Entrepreneur role fuels real estate broker's inventive fire
Ross Seligman will readily admit that his success as an entrepreneur is the result of having originally failed miserably.
With 14 years of experience in the Portland residential real estate market, Seligman's main job is as a principal broker with Living Room Realty. More recently, though, he's been filling his spare time promoting Sphere, an online client relationship management system that he developed for real estate brokers.
While Seligman admits Sphere isn't the first client relationship management system to promise to help brokers boost their businesses, he thinks his product stands out for two main reasons.
The first is that Sphere focuses on growing a business based on relationships while the competition is built on what Seligman describes as "scraping the internet for leads."
The second unique feature is that Sphere didn't come from minds in Silicon Valley.
"It's the only CRM I know where an actual active broker who's in the trenches every day ... is the creator — and that makes a huge difference," Seligman said.
A tough market
Seligman entered residential real estate about a year before the Great Recession hit Oregon, sending the market in the Portland metro area into a nosedive. As he struggling to survive in his new business venture, he began looking at experienced residential brokers who seemed to be thriving despite the tough market.
"Every Realtor has to decide what kind of business (they) want to run, what kind of business person (they) want to be," Seligman said. "There was this type of agent that I would see when I was just starting out — it seemed their phone would magically ring. Then there were other realtors I would see making a hundred cold calls a day."
While cold calling a long list of potential clients worked for some of his colleagues, Seligman knew it wasn't his style. So, he began talking to those brokers whose phones just seemed to ring automatically. He soon found out those incoming calls were magic; they were the result of hard work.
"I found out (their businesses) were relationship based," Seligman said.
He discovered that Excel spreadsheets were one of the most common tools brokers used to keep track of their client relationships. But Seligman also found that keeping those sheets updated took hours each day, which created a wall of frustration when he tried to incorporate the system into his own real estate business
"I failed miserably at the Excel system," Seligman said.
Looking to find a way to salvage some success from the experience, he began to piece together a system of his own making, but eventually found that just as frustrating. He ended up with six or seven different programs, using just a small piece of each one.
He went online in search of a product that did everything he needed. When he came up empty-handed, he began toying with the idea of creating his own client relationship management system, one that fit his needs.
While Seligman considered himself tech savvy, he also realized he had no experience when it came to actually knowing how to develop the system he needed. But while talking to a friend who worked in the tech industry, Seligman mentioned his idea for a client management system. The friend, Hayden Hamilton, who owns an innovation incubator called Bright Light Ventures, suggested they work on the idea together.
Little by little, Sphere took shape. While the system allows users to keep track of client information, from basic contact details to anniversaries of home purchases, it also offers ways to track the status of each client's transaction.
Another section of the system allows users to input revenue goals and other information. An algorithm then determines the number of calls a user needs to make — by day, week and month — in order to hit those goals.
On a roll
As he and Hamilton developed a working system, Seligman began testing the product by using it for his own client base. He also had colleagues who worked in residential real estate try the system. He and Hamilton took all of the input and made further changes.
About a year ago, Seligman debuted Sphere as a subscriber-based system. Brokers can try Sphere for free for 30 days. After that, subscriptions can be purchased for $49 per month or $488 per year. Currently, more than 80 percent of people who sign up for the trial end up buying a subscription, Seligman said.
There's also a new broker program that allows agents who have had their licenses for 12 months or less to use Sphere for free until they reach their first $2 million in sales.
"When I was brand new, I had this feeling of having to reinvent the wheel," Seligman said. "All I wanted was a road map … we're giving them that (with Sphere)."
While the earliest real estate brokers to sign up for Sphere were from the local market, the platform now has subscribers from California and Washington. Down the road, Seligman would like to see Sphere gain a national following. He also thinks that the system could find a place in industries beyond residential real estate.
For now, though, Seligman is focused on continuing to refine the product. He encourages subscribers to send suggestions for improvements and sees every message that comes in. Many of the suggestions for tweaks to existing features or requests for new ones end up being incorporated into Sphere.
Even as he has added entrepreneur to the titles on his business card, he finds himself doing double duty as he markets his new online product. But he also admits he's having more fun as an entrepreneur than he ever expected he would.
"I realize now, it's how I'm wired," Seligman said. "I really enjoy building things. I enjoy the creative aspect and the fire of all of this stuff."
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