Continuing our series on Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Kelda Roys, CEO/Founder at OpenHomes, an online real estate broker. Prior to founding OpenHomes, Roys ran a nonprofit and served as a representative in the Wisconsin state assembly.
Tell us about Open Homes and why you started it.
OpenHomes is an online real estate brokerage. We making selling a house more convenient, enjoyable, and affordable.
I got my start in real estate during college selling high-end homes in New York, then I left that career to go to law school and do other work. But later, when my husband and I were trying to buy a house for ourselves here in Madison, it just seemed like that every time an agent got involved, the process became more complicated.
I found myself asking why this industry couldn’t be transformed. Middleman services like travel agencies and financial services had been displaced by the internet, but for some reason real estate had been impervious. I started thinking about my vision for buying and selling a house, and how technology could be used to solve the inefficiencies and frustrations.
We’re at a great time now in that people are more inclined to do things themselves online, rather than always hiring an “expert.” Real estate is transforming with things like the public-facing MLS listing and people, in general, are more comfortable with the authenticity of buying online that now makes it possible for OpenHomes to be a transformative, disruptive business model.
How did you use the startup/entrepreneurial community here in Madison to help you get started?
When I got serious about the idea of OpenHomes, I started attending meetings and events like Capital Entrepreneurs and Startup Weekend. My husband has experience working with startups and had co-founded his own startup company before it was acquired, so when I got further along he encouraged me to talk with (Gener8tor co-founder) Joe Kirgues, whom I also knew from my state assembly days. Joe told me I needed to go through the Gener8tor program right away, and so even though I didn’t even have a website yet, I started in the accelerator program. OpenHomes was definitely an anomaly for Gener8tor in terms of how young we were—I literally incorporated the company the day before I started the accelerator program!
How does your experience running a non-profit and being in the state assembly compare to the work you do as CEO of OpenHomes?
Running a non-profit is very much like running a business. At the end of the day, you’re doing your best to build something that matters, with limited budgets and big dreams. You learn a tremendous amount and wear many hats, and there are big highs and lows.
Running a business is very different from being in the assembly. In the political world, taking risks and being innovative is considered an infraction that should be punished. The world is open when you’re an entrepreneur, and especially in technology. As a business owner, I get to wake up and decide what I want to build today, what I want to accomplish. The burden and the opportunity are all on me, but so much of what you do in politics is determined by the agenda of others.
What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in our community?
All of a sudden, being an entrepreneur is the cool thing. It’s taken years, but now there’s this “entrepreneurial chic,” which is great because people are excited and want to participate—and that can only help all of us. With respect to its size, Madison doesn’t have nearly enough early-stage capital. It can also be a challenge to find and keep great talent, especially folks who have technical skills in coding. We have a lot going for us, lots of passionate and committed people who want to see Madison succeed and understand that one startup’s success will benefit everyone. I think this cooperative ecosystem will just continue to develop.
What book do you think every aspiring entrepreneur should read and why?
The Founders Dilemma by Noam Wasserman. It’s a great resource for anyone who is considering founding a startup. It really gets into the nitty-gritty of how a startup fits into the larger goals you have for your life, and considers that there are actually many different ways to define success, and each implicates very different strategies. I also listen to lots of podcasts in the car and at home—StartUp is one I think is particularly great.
Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help businesses like OpenHomes succeed.