Built Piece by Piece: Chris Heller
The CEO of OJO Labs. Former CEO of Keller Williams. The GODFATHER of Real Estate. We're talking to Chris Heller today on how he built his business, his personal brand, and the story of his career. We're also going to talk about the future of real estate, automation in technology, and what agents are going to need to do to survive the purge of real estate from ibuyers and disruptors. You do NOT want to miss this interview.
About Chris Heller
Chris Heller is the CEO of OJO Labs and the former CEO of Keller Williams. He has a real estate team in San Diego that is called the Heller the Home Seller.
Chris grew up in Irvine then when went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which is in central California. At the end of his sophomore year, his dad called him while he was up in Lake Tahoe, managing timeshares. His dad said, hey, you're gonna get your real estate license, and come up here and work for the summer. Chris said yes which was really weird because he never normally would never say okay to his dad. That summer, his dad got an opportunity to come to San Diego, and do the same thing. Chris moved down to San Diego and never left. He spent 20 years in Irvine, and 20 years and on in San Diego.
Selling Timeshares and Vacation Rentals
Chris was selling timeshare when he moved to the city and was going to school part-time. He got to the point during summertime where when the school year started back up, he would take classes, but he was really liking the money and the opportunity that he had to make. Chris started taking classes at night and part-time and then just kept working a commission-only job. So they don't, so they would let me work every day. And so I work every day. Before his 21st birthday, Christ had already made enough money to buy his first home, a townhome in Carlsbad.
In his vacation rental and timeshare sales, Chris stated that they had to stay there for 90 days. He adds that you have 90 days to sell them and get their credit card and charge it. It was hard for sales presentations like he had which has really helped him when he got into reserve. Chris had no thoughts of getting into residential real estate at that point in time, but it was great training for that it was hardcore as he described it was old school.
Getting Started in Real Estate
Chris started selling timeshares, he also shared a dream that he remembered vividly. It was the end of the day everyone had pretty much like he was in the lobby of this resort up on the second floor and just looking down this couple walked in. Chris remembers telling himself that there is my next sale so he walked down to greet them and it was after hours and they just sort of wandered then. He started talking to the guy who said that he owns a real estate brokerage of the street wanted to own one of these but didn't want to pay for it. The guy said, what I want you to do is come and present this to all of my agents, and then at my agents refer people to you you apply my referral fees towards me owning one.
Chris made a presentation to his office or multiple presentations and from that point on for the next three years he tried to recruit Chris in real estate. Every time Chris would see him he would say hey you should come work for me you would love it would be great at it he would hand Chris handwritten notes all the time hear him occasionally and three years later he was meeting him to lease some space to start his marketing company on his own. The guy just kept talking to Chris about it and he just started calling him at a weak moment, Chris said he will give it a try and that's how he got into real estate at the end of 1988.
For the first month on November 1st, 1988, Chris had made the decision to do real estate but he's only going to sell commercial real estate he doesn't want to sell homes. After a month Chris knew nothing about commercial real estate and after a month of not really knowing what was going on the condo that Chris bought was bought by a girl who is the neighborhood specialist and the top agent in their office and her cubicle was catty-corner to his for him to see what she was doing not as a consumer but as an agent in the office. So Chris said that he can do it this way and it will be cool.
That December he listed his first property it was for sale by the owner which was a funny story, he listed it and sold it two weeks later. That year around January he sold 27 properties. Chris became rookie of the year in San Diego and 24 out of 27 were for sale by owners that he listed. At the end of the year, he remembered having the thought of how is he going to do more because he couldn't work a crazy amount.
Chris worked seven days a week and always wanted to be the first one in the office. the broker was a former marine who got up early so Chris would be at the office by 6:30 in the morning and made some coffee he was always there before the broker and he was also always the last one to leave at 8:00 or 9 at night.
Chris then thought that there is literally no more time that he can put into work this year. He was thinking about what he should do. The only obvious solution was to hire someone to do some of the stuff, so by the end of the year he hired an assistant and no one had assistance back then he wasn't an office with 60-80 agents and he was one of the youngest agents in the office and no one had an assistant.
When Chris had one people were looking at him like who do you think you are. Now you have an assistant and he would be like well you have been stuffing envelopes for the last four hours so he's going to pay someone to do that so he can go out and sell more homes and that was the beginning of it.
It wasn't things that weren't at staying it wasn't just a concept. It wasn't anything anyone thought about or talked about it for Chris. It just evolved out of necessity. Chris started referring all his by your leads to this by your agent from another company. Every time he was showing Chris’ properties, He did a really good job. He would call and check availability or give feedback he was really good. Chris went to him and said how would you like to get all my buyer leads the only catch is instead of a 25 referral fee I want 35% because I’m going to give him not just once but on a regular basis. They eventually had a conversation of asking him to work for Chris and he did. Now he has an admin assistant and the buyer's agent and things just kept growing and growing from there.
Moving to Keller Williams
Keller Williams didn't exist in San Diego from 1990 to 1991. Chris was with prudential when the potential was doing real estate in the 80s. they have 37,000 agents nationwide and Prudential eventually sold all the real estate operations to Berkshire Hathaway. In 2004, he has been with Prudential for 15 to 16 years and never thought of moving. he tells us that he remembers being a big sports fan they had Tony Gwynn on the padres and tony Gwynn spent his whole career with a padre and was an all-star. Chris then thought that he be the tony queen of real estate. Chris remembered having these fats such as what's going to happen in 10 years from now if you don’t do this anymore?
In southern California, you couldn't buy enough real estate that would cash flow to create a bunch of passive income. He bought what he could especially during the downturns. Chris went to his broker and met with him he then said that he was looking for another opportunity he was not asking him to give anything but he needed an opportunity to own something or build something or generate something. he said that he was looking at all of his options and thought of maybe just starting his own brokerage or going to another brokerage where there are lower fees. they had multiple meetings and then the net of those meetings was that he didn't create any opportunities but just find his prerogative.
Chris wanted to have something in equity in business he wanted to create multiple streams of income and passive income. about that time he got a call from his friend who was a broker whom he met and his first year in real estate. She works in the same office and said that she is starting this new brokerage called Keller Williams and needed someone to manage it he asked if he knows anyone.
A few weeks went by and Chris was trying to figure out what he was doing so he call her back and ask what is she with the company. He mention the company again and Chris never heard of it then she dropped almost half of the original copy of the millionaire real estate agent. was surprised that that was the company doing and teaching exactly what he does.
It took Chris 16 years of blood sweat and tears to figure it out all in the book which has really resonated with him and that was the beginning of his Keller Williams journey. they then eventually flew out some people from texas and Chris flew to Austin and met with Gary the CEO and Mark Willis who said what would it take to get him to join their company?
Chris answered that is he knew that he had opportunities and if he could get opportunities based on his abilities and his results and the word that would turn into opportunities for him. He didn't know what type or specific idea but he just wanted to know that nowadays then he would make the move he said what do you think you have influence over other agents in people? Chris then said that people in the industry respect you and like you some do some don't you know there's a lot of agents who have been beaten like a drum in San Diego and they're not happy with that I take their listings and I don't know how it goes while you're wanting to find out so he made the move. In 2004 Chris join Keller Williams.
It became the number one market center in southern California. In May 2010, Chris went to work for the company and Austin and became the president of the worldwide division where they started launching Keller Williams globally.
He did a lot of skype calls day and night a lot of travel and said that was a really good experience. he adds that it was hard because he created something out of nothing. they didn't know what Keller Williams that they had any knowledge or expertise nor did they just want him to do and handle it. it was like you figure it out and let us know how it's going and if you need something. Chris became president for 5 years and they were over 20 countries by the end of 5 years that's when he became the CEO of the whole company.
Starting in OJO Labs
Christmas with the founders of OJO while he was still the CEO in 2016 he had a great connection and loved the idea of what they're doing. in 2017 when Chris left Keller Williams became an early investor of OJO And then they ask him to be an advisor to their company which he di. In 2018, he unexpectedly unplanned some introductions and ended up joining the Loan Depot which is the second-largest non-bank lender in the country, And became the city of a sister company that was created called mellohome.
It was a cool experience for Chris working inside of a large national vendor who was on its scale and he did that for a year and a half. during that time he was an advisor for OJO who asked him to be on their board. In the spring of 2019, he could tell that they were growing and making good strides. and Chris thought that they can probably really use him full time. Before he said anything they came to him and said that they could probably use him full time if he would be willing to join them in the team. Chris like everyone and it was a fun and exciting startup environment.
What is OJO Labs?
For those that don't know what OJO Labs is, Chris describes themselves as a marketplace. They have consumers that they match with service providers on the other side. the service providers primarily are real estate agents or loan officers. Getting the consumers is through a portal that day on it was a company that they bought in 2020 called Movoto Which is the fifth-largest real estate portal in the country.
They had tens of millions of consumers each month that visits and translates into hundreds of thousands of leads which translates into 25 to 35,000 referrals every month that they're making to real estate agents around the country. Then agents pay them a referral fee. They were just starting in some markets that also connect consumers with mortgage lenders and eventually want to have a complete marketplace to ever the consumer needs to be able to help them get it.
Automated Technology for Real Estate Agents
Consumer behavior is changing at a faster pace than ever before fueled by technological advances along hand-in-hand with consumer behavior or expectations that get created. Chris said that as a consumer, we have expectations now that are also shaping our behavior. People want things instantly, They want transparency, ease, and to be intuitive. If you buy a piece of technology you don't want to have to go through a bunch of training and reading to figure out how to use it, you just want to pick it up and then have it guide you through that process.
Chris says that if he has to deal with a piece of technology, that's not the case, he gets frustrated because he thinks of why should he read this why should he have to watch this to show him how to use it. He adds that if we think about consumer behavior when it comes to the most popular pastime of the country it seems like it's shopping. We all get spoiled by amazon buy something in a click return it in a click and you don't have to put in any information. Amazon knows all of our information.
If you go to another site I have been to before and you have to put in your credit card information address I can't believe that you have to go through all of this, why don't they know this? Chris says it's like her expectations have gotten so high and after this providers, we have to be conscious of what consumers want what consumer behavior is where consumer behavior is driving things, and then we have to be able to meet and exceed those expectations. The only way we're going to be able to do that is by leveraging technology we need those tools to operate at a level that is consistent with whatever the rest of the world is.
Chris stated things are changing evolving faster than ever before. the rate of change is not going to slow down at any time it will speed up. At the same time, human connectedness is every bit as important as always been. As a service provider, as a real estate agent, you know that begs the question: how do we leverage technology to help us make more connections or deep in the connections that we have.
Deepening the connections we have is probably more important now than ever before. Chris states the consumers in his database and in everyone's database are being inundated with all sorts of different offers from all sorts of different companies. If they are a seller they're getting offers, instant offers, and solicitations to get an instant offer and their house. There be presented with new ways of selling their properties and if they are a buyer they are getting presented with new ways of buying a property. we want to have those deep relationships with those people so that when these offers come.
What’s Next for OJO Labs?
OJO Labs Have been experiencing really great growth. they have more than double the revenue from 2020 to 2021 and have big plans for 2022. Like any growth company, they hope that they will either become a public company or someone will offer them a bunch of money and one everyone else. That's the plan. Like a lot of companies, they have had a lot of growth and now there are a lot of opportunities to optimize and become more efficient and more effective. It is similar to agency business, a lot Of times when an agent starts off just based on pure effort and enthusiasm they will get to a certain level. But to get to the next level, they will have to be more efficient and more effective because there's only so much driving and that's only going to get you so far. You then got to add skills, add systems and add in better processes. Our business is just like an agency business in that respect.
Connect with Chris Heller
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