Episode 56 - GRIT The Real Estate Growth Mindset with Grier Allen

Brian Charlesworth
February 9, 2021

Grier Allen developed his passion for the real estate industry early on in his life.  His father was one of the top producing agents in the Charleston area which is why his upbringing helped shape the way he views this business.  

After graduating with a computer science degree, he first worked as a consultant in the brokerage where his father worked. This is where he learned that consumers are migrating to the digital to find their next home but the industry at that time was unable to keep up with the demand.  This made him realize that technology has a positive impact in terms of creating efficiencies in the real estate world. 

Today, Grier is the co-founder and CEO of BoomTown, which provides top real estate marketing software and technology.  He is also considered as an industry leader and a contributor to the growth of real estate teams and the way it has taken over the industry today.

In this episode, we talked about:

(03:05) How Grier came up with the vision for BoomTown

(15:46) The value of having the right team around you 

(18:27) Does Boomtown consider Top Producer as their true competitor? 

(20:39) What were the challenges they faced when building a company through turbulent times?

(26:30) The first sign of success for BoomTown

(27:47) How to create a balance between bootstrapping the company and supporting growth through hiring

(29:32) How technology start-ups can cut down on expenses

(30:32) How coaching companies became instrumental in promoting BoomTown

(32:26) The key to elevate your game in this industry

(33:26) The importance of bringing in people who share the same passion and values as you

(35:52) Remain profitable and grow slowly vs. Raise capital to take market share

(40:05) What challenges are they facing today

(45:57) What is BoomTown focusing on now to set them apart from the competition 

Episode Transcript:

Brian Charlesworth  0:35  

Alright, Hello, everyone. And welcome back to the Grit podcast. I'm Brian Charlesworth, the founder of Sisu, where residential real estate transacts online, and I'm your host of the show. And today I have a special guest with me. I've been excited to have Grier Allen join the show now for Geez, I think I've been trying to get you on here now for about a year Grier. So anyway, it's an honor to have you on the show today. For those of you who don't know, most of you I'm sure do. Grier is the Co-founder and the CEO of BoomTown. Greg has been recognized as an industry leader and a disrupter. And we're gonna go back in time and learn more about that today. In my opinion, he's played a big role in the growth of real estate teams and the way teams have kind of taken over this industry. I think he has a lot to do with that, and the way that they do business today. So anyway, Grier, what do you have to add to that? What am I missing here?

Grier Allen  1:33  

I think you've covered it pretty well, Brian. But first and foremost, I appreciate you having me on today. And I'm glad we finally got this time scheduled, and I'm looking forward to it. But no, it's, going back to what you said about teams, that's definitely one of the core things that we were looking at early on,  before we even started building a product is just sort of identifying what trends existed in the industry. And this goes back to 2006. When we started the business in sort of a stealth mode, trying to identify what trends out there were in the industry and which ones did we think we're going to be the dominant trends in the next decade and beyond and teams was definitely right there at the top of the list.

Brian Charlesworth  2:19  

So you forecasted correctly. So I've gotten to know you a little bit over the last year’s career. And it's been a lot of fun, as we've had an opportunity to do some work together. And we're excited about doing a lot more of that with you. But that being said, I've never heard your story like I've never heard how did BoomTown Sisu actually start? I know it was in 2006, which is right before the market crashed. So the market when you started this, the market was at its peak, like you must have felt like you were just going into the hottest market in the world. And in 2008, I bought a home inspection company called housemaster home inspections. Not a good time to buy a home inspection company to some of your pain. But I want to hear just the story of how this all started. And how did you come up with the vision? Were you guys actually the first CRM contact manager in the industry? or How did you come up with this whole thing?

Grier Allen  3:21  

Yeah, so well, I'll take you all the way back, Brian, and really, my upbringing really shaped how I viewed this industry as well. And so  going back to,  even prior to college,my dad was probably within the top 10, Top Producing real estate agents in all of the Charleston area, which is where we grew up. And,  before going to college, I mean, there was, there were certain things that my dad would need help with, and I was pretty handy with computers and, and subsequently went to Clemson in 2000, in started in 1998, and graduated in 2002, with a computer science degree, but as he was starting to,  hook up top producer to connect listings, and,  with a modem and download listings, into their systems, still desktop applications, not even web-based at the time.  I was, I was helping him quite a bit, I think,  probably the biggest technology expense back then was probably fax machines, within offices, but,  really just by,  listening and learning through osmosis with my dad and sort of what he taught us about real estate and the power of,  homeownership, really, I just, I developed a passion for this industry very early on. And  like I said, subsequently went to Clemson University for a computer science major there, and it was really just learned about the internet and probably 1997 or so. And it really was just fascinated by  the opportunity that existed there. always had an entrepreneurial mindset. really knew that What I wanted to do when I grew up or got out of college was gonna be dictated by what sort of company that I wanted to build. And so after graduating in 2002, I started by doing some consulting work for the brokerage, where my dad worked Carolina, one real estate here in Charleston, which is a pretty dominant player in the space, I think they've got about 30% market share. And  what I learned through that experience, Brian was that I guess the, the main thing that I learned was that consumers are migrating to the digital space to find their next home. And this is,  this is,  early stages,  pre Zillow, pre realtor.com, or I guess, realtor.com might have existed out there in some form or fashion. But the desire for consumers to find their real estate agent find their next home online was pretty evident. And the investment being made within the industry was really not keeping up with what the consumers desires were. And this is sort of where it kind of made,  started to get to escape velocity in terms of transitioning from that sort of lock and key type industry where the agents sort of had all the inventory in a book, and it was becoming available to the consumer online. And so I worked up in their marketing department and built out technology tools to automate marketing processes for agents. And really where this is focused mostly was around print media, getting advertisements, into the photo advertisements into the classified ads of newspapers.

Brian Charlesworth  6:31  

So this is what you were doing right out of college.

Grier Allen  6:35  

That's right out of college. This is these are the types of systems that I was creating, and, and sort of aggregating the data behind,  what agents were doing on behalf of their sellers,  in creating these listing marketing reports, and so, even worked with the newspaper to just sort of connect those two systems early on before API was even a term connecting those two systems to make it super efficient. And that's where I started to really understand how technology could really make such a positive impact in terms of creating efficiencies within this industry. And so, so that was, that was a fun experience. And I did that for a couple of years. And then following that, I started a digital advertising company, with a buddy of mine from college that still exists today. This was 2004, where we started that company. And through that experience, worked with a lot of real estate companies work with eecom, companies built some e commerce platforms from the ground up, built a lot of MLS integrations, it was much harder to do back there, back then, Brian, but the technology just wasn't where it is today.  but we did that for two years. And one of my big learnings there was, there's a lot that you could do from a digital marketing aspect. And really,  it saw that as a huge opportunity to bring to an industry through sort of this agency type of model. And working with a lot of variety of companies, it was interesting to learn different businesses, but really wanted to focus on a specific industry. And that's when I knew that,  that I wanted to build a product company, I wanted to build something in a specific industry, focus on that for the next, shoot them going on,  15 years or 16 years now focused on the real estate industry. And so, I learned a lot about the digital marketing space. But I really learned that, that I wanted to build a product company because I wanted to invest my time and energy over the next decade plus into building something that really made a massive impact on an industry and was able to be an impact that was felt across the US and beyond. And so that leads us to 2006, where was BoomTown was formed and, and started out with,  just a focus on real estate, we knew that we wanted to build a product,  technology product, we knew that you know that digital marketing and advertising was going to be a big element of that, because we knew that we wanted to sort of bring the industry forward and make them successful in terms of bringing their brand online. And so that's where we started to focus. And,  right out of the gates, we started working with these bigger brokers. And because that's what I had the connections and what they were looking for was more of like a leads management type of system. But,  as you kind of go through that process, you ask the questions of,  what would you be willing to pay for this, if we were to build it? And,  we were expecting $20 per user per somewhere around there for the functionality that we would be providing and, and those brokers we quickly learned we're not even in the same ballpark. They’re the ones that we talked to said we'd pay $1.

Brian Charlesworth  9:43  

What were the size of these brokerages

Grier Allen  9:45  

large so I would say 500 plus agents.

Brian Charlesworth  9:49  

Okay, so maybe 500 to 2000 agents somewhere in that range. And yeah, yeah, getting them to pay $20 is, I mean, I think the thing is you Most people don't realize how little money those brokerages make, right? That's right. No,

Grier Allen  10:07  

that's and that was the big learning there too. I mean, that was,  that's when we figured out like, hey, the addressable market for real estate is made up of commission checks,  and that's what it is. And when you start to think about it, how much does an average agent maker versus a broker, you've got 80% of that, or more, on average, probably going to agents and the more production volume they're doing, the more of that check goes to the agents, because the,  they're, they're doing more on their own. They're independent contractors, they're, they're sort of,  the beauty of the industry is that,  they're all entrepreneurs, they sort of set their own direction, which, which wasn't always the case in the industry,  back in the earlier days, I mean, you'd see back in the day, maybe the 60s or 70s, or 80s, you're talking commission splits that are 5050, with your broker.

Brian Charlesworth  11:00  

Before you could generate your own business online and back before there was even an MLS right. So that's right, the broker was required to the brokerage wasn't the brokerage back then pretty much their own MLS, each individual brokerage?

Grier Allen  11:13  

I think so.

Brian Charlesworth  11:14  

Yeah, I think it was basically just you could present whatever you had at your brokerage, right.

Grier Allen  11:20  

That's right. And so size mattered back then. And so the more agents you had more listings you had the more,  you didn't have this concept of reciprocity and an MLS back in those days. And so it was a, it was a very different industry than So anyway, so that that sort of caused us to pivot in terms of our focus, and,  sort of led us down a path of saying, Okay, we've got to really understand this industry and where it is today and where it's going. And this is where the concept of teams started to become evident to us. And,  I remember using our lab dollars to buy this one uphold trends report for that particular year, and buying some previous ones and starting to kind of pick up on some of the trends that were happening over a multi-year basis at that point, in teams and independent brokers seem to be the segment of the market that was,  that was underserved with technology, but really focused on creating systems and processes, much more likely to adopt technology faster. And so that's the direction that we started to head down and try to figure out where their problems were. And the problem that existed at the time was that,  number one, the consumer was continuing that transition to using online to find homes. But  but the industry was just too far behind.  these teams and small brokers, medium-sized brokers didn't have the technology, necessarily to be able to number one,  handle the leads that were coming in and distribute them properly to agents and mash them up with the correct agents that can help those consumers. That was a big deal. And they didn't have really any visibility into their lead pipeline. And, and  how they're spending was generating leads. And so that was the original problem that we set out to solve. And into your earlier question, quick

Brian Charlesworth  13:11  

question there. How many teams were there? back then? It seems like that was before the day of teams was, were you afraid that this was not a big enough addressable market to really build a business around?

Grier Allen  13:23  

We were banking on it growing significantly, and read Gary Keller's millionaire real estate agent and it just made sense. It just made a ton of sense,  the ability to leverage other people and knowing real estate agents in and out,  at this point, my brother and my dad were both in the business and, and seeing that they were taking on tasks that weren't necessarily in their strength category.  I

Brian Charlesworth  13:48  

mean, you saw that trend coming, Gary had already written the millionaire real estate agent. And you saw it coming and honestly, I mean, thanks to Gary teams became a huge thing, right? I mean, without him absolutely may have never happened.

Grier Allen  14:03  

I agree with that. I definitely agree with that sentiment completely. But  like I said, it just made sense. And so we banked on this,  to be a part of the industry that was going to continue to take more market share. And, and my brother at the time was also starting his residential brokerage. So he had kind of,  gone off on his own and,  with a business partner and started the casino group, which is a,  luxury based brokerage here in Charleston that's thriving and doing amazing, but he's

Brian Charlesworth  14:37  

still in the real estate business.

Grier Allen  14:39  

Oh, yeah. Yeah, he is. Yes. He closed on a $6.8 million buy and sell side yesterday. So he had a good day yesterday.

Brian Charlesworth  14:48  

So he was the first BoomTown customer,

Grier Allen  14:51  

I'm guessing. He was Yep, he was our alpha customer. But this was pretty cool. Like we started these businesses. In tandem really, I mean, right about the same time in 2006? And,  obviously, like you said earlier, Brian, I mean, the market was just going bananas. And, and,  there was a lot of money to be spent at that point in time. But  as 2007 started kind of getting started coming into view, people started to,  to kind of start talking about the bubble, right? And when's this bubble gonna burst. And at the time, we had sort of done our research, we had decided on a direction that we wanted to go down. And by the end of 2006, we had decided, hey, we're not taking any more consulting jobs. And we're just going to go heads down. We actually took out second mortgages, our homes Cooper, nice. So  another very important part of 2006 is I met my co-founder, which is how it is, I mean, a lot of times,  going through the ups and downs and the turbulent times in the early days, it's, it's pretty important to have the right team around you. And so finding Cooper was critical during that phase, because we didn't, we didn't really foresee the roller coaster ride that we'd be going on in 2007 and 2008. And, but we mortgaged our homes, we took out the second mortgages, our homes to pay,  our first mortgages and paid ourselves pretty much peanuts. And  our girlfriends who are now our lives are sort of our sugar mamas at the time, in terms of having enough money to eat, and do this type of types of things. So it was, it was humble beginnings, I'd say, Brian, for the first couple years, where we were actually building the product ourselves. And so we had one other partner that came on Jason, who has been with us for now for 14 years. And so, between the three of us, we conceptualized we designed and we built the original version of BoomTown over the course of 2017, and up into about, or I'm sorry, 2007, and 2008, which is when we launched our first customer, which was my brother. And

Brian Charlesworth  17:05  

so all three of you guys write code Cooper didn't write for you we're doing for two years is just bootstrapping writing code.

Grier Allen  17:13  

So the way I met Cooper is I knew how to write the code, Jason knew how to write the code. But we didn't have a designer, from the very early days, when you're building a product company, you have to kind of figure out your philosophy around what sort of product you want to build. And a lot of people preach the minimum viable product that really wasn't in our DNA, what we wanted to do is to deliver a minimum lovable product, we wanted to get it out to the market fast, but we wanted to build,  the features and functionality that,  that we put out there, we wanted to make sure that they were head and shoulders above what was out there in the industry at the time, or  and really, we took what was out there.  at the time, I mean, we did a lot of research, I mean, it was top producer, top producer was probably the most widely used CRM in the space,  and we didn't, we didn't really identify any others through our research out there. I mean, there were some lead management companies that,  I can't remember the names of them. At this point in time,  lead router might still be exist in existence. But these were just early stage companies that really weren't providing the vision that we saw, for where we wanted to go. And

Brian Charlesworth  18:27  

producer is owned by realtor now. But I mean,  I run into a lot of real estate companies. And she's I haven't heard their name in years. But I did hear it yesterday by someone who said they were actually leaving it, but anyway, than yours until till that, so Geez, are they still? Are they still the true competitor out there?

Grier Allen  18:50  

Not as much. I mean, I still think that they have a lot of agents using their software. And,  I think that,  a lot of agents are just like, if it's not broke, don't fix it,  I've been using this product for,  10 plus years, I remember my dad having a dial up version of top producer to where the listings would be,  brought in from the local MLS. And so,  it's been around for quite some time through many different iterations. But,  I think it solves part of the problem that we solve, but  I definitely wouldn't put it in our direct competitive set.

Brian Charlesworth  19:22  

Okay, so you guys mortgaged your house, you build for two years, you get ready to do a big launch in 2008. And the market crashes? Sounds like that. Yes. I mean,

Grier Allen  19:33  

our timing that was exactly our timing. And so I would say that,  we went through just a rollercoaster of emotions. And this is where having,  when you're, when you're an entrepreneur, and you've got a team around you,  it's, that's why it's just so important, psychologically, to have someone there.  There were weeks where,  where I'm asking myself,  what the hell are we doing as more and more headlines about the real estate Target crashing,  you get deflated. But that's where you rely on the people around you to sort of bring you back into the right headspace and, and stay the course. And so we sort of serve that role for each other through the pre revenue days. And when we got this thing out in the market and started testing this with my brother, he was used to go in,  listing homes, he had already had a pretty successful run probably like four or five years into his real estate career. And,  really his business completely dried up,  just like everybody else's. I mean,  everybody was relying on past clients from referrals. And that dried up completely in 2008. And

Brian Charlesworth  20:36  

what's that? Like? I mean, I want people to understand this, because I think a lot of people look at you and say,  Grier built this early on, he had an easy,  he's always been at the top of this. And people don't see the pain, really, they don't see the challenge. So what was that? Like? Truly? What was that? Like? What were the feelings going through you? If you think or reflect back on that, of him building this company? Should I even be doing it? I've mortgaged my house, my girlfriend, or I don't know if she's your wife at this point. But she's supporting me. I mean, what are the feelings going through your head?

Grier Allen  21:15  

Luckily, we were at a point in our lives that we didn't have children and people that were depending on us,  for much. And so that made it easier. But yeah, it was, it was like you're investing at that point,  most of your waking hours throughout the whole entire week to dedicate to bring this vision you have to life. And with the turbulence of the market, it's just a roller coaster is the best way I can describe it is you have these accomplishments, that the stages that you get to and you get closer and closer to be able to bring something to Market. But at the same time, in the back of your mind, you've got this nagging,  what the hell are you doing? This is not your timings off, you're, you've got just that voice in the back of your head, that's trying to tell you like,  go get a job. And that little

Brian Charlesworth  22:04  

voice and a lot of times that little voice comes from family and friends, right? The people that don't want to take that risk, the people that don't believe they can change the world. And it's right, you got to make sure you don't let that voice in. Right. And I know this, I've started a lot of different companies and have experienced the ups and downs for sure. So

Grier Allen  22:24  

yeah, those early days were some of the most challenging just because it was just, it was unproven. And there's that stage, there's that stage, that's not a short period of time, when you're building a technology company, that you know that you have to build this thing out. And especially since we were sort of philosophically behind this,  this minimum lovable product, but it wasn't just about slapping something together and putting it out there, it was about really thinking through the intricate details of every single feature that we released in making it,  making it what we believe was the best. And so, yeah, it was a lot of turbulent times. But

Brian Charlesworth  23:01  

like I said, I mean having the right people around you It's imperative. When you're spending two to three years in now, your brother gets the product. He's using it and pretty much goes out of business. market crashes. I mean, if you're trying to go get venture money at that time, and I don't know that you were, but they would all laugh at you, right? I mean, no venture company in 2008 is going to put money into this business. So what do you do? Is it still just the three of you still just the three of us,

Grier Allen  23:34  

and  and you hit the nail on the head there, Brian, I mean, we put together a pitch deck, Cooper and I actually did a Kaplan fasttrack tech venture program. That was three hours, three days a week, after working hours. And so we took that course. And the output of that was really stretched, just to think about everything outside of the actual product itself. It's just stretched us to think about marketing and sales and customer service and all the different aspects of creating the right product and getting it out there in the market. And,  which was extremely helpful. And so,  as we got into 2008 2008,  I remember you asked if we were if I was married prior to having any revenue, my brother was not paying for the product, cuz he couldn't afford it. He couldn't afford to pay anything, and I remember him,

Brian Charlesworth  24:30  

and you bet you're just trying to prove the use case, right? You're just trying to see if it's actually valid product.

Grier Allen  24:35  

That's right. And so I remember like we're in Montgomery, Alabama, where my wife is from where we got married, and it was the day before my wedding.  I'm trying to close our first customer exit real estate gal, right, which is in Jacksonville, Florida. And my brother's in the room next to me, and he comes in, and he's like, Who are you talking to? He's I was like, I was like this guy in Jacksonville trying to close it. He's like, Give me the phone since he picks up the phone. And, he'd had some early success with BoomTown, and he helped me close that first, that first customer.

Grier Allen  25:19  

Just hearing it from another person in the industry,  helped him to kind of get over that and go for it. But,  these companies were just bleeding agents,  and the first real sign of success with BoomTown was that people were actually starting to come back into the office, and people were stopping leaving the industry. Because what we were able to provide to our customers at that time, were buyers, we could find buyers, and that was the gold back then yeah,  we could find buyers, were you guys,

Brian Charlesworth  25:53  

the first one to build out like the IDS websites, or

Grier Allen  25:58  

we came to find out later down the road that  there was real g generator and, and Tiger leads that had launched and I don't know exactly when in the timeframe when they started building their solutions, but they were sort of in that same sort of stealth mode at the same time we were. And so there were other solutions that were being built that we didn't know about until probably 2009 before we knew of any other competitors out there, that were doing what we were doing in a similar business model.  once we started to get a few customers that,  we're starting to see these early signs of success,  things on the sales and marketing side became much easier.  it really we learned how much the industry talks amongst themselves and masterminds. And really, these coaching organizations are where things really started to,  help proliferate BoomTown throughout the industry. And  something called, oh, man, what was it called star power. And I remember,  picking up a client in the star power organization, Jim Collins down in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and he introduced it to a lot of the people within that star power organization, and the phone started ringing off the hook. And that's when we knew we had something is when that started happening. And so we sort of moved from this phase of just,  focus on building,  this lovable product and continuing to kind of build out the vision, build out the roadmap for, for the vision that we had, into,  having the tiger by the tail, essentially, Brian, and just getting to that point where,  we're like, Okay, well, now, now, we really do need to start building out an organization here, which is another challenge in and of itself.

Brian Charlesworth  27:44  

Yes, definitely. So, as you start ramping this, you guys were obviously out of money, how did you fund the company? How do you hire and bring these people in your organization to support this growth? Because that's another that's another balancing act. Right? I mean, especially when you're bootstrapping?

Grier Allen  28:02  

Absolutely, it was really,  it was the home equity line, our going back to the belief in the power of homeownership,  I bought a home in 2004. And, and by 2006, the value of that home had doubled. And so I could,  I could take out almost $200,000 on a home equity line of credit. And so it was a big risk,  to do that, and I don't recommend that to everybody, but it was a risk that we were willing to take back then. And so we paid ourselves with that we paid our mortgages with that in just kept expenses really light on our personal side. And for paying employees,  we were able to get revenue coming in the door recurring revenue coming in the door. pretty early on, I mean, by the end of 2008, I think we had maybe five or six customers and, and enough to pay,  the employees we had, and if we didn't have enough to pay them, it came out of our home equity lines, we'd write checks to the company to be able to make that payroll. And luckily for us, that that growth continued on, and we started to get profitable on our own into 2009. And really just,  continued to start building out that team and and

Brian Charlesworth  29:18  

Were you guys profitable in 2009? And ramping you were able to hit profit really your first year and turning on the business?

Grier Allen  29:28  

We were Yeah, okay. Awesome. And I think a lot of that, and,  I've advised a lot of friends in terms of,  that have started technology companies. I think the big one of the big differences there, Brian is that I was able to write the code, that's typically your biggest expense coming out of the gate is building the product. Right. And, and because I didn't have to pay myself, that made things a lot easier because I've advised a lot of other startups where the founders are not technical. And it's a different dynamic.  I mean, you almost you Need money in that situation?

Brian Charlesworth  30:02  

Yep. And I know that because every technology company I've started. I've had to pay engineers from day one. That's right. So I have to write the first check. And then  you've got to keep it coming in, right? Because they're not going to work for free. That's right, under, you're willing to work for free for a couple years. And the people that you're going to hire are not that level of risk taker. Right?

Grier Allen  30:26  

That's right. That's exactly right. And so,

Brian Charlesworth  30:29  

so I heard that you talked about coaching companies really drove this and obviously Tom Ferry being one of the largest Thomas, I've heard Tom speak about investing in BoomTown. Did that happen around that timeframe? Or did that happen later, when you guys did your venture round?

Grier Allen  30:44  

That was during when we did our venture round in 2014. And,  Tom came on as an investor. And,  he and I had been friends and gotten to know each other through the industry. And,  we started a mastermind group where the four of us would get together,  every quarter, so four times a year,  Austin Allison from dotloop, at the time, and Connor, from bom and Steve, Steve Harney, from keeping current matters now, Bill, his son is involved in that group. And so,  we sort of,  kind of built this where we had four businesses or five businesses there that didn't compete with each other, but we learned a lot from each other about the industry. And that was really, that was really helpful. And Tom has been a great ambassador for BoomTown and we have a lot of a lot of client overlap between our customers and between his ecosystem and ours overlaps quite a bit. But  there's, there's been a lot of coaches along the way that have helped us and,  Bob Corker, and like I said, Howard Britton was star power, there's been quite a few that,  that have been instrumental in terms of,  when a coach sees a product that is bringing significant return on investment to their customers, that's when it gets their attention. And a lot of them are careful,  about what they'll recommend, and they, they don't want to fly by night, they want to know that they want to meet the founder of the company, they want to know that they have a vision, they want to know that they're in it. And they want to know that this isn't going to be a fly by night type of company. That's that sold within the first two years, they want to find somebody that truly has a passion for the industry and the people they're helping.

Brian Charlesworth  32:24  

Yeah, so you did something that I think a lot, maybe don't, which is so important. And that's surrounding yourself with the right people, surrounding yourself with the right players. And that's how you elevate your game, right? If you're hanging around people that are down here, you're not going to be lifted. So all of you guys came up and rows together. And I love that, that you were willing to do that. From the minute I started this company, I've been with Sisu, I've always been one that's like, yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna get with this person, this person, but honestly, being new to this industry, it took some time for me to break into that, you know?

Grier Allen  33:05  

Oh, yeah. So yeah, it is it does take some time. And,  it's, it's, but it's worth it, those connections are worth all the time and energy that goes into developing them those relationships, and, and you find the people that,  have a shared vision and shared values with you. And yeah, that's, that's outside the company. But,  more importantly, inside the company,  and, and that's, that's one of the things that when we were in that hyper growth phase where we were,  it was gangbusters. I mean, we weren't prepared for the type of growth that we had right out of the gates in 2009 1011 12. We didn't have the right team around us, to scale,  but what we did have is we had people that were extremely passionate about the mission of making real estate agents successful. We had people that were a unique blend of diverse backgrounds, that the culture within BoomTown, it was organic up into that point. And we had,  I'd say, probably in that 2011 12 timeframe, and we were like 2520 to 25 employees. And in about that time is where we started to recognize that we had something special internally within BoomTowns, from a culture perspective, and, and that we wanted to solidify that and the way that you do that is through defining your core values. And so that was another big learning experience for us. And something that we spent,  I spent personally a significant amount of time,  we did an exercise called mountains and valleys where you sort of look at your life and  where are the peaks and where the valleys and what values existed at the peaks and what values didn't exist in the valleys. And so out of that came a bunch of different words that in values that people within the team valued themselves personally And then we brought in a facilitator to help craft our core values out of that exercise. And I can tell you that when you're that early stage, it seems like man did I just waste a ton of time doing this. And in defining what, you know what these core values are, and I can say that it was probably one of the best returns on investment that we've done internally within the BoomTown company, just seeing how this team has grown and in how much ownership people take over the culture, in terms of making the right hires and the way that they act, and that that was a significant investment for,  for us in terms of time, that paid off significantly to make this an enduring business that would last and succeed, and continue to grow like it has.

Brian Charlesworth  35:47  

So defined your culture from that point forward. That's right. Here you are, and you're profitable, early on, but  you need money to grow. There's two choices, right? As an entrepreneur, I'm just gonna stay profitable. And honestly, most software businesses are never profitable today. So congratulations on that one. But I'm just gonna stay profitable is one option and grow slowly. Or, I'm going to try to take market share. And in order to do that, I'm going to have to raise capital. So how did you guys like how did you guys deal with that battle? Because that's hard, it's a hard thing to decide is do I want to give away my company and I've had great experiences with VCs and I've had not so great experiences with VCs. So what I've learned is you have to get the right people to share your vision. But that being said, How did you guys go down that road and make that decision?

Grier Allen  36:47  

Yeah, so there was a period of time starting in 2011, that we were on the Inc 500, fastest-growing companies list three years in a row, and  as high up as the,  the eighth fastest-growing software company on that list, which gets the attention of the investor universe. And so,  right around 2013, we hired our CEO that's still with us today,  where he's sort of a more of the visionary, he's more of the integrator, if you're familiar with that. terminology. And, and,  he's, he's a great sounding board, and always has been for me, since we hired him. And,  we started to sort of put together more of a structured long-term plan for the business and decided that we would, we could accelerate that vision with more capital, into the company. And so we began having some conversations with these outside investors. And,  at that point in time, we were significantly scaled business 100 plus employees, well into,  double digits and millions of dollars of revenue. And so,  we were in a fortunate position of being bootstrapped up to that point,  to where we didn't have to give up a lot of the equity in the business to be able to get a significant slug of cash on the balance sheet,  and so, and so,  we brought in, luckily,  vetted a lot of these investors, and like you said, I mean, there's ones out there that you don't want to do business with, and it's just as important as finding,  the right people to join your team,  because that's what you're essentially doing. And, and there's, there's no way of divorcing yourself from them. You're not, there's no way out. And so we really took the approach of,  who's going to be on our board? Who are we going to be, are we going to be talking to every single day, or at least once a quarter about this business and who we want in that room with us. And that's the approach we took in trying not to get too attached to the brand on the business card, so to speak, I guess the Silicon Valley elite, and so although we did meet some amazing people through that process, But anyways, we went with our we went with the people, we went with the approach of finding the right people to join our board. And,  by doing that, and taking that approach, we got some great guys that have helped influence this business in a positive way and help us to get to where we are today.

Brian Charlesworth  39:15  

So it's not the only round of financing you guys have done? It is. Okay. So it was one round was I think I read it was roughly 20 million. Is that right?

Grier Allen  39:24  

About 20? Yep. 20 million.

Brian Charlesworth  39:26  

Okay. All right. So that gives you the capital, you need to accelerate and grow beyond that. How many employees do you guys have today?

Grier Allen  39:35  

We have I mean, including our concierge group, who are a part of the success assurance and,  they're, they're calling our customers leads and,  delivering agent ready opportunities to our customers. I mean, that group has grown fast over the last year and a half. I think we're up to about 450 450 people, I'd say,  that concierge group probably makes up about 150 of that group. And in about 300 full-time employees. Okay.

Brian Charlesworth  40:04  

So we've talked about your challenges from growing a business. And I think it's, I love hearing those because everybody has them. It's never easy, although people think it may be, but it's not. So let's shift gears though and go to today. Let's talk a minute. I know, we don't have a tremendous amount of time, we have about 10 minutes left, but I'd love to hear from you. Like, what are the challenges today? How is that different than then? Because I know you still have challenges.

Grier Allen  40:36  

Oh, certainly. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, really,  if I back up just a little bit, in terms of the timeframe,  post-investment, one of the biggest things that we wanted to do with that investment was surround ourselves with the right talent within BoomTown, they could scale this business and,  that had done it before, just proven talent that,  both aligned with our culture, our values, and our mission. And that, I'd say, is probably one of the most challenging things when you hear Peter Drucker,  who's business consultant, if you've read any business books you've read, you've come across Drucker, and,  he says that,   a third of the time, you're gonna hire the right person,  that a player for the job, and a third of the time you're gonna hire, you're gonna hire,  kind of a BC player, and a third of the time, you're gonna completely missed the mark. And we missed the mark a couple times, on some very key hires. It wasn't until probably 2017 18, I have full confidence in the executive leadership team that we've built at BoomTown. So that was one of the biggest challenges that we faced, and I didn't want to just to, for anybody to miss that piece, is just how important having those that the right players,  the right players in the right seats is?

Brian Charlesworth  41:55  

Yeah, that is that without it, you can't grow your business can't scale your business

Grier Allen  42:01  

now, and that's,  so we missed the mark on a couple identified it early and made the changes necessary. But it takes being in Charleston and wanting people to be here in Charleston, or we had to launch national searches that cost a lot of money to run to find those folks. And so it's painful, but it's necessary. But  as for today,  I mean,  one of the challenges that we have today is we have this business that can execute so well, right now. And it's because of the people that we've brought into the organization. Right now, I just think there's a lot of opportunity out there. And it's focusing in on the right ones to go after,  where do we want to partner? Where do we want to build? Where do we want to buy?  those are the big decisions that we're constantly thinking about? And all in the name of how we make real estate agents successful. And that's, that is our mission, and it has been our mission since day one. And that is, that is what we rally everybody here at BoomTown behind. And, and so it's exciting, but it's challenging,  because there's a lot of puzzle pieces out there. I mean, there's technology that exists in this space, and a lot of that technology has been,  for the last 10 years, been around the top of the funnel in the middle of the funnel. And what I mean by that is, is how do we connect with consumers online,  in the home search and the dreaming phase? And, and how do we make sure that agents are able to connect with those consumers through a CRM system that can help them to connect with their past customers, as well as their, their prospects that they have in their pipeline. And in,  in,  but there's so much more to this space, and so much more that technology can do. And Sisu is a great example of that, Brian, in terms of what you guys are doing, and how you sort of have evolved . There's so much innovation, I believe that they can still happen within the CRM space and still having the top of the funnel. But,  I think a lot of the next 10 years is going to revolve around like, how do we make this transaction easier for consumers? And in,  so much has been innovated on,  in terms of how the, the industry is, is evolving,  from the top of the funnel, but,  you go through a real estate transaction, which I did just recently, and I'm like, man like that,  it's still a mess for the consumer,  and it's still a mess for,  for everybody involved in that transaction. And I think that's an exciting space. And yeah, I know, you see that too. Now you see

Brian Charlesworth  44:30  

Thankfully, I have a wife that runs a team of 30 agents doing 400 500 transactions this year. And so I get to see it, right. And I get to see where, where's the breakdown, what's what are the challenges? What are the challenges of doing 500 transactions a year, right? What are those? Right? Because that's, that's what we solve for him. Yeah, every year we're kind of taking the next step in that evolution of really making the experience Not only for the real estate teams better, but for the clients for the vendors they're working with,  right.

Grier Allen  45:08  

Absolutely. And I just think,  there's, there's, there's a lot of opportunity out there. And it's still just a fun, just a really fun time to be in this industry and watch it evolve.

Brian Charlesworth  45:19  

So Grier, I know, you guys are really cautious about that,  and you and you said that,  we, you have tons of companies approaching you wanting to work with you. And I was one of those, and it took time for us to even  get your attention,  we had to have 150 common customers, to get you to blink. So anyway, I have a lot of respect for that, though, because you're, you're focused on,  you don't want the shiny objects, you're focused on the goal. And, and I have a lot of respect for that. So, that being said, we have a few minutes left, I'd love to hear, like your vision of what's important for the future. And what you guys are focused on at BoomTown to really set yourself apart from the competition, because when you came into this industry, you didn't have a lot of competition. And now you do. So you need to be sharper than ever to really keep that edge that you guys have had thus far. So I'd love to hear your vision of that.

Grier Allen  46:21  

Sure, yeah. I mean, the mission doesn't change. Brian, like I said earlier, it's all about,  making real estate agents successful, we're fortunate to work with 40%, of the top 250 teams in the nation. And having them as a sounding board is a distinct advantage that we have in space,  really understanding what the needs and the challenges of those that are, are performing at such a high level. And, and understanding where their pain points are, and, and how we can address them with technology and or tech-enabled services. And,  one of the things I'm really excited about right now is really,  trying to think about how we can service teams that are in growth mode,  to reach those next levels without having to go through the common pitfalls that we've talked about today, in terms of hiring personnel, and,  this is a big challenge for agent teams that are growing quickly. They're typically in production, and they're trying to hire the right is a manager, well, we now have what we call success assurance where we can, we can call all of your leads, and tee up agent ready opportunities for you. And, and,  we're not doing that through AI, we're doing that through humans. And the reason we are the way that we got to that conclusion, Brian was, humans do it better. And we have the data to support that they do it twice as good in terms of producing agent ready leads out of the advertising spend, that our clients are in trust us with. And so,  we've started off with lead qualification and engagement. And,  looking further down the road,  we have all these data points on how the consumers are interacting digitally with whether it's your email campaigns or your website, looking at properties. And we can extract these events, and interact with those consumers through our success assurance, concierge is and bubble up opportunities that are in sort of what our clients like to call the messy middle, which is, everything outside of the initial lead pipeline is the 25,000 leads that you have that are just late, just opportunity that's sitting in your database that you don't know where to focus on it. So it's a mix of using artificial intelligence and machine learning to bubble up the right opportunities, and having it learn overtime at scale. Because we have so many leads that are coming through, we can learn so much faster. And so is bringing those types of solutions to agents that excites us about where we're going, it's thinking about how we can partner with companies like Sisu is thinking about how we can, how we can bring all the data points together to give  to give these teams much better visibility into what they're doing, ultimately, giving those consumers a better experience that the transaction like I mentioned earlier, I think that's just an absolutely critical piece of what the future looks like, for real estate. And it's, like I said, it's just a really exciting time to still be in 14 years later, still a really exciting time to be part of this industry. And I've been really happy to get to know you. I mean,  I think we share a lot of the same vision for where things are going and congratulations yourself on building an awesome business that truly helps agents be more successful and grow their business.

Brian Charlesworth  49:35  

Yep. Greg, thank you so much. It's an honor to have you on the show today. I've loved hearing your story and getting to know you better. And really looking forward to the coming years and being able to like opportunity work closer, even closer with you guys. So thank you so much for joining today. I think this is something that every entrepreneur should listen to, and we'll do what we can do. Get it out there in their hands. And I love having interviews with people like you that great This interview is about real estate, but it's also just about growing a business and doing the right things in life. And so, thank you so much for your time. I've loved having you on the show.

Grier Allen  50:16  

Thanks for having me, Brian. Really enjoyed it, man. Thank you.

About the Author

Brian Charlesworth
Chairman and CEO

Brian is an entrepreneur and business builder. He has built and sold companies in the software, telecommunications, and franchise space. He’s passionate about technology and focused on changing lives through driving technology forward.