Riley is a 24/7 text-message based concierge service for real estate agents.
An excerpt from an interview with Co-founders Daniel Ahmadizadeh, Helson Taveras, Edward Li and David Lee.
What's the story behind Riley?
Daniel: On June 19th of 2015, at 11:00pm, we posted an ad on Facebook to try to see if we could create a very simple website, where all it would say on site is a simple phone number. You would be prompted to text that phone number to find your next apartment. The number was a Google Voice number, so there was really no technology behind it. By 2:00 am, the site was live. In the morning it was featured on Product Hunt and all of a sudden people from around the country and all the way to Zagreb, Croatia were texting this number to find an apartment.
A few months later, the decision was made to completely switch the idea. Instead of having people text to find their next home, we would tackle a different problem, again in Real Estate. When reaching out to different agents on different platforms, we realized that the response rate of every agent varied. They could respond to you in two minutes, two hours, two days, or never. The thought was that none of us would wait two hours for anything these days and the consumer expectation seems to lean towards this immediacy. So we built a service where when you inquire about an apartment on a site like StreetEasy, within two minutes you'll get a text message from an actual human being who will then ask the pre-qualifying questions on the agent's behalf.
What has been the biggest challenge that you've faced thus far?
Helson: Personally, for me I don't think there has been one mountain that we've had to tackle.
Daniel: The biggest challenge that we've faced? Definitely finding the right team. Getting the right team together was the hardest part. But that makes it seem as though we don't have a hard challenge right now, which we do...
Ed: We have plenty of stuff to do right now...
Daniel: The reality is that these ideas are a dime a dozen. It's cliche...but it all comes down on your ability to execute the idea. So, unless you don't have the right pieces to make that happen - that's the mountain. By assembling those pieces so well, you give yourself the best change to climb that mountain.
What is success for you guys?
Helson: I think that we've experienced tiny fractions of success so far. Like the car(d) that we got. We got a really nice car(d) from a client saying thank you -
- you got a car?
Helson: No (laughs), a card. Yeah, we got a Mazda. It was a little, Hershey Kiss of success.
Helson: Just someone saying 'thank you, you did a good job.' Or consumer facing, something thanking our concierges. If they feel like they were attended to, then we know we did a good job there. That's a good metric for us right now to know: are we making people happy.
David: For me, personally, a general metric of success is -- just like for any company -- is if you're talked about. Just that penetration into the public mindset, or maybe not the public mindset because we're for real estate agents, so if we penetrate the minds of the real estate agents, that would be something I would view as a success.
Have you made any mistakes along the way?
Daniel: Oh, so many.
Helson: If we didn't make mistakes, that would be a mistake in itself. In developing the product and figuring out what people want, making sure not to make assumptions...because we're not real estate agents, none of us are real estate agents.
None of you have a background in real estate?
Helson: Nope, no real estate background. So when we go into thinking 'this is what an agent wants,' we have to really go and check to see what a real estate agent actually wants. Then, make sure that all of our features are tailored to what they would actually use. We've made a few mistakes here and there with that, but I think it's all been a learning experience and we're at a good place now where we have some assumptions about that.
In one word, how would you characterize the process of creating Riley so far?
Helson: Revision. We constantly go back to the drawing board, and reassess ourselves and think about where we’re moving, what we have done and how we can make it better. And pointing out pain-points and going and fixing the product. We’re constantly revising and improving.
David: Iteration. We’ve had a lot of different iterations of some form of our product and we’re obviously going to have a lot more iterations in the future.
Ed: Prioritization. We’re constantly prioritizing stuff — stuff is going to change week to week, we might just throw something out. It’s very fast.
Daniel: I’m going to do two words, one word for what the process has been and one word for what it is now. Lonely. Immediate first word that came to mind, there’s a lot of hype around startups and people make it seem like it’s a glamorous thing. It’s not like that at all. You have to keep your head down, you have to be laser focused. Second word, selfless. It’s not about you. You’re not building this thing for you — so it shouldn’t be about your ego. You're building something to create value for others and if a byproduct of that is anything for you then that will take care of itself.
- Interviewed by H.B., ROKO Labs.