As part of our series about the “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Ron.
Nick Ron, CEO of House Buyers of America, is a tech-savvy industry veteran with over 20 years of experience as a real estate investor. Since 2001, Nick has bought 1,000s of homes in the Washington D.C. Metro area through his hybrid real estate model that balances technology with human, on-the-ground expertise.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After studying Business, Economics, and Information Systems, Nick Ron began a successful career at CACI Marketing Systems, where he sold software and marketing systems. Out of a team of 12 salespeople, Nick brought in over half of all new business after only three years of being with CACI. His success at CACI gave him the confidence to launch into his next venture. Nick founded House Buyers of America in 2001 and has been running the company as CEO since it started. House Buyers has succeeded beyond Nick’s wildest imagination by leveraging tech, marketing systems, and operational excellence. House Buyers of America buys, renovates, and resells a high volume of homes, offering homeowners a way to sell their houses quickly and hassle-free. I founded House Buyers back in 2001 with the simple concept of offering homeowners a better alternative to sell their home than the traditional real estate model. House Buyers has always been a high growth company, going from $0 to $50 million in annual revenue in its first three years of business and currently experiencing triple-digit growth. Nick won the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and continues to reinvent the residential real estate industry with the latest technology and innovation.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The first office we rented was in a mixed-use commercial space. Our office was on the top level. My team would go into the office early in the morning and because we grew so quickly, we took up all the parking spaces before the other tenants got in. Retail shops in our building would get upset that there were no parking spots for their customers. Some of our folks would park across the street in the Post Office parking lot, and some would get towed. We then moved to a bigger space that allowed for over 100 employees. We had expansion plans in different cities but then realized we overshot with our headquarter office space and did not need this big of a home office. I needed space in other cities. I learned if you need more office space, you can find it when you are ready.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My wife, Ana, believed in me from the very beginning. She has been my biggest cheerleader, supporting me every step of the way. She knows first-hand the hard work I have done my entire life to become successful. When I started House Buyers, I did not have the connections or cash that surround typical entrepreneurs. However, Ana believed in me before I had any real business success. Whenever we’ve gone through business struggles, her faith in me has never waivered, even when I would start losing faith in myself. Ana also has a degree in Engineering Management and grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so she has always been a great sounding board for my ideas and isn’t afraid to challenge me with my ideas.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
My vision was to reinvent the real estate industry. We wanted to be the Amazon of real estate. This meant fundamentally changing how real estate was traditionally done by offering an innovative alternative and leveraging technology. Our purpose was to make the process quick and easy for buyers and sellers. We always remained energized and focused on our vision by continually upgrading our technology and studying the market to serve our customers better.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
When COVID-19 locked down the world, we saw this as an opportunity to double down on our tech investment to serve our buyers and sellers faster than ever. Our entire system was already in the cloud, so our transition to a remote workforce was seamless. With this said, we knew Covid would accelerate the adoption of technology in real estate, so it lit a fire under us to get ahead of the curve even quicker. Now 12 months later, we can reach sellers and move them through the real estate process quicker and more seamlessly than ever. This saves people time and money, allowing them to focus on living their lives. Over the next year, we are launching into new markets to continue our vision — reinventing the real estate industry by making the process as easy and painless as possible.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. As you know, Digital Transformation refers to the integration of technology to speed up processes, efficiency and productivity. Many CEOs have argued that Digital Transformation is not a choice, but a necessity to stay competitive. Do you agree? Can you explain what you mean?
Digitizing your company is essential to survival. When the pandemic paralyzed our country, real estate was forced to go contactless. At that moment, the entire industry was propelled into the future. Consumers requested virtual showings and e-closings to keep safe. Investors, agents, brokers, and title companies all worked together in creating a seamless and contactless transaction process. For all these reasons, you must have your company on a cloud-based platform because the way we work has changed forever. The customer experience bar is high with the digital transformation. Additionally, we believe remote work is a permanent tread, causing the way we live to change for the better.
We would love to hear about your own experiences with Digital Transformation.
How have you used Digital Transformation to improve customer experiences and other aspects of your operations and processes?
We focused on automating our lead management through a cloud-based platform to improve the customer experience, increase agent productivity and maximize efficiency across the company. Managing leads this way gives you the capability to track your leads and data through the entire sales funnel. For example, when the potential customer dials into our call center or enters their data on our website, our cloud-based CRM system captures it precisely — drastically reducing possible human error. Our automated system also provides real-time data such as tracking codes and useful data to measure ROI: including keywords, the time of day, and which type of ad brought in the lead. This allows analyzing which marketing campaigns are performing best. Once our leads are in the CMR, they immediately route to the sales team and tracks to the process to make sure the customer is responded to right away and gets an offer quickly. Once the customer accepts our offer, our entire transaction management is automated and tracked so nothing slips through the tracks. Anyone on our team can get real-time information on the transaction and identify bottlenecks in advance to ensure nothing slows down the transaction.
How far along are you with the digital transformation of your company?
We are continually improving our technology to stay ahead of the curve, we’re way ahead of our peers. We are one of the most advanced in our space in the entire country. Our systems are not only built on great technology, but we have 20 years of experience that allows us to build the property systems into our tech. We never want to relax and have the mentality that we have arrived. To remain cutting edge, you must continuously evolve and adapt to consumer needs. Technology will only get more expensive in the future, so invest now while the cost is lower.
Are there specific areas that you are digitally transforming, or are you doing it across your entire company?
From the start 20 years ago, our business model has always been driven by technology. We constantly invest time and money to update our software and develop new systems across all areas of our company. Our success is determined by serving buyers and sellers in the most efficient manner possible. This means automating these key areas of real estate; lead management, offer negotiations, renovation projects, field management, and now e-closing procedures.
How are things going with this new direction?
We see more opportunities in the year ahead than ever before. The digital transformation in real estate comes during a time when the market is strong due to historically low-interest rates and pent-up demand. To meet the market demand, we harnessed our two-decades of industry knowledge and poured that expertise into the latest technology to improve operations and serve customers with faster, more superior service than ever before. Our technology is allowing us to expand into new markets very quickly and train up a new team very fast. We look forward to the next 20 years of milestones as we continue to reinvent the real estate industry with our technology.
Has your digital transformation enabled you to provide a better value for your customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Absolutely! Instead of buyers and sellers going the traditional route and using a realtor, they can sell their home hassle-free within days instead of months. In one phone call or form filled out online, you can have an offer on your home. Customers bypass all the traditional steps of selling a home, including finding a realtor, renovating the home to sell, and lengthy negotiations. We automate every single step for buyers and sellers.
Has integrating digital transformation been a challenging process. What are the challenges? How do you resolve them?
The cost can be a challenge. When you first start, if technology investment was not in your budget, you need to pivot and make the adjustment to include this cost. It will pay dividends. The key is having a long-term thought process when it comes to your technology. Early on, you may not understand the technology that well, and that is okay; just become a student of technology and keep improving the way you implement it in your business. For example, right now, we are investing in new systems that will not benefit us until the next year or two. However-we have developed automated systems that will be in place for the next ten years — saving us time and money, year over year.
Your technology budget should allocate funds to maintain and customize current systems and invest in new ones. Realized that no system is perfect out of the box. You will always have to tailor the software to your specific needs. For us, no product could meet our needs, so we built one from scratch. We are about five years into this route, and we have honestly made a lot of mistakes. However, we are far better for these mistakes. We realized how to hire the right developers who understood what our users need and did this promptly through a detailed scope of work.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation to Take A Company to The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Move to a Cloud-Based Platform
During COVID, we all learned the value of operating remotely. The gold standard of your company should be “paperless in the cloud.” Today, you can work anywhere in the world. Post-COVID, this will remain. Offering this flexibility to employees is a huge perk, even if it’s only for half the week. You will attract your industry’s best talent, further elevating your company’s experience. The cloud also allows your company to expand into new markets quickly. There is no need to fill an office immediately because you can work remotely. Systems like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s SharePoint make sharing files extremely easy, and communications tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams provide that human connection.
2. Integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
This is a must! Automate and track the entire customer process to ensure your customer’s experience is the absolute best. Aim to have your whole workflow built into systems, so nothing slips through the cracks. If you automate this entire process, you eliminate human error. Workflow management systems and automated CRM’s are key!
3. Digital Marketing
Marketing automation will be huge this year as well. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft Bing offer the ability to track detailed data and measure ROI. Social media marketing-whether paid or unpaid is essential in attracting customers. You can get creative with the phone camera and create videos that give consumers valuable information in a fun, engaging manner. This social media content attracts uses, clicks, and tracks impressions without costing one penny.
4. Solid Website Ranking
Your company’s web presence allows you to be anywhere in the world. Make sure your website is search engine optimized so when people search for your service online, your website is at the top of that search.
5. HR Automation
When onboarding new hires (especially remote employees), automated systems will effectively manage the process through video and online media to train people as quickly as possible. HR will also utilize a lot of online applicant tracking systems.
Based on your experience, would you recommend using custom software to digitally transform or off-the-shelf software?
I recommend using a combination of both. There is no off-the-shelf system that will integrate perfectly with your company. You can purchase this system but understand you will need to invest additional funds towards customizing the software to your digital goals.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Necessity is the mother of all invention.”
The initial motivation to start House Buyers was driven by the desire to provide for my kids a much better life than I grew up in. When you grow up on welfare living in section 8 housing, you quickly learn that your hustle determines your survival. My entrepreneur spirit came into play very early in life. I was one of four children, and my family was extremely poor — financially speaking. If I wanted to have decent clothes, go to the movies or game-room, or play video games, I had to hustle and make it happen. That wasn’t something my mother could provide for us. At age of nine, I started collecting $.05 cans. I did whatever it took to get those cans, even dumpster hopped! My business brought in $10-$20 each trip, and it was tax-free! At age 11, I started delivering newspapers before school at 5 am. I learned early on that complaining doesn’t get you anywhere, but with hard work and creativity, you can achieve great things. Looking back, I realized that adversity has been the cornerstone of my success. With every adversity is the seed of equal or greater benefit.
How can our readers further follow your work?