebook, Google and other ad platforms among its “BFFs” thanks to a pathbreaking model that helps real estate agents and brokers to reach their intent-rich target audience of house-hunters and consumers. Homesnap used channel marketing to get 1 million real estate agents on the platform, which offers a suite of real estate services to agents, brokers, and consumers. Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Tim Condon, SVP of Engagement & Marketing at Homesnap, to talk about the platform, the app and the company’s success in becoming an indispensable ecosystem player and partner.Peggy: Welcome to "Mobile Growth," the podcast series where frontline growth marketing experts, share their insights and experiences so you can become a better mobile marketer. That's what it's all about here. And I'm your host, Peggy Anne Salz, from MobileGroove. And on my watch, this series will introduce you to the people who know how to drive growth. That's what we've been doing throughout the series, I read your tweets, I get your emails, I get your call outs, this is what you want to know, so we bring in the practitioners. And my guest today is Tim Condon. He is Senior VP of Engagement and Marketing at Homesnap. Tim, great to have you, first of all.

Tim: Hey, Peggy. Nice to talk to you.

Peggy: I love the fact that your title is Engagement and Marketing. I mean, it's the first time I've seen the two put together and they're so critical. So it must say something about how, you know, focused you guys are over at Homesnap to even put the two together. Lots of marketers aren't there yet. What does that tell me? Does that tell me you guys get it?

Tim: Well, yeah, I hope so. You know, I'd say we, when we actually put the title together, it wasn't just thrown together. We really thought out that we not only need to grow our user base, we need to make sure that we have our eyes on keeping them heavily engaged with the product. That's why the title is what it is.

Peggy: Super, smart, I can tell you because I'm out there just like you in the industry and I don't know, if I had a dollar for every time I said engagement, I'd be a rich person. So great work there. So tell me about Homesnap, because you're not just an app, you're a community. So it's a little bit of a different, you know, it's a different business model. It's also a different responsibility for you as Senior VP of Marketing and make certain this flies.

Tim: Yeah. So Homesnap, you know, it is an app that any consumer can use in the United States. We have information on every home in the US as well as homes that are listed for sale. And the initial sort of launch of Homesnap was you could take a picture of any home in country, listed or not, and we would deliver the information about that home, whether it's listed or it's tax record information, and that sort of, like kicked off the product. But the real, you know, business behind Homesnap is there's a version that is a productivity tool for agents, real estate agents. And so real estate agents get access to all the sort of, confidential information that isn't available to the public so that they can do their jobs better. So that's actually sort of how Homesnap was built. It's sort of a, as an agent productivity tool.

Peggy: And how's that working out now because I understand you got a number of milestones behind you? My favorite, and we'll get to it, how you did it, is to get one million real estate agents using Homesnap, so on the channel. But you've also been listed in Inc. That's pretty cool. Tell me about that.

Tim: Yeah. So I've been here since 2014, you know, when we...I think we had maybe 50,000 real estate agents, and literally zero revenue. And so, you know, fast forward four years later, we're at a million agents on the platform and Inc. magazine, the number 43 company in terms of 3-year revenue growth, which, you know, is amazing to me having been here when it was almost zero.

Peggy: That's incredible. I mean, we're going to talk about how exactly you did that. But, well, maybe we'll get to that. I was gonna ask you a few other questions about yourself, and how you got into this. But let's talk about that because I think our listeners are saying, "Whoa, one million?" And, you know, how do you do that? How do you get people to use that and understand the value proposition?

Tim: Yeah. So, you know, really, and the co-founders get all the credit here. They realized a couple of things. One, you know, so there's about 1.2 million real estate agents in the country. And it is a very, very, you know, sort of long-tailed business. And real estate agents are notoriously hard to corral, right? They're like, a little like herding cats. They're all in every different direction. But, you know, nearly every real estate agent is part of a multiple listing service, and there's about 600 multiple listing services across the country, and they're very top heavy. And so the founders realized, if you build a tool for multiple listing service, which is the MLS, they could be a channel partner for us to get it in the hands of real estate agents. And so what they did is they built this productivity tool and the multiple listing service, their job is to create tools for real estate agents to help them do their job better, right? I mean, they are the data warehouse for real estate agents in any given market. So they sort of allow agents to put their listings in and see what's for sale, get all the confidential information, but they're very desktop-centric.

And real estate agents are, by their nature, very mobile. They're out in the field, they're showing homes, you know, looking for prospective clients. And so the co-founders realized that if they could come up with a really cool consumerly-type of tool, that allowed the agents to do their jobs in the field, and not just sitting at their desktop, then that would actually be a real benefit to these multiple listing services and that they would be the channel for us to get access to the agents.

Peggy: So really what you are is you're like the great connector. You're taking this mobile, non-mobile first database of basically, you know, here's a house, here's the listing, and putting that in the hands of the users, obviously, but also more importantly, productivity tool for the real estate agents.

Tim: Right. Right. And, you know, the original model was going to be like, go agent by agent and have them each, you know, sort of pay us for it, but, you know, the team quickly realized, like that was just a, you know, that was a long hard road to get any kind of traction. So, we use this channel partner to, you know, the channel partners to get access to the agents. And in the industry, for those who don't know, you know, all of the money is really at the agent level, right? There's, you know, 1.2 million agents, the estimates are that 60% to 70% of all the money in real estate is spent by the agents themselves. They're all independent contractors. And so getting to that agent is sort of, like, you know, the goal, but getting there is also very hard because there's so many of them.

Peggy: But I'm also able to use the app, right? So what's the business model for me, the end user? The end, end user?

Tim: You are essentially also the product, right? So the agents benefit from having this tool to get information themselves, but also to work with a client, right? And that is sort of the value proposition to the agent is, "I now have a tool that's, you know, as good as other industry tools, but it's private between me and my client." And that's sort of the difference between Homesnap and like, the Zillows and the Trulias, you know. The Zillows and the Trulia's are, you know, they're really about turning the consumer into a lead for the agent. Our, sort of, value proposition was, we're a tool for the agent to work directly with their clients without having to worry that their client becomes a lead for somebody else.

Peggy: Smart move, actually, because that is the point. You know, if I'm in there as a user, you know, in a way, you're almost saving the real estate agent from having their own app.

Tim: That's exactly right. And, you know, lots of agents and even brokerages have their own apps, but, you know, they just can't get traction in an app store that has, you know, millions upon millions of different apps out there. You know, they end up at, sort of ghost town apps, right? They don't have any reviews, they rarely get updated. And so, you know, having that sort of an agent tool that also has sort of all the benefits of, you know, a big national app allows the agent to sort of look bigger than they are, if you will.

Peggy: So it's kind of interesting because in a way, you have to, of course, get the real estate agents in there. But you also have to get me the, end user in there. Now, I understand you've run 200,000 campaigns or something like that. Who's that aimed at and what's that about?

Tim: Yeah. So basically, like, so what I didn't talk about is how Homesnap makes money. And so, and did say that...

Peggy: And tell us about that. I think that's really important. Yes.

Tim: Yes. Right. So all the money is at the agent level in the industry, right? Or 70% of it. And, you know, as we were working with agents, one of the things that they said to us was, "We really have difficulty marketing ourselves on platforms like Facebook, Google, Instagram," right? They are very, very important platforms to market themselves and market their listings, and market their successes, but, you know, they're complicated tools. And, you know, lots of agents are sort of, little, small business owners, and don't have the capacity to do it themselves. So one of the things we did was we built an automated platform where anytime an agent has a new listing or a recent sale, we have to do a whole bunch of image processing in the background to create a dashboard for the agent that has that listing, that home, mocked up a Facebook ad, a Google ad that runs both search and Gmail and display, an Instagram ad, and an ad on ways. And we make it literally like they could click, select their budget in one click and it'll be running within 24 hours. It's all hooked into API's. And it made it so simple for agents to do but they've been doing it in droves. And so we are just sitting here as a tool to allow them to do something that they want to do anyway, but most of them don't have the means to do it themselves.

Peggy: Well, this is a very interesting model. Tim, this isn't what I was expecting. We do have to go to break for just a moment. But when we get back, we're going to be talking more about that model. And also, I think some of the decisions that you make to make certain there's a you know, a match with the advertising campaigns because you're basically enabling others to make campaigns as well. So don't go away listeners, we back after the break.

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Peggy: And we're back, and we're talking to Tim Condon, Senior Vice President of Engagement and Marketing at Homesnap. And Tim, I have to say, I'm just enjoying listening to your business model. I wasn't aware of this because you must be sort of Google and Facebook's bff at this point.

Tim: Well, you know, it took a little while for us to get on their radar. We grew sort of organically with Facebook first, and we got to a tipping point where...and all of a sudden, we get , you know, we now have Facebook and now Google, literally visiting us, which was a sort of a neat milestone when they actually came to our offices instead of us having to go there.

Peggy: That's very cool. I mean, and I would imagine at some level, you know, you're seeing the real estate agents, you're helping, your being an enabler for them to advertise on Facebook and Google, that's why you're getting the visits in the first place. But what are some key learnings that you're seeing there? You must have some do's and don'ts or some thoughts about how to advertise properly using you on this platform?

Tim: Yeah. So we've learned a ton as you can expect on all the platforms. You know, some of the learnings we have are some of the most basic. Some of them...and Facebook and Google have both been very helpful in helping us figure out what the right campaigns are. One of the big ones we learned from Facebook is...this is a very specific one, but using link click as your as your...I think it's called the targeting guide, your optimization. It's actually the wrong move, right? And it's their oldest algorithm and it just gets like link cliquey people, it doesn't actually really drive to results. And so that was one of our early learnings. We were using that because we figured, you know, that was sort of the right thing to do. And Facebook was like, "No, no, no, no, no. You want to optimize for the lead or optimize, if it's a video, optimize for video views." And so we switched everything out of that. So there's a lot of learnings like that where we sort of learned along the way, and then once we got in with Facebook and Google, they sort of helped us. They're like, "Hey, you know, this is probably going to be better for you," and then we do it for a while and we watch it, and usually they're right frankly.

Peggy: Interesting about the video. I mean, I'm doing tons of writing. I write books, white papers, blogs, you name it. And it's just amazing how incredibly important that format is. Does that come up to be a blessing or curse for you?

Tim: You know, I don't know that we've cracked enough on video for real estate agents yet. You know, we do like video slideshows, which is sort of a, you know, it pages through the still photos of the house. But, you know, the tough thing about video for agents is, the best video is more self-created video and that's a little bit tough to do at scale, and a lot of agents won't do it themselves. And so we actually are...that was one that we're actively trying to figure out, what is that right video product for real estate agents?

Peggy: And tell me a little bit about how you're just, you know, because one of your things is engagement. So it's all about marketing, you get them to come in, you're like, "Hey, we've got this great platform, we're best friends with Google, Facebook, it's all going to work out. We've got end users coming in that we've got on a freemium model. This is a good place to be." How do you keep them there?

Tim: Well, a couple things. So in the actual core product, we do a lot of training. Training is sort of a crucial element for us to get agents aware, so how to use the tool. And then we actually do a ton of Facebook advertising ourselves, where we will, we're constantly testing, we use our agency-built social code, and they basically help us test lots of different, you know, features of the app against different audiences to see which ones are going to make the audience sort of come back in, and trigger them to sort of say, "Oh, that's a cool feature. I need it." One of the biggest learnings we had was, we overlay property lines in our app, and you literally can walk around and see yourself as a little blue dot and see the property line, like where you are on the map. That is one that has just, you know, exploded our engagement. Once we tell an agent about that, it's like a light bulb goes off. And so it's like, we do a constant, you know, testing on features, and see which ones they respond to, to figure out, like, what are the things that are going to get them in and get them to stay.

And once they stay, they trust us and then they see the ad products, and they and they realize like, "Oh, this is the company that really knows how to build cool stuff," and that usually gets them to sort of try us out and then they see the results and we send them a daily email with like, "What was the result of your ad yesterday,"and all that stuff so it makes them feel like, "Oh, I see what's going on, I can see how this is really working for me, and I'm getting all these views and clicks and leads." And it becomes a virtuous cycle at that point.

Peggy: You know, if you wanted to be really, you know, if you wanted to think about this, you do cover the bases to expand to other markets. Are you thinking at all of that? Because I'm thinking of all the different types of, you know, free agents and people who are working in areas that it just makes incredible sense if they could have a platform like this?

Tim: Yeah. You know, we talked about it. The honest truth is there's so much that we think we have left to do in the real estate space, that we are not really actively thinking about other verticals, yes. But we agree. Like, the idea of this tool and, you know, this market, there are definitely parallel markets that we sort of talked about at a high level, but nothing specific.

Peggy: Talk about, you know, we've talked about your successes, that's pretty easy, because, I mean, you know, you've got a million real estate agents in a very short period of time, you're listed by Inc. But let's talk about what people love to hear at conferences in my experience, is your favorite failure.

Tim: So I said we hadn't figured out video. We have a video advertising product. And we were so excited for this product and, it's really simple and complex at the same time. We basically said to the agent, "Pick which zip codes you want to be in and we're gonna do all the hard work to create this video out of all of your listings. And the listings will be specific to the zip code. So if you pick three different zip codes, you'll have three different video ads with the listings that are in that zip code. And it'll change every time you get a new listing. Every time one, you know, gets sold, it'll come out." Really complicated behind the scenes and really simple for the agent. And it's a ghost town. We totally missed, we just totally missed what the agent wants and, you know, we are going back to the drawing board. And really, you know, the listing, pure listing ad makes sense, because the agent can show the seller and say, "Look what I'm doing to market your home." When it becomes a video ad and they don't really know like, which listing is going to be there, which isn't, it sort of misses that value proposition for the agent. And what we think we've realized is, video needs to be about the agents. They need to be able to tell their story, not just a bunch of listings, because that, you know, the individual listing ad serves that purpose. A video needs to tell more of a story. Total miss. It is a product that literally we've had, you know, our average time, agent is on it for like two months. And we cannot do anything with the product to make it, to help to build it up for agents. So we are completely back to the drawing board on that product.

Peggy: But you did learned something about the storytelling. And maybe there's something in there that you can bring in to making this...

Tim: We did.

Peggy: Yeah. Have you done it already?

Tim: Well, no. One thing that we did learn. The other thing we learned was, now every time we've launched a product since, we've had it in beta before the product team is done with it. So we basically figured out how do we create this product and offer it manually for a period of time, so that we can learn along the way and then use that to inform what the actual product should be. So we just launched a product where an agent can get their Google business profile, and we can do it through Google and it can be automatically verified and we can maintain it over time so that they build their reputation. We had that product in beta for... We had that product in beta for four months, completely manually. We sold 500 of them before we actually launched the real, you know, automated product. And it's completely different than how we thought we'd, it would be when we started.

Peggy: What's some interesting channels? You mentioned, of course, Google and Facebook. But there are other ways you mentioned I heard you in passing, talking about ways. I mean, what's the connection there, because I would imagine that we really want to have some location-aware, contextual advertising that maybe would help through Waze or other platforms that you look at, to sort of bring this to the user and therefore more value for the agent?

Tim: Yeah, so Waze is an interesting platform. They came to us, you know, they're owned by Google. And, and they came to us, and they said,"We've been trying to get into the real estate space." And, you know, so we were a little unsure, but we thought, you know, "This is very simple," right, because it's location-based advertising and real estate agents, what they are advertising is locations, right? The home. And so we put it out there, it was a very simple product, again, completely automated, which is sort of what we do for the agents. And, you know, it has been a big success. It's not our biggest seller, you know, it is a bit of a niche product, mostly, you know, in cities where there is like, a lot of traffic. But agents anecdotally tell stories about people literally in their cars, seeing an ad for a home for sale, navigating to the home, and then becoming the buyer of the home. So it is one of those really cool products that just makes sense for real estate and when agents understand it, they like instantly like understand like, "Oh, this is a product for me," if they're in a market where, you know, navigation is important.

Peggy: Well, it would be great to continue here but we do have to go. Before I let you go, Tim, a few points maybe how people can find you, connect with you personally, understand Homesnap. Maybe we've got some real estate agents out there saying, "No, hell no. I'm not going to build my own app. I'm going to take advantage of your platform." So give me some idea of how we can keep up to date with you on all those levels.

Tim: Sure. So Homesnap is obviously homesnap.com or in the App Store or Google Play also on iPad app. You can find us on Facebook, @homesnap. Instagram we're @homesnapapp. On Twitter, I believe we're just @homesnap. And then me personally, I'm on Twitter @tpcondon. I'm also on, you know, Facebook, LinkedIn, you can get me there. If you have questions, you want to drop me an email directly, you know, catch me on LinkedIn and then my email address is there. And I think those are all the ways you can get us, I think.

Peggy: I think that covers all the bases. And of course we do have our show notes over on mobilegrowthsummit.com. So if anyone didn't get all of this, you just go there, check this out. You'll have the podcast and the show notes. And everyone, thanks for listening to this episode of the "Mobile Growth" podcast. A quick reminder to visit mobilegrowthsummit.com for a complete list of our upcoming events. And don't forget to use the very special promo code MGSPODCAST30 for 30% off your offer. We hope to see you there and we encourage you to check out this and all the other episodes in our series over at mobilegrowthsummit.com, and on SoundCloud, and coming soon to more channels providing you more ways to listen to us. So watch for that. We'll watch for you, and we'll see you soon.



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