When Aaron Kardell started HomeSpotter in 2009, he wasn’t thinking about launching an advertising platform. He was thinking about creating an easy way for home buyers to share and save listings—a personal pain-point at the time. As his business grew, he realized the advertising opportunity he had with HomeSpotter’s captive audience of home buyers, agents, and brokers.
He sat down with us at RampUp in Minneapolis to share his perspective on launching an advertising platform and what keeps him going as a startup founder.
RampUp: Here we are in Minneapolis with Aaron Kardell, CEO of HomeSpotter. Welcome, Aaron.
Aaron: Hi, there.
RampUp: As I understand it, you’re the founder and CEO of HomeSpotter, which has now been around for eight or nine years. Can you give us some background on how you got started?
Aaron: Certainly. Back in 2009, my wife and I were looking for our next house, and as we drove around different neighborhoods, we noticed there really wasn’t a good way to search for properties on your phone. This was before Trulia or Zillow or a lot of the de facto apps that exist today. I looked at the go-to-market around the real estate industry and noticed a lot of broker websites to search for properties, but none had an app to complement the site. So, our first go-to-market solution was really more of a broker-branded, white-labeled home-search app. The company has evolved quite a bit over the last eight years. More recently, we’ve added an advertising platform—a suite of advertising solutions that make it easier for brokers and agents to advertise their listings and open houses online.
RampUp: So, it seems like your mission has remained consistent from the inception. You wanted to save your own personal time by creating this app to quickly see what homes are for sale in the neighborhoods that you and your wife desired. When you look back in terms of how HomeSpotter has grown, are there things that you wish you had done differently to lead you on a smoother path to where you are now?
Aaron: Yes, I think one thing that is obvious in retrospect is really thinking about the size of the market that you’re going after. We’ve got three products in market now, and as we brought the third product to market, there was a lot more careful analysis done in terms of what the size of the total available market was. Our new product allows us to tap into a much greater opportunity, and it’s obvious in hindsight, but ultimately, the bigger the opportunity, the more successful you’ll be.
RampUp: And in launching an advertising platform to go after that opportunity, do you feel that you’re stepping on any toes, or stepping on any traditional ways that most real estate agents operate? Has it been difficult to navigate those waters?
Aaron: Yes, it has been difficult to navigate. Our third product is really about digital advertising automation around listings and open houses. We find that some of the brokerage firms we work with are doing this manually, but it’s taking a lot of administrative time, or maybe, as a precursor to that, they’re buying a lot of postcards to send out, and so they might use what we provide as a digital replacement for some of the more traditional print media solutions.
RampUp: So, again, in giving people a different way to interact with real estate, what are you finding in terms of perception from various people in the industry?
Aaron: I think you had a key insight earlier that one theme has remained consistent, and that’s time savings. I think we’ve gotten a lot of positive reception to the fact that our advertising platform can save a lot of time in ad placement, whether it’s at the individual agent level or at a much broader scale, like with brokerage firms.
I also think there’s a lot of desire for online advertising but a lack of sophistication in terms of being able to do really good targeting around that. The more we can differentiate ourselves and provide great targeting at scale without a lot of complex thought around it, that’s how we think we win.
RampUp: Going into building your advertising platform, did you know that the sophistication was an issue?
Aaron: Yes, being in the real estate industry this long, we’ve noticed that, at the individual agent level, time is so compressed. The agent has to do everything from prospecting new clients, cultivating prior clients, and closing the next transaction. Agents who are successful tend to start teams and hire other people, but whether you’re an agent who’s got a small team or you’re a large brokerage firm, there’s always more you want to be doing.
While we knew there was a lack of sophistication at the individual agent level, or really just a lack of time, a new insight for us was the idea that if you’re a productive agent and you’ve got an admin who’s going to do a lot of this for you, having a third party automate and manage your advertising may not be not a pressing concern.
What was a surprise to us was that agents would still prefer to offload this task, even if they have a team or admin handling the work. So our goal is to solve this need and help get their teams back to doing more of what they want them to be doing.
RampUp: In terms of medium or digital needs to show the value of that ad placement, did you have to build your market to capture those impressions and those leads? What was the process you set in place to ensure that you also built in the mechanism in your advertising platform to churn out the results and metrics that people want to see?
Aaron: I think we identified early on that reporting around this was going to be really important, so we ended up building a lot of the infrastructure for this in house. We are placing the ads across a number of digital ad platforms, including programmatically in Facebook and Instagram, and some other platforms. As we’ve done that, it’s been incumbent on us to do so in a way that we can really boil it down and keep it simple for our target market, but still be able to bring in data points from multiple different platforms. We’ve heavily invested in developing a lot of the infrastructure around this in house.
RampUp: Obviously, the data you’re seeing is very valuable to all sorts of other types of companies. Are you looking into data monetization at all?
Aaron: It’s always a topic of exploration. It’s something we haven’t fully capitalized on yet, but certainly we are building up a number of signals in terms of people in the various stages of the home-buying process, whether they’re months out and just considering, or have just closed a transaction and are in the moving stage.
So, we’re certainly collecting a lot of data. With all of the increased scrutiny and privacy regulations and such, it’s something we’re being very intentional and careful about, but we do see greater opportunity as we progress.
RampUp: So, in terms of offering advice for other companies building out an advertising platform such as yourselves, what are three things you would say are key takeaways?
Aaron: Well, I found it very valuable to seek out the advice of others who have been there, done that. As we started trying to find our way in the ad tech space, we realized there was so much we didn’t know we didn’t know, so the more you can seek out advisors who have been in the space, the more you can learn.
RampUp: Did you speak to any people in particular that you found to be really helpful?
Aaron: Yes. We were fortunate that two of our early investors were Rob and Ryan Weber, cofounders of a company here in Minnesota called NativeX. They’ve been involved in a lot of mobile ads and monetization, and previously desktop ads, and so having that local connection was pretty key.
Then seeking out their advice about who are the partners in this space, like who’s really good at matching identities to online profiles and what are some of the conferences that you should look at attending. Looking at Programmatic I/O and RampUp and conferences like that were all really beneficial.
RampUp: Is there anything you wanted to add?
Aaron: I think what’s been exciting for me as we’ve expanded the number of products we have over time is that there’s always opportunity to have some of the freshness of a startup, even as your company becomes more established. That’s something that I probably didn’t fully realize four years ago, but there’s a renewed sense of energy around thinking, ‘what are other products we could bring to market?’
RampUp: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for your time, Aaron. I appreciate it.
Aaron: Alright. Thanks a lot.
If we missed you at RampUp Minneapolis, check out the recap here!