How I Started A $200K Real Estate Brokerage Business

$15K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
The Rockville Rea...
from Rockville, Maryland, USA
started February 2016
$15,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
156
followers
28
followers
market size
$2.69T
avg revenue (monthly)
$192K
starting costs
$15K
gross margin
90%
time to build
7 months
growth channels
Word of mouth
business model
Consulting
best tools
Upwork, Canva, Salesforce
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
5 Tips
Discover what tools Andrew reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Andrew reccommends to grow your business!
Start A Real Estate Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Andy Detweiler and I’m the founder of The Rockville Real Estate Exchange in Rockville, Maryland.

We’re the first real estate brokerage where you can read about every neighborhood in a major metropolitan area (including apartments), see what’s for sale and what’s for rent, and, when ready, contact a true neighborhood expert who lives in the area.

I started as a regular real estate agent and then became a real estate broker, bootstrapping my tech stack and company along the way.

I’ve built up to about $200K per year in revenue myself and am now starting to expand while turning my front-end into a completely proprietary technology product and platform.

how-i-started-a-200k-real-estate-brokerage-business

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My background spans multiple industries.

I’m a writer by trade (used to be a grant writer), but then got involved in consumer sales (took a full commission sales job selling windows and kitchens to prove myself). I then worked in Healthcare IT start-ups for about five years, mainly selling cutting-edge software to hospital CIOs across the country.

When I saw how the buying process was changing (i.e. the death of cold calls and the rise of content), I hooked up with another entrepreneur and we worked for about two years on a bootstrapped digital marketing company. Even though we never achieved product-market fit, I used this time to teach myself everything I could about SEO, content marketing, websites, social media, and so much more. Armed with this sales/marketing experience and success, I wanted to find something where I could put it all to use and build my own thing.

After a few months and some soul-searching, real estate seemed to be a good fit. I haven’t looked back since and have been working on this venture for about six years. My aha moment came when I had only been working in the industry for a few weeks.

I kept being asked numerous questions from consumers on specific condo rules and regulations (i.e. pet policies, utility coverage, and other common questions), so I did a quick Google search for a list – only a list - of condos in the Rockville area, a major metropolitan suburb with almost 70,000 residents.

There was nothing. I couldn’t believe it.

I could find almost anything online, no matter how specific the topic, yet I couldn’t find a simple list of all the condos in a major metropolitan suburb.

It blew my mind.

If you focus on trying to convince people that they need something when they really don’t want it - or don’t see the need - that’s a recipe for failure.

Additionally, one of the first sales I made as an agent was an 8th-floor condo unit - a property that sat on the market for a few weeks, ultimately being sold to a buyer who was currently resting on the 9th floor of the same building.

The total commissions for the sale of the 180K unit were over 10K dollars; the average real estate sale in Montgomery County is well over 500K. Based on these two examples of extreme inefficiencies, I decided to focus on and research the Rockville condo market. I started rockvillemdcondos.com a few months later.

Within a few months, I had about 20K visits of pure organic traffic showing up to my website and I’ve been evolving ever since.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Based on what I had learned in my years at start-ups (and not being a tech guy), I knew I wanted to throw something up as quickly as possible and start iterating from there. I built a website through WordPress and used an IDX plug-in to get rolling.

Over the next three years, I played around with the design and figured out where I needed things to be. Throughout the first two or three years, I would say I had probably hacked together my tech stack using about 15 or 20 tools - tools like Mailchimp and Leadpages, plug-ins like Sumo Apps, etc.

I didn’t want to pay $20K for a website that I would likely want to change a week later. In other words, I had to figure out what I wanted to build first before actually building it.

It was a painstaking process, but I’ve whittled down that tech stack to about four different vendors at this point - Gsuite, Salesforce on the back-end, WordPress on the front-end, and Clickfunnels to manage email campaigns.

My last step - which I’m at now - is creating a completely custom front-end tech product that is 100% proprietary, integrated with Salesforce, and belongs to me.

Here’s a screenshot of my homepage when I first went live (this was before I was a broker, so I had to call myself The Detweiler Group and use RE/MAX branding on the site).

how-i-started-a-200k-real-estate-brokerage-business

I’ve bootstrapped everything along the way, intending to fire myself from each job as I’ve gotten farther along. For instance, at first, it was just me working on everything.

After a year or two, I wound up hiring a Salesforce consultant (to help with my back-end build) and a digital marketing specialist to help me test out ads and work on my tech stack.

Later I drilled down and hired someone specifically to work on the technical aspect of the site. When I had finally had something I thought was worth protecting, I employed a lawyer.

I’ve drilled down in that manner to include a graphic designer, an SEO specialist, and a video marketing person, an admin, and a few more folks at different times throughout the years. The farther I progress, the more jobs I fire myself from and bring on a specialist to handle that work.

Describe the process of launching the business.

When I launched my business, I had absolutely no idea I would land where I am today. I just knew there was a problem I thought was worth solving. I wasn’t sure how to verbalize the problem, the solution, or where it was going to take me, but I knew it was a big problem.

Again, using my experience in different industries, I bootstrapped most of my tech work while I learned the real estate industry. As I succeeded there and closed deals, I would use that money to invest back into the business, build, and test out different things.

I’ve used that same strategy for the first five years of the company. This has allowed me to keep my overhead extremely low while continuing to move forward with my greater vision.

The biggest lesson I learned from starting was confirmation bias for me; you just have to start. Once you start and are actually moving somewhere, you can go through the process of making mistakes (an absolute necessity) and figuring out what works/what doesn’t.

The longer you delay or try to hatch the perfect plan, the longer it will take you to make those mistakes and the longer it will take to get where you are going. That being said, on a few things, I wish I would have brought in experts earlier so I didn’t waste so much time making errors others could have prevented me from making.

It’s a fine line.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I’m in a bit of a unique situation in that I’m positioned to be a tech company that also has a major in-person sales/service component. That being said, my advice/recommendations for any aspiring founders are pretty simple: focus on solving the problem and providing value - the rest will take care of itself.

If you are truly solving a problem that causes enough pain for people - (and you are truly providing enough value) people are going to adopt your product/service and pay you for it, it’s that simple.

If you focus on trying to convince people that they need something when they really don’t want it - or don’t see the need - that’s a recipe for failure.

If they don’t want to pay you or they don’t see it as a big enough problem, you have two choices: keep building out the solution until they get it or admit you’re not providing the value you think you are providing.

Either conclusion requires a large amount of brutal honesty with oneself - as well as an enormous amount of self-awareness.

You can’t be afraid of the truth.

With regards to website traffic, marketing, and sales, I have tested a large amount. My overwhelming focus has been on hyperlocal organic traffic; it converts.

Based on my market and business model, I just don’t see the ROI from traditional online advertising. That being said, I believe the recently released Google lead generation service for certified local businesses has a lot of potentials.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

For the moment, I’m pretty excited about where we are. I’ve bootstrapped everything, so I am profitable and I believe I am at the point where I know exactly what I want to build and how to scale it.

Real estate commissions (just one revenue stream I am pursuing) have large margins if you can produce the qualified lead. I’ve spent all of my time building a “machine” that does just that - and further streamlines the entire back-end of the real estate transaction. I grossed approximately 200K last year and that was just me, spending about 97% of my time behind a computer.

As I begin to bring on additional salespeople to work the systems I have created - and expand to other markets, revenue streams (i.e. selling qualified leads to apartment complexes), I expect those numbers to grow exponentially over the next few years.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Absolutely. One major lesson I’ve learned is that whatever the issue is at the moment, it’s just a problem that needs to be solved - and you can employ people to help you solve the problem.

For example, I’ve always been concerned about bringing people on board, knowing interviewing is a huge weakness of mine - if someone says what I want them to say, I get overly excited, and start to speak for them.

All they have to do is sit there and nod their heads. From my sales career, I understand the value of listening versus talking, but when I’m interviewing, I struggle with the concept mightily.

At some point, it occurred to me I could hire an HR person to help me conduct the interviews and accompanying personality tests so I wouldn’t be blinded by my excitement. Again, whatever the problem you’re facing - even if it’s an interpersonal one or an internal belief that is holding you back - there’s someone/something who can help you solve that problem.

Another huge lesson I’ve worked extremely hard on is learning there are going to be good days and bad days - and that my goal is to stay as even keel as possible. Like many entrepreneurs, I’m a type-A, passionate personality who thinks about his vision/business 24/7 and wants everything to happen yesterday. This can be really unhealthy from a mental health standpoint, so I’ve tried to get better at not being so maniacal about things.

Similarly, I used to expend a lot of energy and emotional capital trying to get people to see my vision. I realized this was a complete waste of time and I would be far better off directing that energy towards accomplishing said vision than trying to get buy-in from someone after a five-minute conversation.

Most people are simply not visionaries and of course, don’t spend 24/7 thinking deconstructing the problem in the way an entrepreneur does - that’s why you're the entrepreneur and most people have jobs. It was a huge revelation for me and something that had held me back throughout my career. Namely, it took me a long time to build up the confidence to not care about what others thought/think in that capacity.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I use Gsuite, Salesforce, WordPress, and Clickfunnels at the moment. That comprises about 90% of the tools I use.

I think it’s also worth mentioning I’ve had a ton of luck finding great talent on Upwork - I’ve found the key is writing really descriptive, long job descriptions as a way to weed out the majority of candidates.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Hands down, the most helpful influencer out there for me has been Brian Dean (SEO guy who puts out amazing content).

I’m a huge fan of demonstrable advice (re: “do this”) as opposed to concept-based “advice” and he delivers enormously.

I have to give a large amount of credit for my web traffic success to him.

As for books, I’ve read a lot over the last few months, and have found great value in Zero to One by Peter Thiel, Invent and Wander by Jeff Bezos, and Above the Line by Urban Meyer.

All three of these books have had really good actionable advice in them. For instance, Theil’s point about having people who are all-in or all-out (no part-timers or contractors) really resonated with me.

I also loved Bezos’s musings on the importance of always thinking long-term.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

For the moment, I am contracting out for the web development of my custom real estate web application.

I also hope to bring on a conversion consultant towards the end of the year, whose sole job would be to focus on conversions through our website and drip campaigns - this would be part-time.

Lastly, I’m hiring local real estate experts on a full-time basis for specific territories in the Rockville, Maryland area.

Yes, I pay people for their work.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Andrew Detweiler,   Founder of The Rockville Real Estate Exchange
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

Discover the best strategies of successful business owners

Join our newsletter and receive our handcrafted recap with the best insights shared by founders in Starter Story each week.

Useful, convenient, and free:

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment
Your email address will not be published.

Tim Fahey
4 days ago

Andy,
I love your demonstrative entrepreneurial spirit.

Want to start a real estate business? Learn more ➜