How a Chopper Pilot and Bike Maker Launched a Cyber Real Estate Broker
Introducing a new entrepreneur's diary
I'm Scott Kucirek. Welcome to zipRealty.com, an Internet startup that my partner, Juan Mini, and I founded in October, 1998. And welcome to this twice-monthly chronicle of our struggles, conflicts, and triumphs as we build our company -- an online real estate brokerage.
In early fall, when we have our San Francisco-area launch, people will be able to conduct the entire purchase or sale of their home using our Web site. Unlike in some other parts of the U.S., California home-buyers and sellers use real estate agents, who handle everything, including contract negotiations. Lawyers rarely get involved. We handle listings, arrange showings, convey documents, offer feedback. And zipRealty.com will do it all online. We're like a traditional real estate agent, only you won't come to our office, and for the most part, you'll visit the houses by yourself. Eventually, we'll adapt the model to other parts of the country. The advantage for you? Lower commissions and more convenience. This young business -- online real estate -- has upstarts in every niche, but industry folks tell us we'll be the first -- for a while, anyway -- offering soup-to-nuts service.
Everyone is racing to harness the Net in new ways to create something that'll take off big. Juan and I had already trashed four other Internet real estate businesses by October, 1998, when we started thinking about this concept. In December, we began pitching our idea to 3000 Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, home of many large venture-capital firms. We got numerous rejections or call-you-back-laters (Translation: "You're toast, but I don't want to tell you that today just in case you actually stumble onto something.") We kept polishing on our business plan.
BUILDING A CAST. By March, the plan was solid. This time, we got it right. In an incredible six-week period, we received two competing offers for the first round of financing. Vanguard Venture Partners gave us $1.7 million at the end of May. We moved into our new headquarters on June 23, 1999, and are scrambling to get our product to market. Come winter, we'll start our quest for a second round of venture financing.
As of late June, our cast of characters was about eight people. We hired our first employee on Mar. 15, and we're adding one or two a week. They include real estate veterans, Army veterans, Navy veterans (me) -- and B-school classmates.
How did we get here? The story begins in January, 1998. Juan and I had just finished the first semester of the MBA program at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. I came to Haas fresh from a nine-year stint as a Naval officer. I flew helicopters, ran a 225-person recruiting force, and had sworn never to work in a large company. I came to Haas to get a crash course in business and start a company again -- as fast as possible. I have a wife, daughter, and mortgage payments.
Drawn to Haas by the excitement of high-tech startups, Juan came from Guatemala, where he was the CEO of VECESA, the region's leading bicycle manufacturer. Over a semester break, Juan proposed starting an online international relocation company. After a few weeks of discussions, we became partners. We convinced the chairman of Haas's Entrepreneurship Dept., John Freeman, to let us into his new business incubator. By April, we had a 150-square-foot office with old computers. By summer, we had abandoned Idea No. 1 in favor of providing local rental information in cities around the globe. We spent the entire summer building our first site, GlobalRent.com, which was beta-tested in Berkeley. After two more false starts, we finally hit upon what has become zipRealty.com. Imagine trashing a 90-plus page Internet site and a 40-page business plan that took four months of 16-hour days and thousands dollars to develop. And, on the very day you decide to do that, you have lunch with a classmate who just finished a 10-week summer internship that paid $20,000 and awaits $100,000-a-year offers -- plus large signing bonus.
We survived such moments on blind optimism, mutual support, and humor. "Has the check for $1 million arrived yet?" became a refrain around the office. Next time, I'll dive into our daily saga. It's a wild ride. See you in two weeks.
Scott Kucirek is president and co-founder of zipRealty.com, an online real estate brokerage. The company's Internet site and online real estate agents let people complete the entire purchase or sale of a house via the Web. The company's Web site is www.zipRealty.com, and you can E-mail Scott at Scott@zipRealty.com.