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The Techcrunch Interviews: Flyhomes: Buy Real Estate Online and Get a Free Flight

At Media Jobs we like to bring you the most inno­v­a­tive com­pa­nies.  In this inter­view we will learn about a new com­pa­ny that is dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing them­selves in the high­ly com­pet­i­tive res­i­den­tial real estate mar­ket by tar­get­ing the upscale mar­ket of fre­quent fly­ers and how award­ing thou­sands of fre­quent fly­er points can cre­ate a new busi­ness mod­el for sell­ing homes.  Imag­ine being able to take a free vaca­tion after spend­ing your life sav­ings on a home.

Lis­ten in as Roy Weiss­man of inter­views the CEO and Founder of Stephen Lane.



Roy: This is Roy Weiss­man from and we’re talk­ing with Stephen Lane, the CEO of Fly­Homes. What is Fly­Homes? How did this idea come about? What prob­lem are you try­ing to solve?


Steven: Fly­Homes is an online real estate bro­ker­age with a new way to buy real estate online that we launched in Seat­tle that lit­er­al­ly lets buy­ers own their own home buy­ing process. The kick­er, which is the fun word of mouth thing is, again, they earn air­line miles through the entire home pur­chase. In Seat­tle, if you buy a half a mil­lion dol­lar home, you earn a half mil­lion air­line miles.


In terms of how the process start­ed, and how we start­ed in this, my back­ground, I’ve worked for a devel­op­er, I’ve got an under­grad­u­ate degree in real estate. When I went through my first home pur­chase, I tried to go around agents, and I tried to buy a house with­out using an agent, but in the end, I still got an agent to help me out through the process, the paper­work. I’d nev­er seen these things. It’s like my biggest finan­cial deci­sion in my entire lifetime.


When you start ask­ing around to oth­er peo­ple of my gen­er­a­tion, every­body hon­est­ly says the same thing, that they did­n’t want to use an agent, but they still did. What we did is we cre­at­ed this expe­ri­ence. We’ve designed an entire plat­form around this idea. There’s a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple that, they’re not accus­tomed to using agents. They’d rather buy their TV on Ama­zon than go into a Best Buy and get per­son­al help, but they still need that help.


We made a flex­i­ble plat­form, a flex­i­ble expe­ri­ence where we can pro­vide as much or as lit­tle help as you want. If you want to go tour hous­es, just in open hous­es, and sub­mit an offer on here, cool, we’ll help. If you want to be hand-held through the entire trans­ac­tion and start off and under­stand what neigh­bor­hoods, look, we’ve got an incred­i­bly expe­ri­enced team in Seat­tle to help out, too. We’re let­ting buy­ers own their expe­ri­ence and cre­ate a flex­i­ble plat­form around that.


Roy: The real estate mar­ket is just lit­tered with tons of web­sites with homes on them. Every­thing from, StreetEasy, there’s an end­less list. How do you feel you guys are going to rise above that and become the dom­i­nant force?


Steven: Our goal is not nec­es­sar­i­ly to become the dom­i­nant force. Real estate is a very big busi­ness, and there’s a ton of peo­ple that want very dif­fer­ent types of ser­vice, and we real­ize that. What we’ve done is, we are tar­get­ing a spe­cif­ic group. At Fly­Homes, you earn miles for your entire trans­ac­tion. There’s an entire group of peo­ple that love earn­ing miles. They do things like read the points guide. They open up cred­it cards just to get miles. This is a group of peo­ple that are, bro­kers in the mar­ket that are very con­nect­ed to their friends and they’re obsessed with these things.


We’ve got expe­ri­ence of build­ing around this, so that peo­ple know if they would buy a house with Fly­Homes, they earn miles through the whole thing. It is a very tar­get­ed group. We’re not going after every sin­gle cus­tomer in the world. That’s the expe­ri­ence we’re doing.


Roy: Go ahead, yeah.


Steven: If you think about it, where build­ing a busi­ness, a lot of it is, who’s your cus­tomer? We’re design­ing this busi­ness around this cou­ple. The guy works in a start-up, they love to trav­el, they go and use miles, etc., and they’re buy­ing their first house. We design the entire expe­ri­ence around those people.


Roy: These miles are on which airlines?


Steven: We are cur­rent­ly with Alas­ka Air­lines in Seat­tle. Buy­ers can earn Alas­ka miles in Seat­tle. We’re expand­ing to oth­er mar­kets here in the next few weeks. We’ll have a new part­ner announced in a cou­ple of weeks, a very big airline.


Roy: Basi­cal­ly, the hook is the air­line miles. What’s to stop anoth­er real estate bro­ker from say­ing, “We’ll give you 500,000 air­line miles.”?


Steven: There have been a lot of peo­ple in the past that tried dis­count mod­els and things like that. What you’ll learn is, when you talk to a lot of the most senior bro­kers in the mar­ket, they’ll tell you over and over and over again that mod­els fail because peo­ple are attract­ing buy­ers that are look­ing for a dis­count. If you’re will­ing to cut a com­mis­sion by 50%, and then, some­body else says they’ll do 60%, the buy­er is going to switch. They’re not loy­al. It’s a race to the bottom.


What we’re doing with the air­lines, in a way is, we’re pro­vid­ing an uplift­ing, pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence. We’re like, “Go take the hon­ey­moon of your dreams if you buy a house with your new wife.” We’re like, “These are pos­i­tive moments that are real­ly excit­ing.” That said, obvi­ous­ly, those miles cost us mon­ey on the back end. We are tak­ing a tra­di­tion­al approach in terms of rebates and things like that. We’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­pet­ing with the stan­dard broker.


We’re build­ing a brand around it. At the end of the day, we’ve launched with almost no mar­ket­ing, and peo­ple across the coun­try are talk­ing about us. We’ve cre­at­ed a fea­ture, some­body can sign up, request a new mar­ket on Sat­ur­day. On Sun­day morn­ing, we had some­body from Dal­las request us to be there. We’re build­ing an entire brand around this seg­ment. We want to make sure every­body what Fly­Homes is.


Roy: How many mar­kets are you in currently?


Steven: We’re in Seat­tle, but we’ll be expand­ing to Boston and Sil­i­con Val­ley this summer.


Roy: This sum­mer?


Steven: Yes.


Roy: This sum­mer. When was this founded?


Steven: We launched in late 2015 in beta; no web­site, no plat­form or any­thing. We’ve now done 15 trans­ac­tions. We’re grow­ing every month.


Roy: Is it just you? Are there oth­er founders?


Steven: My co-founder is a machine learn­ing expert from Microsoft. We’ve got a real­ly awe­some team in Seat­tle. One of the perks here is we let buy­ers take tours when­ev­er they want, this after­noon, etc. We actu­al­ly now are employ­ing agents, peo­ple that used to be real estate agents and are still licensed that are now Uber dri­vers. They’re in Seat­tle open­ing up doors for our clients to let them tour homes.


Roy: If I want to see a house, I just call up and the Uber, do they charge me for the ride?


Steven: You call me up, and we will have a home tour for you this afternoon.


Roy: Does the Uber dri­ver pick me up?


Steven: We’re not there yet. We had mul­ti­ple peo­ple talk about it. We’ve had a cou­ple of clients that did­n’t have cars, and we made it work. We’re flex­i­ble. At the end of the day, that’s what we are. We plan a flex­i­ble expe­ri­ence. It’s quite unique.


Roy: How would you define the mar­ket size? Is it just real estate trans­ac­tions? Is it a dif­fer­ent way of defin­ing the mar­ket? How do you define the mar­ket and what kind of dol­lar val­ue would you put on it?


Steven: We’ve looked at it in mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent cuts, mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent ver­sions. There’s a com­pa­ny called Rock­et­miles. They go after the same seg­ment. They’re kind of like Expe­dia. You can book a hotel and earn miles. We con­nect­ed with them in terms of how much they val­ue the mar­ket. What we came up with was very close. On the home buy­ing side, it’s about a three and a half bil­lion dol­lar mar­ket. The seg­ment is young, tech-savvy peo­ple that love to travel.


Roy: You’re going after the trav­el seg­ment. You’re carv­ing out-


Steven: We’re going after peo­ple that love miles. There’s an entire group of peo­ple that are obsessed with earn­ing miles. They do things like read the points guide, or open up cred­it cards to get miles. They talk to all their friends about how cool it is, they just took this trip on miles. We know who those peo­ple are, and they’re talk­ing about us.


Roy: How many of those peo­ple exist?


Steven: It’s a three and a half bil­lion dol­lar market.


Roy: Three and one half bil­lion dol­lars. Do you know how many peo­ple are in it?


Steven: In terms of exact num­ber of peo­ple? No, I’m not, it will be, I don’t know the exact num­ber of peo­ple, no, not at all.


Roy: Is it 20 mil­lion, 50 mil­lion, 100 million?


Steven: It’s about 10% of the mil­len­ni­al segment.


Roy: 10% of-


Steven: The mil­len­ni­al home-buy­ing seg­ment. It’s the demo­graph­ics we’re going, not demo­graph­ics, but peo­ple that specif­i­cal­ly love to trav­el and look for ways to earn miles.


Roy: It’s inter­est­ing because, typ­i­cal­ly, the real estate mar­ket does a mass adver­tis­ing effort. It’s def­i­nite­ly unique that you’re choos­ing to say, “Let’s focus, so we can try to attract a niche audi­ence.”, which, I think, is def­i­nite­ly some­thing. Is there any­one else you con­sid­er competition?


Steven: Well, at the end of the say, a lot of peo­ple will ask, “Is Redfin your com­peti­tor?”, or things like that. Real estate is a huge mar­ket. We’re not out here, we’re not going to go trans­form real estate and be the only real estate com­pa­ny that exists. We’re going after a seg­ment of peo­ple that is a very good seg­ment for us to go after. They’re obsessed with what we offer, and that’s who we’re going after. Roy, the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple still use tra­di­tion­al agents. Us, it’s not going to be, we’re going to take shares from “X” Real Estate. At the end of the day, our share is going to come from the over­all mar­ket. Roy, a lot of major, major, com­pa­nies say their goal is to get 5% of the mar­ket. Real estate is an incred­i­bly large mar­ket. We’re going after one group.


Roy: You think your com­pa­ny is more of a mar­ket­ing play or a tech­nol­o­gy play?


Steven: It’s twofold. The brand and the miles is a great way to spread the word about and get peo­ple inter­est­ed in us as a busi­ness. If we don’t get deliv­er on the expe­ri­ence, if peo­ple don’t enjoy buy­ing on Fly­Homes more than they would using, let’s say, “X” per­son or what­ev­er, if they don’t enjoy the expe­ri­ence more, they’re not going to tell their friends to buy a house with us. Roy, if some­body los­es a house because they worked with us, we’re like, well, we’ll nev­er be in busi­ness. Our expe­ri­ence is key. If we can go and tar­get this group of peo­ple that love miles and deliv­er an expe­ri­ence that they love, they will go tell their friends about how great it is to buy with  Fly­Homes, and how cool it is because you also earn miles.


Roy: You men­tioned your co-founder is an expert in machine learning.


Steven: Yes.


Roy: Is there a mes­sage there? Is it some­thing with the tech­nol­o­gy or whether it’s going to devel­op? Can you give us a sense of that?


Steven: Yeah. Obvi­ous­ly, real estate is a very com­pli­cat­ed busi­ness. Every house is dif­fer­ent, every buy­er is dif­fer­ent. One buy­er loves a pink wall, one buy­er loves beige. It is a very com­pli­cat­ed busi­ness in terms of valu­ing homes and things like that. We’re obvi­ous­ly invest­ing in tech­nol­o­gy. We’ve built that in. We believe the brand is incred­i­bly impor­tant, but we’re focused sole­ly on the expe­ri­ence in terms of mak­ing it bet­ter and bet­ter for buy­ers. We’re work­ing at, long-term, there’s a num­ber of dif­fer­ent algo­rithms and things that we’re work­ing on.


Roy: Do you see data fac­tor­ing into this in some way?


Steven: Yeah, 100%. If we’re let­ting buy­ers own their own expe­ri­ence, Ray, today’s buy­ers, instead of me pro­vid­ing my opin­ion, they’d much rather see why it is that we think some­thing should be some way. We’re work­ing on that. We’re invest­ing in it very ear­ly out of the gate.


Roy: How many peo­ple do you have work­ing in your com­pa­ny now?


Steven: It’s kind of an inter­est­ing ques­tion, Roy. If you ask Uber how many peo­ple work for Uber, is it all the dri­vers, is it the cen­tral peo­ple, etc.? We’ve got 3 devel­op­ers work­ing around the clock, myself, my co-founder is in Seat­tle help­ing with that office, with anoth­er cen­tral­ized per­son there help­ing buy­ers. We have 8 part-time peo­ple now that are going to do home tours in Seat­tle. We’ve already land­ed mar­ket direc­tors for Boston and in Sil­i­con Val­ley. We’re start­ing that hir­ing path soon.


Roy: What kind of peo­ple will you be look­ing for?


Steven: In terms of peo­ple that work for us?


Roy: Yeah.


Steven: Smart peo­ple. Our goal is to have the smartest human that exists.


Roy: No, I mean, but, what kind of roles?


Steven: Oh. We’re tak­ing a very team-based approach to the busi­ness. In Seat­tle, when you’re a buy­er on a web­site, you can go tour homes, etc. That’s easy. In terms of help­ing the clients, we have a team-based approach. Some peo­ple will be focused on mar­ket­ing. Some­body’s focused on sales. Some­body’s focused on cus­tomer acqui­si­tion. Some­body’s help­ing those buy­ers through the nego­ti­a­tions. We’re talk­ing a team-based approach to the busi­ness. In terms of what type of roles, we actu­al­ly have a very diverse, for the sum­mer, we’re start­ing to hire a very diverse team. We’ve just land­ed Lazire We just land­ed some­body who’s sole focus is dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing. We’re tak­ing a very team-based approach to the business.


Roy: If peo­ple were going to be look­ing at work at your com­pa­ny, what dis­ci­plines would you want? What kind of dis­ci­plines would you be look­ing for?


Steven: Hon­est­ly, we’re look­ing for a lot of dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. Every­thing from com­put­er sci­ence, to graph­ic design to, you just got an MBA, or to, you’re this per­son that’s been a real estate agent for 5 years, and you love the busi­ness and you want to make it bet­ter. We’re look­ing for real­ly smart peo­ple that want to trans­form the business.


Roy: Do you expect to be open­ing in New York any­time soon?


Steven: New York is down the list a lit­tle bit. I think Redfin is an awe­some com­pa­ny. There’s a ton of real­ly awe­some com­pa­nies. The com­plex­i­ty of the New York mar­ket is very appar­ent in the fact that Redfin launched over 10 years ago, and they’re still not in Man­hat­tan. It’s def­i­nite­ly not at the top of our list.


Roy: What would be your top 3 or 4 cities, that you’d say, “These are going to be our real, best cities.”?


Steven: We’re going to Boston, Sil­i­con Val­ley. The roadmap after that is not announced yet. We’ve got some cities that we like.


Roy: Is there any­thing else you want to add about Fly­Homes that I did­n’t ask?


Steven: Well, do you have any friends buy­ing a house? If so, shoot them to us.


Roy: The web­site is


Steven: Yes


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