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An Interview with Riley CEO Daniel Ahmadizadeh

Meet The RE Tech EntrepreneurOver the years, I have preached to those that listen that lead follow up and lead conversion are the keys to real estate success.  Last fall, I heard about a new company called Riley and was intrigued by their solution for instant response to real estate leads. Their CEO Daniel Ahmadizadeh was kind enough to answer some questions for Geek Estate readers.

Daniel Ahmadizadeh

What is Riley?

Riley provides lead qualification as a service. We are 100% human powered and engage leads within 2 minutes, 24/7 via text-message at a fraction of the cost of a traditional inside sales agent. We’re able to handle all leads, from all sources. Our users are all currently real estate agents, teams, and brokerage firms where we have helped them 2x their engagement rates.

How did Riley morph over time? It’s not the same today as when you started out.

We’ve evolved a few times over in the last year and a half. June 19, 2015 Riley was a completely different product. Some of your readers may recall “Text Riley” which was a phone number that anyone in the country could text to find their next home. I was frustrated with the apartment hunting options in NYC and wanted a more simple solution via text-message. After launching and working on that for a few months, we heard from firms that online leads were falling through the cracks. We built a basic product to address that problem, they started using it, and we’ve been live since March of 2016!

Who answers the Riley texts? What is your hiring process like?

Think of it as an “Uber for Concierges” where we have a distributed network of Concierges all across the country and the world who have passed our “Riley Licensing” exam in order to join the platform. We then have Concierge Managers and Quality Control managers who manage the feedback loop and training of new Concierges. While our Concierges are engaging the leads, you (the user) are able to see the full back and forth communication live on our mobile/web app and can jump in at any time.

Chat bots seem to be the hot new fad in marketing. Why did you decide to go with humans instead of artificial intelligence?

Riley ScreenIf a lead sends in two paragraphs of text where they write about their loved ones health issues and that their dog ran away, you would not want artificial intelligence to reply back with “Noted. I’m sorry to hear that. What is your budget?”

Our users spend tens of thousands of dollars a month on their leads. We are the initial point of contact and believe that, at least for now, only a human being can adequately empathize and appropriately maneuver a conversation from start to finish. Artificial intelligence has tremendous potential. However, if you have ever tried interacting with an AI bot, I highly doubt you will feel compelled to write long responses, convey natural emotion to the extent that you would if you knew for a fact that who you were interacting with was indeed a person. We like to believe that our growth validates our assumption that the community of agents across the US and Canada agree. It may be because we enable agents to have humans respond for a fraction of what it would cost a traditional inside sales agent.

Some clients have shared some amazing success with Riley. Some have shared some ridiculous interactions too. What text conversation has been the funniest or most shocking that you have seen?

We have a private community group of 1,100+ of our users. Feel free to check it out.

We’ve handled over 96,000 conversations in January where we have been doubling the volume of conversations handled each month since August. We’ve seen some crazy ones! From hearing life stories, tragedies, to things that are rated R (and more!)…it’s been interesting to say the least. None of us would have in depth conversations with autoresponders. The reason why we see the depth of conversations that we do is because people know we’re human and we empathize with them, regardless of what their story is, and maneuver the conversation however best forward.

What is incredibly rewarding is hearing stories from our users about leads that we engaged while they were sleeping or out with their families. The peace of mind that Riley provides is something everyone involved appreciates.

You have had some amazing growth in the past 6 months. Not surprisingly that has led to some growing pains.  How are you coping with those changes?

Indeed the growth has been excited and the forcing function of our Y Combinator demo day (mid-March) certainly adds to the expectation of growing consistently week over week. We have been doubling our user base since August. A few weeks ago we had a surge of signups that affected how data was getting routed to the Concierges. It forced us to create a waiting list for 2 weeks! Response time was affected and our users stuck by during this whole storm. We try to be as transparent as possible with our users and in the process, we believe that we have created a community that trusts us.

You recently moved your company to California? What brought on that move?

New York City is home and in fact half of our team is still based out of there. My co-founder and I recently moved to Mountain View to join Y Combinator, a startup accelerator that invested in our company. Y Combinator were the first investors in companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Reddit, etc. At the time of this interview, we have 48 days to demo day. 48 days until we get in front of a room of 500+ investors! Aside from y Combinator, we have raised angel checks from folks like Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype, and Siamak Taghaddos, co-founder of Grasshopper. Taking it day by day. 🙂 The key is fast growth!

What does the next 6 months look like for Riley? How about the next 5 years?

Riley is providing lead qualification as a service. Our focus will continue to be transparent with our users and grow even further. Lead qualification is broken, not just in real estate, but we think across all sales verticals. Before a lead needs to be managed inside of a CRM, they need to engage. We will continue to build systems and tech that will help increase lead engagement. 5 years is a century away in startup world. We will continue to be laser focused about real estate in the meantime.

You started the Quidditch team at Stony Brook – How is a real estate lead like the Golden Snitch?

Quidditch is the most fun I had in college. If you are not familiar with the sport, it’s a combination of dodgeball, rugby, and basketball…all while running around with a broom. If you are reading this post, I apologize that you just read that sentence but it’s true and it’s college! We were the Stony Brook Bolts and in our first year, we played against NYU on live Japanese TV, were featured in a ZipCar commercial, played in the World Cup against Michigan State (I got red carded!) and we ended up becoming the largest sports club on campus. Too crazy.

How is a real estate lead like the Golden Snitch? Speed to lead. 🙂 Whoever catches the snitch first wins. There is no automated way about it…each snitch is different, just like how each lead is different. You need to figure out what is the best way to catch the snitch. Some snitches might be fast, others may be more agile. By having a seeker that is able to adapt, you increase your likelihood of being successful. If none of that made any sense, not to worry. Here is the “too long didn’t read version”: catch the snitch, or be the first to engage the lead, and you’ll win the game.

About Geordie Romer

Geordie Romer is a Realtor in Leavenworth Washington. He specializes in selling vacation homes in Leavenworth, Plain and Lake Wenatchee. He has been blogging on his own site since 2005 and guest posts for others around the web. In 2013, he rediscovered competitive cycling and if he's not showing houses, he just might be off riding his bike.

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  • Daniel Ahmadizadeh

    Thanks so much for the opportunity, Geordie! If anyone has any questions about Riley, I’ll be checking the comments section actively and look forward to continuing the conversation. 🙂

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