Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The real estate industry from our mortgage advisors viewpoint

Black Friday has been said to be the busiest retail shopping day of the year and November 28, 2008 was an important day for retailers trying to get off to a positive start in this struggling economy. Rising job losses, declining assets and home values along with a number of other economic concerns have shoppers buying for fewer people and looking for bargains. About 84% of shoppers compared to 66% last year said they are discount driven according to America’s Research Group. Promotions by retailers helped lead better then expected sales, but whether they can hit their holiday sales goals remains an unanswered question. Cyber Monday which refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday is the ceremonial kickoff for holiday online shopping, and over the past five years has seen a steady increase in volume. As the average consumer becomes more and more comfortable using the internet to make transactions the numbers of online shopping will rise. It allows a consumer to simply search and click rather then getting in the car and driving to multiple stores. Many Wall Street analysts said the rush in traffic is unlikely to last through the holidays, but the turnout was very positive with crowds lining up for early morning shopping. Just like holiday shopping’s increase in online action the real estate industry is beginning to turn tech. iEnfluence is a perfect concept for consumers in more ways then one.

Technology is a big draw for consumers and the launch of iEnfluence will help bring the real estate world up to date with the rest of Web 2.0 innovation. I am excited to announce my involvement and have been very impressed with the team. The concept allows real estate consumers interact with real estate professionals like never before. Saas is receiving a lot of attention and iEnfluence is right in the middle of it. It allows consumers to get the best deals while having the guidance they need throughout the transaction.

Written by Colton Daines

Let's Be Realistic

Since my experience with start-ups began a few years back, I have seen many examples of top-down forecasting that has left many venture capitalists wondering if the speaker had any credibility whatsoever. Top-down forecasting is taking the market level from it’s highest point and working down to come up with your sales figures.

What I mean by this is take the Chinese marketplace. If you wanted to sell a service to the Chinese marketplace, there is an estimated 1.3 billion people in China right now. If you could sell your service to just a small 1/2% of the population, you’d be a millionaire. That’s 6.5 million widgets sold of whatever it is you have.

Odds are that you probably could not reach that number of you tried. Even if you could, you’d need to sales force the size of the US to get to it. It’s not realistic and it sounds like a bunch of hot air.

Bottoms-Up Forecasting takes a more realistic and general approach to your sales figures. By estimating that you have 5 sales people on the floor, each making 10 calls a day to the 40 major markets in the US, you hope to sell 1-2 widgets per sales person per week. You now have a more realistic approach AND clear benchmarks for your sales staff to work against.

Have you ever been asked to try and contact 1% of China? Yeah, I think not. You would have better luck getting your start-up funded by Vince McMahon of the WWE wrestling organization. You seen the size of that guy? Much less his demeanor?!

As the CFO of iEnfluence, I am assuring that we have more realistic sales figures as well as more realistic forecasts. We know we can’t reach a majority of the market, but what we can do is use our existing technologies, whether it be LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, or any other social media site to help us spread the word. Also by doing this, we are showcasing the power of our product. These are our tools as well.

The iEnfluence strategy and product reach will allow us to creep in the smallest of places that other commercial companies have failed to reach for the past 50 years.

Our own footsteps will be the map for our own clients to follow. How many companies can say that?

Post by Jason Sanchez, CFO of iEnfluence

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What is Web 2.0 Anyway?

When you discuss Web 2.0 functionality with a systems architect, they usually have lots of questions when I tell them that iEnfluence will be a Web 2.0 website for the real estate industry. Since the phrase originated more from a marketing perspective, I was asked to define details around the actual requirements of the system to translate that into firm technical requirements. Which believe me, wasn’t easy to do, but had to be done.

For some people, Web 2.0 simply means pastel colors, rounded edges, and a clutter-free web interface. For others, it means social networking or tagging. Still, for others, it means a more rich client-side experience, with lots of AJAX and Flex. So one of the first things I had to do for our systems architect was explain exactly what we want this website to do. By distilling Web 2.0 down to a set of desired features, the systems architect can begin to determine what the system’s architecture should consist of. And many times this comes down to good old fashioned systems analysis and design.

As a general overview, let’s take a look at the top three most popular features that are mentioned when people are discussing Web 2.0.

1. Social networking
“Social networking” is a marketing phrase wrapped within the “Web 2.0″ marketing phrase. It is a huge category of functionality that can be just as vague as Web 2.0. Overall, it includes the following features:

* Creating online profiles
* Adding friends to my profile, and the ability to follow their activities, as well as their friends
* Posting content and sharing it with my friends
* Allowing friends to comment on various subjects, including posted content
* Enabling online voting
* Dynamic notification of any change in a friend’s status
* Posting questions online and getting answers from others, and searching for other posted topics (such as forums)

2. A rich front-end experience

Many times, a website will claim that it is Web 2.0 because of a new styling trend in front-end website design. This trend often dictates a very simplified and streamlined design, free of clutter, and with lighter or pastel colors. Other bells and whistles include some light client-side animation, to enable dynamic “pop in, pop out” notifications to the user, without the need to refresh the web page.

3. Content categorization and searchability
There is no way to manage the overwhelming amount of web content without some way to categorize and search for it. While this feature set has often been considered part of Web 2.0, it really started long before that term existed. The requirement that we are trying to satisfy is, “I need to find all of the things I care about, and none of the things I don’t care about.” To accomplish this, the Web 2.0 community typically advocates the following capabilities:

* Tagging content with my own descriptive keywords
* Voting on the quality of content, to provide relevance and weight
* Providing deep link-a-bility to websites, opening up their content to other outside websites
* Utilizing advanced search capabilities that can search on similar terms, as well as searching meta information (e.g., tags)

While this is not an exhaustive look at the technology behind Web 2.0, it does provide a broad overview of the nuts & bolts to some of the more popular features. In the end, as always, it comes down to making sure that you are designing a system that supports your audience’s needs, and then implementing the proper technology to support those requirements. From an architectural perspective, there is very little that is truly new here. We still need web servers, SSL certificates, encryption capabilities, security, database servers, and a well thought out object-oriented design. That’s what good architecture has always been about, and it will remain true for Web 3.0… and beyond.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What have you done for me lately?

A good business is more than just an idea. A good business is more than meets the eyes. From profit margins to consumer loyalty, everything is considered and analyzed. However, a good business should be focused around one simple philosophy: create a better consumer experience, and be profitable in doing so. Too many times executives of companies make irrational decisions based strictly on financial numbers as opposed to long term consumer growth. Too many times everyday people find themselves wondering about a particular business, what have you done for me lately?

There is no line item on any spreadsheet that accounts for sincere word of mouth. In creating a consumer-driven service offering, you generate additional advertising, in the form of word of mouth, that otherwise is not present. What have you done for me lately, is a simple question in appearance, but in reality is a very intuitive and intelligent question. The ability for consumers to better research, interact and negotiate with both realtors and businesses alike allows for more control to be had by the consumer. A good business should attempt to infiltrate the comfort zone of normal consumers and reap the rewards of such a relationship. Simply put, a good business will address a definite concern of the consumer, and provide an answer to that concern.

In real estate there is a fundamental change upon us, and the advancements in technology alone allow for realtors to create a better business experience for consumers. The advancement in social media allows for a more effective and personable service offering, which truly creates a relationship and not just another sale. For 95% of consumers, purchasing or selling a home is the largest financial transaction they will ever make. The buyer and seller involved expect business to allow them to call a new place home. The realtors involve expect business to finalize with their consumer signing on the dotted line. The power of shared expectations is strong enough to create desired loyalty to a person, a brand or company. It is time that the expectations of the consumer are better executed by the industry.

iEnfluence is that solution, and will take what have you done for me lately out of consumers thoughts. It will empower consumers to stop asking questions, and participate in a rewarding experience. iEnfluence will excel in the execution of such shared expectations, both for consumers and the real estate industry. No one has more enfluence than everyone.

Post By Ryan L. Cox, co-founder iEnfluence

Monday, December 1, 2008

iEnfluence, the path to consumer confidence...

We are launching our corporate blog today and we're all pretty excited to do so. We've come a long way to get here; from building a concept, forming a high performance team, solidifying a strategy, and now starting development of our site.
So, I'd like to introduce the iEnfluence concept to you. And for me, the easiest way to do that is start with our mission statement:
To be the ultimate social real estate destination for consumers wanting to buy or sell real estate. To provide Web 2.0 social media CRM solutions and custom consulting services for next generation real estate professionals.
Traditional real estate marketing tactics are no longer effective in today’s changing market. Long gone are the days of posting a real estate ad in the newspaper and waiting for potential buyers to call or show up to an open house. On the other hand, those real estate websites with just search functionality are finding out that displaying millions of properties is not the solution either. Consumers already rely heavily on researching properties online and no longer view real estate search as an enhancement; it is purely a commodity to them. In fact according to the National Association of Realtors, over 86% of consumers begin their real estate search online.

Along with those changes, today’s consumer is living in a “me” driven society and expects customization of their experience, whether it's with a professional service or a brand. The consumer wants to influence their interaction instead of being dictated to by traditional and inefficient ways of buying and selling real estate.
With that being said, iEnfluence is a groundbreaking, real estate centric, social community for buyers and sellers of real estate. iEnfluence uses robust Web 2.0 technology to attract and maintain those digital savvy consumers that would prefer utilizing social media for their real estate transaction. And for the real estate professional, iEnfluence provides an easy to use social CRM for effective communication and interaction with the digital savvy consumer. This in turn, will effectively generate more qualified leads and decrease wasted advertising and marketing dollars; therefore causing real estate professionals to be more effective and close more transactions.
But in the midst of this, iEnfluence has a loftier goal than just being a social network and a social CRM for real estate. We want to bring the component back into the real estate game that even $500 billion in federal dollars hasn't been able to do. Confidence. The real estate industry has taken a strong blow and needs to bounce back from this downturn. The consumer is gun shy about purchasing real estate, rightfully so, after the problems in the markets that have occured that they had no idea about. Both parties need tools that allow them communicate better than ever communicated before. They need to establish long lasting relationships built on trust and openness. The consumer needs to understand the jargon, the contracts, and the fine print so that when they sign on the dotted line, they know exactly what will happen next.
So, that it is our goal. We will provide the consumer and the real estate expert the tools that they both need to navigate this complicated real estate landscape. So whether you call it Web 2.0, or social media, or Web 3.0 for that matter; iEnfluence will be that solution...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dual Agency; is it a double loss for the consumer?

Have you ever wondered why dual agency is legal? I mean, I've never understood. I came into this industry befuddled by the fact that the same agent could represent both sides of the transaction. It sounded like an attorney that was representing both the defendant and the plaintiff. I couldn't understand how it could be legal. As a consumer, or should I say consumers, that is involved in a dual agent situation, you are not receiving the same level of advice or representation as a consumer that is not in a dual agency transaction. So at that point, my question is, what are you paying for? I'll let you ponder the answer to that question....


Everyone wants to sell real estate!

The real estate industry will face a new type of competitor; the type that they never thought of before. Companies like Walmart, HGTV (www.frontdoor.com), Virgin, and Google are looking at the real estate space to expand their business...

I mean, why wouldn't they? They already "own" thousands of consumers who trust them? They already know their consumers' spending habits. It just makes sense that they would tackle the largest purchase that most consumers make. So the Next Generation Real Estate brokerage must keep this in mind. You're not competing with Realogy, you are competing with Priceline.com, Zillow, and HGTV...