My name is Thomas Kutzman, and I am Co-CEO and Co-founder of Prevu, a real estate technology company founded in 2016 whose mission it is to save homebuyers time money. We closed our $2 million seed-funding round in September 2019 (lead investors were Corigin Ventures, Kairos and AVG Basecamp), and we are using the proceeds to advance our growth strategy as part of our desire to make home-buying more transparent, efficient and affordable in high growth metropolitan cities across the country.
When my co-founder Chase Marsh and I were outlining our vision for Prevu, we knew our innovative platform would differentiate us (more on that in a moment), but it was also important for us that our customers viewed our agents as friendly advisors first and foremost, rather than as sales-driven professionals that dominate the brokerage industry. We have a saying around here that we serve as friends in the early miles and experts in the last.
What we created at Prevu is a digital home-buying experience that offers unparalleled control, transparency and savings. Our customers can complete the home buying process – from the initial search, to offer, to close – entirely online, which is how they are accustomed to purchasing everything else these days. Think about it: going away? There’s Booking.com for that. Making dinner reservations? That’s done via Open Table. Need a last-minute gift idea? Hello Amazon. So, in essence, what’ve we’ve done is given home buyers the option to purchase their home online as they do pretty much everything else.
What’s more, because our platform has made the home buying experience more efficient for both agent and customer, we are able to reward buyers with a Smart Buyer rebate of up to 2 percent off the home’s purchase price, while allowing our agents to spend all of their time dedicated to customer service (not chasing new leads). On average, our customers have received rebates of $23,000.
We are excited and encouraged by all of the success we’ve had so far and the overwhelming positive feedback our customers have shared with us. We can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store for us as we expand into new markets!
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
My professional experience began on a fairly traditional path in financial markets. After graduating in 2005 from Stern School of Business at NYU with a degree in finance and accounting, I started my career as an equities trader at SAC Capital Advisors focused on the technology sector. I spent three years in this position.
You should never be afraid to ask for help from your co-founder(s), investors, or employees. While it seems natural in the business world to put on a brave face even if things aren’t in rocket ship mode, you should train yourself to be comfortable being vulnerable and leaning on your support structure to overcome short-term hurdles.
Thereafter, I spent several years at major investment banks in New York also focused on equities trading with a continued specialization in public technology companies. As my career progressed, an opportunity arose for me to leverage my U.S. market experience and work overseas in Geneva, Switzerland. My final role in financial markets was serving as the U.S. equities trader reporting to the CIO of Jabre Capital Partners, a position I held for five years.
The experience, insights, and understanding of capital markets that I gained while working in finance for over a decade provided a great foundation for helping Chase and I launch Prevu.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I was always passionate about real estate. From an early age, I was strongly encouraged to buy instead of rent and was taught that investing in real estate was an opportunity to build wealth conservatively over time. While the first chapters of my professional career focused on financial markets, the restrictions placed on me by the compliance departments of large asset managers and investment banks made it much easier to invest in properties rather than seek the corporate permissions for stock and bond investments.
It was in my conversations about my real estate transactions – not my brokerage transactions – that I ended up forming a close friendship with Chase, who was also working in finance at the time. We found ourselves having regular conversations discussing our frustrations with the high fees and antiquated processes of residential real estate transactions via traditional brokerages and thought there had to be a better way.
During our early professional lives, we saw firsthand how technology transformed equities trading from both a fee and a convenience perspective. We believe real estate is in the early innings of disruption, and there are many parallels to the technological changes we witnessed in many other sectors over our careers.
Taking the leap from an established career to being a first-time founder was not easy. There have been a lot of learnings along the way. The guiding star though the entrepreneurial journey has been embracing the highs (and lows) of the process and staying true to our founding mission as we have iterated and perfected our business model.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Prevu is a mission-driven company focused on saving homebuyers money and making home-buying more affordable in urban cities, and I couldn’t be happier with the trajectory our team is on.
As I stated above, in late 2019, we announced the successful closing of our seed round with a lead investment from Corigin Ventures, an early investor in real estate unicorn Compass. This investment will allow us to accelerate our growth, add to our engineering team, enter new markets, and bring our mission of savings to more homebuyers. Prevu is currently a licensed brokerage in New York and Connecticut, and will soon be announcing two new markets in early 2020.
We envision a world where everyone can buy a home online seamlessly and more affordably.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
There are only so many hours in each day and each week. As a founder, you wear many hats and serve many roles in the early days of your startup. One of the greatest lessons I learned early in my entrepreneurial journey was to create blocks of time within my day. What that means is I set aside windows of several hours to focus on marketing and several hours for other tasks within a given category.
This grouping of time allows me to be more productive for a few reasons. First, I remain in one specific mindset for a period of time, allowing myself to hit a greater depth of insight on the task at hand. Second, I’m less distracted. It is very easy to get pulled to lower priority topics during the day. By scheduling your time very rigidly, you focus your attention on the highest impact items rather than noise.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Having a passion for marketing for Prevu, one of my favorite tools that our team uses is Buffer. It allows us to conveniently schedule our social media posts across organic marketing channels, as well as provides an organized content creation and review process which is extremely important for discipline as a company grows.
As is true in any organization, communication is key, and like many successful startups, we use Slack. The chat system is easy to use and fosters a great deal of collaboration and transparency across business functions. The ability to share work product, news, and celebrate team wins in an open forum also has helped build a culture in the early days of our startup company.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I generally prefer podcasts to books, as podcasts are easier to consume during my daily commute. That said, there are a few recent books I have enjoyed.
- Invested: Changing Forever The Way Americans Invest by Charles Schwab - A fabulous memoir where Charles Schwab highlights his journey as a disruptor in the early days of online stock trading. There are countless lessons of navigating the ebbs and flows of startup life in this book.
- Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer - If you are in any customer related business, this is a must-read. The views of an accomplished restaurateur like Danny Meyer bring practical applications and mindsets that you can foster in your team to provide the best customer service possible.
In many interviews, I share my favorite podcasts and the two below are top-notch even for a new podcast listener.
- This Week In Startups by Jason Calacanis - With over 1,000 shows, Jason Calacanis has provided some of the best advice for entrepreneurs with his no-nonsense style of interviewing founders, industry experts, and venture investors.
- The CMO Podcast by Jim Stengel - If you are in marketing and have not heard of this show yet, you are doing yourself a disservice. Jim Stengel’s focus on brand purpose combined with the caliber of his guests is an abridged marketing MBA for anyone trying to take their company’s marketing to the next level.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My best advice for entrepreneurs, especially first-timers, is to bootstrap as long as possible. Doing more with less teaches you operational discipline that will be invaluable as you scale. It also teaches you to be creative and more efficient with the capital you have - a lesson many easily-funded startups never learn as they fly too close to the sun.
As part of the bootstrapping theme, make sure you never stop learning. Thanks to the internet, there are countless lessons you can learn online without having to immediately hire a consultant or employee to figure out for you. That said, only do this when you are passionate about the topic. Whether it is technology related, marketing-related, or another topic, make sure you have an interest in what you are spending time learning and leave the rest to your colleagues.
Finally, you should never be afraid to ask for help from your co-founder(s), investors, or employees. While it seems natural in the business world to put on a brave face even if things aren’t in rocket ship mode, you should train yourself to be comfortable being vulnerable and leaning on your support structure to overcome short-term hurdles. That is what they are there for.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Thomas’ Twitter
- Company Twitter
- Thomas’ LinkedIn
- Company LinkedIn
- Thomas’ Instagram
- Company Instagram
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