Ryan Mracek is owner of Keylo.
What is Keylo and what does it do?
Mracek: Keylo is Canada’s largest realtor referral service. We use an evidence-based approach to find the best realtor to buy or sell your home for free. We put the odds of success in your favour in an industry notorious for holding on to data. We want every client to be informed and receive the services and standards that are expected of a professional realtor.
They come to us online to fill out some basic information and we use our proprietary data and algorithms that include feedback to essentially score the realtors (internally) for your specific needs.
It’s a big reason we talk to people on the phone. We need to get to know you as much as possible to ensure we are getting the right realtor for you. No two realtors are alike in personality or results. Even if we refer a realtor to you today, it could change the next time you come back to us as time goes by and markets change.
What’s the history behind this company and how it was started?
Mracek: People want to buy and sell a property. That’s their pain point. When I looked around I realized the industry was really behind its peers in other countries for tools so I started accumulating data. I broke down what people want and analyzed the U.S. in particular in the last 15 years. It became apparent realtors do an excellent job as a whole but were starting to have a really poor reputation. In a hot market, everyone was happy but that market didn’t last. So we focused on what we could immediately do better for the whole industry: referrals.
If you look closely at any province’s training and requirements, realtors must put their client’s interests above their own. If you do a referral you must try to find the person you believe best for that client (not just your friend) but people really felt they were stuck looking at faces on bus stops and at best trying to find someone who sells a lot of homes or who has the biggest advertising budget.
Even locally with one in 100 people being a realtor, it was usually a friend who did real estate part-time who was recommended to you through word of mouth (like a cousin or aunt). This works for some people but not well enough for a lot of people who are rightly concerned about the biggest financial deal of their life and want results.
That’s how we started by making it simple. We can definitely do this better and www.keylo.ca was born.
Why does this concept resonates with today’s consumers?
Mracek: Today’s consumers want more information. Unfortunately, we can’t (yet) give it all out to you for free but we are slowly giving more and more away. I think our model works really well as great realtors (even newer ones) are rewarded for doing a good job and don’t have to spend their time marketing and we only make money if a house is purchased or sold (we never sell your data/information like most companies do).
We are 100 per cent financially motivated in line with your motivations. Trust is also huge with consumers. Why give your information to a listing site that sells it to the highest bidder? In fact, why trust anyone who tells you your house is worth xxx dollars but then it doesn’t sell and they do five or six price drops and you end up getting way less than you could have by listing it properly to begin with? The problem again for a lot of people is how do you even begin to research trust online?
Being a free service is great for consumers. We had numerous times where clients say outright, “I have a friend I used last time but I’d like to compare your suggestion to them and interview them,” or “I’ve seen some signs up for xxx but the houses don’t sell.” We 100 per cent cannot guarantee a sale or guarantee you’ll buy a property under market value. We can just ensure you have the best chance to do so. It’s funny how many people who list once and come back to us a year later and say, “I’m ready now for an honest conversation on my home, I wish I’d chosen your suggestion last time.”
What were and are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
Mracek: Money? Lol.
Everyone thinks this is easy and at first, just thought we were acting as a middle man to put up profiles. In the last two years, we’ve seen these companies come and go that do that. They don’t provide any value to consumers or realtors. Software development and data science work take a really long-term view. It’s why others simply don’t do it but use a lot of advertising that implies they do.
It took a lot of money to get to where we are and we are probably going to raise funds this winter specifically to accelerate our future product launches. We constantly compete with literally billion-dollar companies by being more nimble than they are and being very willing to listen to what consumers really want and taking a lot of feedback from realtors. We’ve even partnered with VREB (Victoria Real Estate Board) for a direct feed and continue to work with MLS boards even when we have all the data we need outside the MLS system.
At first, no one understood what we wanted to do but as more competitors enter it’s actually really beneficial to us. We didn’t qualify for startup loans or grants because ‘real estate’ was attached to everything we do. We aren’t a company that goes in and fixes your home. We’re a homegrown Canadian company that tries every day to earn your business and grow by doing a few simple things. Help make home buying/selling as easy and painless as possible for consumers and adding value to really great realtors. When we do a referral we keep in touch before, during and after the referral. Feedback factors very heavily into our scoring algorithm.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received on being an entrepreneur?
Mracek: Not so much advice but the statements: “I don’t understand what you do,” and “I wouldn’t trust giving you my information if I hadn’t heard about how well you did from my friend.” We can’t spend millions on advertisements implying commissions and commission realtors are terrible so we focus online. The two comments above made us realize we need to not only explain who we are but explain why great realtors are worth using. I wish I was allowed to publish more statistics on this (it’ll come as rules are relaxed).
So we did things like work with Cybera (a not-for-profit data science organization) to bring up our public credibility and we slowly accumulate reviews from actual clients. These are very slow steady steps that others aren’t willing to do or simply fake by spamming reviews. We want to keep the really high level of service we have as we keep growing. It’s actually why you might not get a call back from us immediately. We realized that simply answering the phone faster gets us more clients but spending a lot of time to train really good people on the phone (former realtors mostly) was more beneficial to clients. This didn’t pay off right away but is starting to now as people come back or have heard about us from their friends that used the service.
Very soon you’ll see us publishing more and more articles that I would consider scientific papers. We want to be the place you go to get unbiased real estate advice. My own grandma used the service and wouldn’t let me do it for her for free. Her advice was to “treat every transaction like a business, even family,” and she was really happy with her realtor in a down market.
We just need to work harder to let people know what we do and why we care. We’re here for the long run but I wouldn’t be surprised if in two years you can’t go online and query real estate and not come to us for help. We’ll probably never be a simple listing site. We want to keep evolving to help consumers and consumers keep demanding more (rightfully so).
Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.