In 2005, Rivers Pearce started doing e-commerce and lead generation for an ad agency in Atlanta and then moved to Charleston and South Carolina. Five years later, a real estate technology startup called BoomTown was looking for someone who can do search engine marketing and Rivers joined them as their 10th employee.
For almost a decade, Rivers helped grow BoomTown’s client base from 70 to well over 3000 clients by serving as their Director of Client Success, Director of Digital Marketing & Strategy.
With his vast experience working with operations and team/brokerage structures as well as the various technology, marketing, advertising, and operational components that support all of that, Rivers is considered a veteran in the real estate technology space.
Today, Rivers is the CEO & Co-Founder of W8less, a real estate and property technology consultancy that is focused on making people's processes better and ultimately creating an infrastructure to support their business’ success.
In this episode we talked about:
00:57 How Rivers came up with the weightless concept?
04:20 What does that mean to be “weightless”?
09:45 How Sisu’s way of automating processes helped operational efficiency for teams and brokerages
18:39 The key difference between Sisu and other transaction management platforms
20:24 What Rivers thinks anyone managing a real estate business should know
20:56 The value of looking outside the industry for your competitors
25:15 Why you should work with companies that can help you navigate the technology aspects of your business
26:23 What advice Rivers has for business owners moving forward
Brian Charlesworth 0:35
All right, we're back with Rivers, Rivers Pierce rivers has been in the industry for a long, long time back from the early days of Boomtown and is currently the CEO and founder of W8less, which is a technology company really focusing on delivering anything you guys need as team and broker-owners. And so Rivers, why don't we start by just sharing a little bit more about how you came up with this weightless concept? Because you've been in the industry so long, you saw a big need. Let's talk about what is the gap there?
Rivers Pearce 1:09
Yeah, I mean, it came from, for many of you who maybe you've seen me over the last decade or so, you know, I spent a lot of time traveling the country when I was with Boomtown talking about technology and digital marketing and things over the last 10 years. And you know, as things had, the technology world, I guess, had matured in the last 10 years. And you've got companies like Amazon and Uber and Google and things like that, that you begin to see that these experiences that those companies are and have been creating, in my opinion, feel weightless. And so I started kind of using that term in my presentations that, you know, in real estate, a lot of the technology has lagged behind a little bit. And as such, the adoption of technology has lagged behind to where you get kind of a disconnect with consumers’ expectations with the world they live in. And then you're kind of almost, I think we've thought about this, asking them to travel back in time to do the real estate transaction. Right. And so, you know, I've been saying, like, your technology should be so integrated into your business, that it should feel weightless, not only to your consumers, but also to your agents, right, and your internal team members, transaction coordinators, ISAs, etc. So that's really where it came from. And we just want to help, you know, teams and brokerages and agents, in general, navigate this world of this new world that we live in, especially that has been kind of enhanced or exacerbated or expedited by the pandemic in the last six months. And, you know, Sisu fits squarely in the middle of a lot of these things in tying technology together. And you're kind of data integrity, data hygiene, we like to say a lot in our world. And so that's really where it came from, man, we just want to help make people's processes better, make it smoother, integrate, automate, you know all of those things and ultimately create an infrastructure for people's business that allows them to be more confident in the decision making and create better experiences for their clients and for their their team members.
Brian Charlesworth 3:04
So I remember the first time I met you, I think we were in San Francisco at an Inman. I was like Rivers we got to meet. You were at Boomtown or maybe I met you, I actually think before that, huh,
Rivers Pearce 3:17
Could have been, yeah.
Brian Charlesworth 3:19
runs event. But in any case, you were a Boomtown. And we were just excited about getting an integration done with them, which we now have so. But at the time, let me move forward. You came, you came to us about a year and a half later. And as you were talking about what you were doing, I think, discovered that Sisu was really a different animal than what you thought.
Rivers Pearce 3:44
Yeah. Because when we first met, I think it was just visualization, gamification, basically.
Brian Charlesworth 3:48
Rivers Pearce 3:49
Right. And then it was like, No, we're actually, you know, an end to end, you know, back end infrastructure, database, data handling, transaction management, it was like, sweet, you know,
Brian Charlesworth 4:02
So in talking about what W8less is doing, I know for a fact that you've done, you've worked with a customer to really improve their systems that we were a part of, maybe you could talk to everybody about that customer, what you guys did there where they were where they are now.
Rivers Pearce 4:18
Brian Charlesworth 4:18
So people can get a feel for I mean, what does that mean, to make us weightless? I mean, everyone is certainly challenged by rolling out technologies, just in having them used at a high level and even rolling them out at a high level. I mean, even if you feel alone, you have, we have Sisu customers that are using this much of what we do, and then they'll go to this much. And then they'll go, you know, and finally they're like, Oh, we can do all of this. So how do you guys play a role in that?
Rivers Pearce 4:45
Yeah. So what we found, you know, we like to we do a lot of just general technology, consulting, and a lot of that is just strategy, but a lot of it then becomes hands on. It's like, Well, here's your strategy, Doc, here's what you should be doing. They're like, Okay, can you do that for us, and that was one case with a client we worked on over the past few months, that was a massive migration into Sisu. And, you know, we looked at a lot of different platforms for them, because they were using Microsoft SharePoint. And for those of you who don't know what that is, it's a very legacy product. It's not bad per se, but it's certainly not built for real estate. And, you know,
Brian Charlesworth 5:20
what were they using it for? I mean,
Rivers Pearce 5:21
They were using it for all of the back office management, task management, transaction management, they weren't using it for like the E signature piece. But basically, everything around the back office and transaction management process was funneling through SharePoint. So it was kicking off all kinds of alerts and notifications, everything from your checklist for what to do with a buyer, you know, listing agreement and getting a house on the market, but also like lockboxes, signs, you know, vendor communication, you know, title, mortgage, all those kinds of things, it was really kind of the backbone of their system. So they have their website, right. And then they had this SharePoint. And the problem was, it was a decade-old product that they've been using. And the agents were like, this just isn't working for us. They didn't like using it, it was not mobile-friendly. And they had looked at some of the other back-office or transaction management solutions. And what we found and what they kind of brought to us, and we realized was that they didn't want a product that was like, kind of off the shelf that was like, Yeah, it's a great back-office solution or a great transaction management solution. But you've got to do it our way. Because that's the way that product was built. They needed something that would to be modified to fit their way of doing things. Right. That's where you and I got back into the discussion about I was like, Oh, my gosh, Sisu can do this, because it's built to be customized like that. That was the kind of the checkbox for them. They said, Yes, let's move forward with this. And so the fact that we were able to customize Sisu in a way that fit their existing processes, because you know, as well as I do, agents are notoriously difficult to get to adopt anything new for one. And so if you're not only changing the product, which is difficult enough, but the process as well, that can be very, very, very challenging. And so what we found is that we could just modify, we could get them to use a different product, right, like off of SharePoint into Sisu. But we didn't have to change their processes. So we mapped everything they were doing, you know, into giant workflows, brought all of that into Sisu, connected all their past data, all of those elements, they're plugged in the front end website, I think they use Sierra, and then we train them on it and gave them the keys. And, you know, literally, everything's going on in the backend there from like I said, even their lockbox management is going on in inside of Sisu. Now, so it was a pretty big effort, for sure. But I think it speaks volumes to the product that you guys have. And now everything's in one place, the agents like using it, you know, they can see all their data on the front end as well. So it's not just the operational pieces, or those kind of unsexy things I like to call it like this will make the world go round. But now they can also see their accountability data and transaction flows and things like that. So all in all, it's been great for the client.
Brian Charlesworth 8:11
We love to hear that. So I think the operational stuff you were talking about. That's the stuff that a lot of people aren't aware that Sisu actually does. And and you weren't aware of it until you called me up and said, Hey, this is what we're trying to accomplish. And, and I said, you know, you really do all of that in Sisu. So, let's talk about SharePoint though. How long did that take them to develop that customized platform? Do you know?
Rivers Pearce 8:39
over from like 2007 to 2010 or something, it was a very long iterative process. And then it it got into place and it was working. And it never really matured from that, you know.
Brian Charlesworth 8:53
So it was a three year project for them to get SharePoint up and running. How long was the process with Sisu for you guys to do that? To get them fully, like from not using it all to using it to replace every system they had?
Rivers Pearce 9:08
It took us about two months, probably which sounds like a long time in our world now. But you know, when you keep in mind that most of that was discovery on their end and getting all of that SharePoint information, understanding all of those forms, understanding those workflows. Once mapped out, then it took us, you know, a couple of weeks to get it into Sisu and then a couple more weeks to train them on how to use it.
Brian Charlesworth 9:32
Rivers Pearce 9:34
Brian Charlesworth 9:35
Do you have any idea how much they spend on SharePoint?
Rivers Pearce 9:38
I do not.
Brian Charlesworth 9:39
Rivers Pearce 9:40
I don't. But probably considerably less than what they're spending now. You know, you got to think about operationally, you have agents that actually use it and like using it, right. So the adoption rates go up. And it's not just that like the way that Sisu is automating a lot of things, their operational efficiency absolutely has gone up and will continue to go up.
Brian Charlesworth 10:01
Yeah. And you know, it's interesting in the real estate space, a CRM is different than you would think of a CRM outside of real estate. And the CRM I'm really focused on here is Salesforce salesforce.com. So Salesforce, Salesforce basically manages all of your data, right? Very different from a CRM and real estate who's focused on having an IDS site, right and focused on lead follow up, right. And so I personally have met three other businesses in real estate, who use Salesforce very similar to how they were using this system that they build. They're using Salesforce to do that. And I know, in each of these three cases, all three of these business owners have told me they spent over a million dollars doing that. Yeah. And they're one of them was over 2 million. And they're currently spending over $100,000 a year just paying somebody to manage that Salesforce, right, that's just an ongoing employee that's required there.
Rivers Pearce 11:06
Brian Charlesworth 11:07
And then one of them that I just met with is the brokerage that actually paid 2 million big brokerage out of super famous brokerage out of LA. And at the same time, now they're saying we've spent this money on Salesforce. And we would still like to use Sisu for commission management? Because that's not in their Salesforce.
Rivers Pearce 11:25
Yep. Yeah. And I've done you know, some I've been in the tech space a long time, obviously, I've been out of Boomtown a couple years now and done non real estate technology work on several massive Salesforce integrations as well. It's not easy to do. And it's not built for real estate. And it's a good I mean, it's a great product, but it's the thing, you can do whatever you want with it, for sure. And that's what people forget about it's like, But wait, I've got to have somebody on staff to manage this thing now. And I really, you know, Sisu really is a Salesforce esque product for the real estate space. You know, it's customizable in that way. And that is very, very attractive to a lot of people. I was just having a conversation about this earlier that when you're again, it comes back to when you can map the existing processes into the software, the adoption, and the you know, the usage of it is absolutely going to be much more smooth than trying to shoehorn somebody into a product. Right. So I like to lead with the process and the workflows and things that are already in place, then we'll find the product to work with those things. And that's where you guys come in very, very beautifully.
Brian Charlesworth 12:32
Yeah. Well-said. Another way to get adoption, which I've seen with some of our larger, especially at the brokerage level, if you want to get adoption at a real estate brokerage, it's much more difficult than a team. At a team it's "Do you want to keep getting leads? You're going to use these processes".
Rivers Pearce 12:47
Brian Charlesworth 12:48
In a brokerage, it's a little more difficult.
Rivers Pearce 12:50
Brian Charlesworth 12:51
The way I've seen conversion or usage happen there is of our platform anyway, is they've they've basically said, when you get somebody under contract, instead of filling out this Google Form, you're going to fill out this Sisu form, contract to close form. Everything's in there. That's how you get paid.
Rivers Pearce 13:15
You took the words out of my mouth. You want adoption, tie it to the check? Yeah, it's real simple. And again, with the team, you know, obviously, you've got like a W-2, where it's like, no, this is how you do it, or you don't work here, well, that doesn't apply for us in real estate. Really, that next one is the team, right? teams, like, Look, you want to be on the team, you want to get the benefits of the team, you got to do the process. But when you're in that brokerage model, it's very difficult, like you said, and what we have seen is that, you know, look, if the process starts all the way over here, if you want to get paid, it has to go into this thing to get to the end, end result. And the client, we actually did the SharePoint thing that we were discussing, you know, they have it so airtight that it's almost same-day payment, right, but it has to go through the process in order for that to work, you know, so absolutely tie it to, to payment, but I was thinking about this, in prepping for this session here. If you can't do that, at least tie it to something that has tangible results with it, right? And that could potentially be just having your Sisu visual dashboards of things that like, I'm doing something, I'm seeing progress, right, I'm seeing some kind of results from it that are tangible in the sense that at least I've got something in front of me that's not just like a CRM telling me that I think these people are engaged or you know, these things are kind of happening. It's like something that gets them into the system that eventually gets them the more they use it, the more efficient they are, the more results they will see down the road. Right. So that kind of leading lag indicators and things like that. So if you can't tie it to the check, you know, tie it to something that shows the results and their salespeople they’re competitive, right. So
Brian Charlesworth 14:53
Leaderboards are good for that because leaderboards allow you to see oh I'm at the bottom. I really Number three, I need to put my stuff in. So I show that
Rivers Pearce 15:03
Exactly. It's like, no, this is wrong. It's like, well, then you got, you know, yeah. The system. Yeah, it blows my mind. But you know, again, I've been in the space and you have for a long time, and it's a chronic problem in the industry.
Brian Charlesworth 15:16
Yeah, for sure. I think that another way to tie that in is really assigning agents tasks.
Rivers Pearce 15:22
Brian Charlesworth 15:23
If you assign them a task, now they have to take action on it.
Rivers Pearce 15:27
That's a very good point. I'm gonna do my own recommendations as well.
Brian Charlesworth 15:43
So moving off of Sisu, though, like one other, and maybe staying on Carolina Realty Group, like, did you pull other platforms into that? How does everything communicate together because I know what you guys at W8less are focused on, hey, we just want to make sure, number one, everything's easy for you to get set up, we'll do that for you. And number two, we want to make sure that we get all of your agents adopting it quickly.
Rivers Pearce 16:08
Yeah, we didn't do much more integration for them, theirs is more migration. You know, so there weren't a lot of other tools in the mix for them, they did change their website and move to Sierra. So we did help them get that set up on the front end with Sisu. But other than that, there wasn't they wanted a very, very simple streamlined solution. That's basically what they're using. You know, for some other clients, we've seen, you know, your typical setup, which is, you got, you know, lead gen out here, CRM, transaction management, and then like, you know, maybe like another platform, in addition, just so Sisu kind of falls in between that. So you'd have like a CINC or a Boomtown that's pushing, you know, leads are coming into those that are pushing information down into Sisu. Sisu's then talking to Skyslope, or, you know, some other transaction piece, but what we're seeing is people wanting to work the transaction process, it's better in Sisu, it seems, and then there may be using it like a Skyslope, dotloop, DocuSign, something like that for e-sig, and document handling kind of pieces. But that's typically the workflow that we're seeing, and then maybe some middleware in there to help things talk to each other, if there's not a direct integration, or maybe you've got something over here on the side, like structurally call action agent, legend kind of thing that's falling in, that ISA space. But that's typically what we're seeing these days is that kind of like maybe the core three would be CRM, Sisu, transaction, E-sig like that because I'm really considering you guys more transaction management for that lack of a better term in that process management at the very least.
Brian Charlesworth 17:50
And I love hearing you say that, that we most people prefer using us, we would prefer they use us and just use them for e-signature. But if they want to use them for some of the tasks and the transaction management side, we're happy to integrate with them as well and let them go either way they want. So yeah.
Rivers Pearce 18:07
That meeting somewhere you're fighting adoption or processes that maybe it's easier to start with just getting Sisu in place, right. And then over time, maybe migrating some of the processes off of these other platforms potentially. And it becomes pretty easy to sell, especially to a team leader or broker, when it's like, you can start measuring efficiencies, you know, measuring impact of these things and visualizing these things, which is where you guys definitely come in to, you know, kind of shine a light on that information that sometimes they've never had in one cohesive place.
Brian Charlesworth 18:39
Yeah, with us, I mean, the key difference, for those of you who you know, are not familiar with Sisu, the key difference between us and another transaction management platform. We started with the visualization. We started by focusing on taking people when they get marked hot in your CRM, or when an appointment gets scheduled. And really from that first appointment to close is when they're in Sisu. So it's not just contract to close its first appointment to close. And let us visualize it all for you. So you can see the conversion ratios. Yeah. And we can show you what your costs are for the leads and cost per closing. And so it's much more than transaction management and transaction really is a little segment of what we really are.
Rivers Pearce 19:25
Absolutely, I'll say the other thing we've seen is the people that I call living in that spreadsheet nightmare, right? Like 10 Google sheets that somebody is using this, somebody is using this and it's like, you can't get a whole, you can't get your arms around your business in that way.
Brian Charlesworth 19:40
How often do you see that, still, in real estate? I mean,
Rivers Pearce 19:43
All the time.
Brian Charlesworth 19:45
A big mission of ours when we started this company, was to eliminate spreadsheets in real estate
Rivers Pearce 19:52
All the time. And the optimal spreadsheet state would at least be Google Sheets, right where it's at least cloud-based multiple people can work on it. But, I mean, again, I'm not surprised by anything in this industry anymore after a decade, but it's still happening all the time with businesses that I can't believe sometimes how much transaction volume they're doing and still operating off of spreadsheets, to be honest with you.
Brian Charlesworth 20:18
Yeah, definitely. Alright, so where do you see things going Rivers? I mean, you've, you've been around for a long time, you've seen the shifts, nobody can predict the future. But I always love to get insights on what you see is going to be important for anybody managing a real estate business moving forward.
Rivers Pearce 20:37
Yeah, for me, data integrity, data, hygiene, data visualization are huge. And automation and integration, right, that creates these efficiencies that I challenge you from, you know, the kind of weightless concept perspective, like, who was saying it, I think it was Chris Lindahl was saying that, like, you need to look outside the industry for your competitors. Your competitors are Amazon and Starbucks, and Netflix and Uber, and these people that are creating these consumer experiences that are weightless, that are slick, that that's what consumers want. And so if I challenge you, I almost dare you to operate your business. You know, like I said, You're asking your consumers, your customers, and agents to time travel to use your tech stack, right to do business with you when they're used to pushing a button in something getting done. And so imagine in a pandemic era when everybody's been forced to be home and adopt like TechCrunch ran an article, I believe, that said, e-commerce adoption has accelerated five years in five months, right? Because of this, people didn't have a choice but to start using this technology of delivery and virtualization and things. It's no doubt happening in real estate as well. It's accelerating. And so if you think about even, I'm not just talking about Zillow, Open Door, and Redfin, like these, don't forget, they have like hundreds of millions of dollars that they're using to make, you know, technology to create these experiences, then you've got big brokers and teams that are have enough budget to have a $2 million Salesforce implementation or something, right. And so if you're still operating off 10 disparate spreadsheets, and you're not really having accountability with your agents, and you don't have the infrastructure to support the kind of division of labor that is creating these things behind the scenes, that from a consumer perspective, or just seamless, weightless, frictionless, whatever you want to call it, I just can't imagine how you're going to continue to grow your business, because the people out there, if you can't virtualize or create a seamless experience for your real estate transaction, I can't imagine your word of mouth is going to continue to like give you business, right, your database is going to dry up over time. So that's really where I think it's going. It's not so much like, you got to use this thing, or what it's a mindset shift that Yeah, you know, the industry is moving fast, and the consumers want more, and they demand more. And it's not just service, it's the technology's got to be there. And then really is that behind the scenes unsexy stuff that creates efficiency that creates ROI that allows you to scale allows you to make more, you know, database decision making, you know, more informed decision making. So that's my two cents on it, you have to be doing these things. There's no, there's no nice to haves anymore.
Brian Charlesworth 23:21
We completely agree with you, Rivers, on the client experience. I think that is crucial moving forward in this business. A big emphasis of ours right now, obviously, Sisu does a lot today but what we don't do is eliminate you having to send emails, and texts, and phone calls with your client. And so the focus right now is all of that communication with your vendors, with your clients, with anybody you work with, happening within the Sisu platform. So that's kind of our solution on how we go about how can we really make this client experience better?
Rivers Pearce 24:01
Brian Charlesworth 24:02
So but there's gonna be so much coming out over the next 510 years. I mean, it's crazy. What happens, somebody mentioned that Amazon is doing delivering the number of packages that they were forecasting to do by 2027. So I don't remember who that was for sure. But if, you know, things happen in the pandemic, obviously made that happen. Nobody's going outside. Your packages aren't no longer getting air in two days. They're getting here in two weeks. But I think they're back to two days now. But for a while, it was two weeks, because how do you move from having a demand that they expected in 2027, to servicing that now? And I think we need to be thinking the same way as owners of real estate companies. How to keep up with the demand.
Rivers Pearce 24:53
Yeah, and I think where you guys stand to do really well on that is also the general mindset that Sisu has is "Hey, come build and integrate and work with us and be flexible and nimble". And I would almost challenge these teams and brokers out there, you know, to think about it from that perspective, it's not like you've got to shoehorn your business into the way of doing things. If, if you can get creative and start thinking and working with folks like you, or folks like myself that can help you navigate the technology aspects of it, you know, there's a lot of cool things you can do, you know, and if it seems really expensive, we'll maybe get together with your mastermind group and pull your money together and build some common integrations or something. I mean, this is how you have to be thinking technology is a pillar of your business. Now, I just happen without it.
Brian Charlesworth 25:42
Yeah, and I think that's a difference as well, our focus has always been we're an open API, we started with an open API, I actually had a coaching company reach out to me, which really excited about and they said, Hey, we would like to develop off your API, push all of this stuff into it, and then get all of our clients on that. So it's something that everything should be an open architecture today. That's how the rest of the world is. How real estate is because a lot of these real estate companies were started. That's not how things were working.
Rivers Pearce 26:15
Believe me. I was there.
Brian Charlesworth 26:17
Rivers Pearce 26:17
It's a wholesale mindset shift.
Brian Charlesworth 26:20
Yeah. So we just have a couple minutes reverse. Any advice that you want to give to the business? I mean, you've been in this business for so long, these business owners what advice would you give them,
Rivers Pearce 26:31
I keep coming back to you know, you got to get your head on straight that none of this is a "nice to have" or "good enough until next year" kind of thing. You have got to attack, what I call at W8less, we call it the SAT score: systems, accountability, technology. You can't have two out of three, right? The systems, let the technology do what it needs to do, the technology and the systems don't work without the accountability of somebody to actually work them. Right. You can have the best technology and the great accountabilities, you know, mindset, but if you don't have the system, it's not going to scale, right. And so what we like to do is work with people with their SAT score, if you will. And I think that's where you guys fit in. Right. But again, the human element is not going away, I think we're pretty clear on that, at this point. 10 years go by the agents being disrupted. It's not, it's more, it's just not happening, right? I think a lot of agents will probably fall away in the next five to 10 years, because they're not adopting the new mindset and technology and the way that the world operates, but you got to be thinking about the mix of all of it, they don't exist in a vacuum anymore. And the technology is there to make you better at doing your job, period. So that's my two cents on it, man.
Brian Charlesworth 27:45
So stay up on technology. Otherwise, you may not be here in five years.
Rivers Pearce 27:49
Right. And also, reach out for help on it. You're not supposed to be a technology or digital marketing expert anymore. It's too much, too complicated. Find people that know what they're doing to help you navigate that world. Same way I don't represent myself in court or do my own real estate transactions or do my own taxes even right, I know what I'm good at. And I hire professionals to do the other things for me. And I think it's time for people to get over the DIY nature of tech and digital into real estate.
Brian Charlesworth 28:17
Yeah, totally agree. So I love the way he talks about the SAT scores, systems, accountability, technology. If any of you guys need some assistance with that, which a lot of you probably do, reach out to Rivers because I think he can definitely make a difference in helping you guys get to where you need to be with your technology stack. Rivers, thanks for joining today. It's always great catching up. And congratulations on the success you guys are having over there your new business.
Rivers Pearce 28:46
Thank you, Brian, you too. Thanks for having me. And I look forward to seeing you guys soon.
Brian Charlesworth 28:50
All right. Thank you.
Rivers Pearce 28:51