UpNest is a real estate marketplace that allows consumers to find and hire qualified real estate agents in their area after comparing multiple proposals. CEO Simon Ru, a Berkeley Founders' Pledge member, spoke to us about his latest startup.
Q. Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently at Cal, or what programs/activities/etc. would you have taken advantage of to prepare for your entrepreneurial path?
A. I’d say get out of the classroom, do more internships at local startups (AngelList is a great platform to reach out to founders in early stage startups) and try out different jobs. As an entrepreneur, you have to wear multiple hats. You will need to be comfortable making calls, selling to investors, leading product initiatives, assessing talent, crafting marketing messages, and of course defining your company’s culture and brand. The best way to learn that is to put yourself in a competitive environment and learn the basics from mentors. Hopefully you will have fun, learn a bunch, and build lifelong friendships. Try new things while you’re young - you never know what you will discover. One of these experiences may lead to an unexpected and fulfilling opportunity down the line.
Q. As a serial entrepreneur, what have you learned from previous startups that inform which ideas you choose to pursue as opportunities arise? What can aspiring entrepreneurs do to increase their ability to succeed in the startup world?
A. Keep networking. Aim to have two coffee meetings each week with your current or former classmates, your competitors, your past colleagues. They could be your future investors, employees, and co-founders. Read VC blogs – “Both Sides of the Table” is my favorite.
Q. As an entrepreneur, you're told to push through barriers and face down rejection. How do you know when it's time to pivot or make a significant change?
A. My second startup, UpNest, is a realtor marketplace. I [initially] named it LessThan6Percent - a catchy name that resonated well with home sellers - because the traditional commission rate is 6% and I wanted the name to convey the value proposition of the company. As you can imagine, realtors don’t like that name and we actually got hate mail. As we grew, we realized that if we can’t get top realtors onboard because of our brand, we won’t be successful. In the end, we decided to change our brand to UpNest when we expanded our service to home buyers.
It wasn’t an easy change because I had emotionally invested in the [original] name and defended it. We also had to change all our legal paperwork and marketing collateral. In the long run, however, this shorter name has helped our marketing message and we now have a strong network of over 6,000 top realtors.
Q. What resource/s would be most valuable to you to help you attain your next milestone?
A. We need capital to scale the business and we are looking for smart marketers who can help us get the word out there. Like Uber and other marketplaces, our service is very disruptive to the [existing] industry because we make things much more efficient to both consumers and agents alike. We offer consumers transparency and savings that rival discount brokerages with limited services. [Additionally,] to help us grow, we would love fellow Cal alums to check out our services and share us on Facebook.
Q. Where do you want to be in three years?
A. Since we launched, UpNest has facilitated over $1B worth of home listings and delivered over $10M in commission savings to consumers. In three years, we hope UpNest can be synonymous with online realtor search.
Q. Lastly: You've chosen to make the Berkeley Founders' Pledge. What inspired you to do that?
A. As a first generation immigrant who attended underperforming schools in inner city San Francisco, I wouldn’t have achieved what I’ve done and I wouldn’t have met my wife if not for Berkeley and a scholarship from the Bernard Osher foundation. I’d like to pass the baton and help the next generation of entrepreneurs realize their dream.
Interested in joining Simon in his commitment to Cal? Make the Berkeley Founders Pledge, like Simon did, and have an impact from Day One of your latest venture.