HousingWire Editor in Chief Sarah Wheeler sat down with Jimmy Kelly, president and CEO of Lone Wolf Technologies, to discuss the company’s development process and his vision for a connected real estate platform. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sarah Wheeler: Let’s talk about the evolution of real estate tech from individual products to connected platforms. How are agents and brokers using tech today: Is it all about the disparate products? Or is it really about that elusive all-in-one?
Jimmy Kelly: I think it depends on who you are, and what your viewpoint is. From our perspective, we are focused on bringing together that truly connected platform experience. In our view, there are too many point solutions in real estate, which can be really good at individual solution solving. But they actually create another problem — which is now you have a disjointed experience because you have to use multiple solutions to do your job.
We did a study with T360 recently, just looking at the agent experience and we came back with about 20 different point solutions that an agent has to use just to perform their duties in representing a buyer or seller of a home. That is a lot of technology and a lot of wasted effort.
At Lone Wolf we’ve been on a journey to try to simplify that real estate experience. We’ve done some acquisitions and we’ve done the traditional integration from a data flow perspective. But what we’re really excited about — and we’re going to unveil it later this year — is a true platform experience that takes all of those best-in-class technology solutions that we’ve acquired, and present a true end-to-end platform experience for agents, brokers and teams that delivers a single login with a single user experience and a single dataset, single navigation. So all of it is going to look and feel the same.
But it even goes beyond that: It’s an experience for the end user for them to even select within this platform which apps they want to use. They can use pieces and parts and connect other solutions to it, whether that’s their own tools or a third-party partner that can connect to an API layer.
SW: What part of the real estate transaction process has been the most resistant to automation?
JK: I don’t know if I would say resistance, probably more hesitancy. Human nature means most people don’t embrace change as much as they probably should. I think the pandemic in many ways changed some of that. You were forced to embrace some change, so even in our industry, technology adoption has grown.
But I think there’s still kind of an old-school mentality: it’s a face-to-face, belly-to-belly style business. There are a lot of agents today that still prefer having their customers sign contracts manually, with physical signature. And there are some states or even some geographies within states that still mandate that. But it’s weird. Because in our view, that’s a thing of the past.
Digital signature in electronic form is more secure, much more expedient, much more efficient. But the truth is, you can probably blend the two, you can leverage technology even in a face-to-face setting. But we still have people who are resistant to that because sharing of data is still a hurdle.
SW: We’re seeing an increased use of AI at a very individual level, where agents are using AI tools for things like marketing and scheduling. How do you as a software executive think about those use cases and how those fit into the overall tech picture for Realtors?
JK: We look at AI as a tool to drive efficiencies but we don’t look at it as something that’s going to replace the human. It’s artificial intelligence plus human intelligence. We have tools where AI is very useful, like our lead generation products and lead nurturing where you detect buying signals and filter through a lot of noise, and then present that to agents.
We look at how we can take away some of the menial tasks and give time back to an agent to do things that are more valuable to them. And, frankly, give them more time in the day to spend with their buyer or seller.
SW: How do you encourage investment in technology in the midst of this low-volume environment when people don’t have a lot of money coming in the door?
JK: The truth is, this is actually the best time to invest in technology. In a booming market you don’t have time to do this. But if you want to advance your efficiencies or your market share, a slower market is the time to do it. Everybody looks really good in a hot market. Those that kind of understand business expenses and controls and where to invest and grow their business in a down market are the ones that are going to end up gaining market share.
Our Boost product, for example, is designed to help agents with lead generation. If you’re investing in that, you’re more efficient and you spend your time on better opportunities. Or our partnership with realtor.com, where top-selling agents invest in this type of solution that marries specific content information with an industry leading CMA tool. That gives them comparative market analysis so they can go sit down at a listing presentation with someone that is thinking about selling their home, and say, look, I’ve got all this demand in your area. And I can prove to you that using me as your agent and listing it at this price point I can sell it to you. That is a very powerful piece of technology that’s going to generate commissions for that agent.
And if you’re a broker, our back-office platform is purpose-built for residential real estate to help you figure out where you’re spending your money and where you might have opportunities to control that expense — which agents are performing and which ones are costing you money. So there are a lot of ways to use technology in a down market to really drive your success.
SW: That makes sense, I can just imagine it’s tough for some people right now.
JK: The truth is, it’s the same for my business. I need to continue to invest in software, in building new capabilities, in investing in infrastructure and security. I need to do that in the down time: if I don’t, competitors are going to pass me by and I’m not going to be ready to take advantage of the market when it turns. And it will turn, so you have to focus on your business and be ready.
SW: What are your guiding principles as you think about the automation versus the human element and how those interact as you’re developing something new?
JK: It’s a great question. First off, I’ll say I’m wildly happy that my technology organization from R&D to product, is fantastic. So they do a lot of this strategic thinking for me, and I just get to ask questions. But as an organization, ultimately, we embrace design thinking, not just in R&D, we actually use it throughout. And it’s a combination of a mentality and approach. So we start with the human experience and try to understand how a person is going to use that piece of technology to solve a problem, and then work our way back into designing that piece of technology for that experience.
We have a really sharp design organization that will do the conceptual elements before we get anywhere near like writing a line of code. We kind of know what things will look like and how things will work from a flow perspective before R&D even sees it. We will also spend time with customers during that cycle. We’re smart, but we don’t know everything and so we’ve got a lot of really good customers that have a great relationship with us. So we will bring them behind the scenes and ask how it’s going to solve the experience issue first and then we kind of work our way backwards.
We even use that in our operations. The mantra of my customer operations group is: human, easy, smart. Meaning, that’s how they want to show up to our customers. We’re all people so there is a human element to everything that we do. We should be easy to do business with and how we approach solutioning should be easy, and then it’s got to be smart.
SW: Looking at your diverse background of experiences — BNY Mellon, Accenture — was design thinking something that Lone Wolf did before you got there? Or is that something that you’ve implemented?
JK: It’s really a combination. I do have the luxury of having a viewpoint from multiple industries, all in technology, and all of it is working with an end user. And at the end of the day, software is designed to solve problems. And the more effective it is, obviously, the easier it is to use, and the more efficient it can become for individuals. Our goal isn’t necessarily just to build something and sell it, right? Our goal is to solve the problem. We want to be a part of this industry — we’re here for a reason. We want to enable brokers, agents, teams, and frankly, associations and MLS, to be more effective at what they do and hopefully to be very successful at what they do using our technology.
SW: What’s the larger mission for you?
JK: Our biggest vision is to simplify real estate. That’s a big broad stroke but where we’re focused right now is that platform experience for an agent. I think the industry itself is going to evolve in the next 10 years. Right now, we’re focused at a point in time in that real estate funnel where an agent is looking for a lead and streamlining that entire process all the way down to a commission check.
But the truth is, there are components outside of our realm today that include mortgage and title and insurance. Our view of the world is that everything that happens in homeownership, post-close, is going to actually all connect one day. It may not be all us — we may have partners — but being able to connect from your mortgage, and then post-homebuying, with shared experience data, visibility, valuations, maintenance, opportunities to sell — that’s what I think the ecosystem is going to look like at some point.
SW: We’ve had other companies try to do that because it just makes sense — as an agent or a loan officer, you’ve forged a relationship with a consumer at one of the most important touch points in their life and then it can just be gone.
JK: I think that’s going to be the evolution. I have my own opinions on who people are going to still interact with and trust, and frankly, I don’t know that it’s going to be one company that builds this — I think it’s going to be an ecosystem. And I think we’re going to be a part of that ecosystem. Consumers will demand it at some point: access to information about their largest financial investment seems pretty logical. It’s just a matter of where did they go to get it?
SW: You are an executive at a very large technology company. What keeps you up at night?
JK: What keeps me up at night is making sure that we are delivering on the commitments to our existing customers. Obviously we’re trying to grow, we’re going to look for more customers, we’re going to try to sell more software and all that stuff. But we have a large number of agents and brokers that rely on our technology every day for them to do their jobs.
And so what keeps me up at night is making sure that our systems are up and running and available and secure. So that they don’t have to worry about that part during the day. They’ve got 100 other things that are on their plate — my technology should be the given. That’s what keeps me up. I think we do a pretty good job — I know we do a better job today than we did yesterday, but it is a constant focus as an organization to make sure that we’re meeting the commitment that we make to our current customer.