On the tenth and LAST episode of Beyond the Box’s first Season, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Turner, Entrepreneur in Residence, NAR REACH. Click the links below to hear Jeff and Mike McAra discuss Jeff’s experiences with a diverse variety of founders, the dynamic of uncertainty, and using technology in the way it was meant to be used. You will NOT want to miss this well-rounded meal of an episode!!!
Full Transcript of the Show
Mike:Awesome. We’re back on Beyond The Box here. Mike McAra, your cohost and today I’m joined with the esteemed Jeff Turner, Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Second Century Ventures, among many other things. Jeff, welcome to the show!
Jeff: It’s good to be here. How are you?
Mike:I am fantastic! it’s sunny, it’s summer, of course, obviously, there are lots of things going on, but all things considered, I’m great. How are you?
Jeff: Same. Same. Got in a great hike this morning so life is good.
Mike:There you go! If you start your day with a hike, you know you’re doing something right.
Jeff: I would agree, I would agree.
Mike: So, for those people who don’t know you or haven’t had the privilege to know you yet, so maybe give me a little bit of a background of who is Jeff Turner. How did you get to where you are?
Jeff: Oh wow. Yeah, it’s funny these… you know, you could take 2 hours explaining how you get to where you are in your life or you could condense it into 30 seconds. So I’ll choose the second option. I’ve been an entrepreneur almost the entirety of my adult life. I started my first company when I was 24-25 years old. I sold that company in 1999.
Mike: Good timing!
Jeff: Yeah, so I’ve been at this a long time. My first real estate startup was a company called Real Estate Shows, which was the first company that really did take that Ken Burns effect and apply it to static images to create a new kind of virtual tour. That company is still in existence, I sold it to one of my partner’s back in 2011, when I discovered, I like to say discovered because it makes me feel like an adventurer. I was speaking at the Australian real estate conference at *** in Sydney, Australia and just happened to be on the showroom floor doing a podcast with a guy named Kevin Turner, no relation. And a company logo was behind my head during this entire podcasts and was called “Real Satisfied.” And I talked to the founders afterwards, curious about you know what they did. It just happened to be their first show that they had gone to. They had just launched in Australia and it was an agent-customer satisfaction survey. Which I found interesting. It was different than what was happening in the United States and agent ratings. Back in the time, I don’t know if you remember back then, but usually, it just forayed into agent ratings on their website. Zillow was just barely getting started with agent ratings and I thought their approach was really, really thoughtful on the way that they handled that. So, I asked them right there then if you thought about bringing this to the US. They said, no, I said I think you should, long story short, we ended up bringing Realsatisfied over to the United States, sold it in 2016. I’ve been a mentor with the REACH program since its inception in 2013 and as a result sort of found a fondness for mentoring startup entrepreneurs. I have an affinity for it. And, as a result, approached David Tyler who sort of head-up Second Century Ventures with some ideas on what I thought was missing from the REACH program. This was after I had met *********, who is the founder of Immivure, which was the first international company to be accepted into the REACH program based on Austin, Germany. And took over as North America CEO for a year to help them launch the product into a different marketplace. What I really felt was missing was an attempt by REACH or a visible attempt. But what I couldn’t see at the time and you’ll laugh at this now, because you see behind the curtain of what’s going on, a desire to bring in more companies from other countries and a desire to connect with companies that weren’t quite ready for the REACH program. And as it turned out, and as you now know, they had already been talking about those kinds of things. It excited me to be able to potentially participate in helping them expand, and taking an active role on a part-time basis with Second Century Ventures and specifically with the REACH and the growth accelerator. Not dissimilar probably to how you got attracted to it and into the same position you are in. Your desire to go deeper into helping these companies grow and really understand the complexities of the North American Real Estate Market. So, that’s where I find myself today. I keep myself busy wearing multiple hats, we talked about it before we started recording. I still spend a good portion of my time consulting with Immoviewer and now DocuSketch the product that we created to go to the restoration market. I consult with a couple of different startups in Europe, as well. I also am on the Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Second Century Ventures and with my former partners at RealSatisfied in Australia, we’re also building a new Association Management platform from scratch on some modern technology that we are really very excited about. So life is busy!
Mike:Do you sleep?
Jeff: Yeah, I do sleep and that took longer than 30 seconds, I realize now.
Mike:You know, that’s amazing though because there’s so much to work from there. And it’s interesting because I’ve been talking to a lot of people about travel, as an aside. And a lot more people are starting to read adventure books or travel books. But you’re getting that travel element by working with startups abroad! You’ve got a taste of it!
Jeff:It’s funny, it’s really been very, very interesting as I’ve had the opportunity to work with founders from other countries. The difference in the thought processes that exist, but is sometimes shaped by the culture itself, and sometimes it’s shaped by the fact that the real estate industry just works differently in those countries than it works in the United States. And I think sometimes… not sometimes… all the time, those differences and experiences allow us to create unique things. It changes the nature of the conversations, it changes the way you speak about things because you’re having to constantly, sort of check your own understanding of what the world looks like at the door and listen to someone else explain how they think the world works. And I find that refreshing and entertaining and challenging.
Mike:It keeps the days not boring right? Not repetitive.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. And it makes me better, I mean it makes me sharper.
Mike:So, on that thread then, I guess you know, it’s and it’s a nice segway, because obviously right now with everything that’s going on there is so much uncertainty. The economy, in society, on travel, immigration. All of these different things. And you this really unique lens because you are consulting, and you’re with all of these different companies abroad, locally and in the US as well. I’d be really curious to get your take on how each respective sort of region is kind of viewing that uncertainty and how they’re dealing with that. Because, obviously as an entrepreneur, we deal with uncertainty all the time. But, obviously, that come snack to your culture too. And so, I’d be really interested and maybe you could speak to that. You know, how the Europeans are being, how the Americans are being, how the Australians are being and I think that’d be very interesting.
Jeff: Well, it won’t surprise you that Europeans think we’re crazy. I’ll say this, you know because I deal almost exclusively in my business relationship with entrepreneurs, I don’t have a lot of diversity in opinion on how to deal with this. You know you said it squarely, as an entrepreneur you’re used to dealing with uncertainty. It’s just, it’s always there. You know, if starting a company came with certainty, everybody would do it. It is that uncertainty which sort of weeds out certain types of personalities, typically, from even deciding to venture into entrepreneurship. And so, there is a certain makeup of an entrepreneur that allows them to handle, I believe, handle these kinds of situations, I won’t say better, I’ll say from a different perspective than most people. That constant of uncertainty that’s a part of starting a business doesn’t really change much when another piece of uncertainty is thrown into the mix.
Mike:Just put it on the pile!
Jeff: Yeah, no, really, I don’t mean that to sound trite in any way, it’s just on another layer of uncertainty that gets added into the already multiple layers of uncertainty that exists. Especially in very, very early stages of a startup when you’re really just trying to figure out whether or not your product will even work in a specific vertical. I mean, I know we’ve talked about this and in various situations and across all of Second Century Ventures and the REACH Global Networks. It’s an interesting task to sort of go through the process of vetting a company for inclusion in one of our REACH classes because there’s uncertainty on our side of the table as well, just as there is uncertainty. But you sort of level all of that out with your experience and your understanding of a market and I think the thing that I’m seeing from leadership that I engage with outside of the entrepreneurs, but inside of the real estate industry are the leaders who are responding best to this, are the ones who seem to be able to easily gravitate towards relaxing a bit, and drawing from their experience to calm themself down to say, “we’ve been through bad times before, we’ve been through uncertain times before, here’s how we handle the past, here’s how we’re going to do it in the future, this is what I need to be doing.”And the panic that sometimes has set in and uncertainty doesn’t set in with those leaders.
Mike:Well, you know it’s one of those things where traditionally you’re working with a business plan, strat-plans, and obviously in the entrepreneurial space, business plans don’t exist anymore. It’s business model canvases, pitch decks, something that’s you know, because it’s the idea that you can pivot, you can iterate and you have to learn with all of that uncertainty. With the corporates, the larger associate players, big franchises, they’re still in that business model, strat plan. And when the world comes and slaps you in the face, for lack of a better analogy, and that goes out the window, you absolutely have to do that. You know I wonder if… it would be really interesting to hear how that parallels when you’re entering new markets. Because you’ve brought a lot of companies to the US right and kind of coming in there, so I’d be quite curious about that.
Jeff: I think it’s similar, you know, for example, the Australian… actually, you know what, let’s talk about Immoviewer and the German market. Immoviewer launches in Germany with what is essentially a version of what real estate shows did, only in an automated way. So, sort of think of CirclePicks or a company like that, that is automating via a feed of images these sort of slideshow of videos. When they launched the 360 in Europe it was met with some pretty decent adoption for one reason, and one reason only. Most of the agents in Europe shoot their own photos, you bring the same technology, same exact technology over to the United States where most agents don’t shoot their own photos, and the adoption is not the same. And so, it’s just that single difference in behaviour ends up throwing you for a loop and forcing you to have to look at things in a completely different way. And so, there are sometimes major differences between one market in another, in Australia, there’s really no buyer’s side to the equation. Vendors pay for advertising upfront. Those are big differences in a market and how that shifts behaviour. And so, you have to sort of take a step back and say, “okay I’ve got to approach this differently.” And thankfully, it sharpens both sides of the equation. RealSatisfied didn’t really take off in Australia until it came and perfected itself in the United States in a different market.
Mike:It’s funny, you mention it that way, because of what I know of RealSatisfied, my first exposure to them was their partnership with I believe C21 at least here in Canada. And so you know, any C21 agents all the sudden have these RealSatisfied posts everywhere. And I go, oh that’s interesting, how do they do that? Because, prior to that, the prevailing, I guess, the notion of reviews and ratings was that it was going to be, and it was kind of perceived negatively. And then here you had Century 21 agents who were actually actively promoting it, to your point earlier that it was this unique till that really did it thoughtfully. But, to get there, I can only imagine the learning that it took.
Jeff: Yeah, and I mean it required a bit of an educational shift and I think because the way RealSatisfied approached it, using a survey model, where you were really going deeper into identifying what parts of the transaction were performed well, what parts weren’t performed well. You gave them the option for the consumer to provide constructive feedback that didn’t necessarily, you know, it’s possible for you to be very, very happy with the transaction and still want to be able to and are still capable of providing constructive feedback to the agent. If the only thing you’re trying to assess is, you know, a four or a five-star rating, you’re forcing me to give an overview of the entire transaction based upon the cumulation of that experience. if the last experience I had was bad, I’m going to rate you lower. This allowed us to create, I think of a more accurate picture of what took place around the entire transaction. I think, as a result, agents felt more comfortable with it and certainly brokers felt more comfortable with it because they had access to data that actually help them improve their processes.
Mike:Which, is so crazy because you take this thing that’s almost perceived as largely negative reviews, right? It was at one point. And position it as this opportunity where now it’s not just helping great, great product, especially on the tech side. But it is helping grow and get that constructive feedback to actually increase and ask the consumer’s experience. So, on that thread, I just want to change gears a little bit, but you know right now we’re in what is a really a negative time, I would think is very fair to say. Negative from the fact that there’s a lot of things happening, right? Pandemic, societal changes, however, I would really be cured on the entrepreneur’s, the optimistic view on what hopefully this can do for us going forward and how we can look at these opportunities to really capture this and make those positive changes. Much like you’ve done in the past with products.
Jeff: Yeah, no, I… listen. I think there’s an interesting dynamic that’s taking place today that is important to understand, that we’re going through this global pandemic, globally. We see shifts sometimes that take place in technology that are driven by one side or the other. So, consumers gravitate towards social media, they sort of drag agents towards social media. We see agents adopt a specific technology and they want to try and drag consumers into that technology as well. And in this case, everyone’s being dragged toward certain kinds of technologies by the necessity of what has to be done during this global pandemic. And I was reading, there was an article in I think it was IEEE Spectrum or one of the tech journals that I was reading was talking about whether or not the coronavirus pandemic was going to make early adopters out of all of us because these stay-at-home orders were triggering this boom in the use of consumer technology on both sides of the equation. And I think that’s going to be good for the real estate industry long-term. I think there’s going to be a positive impact of both the consumer and the realtor engaging in the use of these consumer technologies. These technologies may have been seen as “business only” like Zoom for example. We’re sitting here on a Zoom meeting. If I would have walked up and down my cul-de-sac 4 months ago and said “hey, have you ever used Zoom?” They look at me like a third eye. But if I do that today, I guarantee you every single human being on this street would be able to describe to me what Zoom was. And that’s, I think that’s a really unique and interesting dynamic that is going to drive the adoption of technology and make people less technology averse as a result. You know, you’re all being forced towards it and now they’ve touched these new technologies, they felt them. There’s an ease that’s coming about it as a result of it that I am actually hopeful. Yes, it’s a bad time, but I’m hopeful that it actually drives more early adoption to technology.
Mike:So then, just to take it back to the real estate industry and specifically before this though, because one of these things that people always talk about is that it’s a relationship-based industry, it’s all about the human connection, it’s all about the face to face. But you know, for those people that are saying, well the technology is great but I don’t want it to replace the human element. What’s your take, do you think you could ever replace the human element?
Jeff: No, I don’t think it’ll replace it entirely, but you know, I also think that we spent… we wasted time on certain things that we didn’t need to waste time on. I look at virtual tours as a good example of this. You know, virtual tours were always judged and have always been judged and you know, this may not change behaviour, but they were always judged on the marketing side of the equation. I don’t need to do a virtual tour to sell the home, even though the vast majority of consumers, like 84% of consumers said that I want to see a virtual tour before I go visit a home. 2 years ago, less than 3% of homes had an actual virtual tour and I just did the count again two weeks ago. I went onto Realtor.com and Realtor.com has an investment in Matterport, so they have an investment!
Mike:If anyone’s going to have them, they’ve got it!
Jeff: If anyone’s going to have them, they’ll have it. It’s still less than 5%! We’re sitting in the middle of a global pandemic where people can’t get out and do it and still less than 5%. But here’s the thing, other forms of what are called “virtual tours” have begun to emerge as well. The ability to do a virtual open house by taking a camera in and walking around using the Zoom meeting to hold a virtual open house. I think if we feed this through the lens of both efficiency, and the ability to make certain that we’re delivering what the consumer is looking for and needs. And now that the consumer is more comfortable with this, imagine now that I’ve got you on a zoom meeting and I share my screen and I’ve got multiple virtual tours of homes that I have listed and I can walk you through these listings, ask and answer your questions. I’m not diminishing the value of that relationship, I’m actually empowering a different kind of relationship. I’m taking advantage of the efficiencies that have come from being able to engage with someone in a different way. And now I can show you seven properties, walk you through them, answer your questions and then take you out to the two that seem most interesting to you. You see more, you get more benefit, I express my knowledge and then transfer that into something that’s more real when I have the opportunity to actually get face to face. I think those are the kinds of changes that we’re going to see come about, where you shift thinking about a specific technology in one way and now begin to see it as a way to use it differently. And that’s why I think virtual tours are a good example of where that might take place.
Mike:Yeah, I love that. And you know, where my mind is kind of going on this, is that not only do you get the efficiency, but you actually get the return on life on both sides.
Mike: So both the consumer and the realtor now have that time to go to their kids’ soccer practice or play the piano together, or colour, or whatever they’re doing with their family or work a little bit. And you know, through this pandemic, there’s a lot of things to talk about in efficiency, and adoption. And all of this is that ROI thing, Return on Investment.
Mike: However, there’s a component that I’m really excited about is the return on life. It’s the no commuting. It’s the lack of traffic. It’s these ancillaries that allow us to do it and even if it’s 10 or 15 minutes more with our children, or whatever it might be, is what I’m getting really excited about and I think those are the secondary permutations down the line that could really be cool.
Jeff: Honestly, that’s been the promise of technology. And I’m not certain it’s technology’s fault that we haven’t taken advantage of it if you understand what I’m saying. The notion that now we’ve been forced… As much as I’m like over zoomed, it’s 9:30 am, and this is my fourth zoom already. It’s 9:30 a.m. here in Southern California. I’m actually becoming more comfortable in them, even though I would rather do less of them. So I know when I will want to use this in the future, and when I will not want to use it in the future. And other technologies are going to be the same way. You know, we’ve been talking about this “oncoming surge” of natural language processing chatbots that feel more human. One of the companies in this year’s REACH class Ylopo has an AI system called Raiya and Raiya uses certain elements of natural language processing to give you more of your life back. I mean no one wants to be constantly tied to their phone. If I’m sitting at my kids’ baseball game, or my kids’ track meet and I’ve got a listing and there’s somebody sitting out in front of that listing if 90% of the questions they’re going to ask could be answered by an intelligent chatbot, why shouldn’t they be? Why shouldn’t that technology engage me when my expertise and my necessity to build relationships end up coming to the fore and introduced me into that conversation at a more appropriate time. That to me is taking advantage of the promises of technology in ways that give us back the things we’re most longing for. And the thing I’m most longing for right now, as a result of this pandemic is not more business meetings. That’s not what I’m longing for, I’m getting plenty of business meetings in. What I’m longing for is the ability to go sit with friends and enjoy that social contact that I’ve been missing. And there’s a part of me that believes that we’re going to value that even more on the backside of this. We’re going to want to have as much of it as we can have and to use these technologies to deliver that for us.
Mike:I love it. And you know what, I feel the exact same way. And even on the natural language, I just turned Siri on, on my iPhone. I’ve had an iPhone since they came out and I have been against it, and I consider myself an early adopter. But just the text wasn’t there and I’m still a little bit of fighting.
Jeff: But you know, it’s not there on Apple. Apple is way down there. Google’s way better from an accuracy standpoint.
Mike:I know! It pains me!
Jeff: Google is like, 20% higher than Alexa even. You know, everybody’s judging this by Alexa. I remember a conversation at NAR New Orleans between Bill Lublin, Bill Madder, and I, and we were arguing about who is going to win this natural language processing war. It was going to be Google or Amazon. I was arguing it was Google because they have better data. Bill was arguing that it was Amazon because they have so many devices you know inside. I think I’m going to win that argument.
Jeff: I think Google’s going to win on the natural language processes.
Mike:I saw a GIF on Twitter the other day and they had it side-by-side and it was Google just crushing it.
Jeff: Just crushing it!
Mike:On that note, you know, I think I’m taking more time than I needed to Jeff, but this has been awesome. Let’s do it again and thanks so much for coming on the show!
Jeff: Thanks for inviting me, I really, really appreciate it.
Mike:Alright, take care!
— End of Podcast —
Beyond the Box: Conversations with real estate executives, venture capital partners and technologists on what lays ahead for the real estate industry in a world after COVID-19.