Last week, Seattle-based Estately (www.estately.com) announced an expansion into two new markets, in Austin and Houston, Texas. We though we'd catch up with Galen Ward, the co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Estately, to hear more about the expansion, what the firm is up to nowadays, and where it is going.
For those who haven't tried out Estately, tell us what the site is all about?
Galen Ward: Estately makes it easier for people to find and buy homes online. We go straight to the MLS for the list of homes for sale, and we have up-to-the-10 minute accurate information about every single home for sale. We really are focused at the company on the consumer, and helping them to search for homes, and once they find those homes, making it easier for them to learn important things about that home. That information might be what the local schools are, and not just what's nearby, but what school serves that home, for instance. We also provide a Walk Score, which is surprisingly important to lots of people. We started with the Walk Score, which I thought was only important to me, but a lot of people tell us that it's actually one of the key things they look at when they buy a house. That's particularly true in urban areas like Seattle, where people really want to live within a few blocks of a rail line or subway. We basically bring all of those data points together, for every house, and make it much easier to find and get an understanding on how to live there.
How are you different from the many other real estate search sites out there?
Galen Ward: That's great question. In part, that is our MLS data. Although there are lots of broker sites with MLS data, the bigger, venture backed guys like Zillow and Trulia don't have MLS data. They're missing homes for sale, and price updates. You'll often look on our site and see a price that's lower on our site, because someone has lowered their price every 30 days. It's really important when you're buying a home to see all of the homes on sale. The other differentiator we have, is the ability to provide a user experience which is so much easier than what agents and broker sites have put out there. People have copied from us, borrowed liberally from us, and it's still easier to use Estately than most broker and agent websites out there. On top of that, we're adding all of that extra, local data information, so you can really understand what a home is all about.
What's the story behind Estately?
Galen Ward: I got into this long ago, before Google Maps came out. I was doing mapping and spatial database work. At the time, I was apartment shopping, and looking for a place to live. I thought that having a comprehensive map-based search would make it so much easier to look for housing. I actually didn't do anything about it for a couple of years, then I met Doug, my co-founder, in graduate school. We started hacking on afternoons and weekends to put the site together, and after a few months managed to get something together that we weren't embarrassed to show to people if we wanted to. Finally, Doug dropped out of school, and I quit my job, to start working on it full time. That was a couple of years ago. We did that for a couple of years through the crash, and have been on two roller coasters with the real estate market and running a startup. We launched in 2007, rode through the crash headlong, and a little longer than two years ago raised a round of funding from a bunch of angel investors, and really started to grow the business and bring professionals to the team.
How has it been being an angel backed company versus a bunch of heavily funded, venture backed competitors?
Galen Ward: We're definitely the David versus Goliath. We're focused on doing just a few things very well. We're focused on user experience, and helping search for homes. We don't get into the myriad of things that Zillow, Redfin, Trulia, and the broker sites are doing, like home price estimates and selling homes. We are focused exclusively on buying a home, and making that process better.
Do you ever wonder why there are so many real estate websites in Seattle?
Galen Ward: That's a question I get all the time. There's us, Zillow, Redfin, and even Market Leader. I think my best guess, is Seattle has two things going for it. First, it has a lot of different neighborhoods, and homes are pretty expensive—though it's not San Francisco or New York expensive. The homes are accessible, but consume lots of income. And, people are really interested in real estate here. I also think if you look at Seattle, and our online businesses, the types of companies and types of web startups we create are a hybrid of online and offline companies. We're not very good on fully virtual startups like Facebook or Zynga type companies, but what we can do are companies like Amazon, where we're selling real goods even though it's also primarily online. Even though we're primarily online, there's always a real world connection. It's like Expedia, where it's online but you're buying plane tickets. There's always a big offline component. My guess is our imagination runs towards how we can change the real world, rather than how to make something that doesn't exist in the real world.
What's the next thing for you?
Galen Ward: We're expanding into new markets on a pretty regular basis. We're also working to make it easier when you go through the process of buying a home, when you work with a real estate agent. We are working with a few hundred real estate agents, to provide something unique that you can't get anywhere else. You can work with a real estate agent, and you can also get this full online component which makes the home buying experience better.
You mentioned rolling out into new markets, and just announced Austin and Houston, what's the strategy there?
Galen Ward: We're looking for relatively large markets. But, once we're in a state, we try to finish up that state. We entered into Dallas in January, San Antonio in February, and rolled out to Houston and Austin last week, which are all the big cities in Texas. Going forward, we are looking for big markets with relatively normal housing markets. We're not afraid of foreclosures, because we work with people buying homes, and even in Sacramento or San Diego, where the whole market is short sales and foreclosures, someone has to buy those homes. It's not fun listing homes, but banks love selling those homes even if other homeowners are underwater. So we're looking for big markets. We're already down the entire West Coast, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. We'll be looking at other, second tier, big markets in the next few months.