Who is Dean Soukeras and the key takeaways in this episode?
Dean Soukeras is a co-founder and COO of HomeSwipe, the only mobile app that helps renters find their next apartment and connect with agents, by incentivizing the best listings, immediate contact through in app chat and pushing strategic, valuable notifications, so the renter is always a step ahead.
In this episode of Be Culture Radio, we’ve had the privilege to chat with Dean and ask him some interesting questions that will help us get a glimpse of who this man is. You’ll get to know Dean’s thoughts on:
- How should you take mistakes
- Why it’s important to be authentic
- What Dean thinks is the best measure of a true company culture
- Why is there a need to individualize rather than generalize
- What Dean thinks is true failure
[4:21] You were listed on in Entrepreneur Magazine as the fastest growing companies in America, which is a tremendous achievement. How did that make you feel?
Answer: I obviously feel fantastic. It’s such a great feeling to be recognized. And it’s a validation of all the hard work that you put into it. Of course, that’s not why you do it, it’s just an inner drive. But it feels good to have that validation and to be recognized by your peers and other people in the industry to say, “Hey, you got something really cool going on.” It’s a really great feeling, not just even so much for the owner of the company, but also for all the employees who work just as hard, if not harder, to be honest, than the owners and founders of a company, that they also get that recognition. So it’s a great feeling for the company as a whole.
[7:55] What do you think accelerated your business as it relates to culture?
Answer: I think for us, it was two-fold. I think we had such an incredible mix of people—there’s three founders—and our experience. Myself, having been in the business for 20 years. My Cofounder Mike, who is just an incredible marketer, Networker, business mind, business grow gradually, and then the coder/developer. So I think we had such a mix of age and experience that that kind of creates a unique culture that I’ve never experienced before and I think most startups don’t have that when they get going. And I think the other thing is the common mindset that the fact that we made an effort to respect one another. And that respect, then carries forward into not just the interactions with each other, but with our vendors, with our customers, with our investors. So it’s just more of a common idea of respect in general.
[16:06] Is there a cultural match you look for agents?
Answer: Absolutely. The truth is most agents are big agents. It’s always just a few people and then the industry, including real estate, and hurt the reputation of the entire group. But I absolutely know what a good agent just having been in the business for five years. And I always say, it takes an agent to know a good agent. So I absolutely look for specific things from the brokerage and from individual agents within that brokerage that I know will be a good fit for us.
Culture According to Dean Soukeras:
Our company culture, the way that I define it is more in the unsaid and unwritten. It’s more in actions, because anybody can write down anything they want on a piece of paper and hand it out. That’s not your company culture. It’s really what you do and what you say every day from the founders down, that is your company culture.
Go To Quote for Inspiration
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy
What Dean Wants His Company to BE:
- BE Respectful
- BE Open
- BE Daring
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:
Where to Find Dean:
Connect with John on
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
John: Dean, welcome to BE Culture Radio.
Dean: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
John: I’m so pumped that you’re here. We had a little pre-talk, Dean and I did, for my listeners before the show. And it just once again made me know we have the right guest.
Dean: I appreciate that a lot and I feel the same way. It’s always nice to meet fellow entrepreneurs and business people. And that’s one of the perks of the job, talking to like-minded people like yourself.
John: As I told Dean before we started, life has gotten me away from my podcast. So I ran a little bit late. He’s a very patient man. So I already saw the kindness come out of him already, just so my listeners know. Hey Dean, before we get started, I want us to understand you a little bit more. And could you tell us your story about you and help us understand what made you the person you are today?
Dean: Sure. Being completely honest, I would actually have to start before I was even born, going back to my parents. Because I think that’s where we all get our start from. And they were both immigrants right from Greece. They were both born in Greece, and immigrated to the United States. So I am first generation, and very proud of that. And they just worked tirelessly. They instilled in me that work ethic to work hard for what you love and what you believe in. They own their own business. So I just kind of have that entrepreneurial spirit in my DNA.
John: It all comes from what I call our “tribe.” I refer to it as a tribe. I’m one of eight. I’m the baby boy, so I was doted upon. But I always refer to my mom and dad in their mid-80s and I still get weekly advice from mom and dad. And I’m like, “Okay.”
Dean: Great. I get the same. My mom always starts off with, “Well, you probably already know this, but-” and then she’ll give me her advice anyway, which I love.
John: And it’s always proven. I don’t know if this works for you, Dean. But for me, it’s the moment I don’t listen that things don’t work out the way they should.
Dean: Absolutely. And thankfully, she never says “I told you so.” But I have learned at my own peril not to listen to my mom.
John: Oh no, I have six sisters. They’re the ones that call and say “Mom told you.”
Dean: There you go.
John: Hey, so you have this amazing company. And I want to get into a little bit about the story of you and the entrepreneurship you brought to create HomeSwipe. Can you take us through that a little bit and share that with us?
Dean: Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to. So I started off on a completely different path, 20 somewhat years ago, graduating from law school. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So right out of law school I started my first company which was ComputerGiants. And we basically sold computer parts & components over the Internet, which doesn’t sound like much today, but back then, in 1999, it was almost revolutionary. So I had a blast doing that. We actually ran the company for about ten years. It was me and another group of partners. I had a lot of fun. But at the end, the bargains were just squeezed so tight. We were at the point with the great recession that was going on, so we decided to close the company and all move on. So obviously, ten years of running an eCommerce site taught me a lot. But I also have real estate in my background. So I wanted to try something very different. So I went into New York City real estate and became a real estate broker and did that for about five years, learning the business, learning the trade. But I always had that pull and that tug of the Internet and technology world. So HomeSwipe is my bringing those two worlds together, bringing the best of what I know about technology and then bringing what I know about the real estate world, and bringing them to a point where they flow seamlessly. So that’s where we are today and I have a fantastic team with Michael Lisovetsky and Jason Marmon. And it’s an interesting story just in itself how we all met. And I’m a big proponent of team and team work. And nothing’s possible without the right team.
John: It’s all about, I’d like to say, I tell people all the time, I surround myself with millennials so I stay relevant. And then, on top of that, I surround myself with smarter people so that I could be relevant and smart. Because I look at people and I’m the weakest link. It’s me. Stop looking. And people laugh, but I think for a lot of entrepreneurs and my listeners, I share this, if you take what you do really seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Take a deep breath. And it’s not saving lives.
Dean: Absolutely. Just enjoy yourself.
John: You now have this great company. And so, a lot of my listeners would need to know this, I think. You were listed on in Entrepreneur Magazine as the fastest growing company in America, which is a tremendous achievement. How did that make you feel? Because you had this journey, right? And all of a sudden, you get this award. So what does it do to you? How does Dean feel about that?
Dean: I obviously feel fantastic. It’s such a great feeling to be recognized. And it’s validation of all the hard work that you put into it. Of course, that’s not why you do it, it’s just an inner drive. But it feels good to have that validation and to be recognized by your peers and have other people in the industry say, “Hey, you’ve got something really cool going on.” It’s a really great feeling, not just even so much for the owner of the company, but also for all the employees who work just as hard, if not harder, to be honest, than the owners and founders of a company, that they also get that recognition. So it’s a great feeling for the company as a whole.
John: Dean and I talked a little bit pre-show and what I found really unique, and as I like to say to my listeners “one of one,” I found this about Dean and a lot of people in the real estate brokers’ community are real tough-nosed negotiators, real hard people. But when I talk to Dean, there was a gentle soul – that people matter. And I think that makes you one of one.
Dean: Yeah, it is a very cutthroat business here in New York City real estate. And I never took that path of feeling more of a sense of scarcity or lack, because that’s what permeates the business. And it’s just more of not to get too preachy here, but it definitely is as you treat others, you’re going to be treated. So it’s more coming from a place of cooperation instead of just competition. And I think that’s got to be part of it. And in New York, we have a good saying here that says “Either you co-broke or you go broke.” And it’s all about working with the other people in order to get the deal done.
John: You know, I couldn’t agree with you more. At BE Furniture, my wife and my partner, we built the company over a dozen years ago. We only have two rules: treat people the way you want to be treated and do what you say you’re going to do. And the rest of the handbook is blank.
Dean: Yeah, absolutely.
John: And I think you’ve got that for you and your brand. I want to ask you, what was your tipping point? Was there a moment when the bright lights went on for you when you said, “You know what, there’s a better way.”?
Dean: I think that the first tipping point is definitely when you’ve found the right people to work with. And like I said, I had always been looking for the path to bring the technology to real estate. And as a person of one, there’s only so much that I can do based on my skillset, my experience. So meeting my current partner, Michael, he was at another entrepreneurial accelerator called Draper University. And he was there for a different project and I had known him for about a year and a half. And he called me up and he said, “What can we do with a card swipe deck?” which Tindr, the dating app, made very popular. So my automatically thinking being in real estate was “What else has big, beautiful pictures?” Apartments do, real estate does. People like to look at pictures. So I immediately said, “Apartments”. So that was the tipping point really, it’s just that phone call. Mike was at the gym. He was working out and he was thinking in his own mind, “What can we do with this?” He called me up from the gym, he was just very excited. And when I mentioned real estate, he pitched it to Tim Draper and that was the tipping point. Draper gave us a challenge. And if we met that challenge, he was going to be one of our investors.
John: Wow, I’ve got to tell you, having grown up in North Carolina, but met my wife in New York City. And she’s a Manhattan girl, born and raised. Pretty funny for me because every year when the lease came up, I would move. So for eight or ten years, I got to be an expert to this point finding the next place was always just you’d start six months, you’d look some over six months and you’d start to search. So when I saw that I was getting the chance to talk to you, I was like, “Man, where was this guy when I was dying in Manhattan to go look for the next place?” Because it was so painful.
Dean: Yeah, it still is to be honest, to a degree. Before, it was just the New York Times, and then it grew from the New York Times to Craigslist. And now, you have a lot of other people trying to enter the space to make it easier and just to give a shout out and props to my other Co-Founder Jason Marmon. Because we obviously wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are without having a coder/developer on board the team. And when you said you hang out with millennials, I totally agree with that. They keep me young. I just turned 43 yesterday but that I get to hang out with people in their 20’s is really special for me, aside from that just they’re great, young business people. It just keeps me young at heart.
John: I’m so fortunate that my son’s graduating from college. And after a three-year discussion, not with me but with my general manager that helps run the organization for me, he said I’m coming into the business. I tried to downplay it, “Oh, that’s okay.” And I did a little touchdown dance on my office. But we had a meeting the other day and they’re asking me my opinion on marketing issue and I look over to him and I’m like, “So what do you think?” He looked at me and said, “Dad, you’re going to ask me?” I’m like, “You’re the demographic.” I’m 55 years old, I’m going to do what I’ve always done and get what I’ve always gotten. I need to know what you think. And he answered the question and I got to tell you, we pivoted about 90 degrees from where we were.
Dean: Yeah. That brings a totally different perspective on to the situation and the problems. Obviously your son is also prime in our demographic for renters who are recent college grads or anybody from 20 to 40 who is just really comfortable with technology nowadays and downloading an app and just looking for an apartment. And having the young perspective was key and critical to our success.
John: And you know what I find amazing, Dean, is that they do what I call “group think.” We grew up when someone asks us a question, what we usually have is “this is what I think.” You ask them a question, all of a sudden they’re using social media and they’ve touched 50 people and their answer is “we think”. So I was thinking to myself, “Who the hell is ‘we’?” Until I watched the hands go beneath the desk and a beep would go and I’m like, “What was that?” “And I asked about 50 of my friends what they thought.” So that took me down and I have over 50 nieces and nephews that are all millennials. So I stopped thinking. I knew the answers and now, when I want to know something, and we started to do the podcasts and we wanted to do the cover for the podcast, I sent it out to all of them. Because, by the way, what I thought wasn’t where we ended up.
Dean: Exactly. We just had that situation this morning where we’re talking about something, part of the exact thing, but Mike had said, “Well, I’m just going to put it up on Facebook and see what all my friends think.” And obviously, you have to be on social media, but it doesn’t occur to me naturally to put these types of questions up on Facebook. But for them, it’s a polling station. It’s definitely a validation of ideas to see how people respond. So it really is key for us to have access to that young demographic so close at hand.
John: Let me drill down a little bit because what we’re really talking about is emerging culture that we’re living with, so how do you define corporate culture and company culture for you?
Dean: Our company culture, the way that I define it is more in the unsaid and unwritten. It’s more in actions, because anybody can write down anything they want on a piece of paper and hand it out. That’s not your company culture. It’s really what you do and what you say every day from the founders down, that is your company culture. So you can say something like, “Hey, everybody should be respectable. I always have an open door policy.” That’s great, but it’s your actions every day in responding from the smallest issues to the biggest challenges. And your response to them and do you interact with your employees? It’s all unwritten in my mind, the company culture.
John: Well, I’ve got to tell you, I can’t agree with you more. I talked to you pre-show, I worked in Corporate America for many years. As I fondly refer to them, the “suits,” who would say, “This is who we are.” And you’d walk out the room and go, “No, that’s not who we are.”
John: “This is our culture, because I’m going to pound my fists on the desk. And these 12 people in this room are all going to agree with me because I signed their check, so this is our culture.” So I think to Dean’s point, for my listeners, it is more about I think the little things that stack and create a foundation, right, Dean?
Dean: Absolutely. Everything adds up and whether or not you see it or you believe it, all your actions are seen and catalogued by everybody around you. And they do add up and those things are what create your company culture. You’re always not going to be perfect. We’re human beings. But everything you do has an effect. So it’s more just creating an awareness of that and making sure that you’re having the effect that you want. And it’s also about being natural. I see so many people who try to emulate or imitate and it’s just not natural and it doesn’t work.
John: I agree. The authenticity of people doing what’s right when nobody’s looking. The other part for me is people will only do two things: they either are going to run to you or from you.
John: And it’s human nature. So a lot of times when I’m problem solving with people, I’ll say to them, “Do you want someone to run from you or to you?” And let’s be honest, because sometimes, I want people to run from me.
Dean: Sometimes, you have to. Absolutely.
John: I need my space. Sometimes, I need them to run to me, just to keep me balanced. Now Dean, let me ask you something. What do you think accelerated your business as it relates to culture?
Dean: I think for us, it was two-fold. I think we had such an incredible mix of people—there are three founders—and our experience. Myself, having been in the business for 20 years. My Co-Founder Mike who is just an incredible marketer, networker, business mind – business grows gradually – and then the coder/developer. So I think we had such a mix of age and experience that that kind of creates a unique culture that I’ve never experienced before and I think most start-ups don’t have that when they get going. And I think the other thing is the common mind-set in that the fact that we made an effort to respect one another. And that respect then carries forward into not just the interactions with each other, but with our vendors, with our customers, with our investors. So it’s just more of a common idea of respect in general.
John: I got to tell you, it sounds like a really cool environment because you all sound very different from one another. But there’s the underlying thread of respect and common decency that you carry to the table every time.
Dean: Yeah, exactly.
John: As I like to say, we can agree or disagree and it’s not about you, it’s about the situation I don’t like. And I think a lot of times in business, and I think our entrepreneurs need to hear this, we don’t have to go after people if we don’t like an idea. We don’t have to eviscerate somebody because they had an idea that didn’t work.
John: At least, they tried.
Dean: Yeah, absolutely. And I make that point all the time. As soon as you start, like you said, eviscerating somebody for bringing up ideas they’re going to stop bringing up ideas. And at that point, you’re in real danger as a company because you always want people presenting ideas. Whether you like them or not is a separate issue, but there needs constantly to be change and the bringing of new concepts. And the moment people are afraid to do that, it’s the beginning of the end in my mind.
John: I agree. I think one of the issues for me is people say, “Tell us about the time, John, you failed here.” I said, “Well, my perspective on life isn’t that way. I take things that didn’t work out and I refer to that as ‘experience’.” Sometimes some of my experiences are more expensive than others, some are a little less expensive. And I try to tell people that I couldn’t get to where I am today if I hadn’t had the experiences, good, bad and indifferent, to let me do what I do today. How do you feel about that?
Dean: Well, I definitely remember the expensive experiences. They’re not going to be forgotten any time soon. But I totally agree. Just anybody in business is going to have wins and losses. And that’s just part of the business world. And you just have to accept them, learn from them and move on. It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it, and you don’t move on. Everybody gets knocked down and then not everybody gets back up. It’s the people who get back are the ones who end up changing their company and changing themselves, and changing the world. So I absolutely agree that it’s not failure, as only if it stops you from moving on is it then a failure. But just having a setback is just something to make you stronger.
John: I agree. My dad used to say, his voice plays in my head all the time, almost to the point that it makes me nuts. But as you get older, you resonate with the things your father told you growing up. He used to say to me all the time, “Pick a side of the road. You get 100% chance of getting run over if you stand in the middle. So pick one side or the other.” And he would look at me and say, “And character is just when you get knocked down, how quick you got up.” And it plays in my head all the time. I’m like, “Pick a side, pick a side. Don’t stand in the middle.” I’ve got to ask you, how do you look at office design, the physical part of it, the facilities, how do you manage that into what you’re trying to create to build a culture and a brand?
Dean: So right now, we work here in New York, and we work at one of these great new companies that fill the co-working spaces. And so we can’t necessarily put our own stamp. There’s only so far we can go. We have a six-person office right now. Being a start-up, we’re very lean. But within that space, I like the work space because it’s all glass. It’s very open. It’s more of a shared community. So it’s not that there’s a door and you close your door. It’s open spaces, so even people from other companies have this sense of belonging. And I think that’s very important to me. I’ve always been a fan of the open floor space. So I don’t believe in cubicles. I don’t believe in offices. I really do believe that everybody should have their desk and be on the floor. Recently, there’s been people coming out against that type of concept. But as far as open communication, I don’t think it gets any better than that. So for me, the culture is definitely openness. From day one, even going back to the year 2000 when I started my first company, I made sure that everybody at that point had the latest technology which was dual monitors for their computer systems, which now it’s not a big deal, but back then, it was. So we always try to give our workers the latest technology that we can afford. And it’s more about not just productivity, but it’s also about showing them that you care about them, that you value them as workers and as people.
John: Dean, I’ve got to tell you, that’s right on target. Being in the commercial interiors business for the last 35 years, and owning a business, we take care a lot of emerging companies, we take care of a lot of big companies like SFX Entertainment, New York City. We just did a four-floor project with them. It’s all open space.
John: And people have a concept that if you’re doing a collaborative, open, it’s expensive. So we always educate a lot of our emerging companies, build it so you get a return in your investment. Build it, so you have a kit of parts. But there’s a way to build, to your point, build these open, collaborative environments with the glass walls, with the huddle rooms. And inevitably, every time we help a company build their culture, and present their brand and doing it effectively in cost, they grow and they prosper. And I go back and say, it’s the people sitting in those benches.
John: That’s what’s happening there. And I see the founders and the men and ladies in there. And every time I see them, they’re not in their office, there’s this huge smile on their face.
John: And they’re like, “Hey John, you guys got it.” I’m like, “No, no, no. You got it. I just do what you asked me to do.”
Dean: Well, when we look at the office and we would look at the space, and we look at the technology we give them, the first question is how do I empower this person to succeed. So it’s not just sitting them at their desk and saying, “Go.” It’s about supporting them and valuing them, and taking an interest in their success. Aside from the fact that it helps the company as a whole, the more successful they are, it’s just valuing them as a person and making sure that they’re best set up culture-wise, company-wise, space-wise, technology-wise. It all fits into what’s going to help this person succeed. Because it’s a little bit self-serving because it helps the company, but that’s definitely a part of it. Everybody works differently. And there has to be a company culture, but everybody’s also an individual. And some things might not work for everybody, but it’s about sitting down with this person and figuring out, okay, how do you work? What’s going to work best for you? And then, how can we fit you into our culture?
John: You have hit it so squarely, Dean, I’ve got to tell you. It’s amazing getting to talk to you because it resonates—I talk to people all the time and what we do is we ask people the question, you and I are having a conversation, just like I, as the owner of the company will have, and like, wait a minute, I said I don’t sell commodity. I need to know what it is you want and how we help you get what you want. It’s just purely product application. It’s purely taking your thoughts and your dreams for your people. And if you can have that conversation, and I share this with all my listeners, if you go to build, have that conversation with people about the facility, because it reflects you as the leader, the founder and the driving force, or it doesn’t. I tell this story, I’m always pretty much amazed when people buy the $125 chair, they say, “We’re a start-up and need I nvestors.” And I say, “You’re going to buy that chair every year for the next five years and you’ll have just spent over $700 on a $125?” You could have one chair for $325 with a lifetime warranty. Why would anybody give you any money?
John: And then, of course, my partner’s like, “You can’t say that!” I’m like, “Someone needs to say it.” Because I think it’s a reality check. The conversation you were just sharing with me is exactly the conversation we have with founders that are emerging. And I have it every week with people and I find it so amazing that you can literally click on the people that get it and don’t get it to the point, Dean, that I meet with people and I walk away and I’ll say, “This company will be successful. I don’t know the chances, maybe or maybe not. But I wouldn’t bet on that one.” And it’s amazing when you have that conversation with people like yourself, Dean, and they resonate, they speak it, they live it. I’m just so impressed, and not because you’re on a show, just because what you said resonates with me.
Dean: I appreciate that. I really do.
John: Now, I want to shift gears a little bit for you and I want to go to the business side of it.
John: You got some amazing funding, can you help and share our listeners and our entrepreneurs, these folks that are building these companies and are about to enter this amazing funding time, and they’ve never done it before. So can you help them with that and share with them your story and what the ups and downs are?
Dean: Absolutely. Every situation and every experience is unique. And specifically, for HomeSwipe, my partner Mike was at Draper University. And he was going with their, I think it was a two-month program. And previously, Mike and I had met at Founder Institute which is another type of technology accelerator. So we were both very interested in just keeping up to date with the latest trends and technology in building businesses. So he already had this connection and relationship with Tim Draper through Draper University. And more than anything, it’s just about taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves to you that you have to be present for. And he was there, he was working in a different company that he didn’t particularly like. So at the end of his program, Tim gives everybody five minutes to pitch an idea. And Mike knew that Tim just wasn’t going to like the idea that he had gone with. So that’s when he called me, as we’d been friends for about a year and a half before that, and he said, “Well, Tim likes card swipe, what can we do with that?” So he pitched it to Tim the next day. Tim liked it and Tim put out the challenge to us which was basically “I liked the idea. If you can have a working app in 30 days to present to me, we’ll talk about investment.” So really, the thinking is don’t just talk about it. Don’t just think about it. You actually have to take action. If Mike and I hadn’t met a year and a half earlier at Founder Institute, which was me working full-time, having a family, taking to three hours every day at night to attend Founder Institute, then we wouldn’t have met. And then, Mike just taking advantage of where he was and reading the situation, knowing Tim, what Tim was looking for, reaching out to his network, calling me, and then pitching it, so from then, we met his challenge. We exceeded his challenge. We brought on Jason within a week, who Mike knew, to code the app. And we flew out to San Francisco, Tim was impressed with how quickly we developed the app and launched it in the app store, in Google Play Store. Hence, he led our initial angel round where we raised $500,000. So there’s a lot of lessons in there. But I think it’s just about being present. Taking advantage of the opportunities that come to your way, and in executing and following through. So that was our experience.
John: And you talked about something I think everybody should hear. You talked about working three hours every night, and your family. Well, your family experienced HomeSwipe with you. It wasn’t like Dean’s over here and we’re over there. We’re here together. And I think everybody needs to know from an entrepreneurial standpoint, your family’s getting as much skin in the game as you are.
Dean: If not more, because while they know about and they know what’s going on, they don’t necessarily have an active role to play except for support, which is huge in and of itself. But family for an entrepreneur is never an easy thing because we’re always very opportunistic, optimistic people, that it’s just in our DNA to be looking to the next thing and building the next thing. So sometimes, I feel bad for my wife. But at the same time, it’s about once again, not just with employees and workers but with everybody in your life, being just open and communicative and saying “This is what’s going on. This is what I’m doing. What are you feeling? What are you thinking?” Because as soon as you stop doing that, especially with family, then you do run that risk of losing that connection and support which is critical to any entrepreneur.
John: I got to tell you that I believe that when we as entrepreneurs have our beliefs and our core values and our goals and alignment, no matter what happens, we win. Some days, you just get beat down and you’re going through the journey and you’re like, “Oh my God. Is this ever going to come to fruition? Is it ever going to happen?” And going after the last 12 years, during the times I would come home and I have a 24-year-old autistic child that’s just the love of my life. And I sit down the coach and he’s a big guy, over 6’5, he comes downs and sits down, puts his arm around me and he says just out of the mouth of a child, “Hey, Dad?” I’m like, “Yeah?” “It’s going to be okay. You need to go back tomorrow. They need you.” And so, it’s one of those moments where you go, “You know what, how bad could it possibly be?”
John: So you go through it. Tell me a little bit more about HomeSwipe. What are your plans? What are we going to see from you next? You got the funding, so tell us.
Dean: So right now, we received the funding, we’ve been going pretty much full force. We hired our first iOS engineer, our first employee, who’s just a perfect cultural fit for us. And from there, we hired some remote workers—that’s a whole other program to talk about, remote business culture—so we’ll go back to that at another time. But we’ve been building out the app as best as we can to make the search as great as possible, not just for—I think where a lot of companies fail in this sphere is they focus on all their energy on the renter, which obviously, critical part, and everybody forgets about the agent. And maybe it’s because of my real estate background where I honestly believe that the experience for the agent is just as critical as the experience for the renter is. We’re kind of the honest broker in the middle trying to manage the relationship between renters and agents. So I think that’s probably been our biggest differentiator. And whenever somebody asks me, I always talk about how Uber does it with passengers and drivers, obviously Uber cares very much about their drivers because they drive the business. And we care very much about the agents because it’s the agents who are going to, in a way, be representing HomeSwipe as well, because they’re the ones out there speaking with, talking to the renters. So we’re actually very careful with who we partner on the agent side. And most people in this, other start-ups in this world, they’re kind of just come-one-come-all, click-whatever-you-want-on-to-our-app-our-website, where we actually take a very, very careful approach to the agents that we work with.
John: Is there a cultural match you look for agents?
Dean: Absolutely. The truth is most agents are big agents. It’s always just a few people in the industry including real estate, who hurt the reputation of the entire group. But I absolutely know what a good agent just having been in the business for five years. And I always say, it takes an agent to know a good agent. So I absolutely look for specific things from the brokerage and from individual agents within that brokerage that I know will be a good fit for us.
John: Your comments resonate so deeply with me. Because in our business, we have the commercial real estate brokers. And they’re so far upstream from us, but their client, they’re at the top and there’s the client in the architectural community, and we’re at the bottom. And just understanding where you’re at, there’s nothing you can do other than to make them look good, and make sure they have faith in you that if they hand you their client, you will always do what’s right.
Dean: Yup, absolutely.
John: And doing what’s right is not easy. And doing what’s right when nobody’s looking is truly the measure of a company’s character and their culture. And I think that’s what you’re talking about doing. Your comment about being so careful with the brokerage community and the real estate brokers, that’s doing, when no one’s looking, what’s right. Because it would be easy to do other things.
Dean: Well, it’s about being respectful to not just the renters, because obviously you want them to have a good experience on your app and on your platform. But it’s also about being respectful to the good agents that are out there. And there’s a lot of platforms out there that allow renters to rate agents. And I respect that. It should be a part of the process. But at the same time, it’s kind of silly to me that you would even have agents that are being rated one and two stars over a certain period of time, because that’s just saying, as a company, I’m okay with you being connected to a bad experience, both of my platform and website. Once again, just pointing at Uber, you can just never imagine that Uber would allow bad drivers to be present on their app. And so I never really understood it. Similar focus, we just wouldn’t allow bad agents. Now that being said, going back to the respect on both sides, we would also allow agents to rate renters. Because I’ve certainly experienced it first-hand where some renters are just very abusive and demanding, and not respecting the agents. So we’re very much wanting to, like I said, be the honest broker in the middle and making sure that both parties are treated with the respect and value.
John: So let me go a little bit off path here with you, if you would. Because we’re getting near the end of the show and I want to respect your time. What advice would you give in entrepreneurs trying to build a company, build a culture, hire, train, and it’s all happening at warp speed for them?
Dean: So the first thing that just comes to mind is you’re going to make mistakes. And I don’t know if that’s advice. It’s just a fact.
John: Yes, you are.
Dean: And that’s okay. You just have to try to learn from each one and then it’s a learning experience, and move forward. So definitely, reach out to your network. I speak to people all the time about what should we be doing here, who should we be talking to about this? We’re actually right now looking at a seed round. So we’re also talking to a lot of the people that we know about what’s the best way to go about that. So I’d say that’s the other thing is don’t be afraid to talk to people and reach out to your network. Entrepreneurship, business, it’s not an army of one. It takes a community, it takes a village, as [inaudible 0:34:21.7] would say, to be successful. So I would say don’t be afraid to ask for advice, to talk to people. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And definitely don’t try to, I get so many people who said why I did this in here, and this person did this, and there’s value in seeing how the people handled things. But the authenticity, the genuineness doesn’t come through. You’re not going to be Steve Jobs, you’re not going to be Elon Musk. You can certainly try to learn some of their lessons, but in the end, learn what you can, but you have to be yourself. And I can’t really explain what that is because it’s unique to each one of us. But when you try to be someone else or do something how someone else does it, it usually doesn’t work.
John: I agree. It doesn’t. What’s the most common mistake you see people—because you’ve had a tremendous career to this date, you’ve seen a lot of different things. So I would imagine you’ve seen probably the same mistake in different versions over and over. And you’ve kind of put your hand up on your forehead and go, “Oh God, I wish I could help this person. I’m seeing it again.”
Dean: I would definitely say that the biggest mistake I see over and over again is people unwilling to take advice. You get a lot of headstrong people in this industry in just the entrepreneurial world which is great. You have to be passionate. You have to have an idea and a dream. But you also have to be willing to pivot and to change. And time and again, people will just say that you’re wrong and this is why you’re wrong. And I’m going to prove you wrong. You love the spirit, but if you’re not open and willing to listen, and to question and to be open to being wrong. As a business founder, you have to be willing to question every single idea that you come up with, and potentially change it. So that’s probably the one thing that I see over and over again is people just, being very hard-headed, strong-headed, strong-willed, it’s this way and that’s it.
John: I hope my listeners are really paying attention because it’s really, really expensive to be right.
Dean: Yeah, exactly.
John: And as you get into a business, you’re an entrepreneur. You don’t have those kind of resources to be right all the time. Hey Dean, I want to take you into the lightning round, if I could.
John: Do you have a book that changed your life?
Dean: There are two books. I’ve read a lot of books and I think a lot of entrepreneurs do, but there are two. I thought about this and what would just always come to mind is number one, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho—I think it’s pronounced “Co-Ho”—but that’s more of a spiritual book, just about finding your place and your purpose in life. I read that maybe 20 years ago. And I always come back to it. And the other one surprisingly is better than any business book I’ve ever read. It is “Red Storm Rising” by Tom Clancy.
Dean: If you want to learn about tactics and strategy and being open to things just going wrong and how to adjust. And for me, it’s also he just wrote so elegantly about both sides of a conflict and made you care about both sides. And I just carry that forward realizing that even whenever I feel most passionate about a certain side of an argument, somebody else feels just as passionately for their own reasons and experiences about the other side. So I’m always open to looking at what somebody else’s motivations are.
John: And do you have a quote you go to for inspiration?
Dean: I think that there are two quotes. One that I’d like for many, many years is “Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat,” which in Latin means “Fortune favours the bold.” And the other one as an entrepreneur is “This too shall pass.” With all the ups and downs, that’s what I come to a lot.
John: I love that. Now, what company do you admire the most as it relates to culture other than your own?
Dean: I’ve mentioned it a few times here today, Uber. I definitely love the swagger that they bring to just the business in general, and the cool factor that they brought to a mundane task, if you think about it: let me get a car to come pick me up. And they’ve made that technologically cutting-edge and very cool. So I look to them, a different industry but similar concept about bringing technology to an age-old world problem of finding apartments.
John: And here’s a good one for you, why should people work for HomeSwipe?
Dean: People should work for HomeSwipe because we are trying to bring the latest technology to real estate. There’s a lot of companies out there. But I think that with our approach of openness, honesty, not just with each other but with the agents, with the renters, I think it’s refreshing in this industry, something that we’re bringing to it. And honestly, I just think that the mix within the company of the experience and the youth and driving things that have not been done before. We’re rolling out to Chicago next month, after that, it’s going to be nationwide. So we have a very quick growth plan being executed and I think it would just be a fun ride for somebody to join us.
John: Okay, Dean, here we go. Big finish. If you had to describe the culture of HomeSwipe with three words, what would it be?
Dean: BE respectful. BE open and BE daring.
John: BE respectful. BE open. BE daring.
John: It’s tremendous. Hey Dean, how can my listeners connect with you?
Dean: So my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’m definitely open to any feedback/comments/thoughts. That’s a big thing. I always leave every meeting giving up my information and saying, share anything you want and I’m sure to respond.
John: And is there any role out you want to share with our listeners? Something that we should be looking out on the horizon from HomeSwipe and you?
Dean: So next month, we’re going to be launching our app in Chicago and then on-boarding some Chicago apartments and brokerages. And then in May, we’re actually invited to be an exhibitor at Collision Conference in Vegas, which we’re very excited about.
John: Your wife knows you’re not going to be home a lot.
Dean: She knows and she’s putting up with it for now.
John: Excellent. Hey Dean, I never end a show without sharing with my guest my favourite quote from Maya Angelou which is “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And we hope we made you feel welcome and part of our tribe today. And we hope you’ll come back and visit us again. Maybe you’ll come back in six months and tell us how the sweep towards the Midwest and out West went.
Dean: I’d love to. And I felt very welcome and very comfortable. So I appreciate that.
John: Super. I wish you the very best and BE well, my friend.
Dean: You too. Thank you.
John: Thanks, Dean.