Re-explaining what I'm working on

We dive back into what I'm working on, hopefully answering questions and clearing confusion


Loren Winzeler:
[00:00:00] Hey guys, this is Loren. I'm your host for another episode of the milepost podcast. Thanks for tuning in. Okay. I realized after editing and publishing the last episode, the short update episode number three, that I did a really bad job at explaining what it is that I do. That is, what we do, quote unquote, by the way, if you hear me say we, instead of I, it's solely out of habit and my subconscious brain trying to fool myself into thinking that the company is bigger than it really is.  So for now, we equals I, I equals we. Funny facts  writing this out rather in  cursive. I subconsciously wrote self-conscious instead of subconscious. I wonder what that means. Anyway, so back to explaining what I'm working on. 

[00:00:54] So I have an LLC in California, basically a single member LLC at this stage, it's [00:01:00] called Andover labs LLC.

[00:01:02] All my projects roll up into that one entity, one bank account. during my time as an entrepreneur with Andover labs, different brands, different business plans, have fallen under that same umbrella. I would prefer to have separate structure and accounting for these businesses, for these SaaS apps,  however, the overhead makes it silly to have separate LLCs and separate tax filings. just as a side note, in California it's $800 a year just to have and maintain an LLC.   You know, in, in the future if one takes off, you know, it's likely that we'll spin it out into its own deal, its own separate entity.

[00:01:38] So with Andover, there are three SaaS brands that serve the mortgage brokers and loan officers category. They are 

[00:01:45] downpayment.gift 

[00:01:48] homesbysocial.com and 

[00:01:50] reviewhomes.com

[00:01:52] so down payment.gift. yeah, it's a kind of a goofy dot GIF, GIF, T domain [00:02:00] name or DPG, or just downpayment for short. this one is launched.

[00:02:05] It's in market, and I'm actively trying to find its fit in the market.  it'll add features, and or the value propositions. And in one way we can. I figure out how to sell this effectively and scale it. so down payment is me and my co founder and developer, Jared, Jared White in Portland. Jared was originally here in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, but then he moved his family up to Portland, Oregon a while back after we started collabing.

[00:02:32] Jared is a contracting part time. Part time is really only about five to 10 hours a month, depending on what we're working on. Typically we have a weekly update call and a planning call that can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour else. Everything around the product development is managed to be a Trello notion and via email. The app is a [00:03:00] web app. It's written in Ruby on rails with Postgres.  It, leverages API platforms like Stripe connect and plaid. A side note, the Plaid stuff is not live yet, but it's been in there for over a year.  In order to support, ACH transactions over Stripe using Plaids OAuth API.

[00:03:23] But we have the app running on digital ocean and its own dev and staging in live environment and a marketing site that's super fast, or an Jekyll. So a static site generator. and that's hosted on Netlify. So a Jekyll a course is a Ruby based, static site gen, I think it's from github, correct me if I'm wrong.

[00:03:47] Jared help set that up as an alternate to custom HTML and CSS or WordPress or others.  I'm using a lot of other landing page platforms, other marketing tools that that [00:04:00] bolt onto the site in the app. So I'm always trying to figure things out too, on the fly, especially with respect to, learning Jekyll.

[00:04:09] But, Definitely. It's a great way to scale. Image hosting on the marketing site is done via cloudairy. So far we're skating along on their free plan. Same with transactional email. We're still in the free plan for SendGrid, so here's the one liner to the end user to the consumer. We help wedding couples achieve their home ownership dreams with a completely free, dedicated and secure down payment gift registry.

[00:04:38] your guests can make gifts online with credit or debit cards, and you receive a rebate of the transaction fees at closing. So one of the slogans we kind of work with on some of the marking materials to say I do to a home and say, no thanks to dishes, sheets, toaster ovens, et cetera, let us help fund your home purchase [00:05:00] after all, a house is the ultimate wedding gift.

[00:05:03] So downpayment.gift is basically like a crowd funding, application. also more like a cash registry, an online registry where people can donate cash. But in this case, it's cordoned off towards the use of towards a down payment. And we sell the platform. And. Ancillary marketing services and lead gen on top of the platform to mortgage brokers and loan officers that are looking to bring this out and help more families buy a house.

[00:05:37] So, you know, theoretically, especially when you consider jobs to be done type frameworks, we compete with crowd funding sites like go fund me. Yeah. There is actually, this is not an entirely new concept. There's actually a broker, a wholesale broker company called CMG, that has had a product in market, I think it was originally called house fundit, and then they changed it to something [00:06:00] else, which is not, the life of me coming to mind. They've got some other kind of things bolted onto that, but you've got to be a broker with that company and selling loans through their channel to use it, and they have got a lot more rules around it. there are specific guidelines around mortgage down payment registries and bridal and wedding gift registries, especially new rules that came out in 2017 so we're really trying to ride and market on top of that.

[00:06:30]A little sliver, that little category inside of the mortgage guidelines. And of course, we also compete with existing online registries that offer or don't offer a cash registry. So the likes of Honeyfund or VC funded type, registries that the most popular being, Zola. and we compete with traditional offline and online retailers like the Macy's, the Nordstrom's, the Crate and barrels, the targets, Amazon, really, it's [00:07:00] convincing, brides and grooms to consider a down payment registry as an alternate to a traditional registry.

[00:07:08] So it's a bit of an evangelical sale. And even evangelizing a new behavior, that is, using this bridal gift registry to collect funds to fund a new home purchase. The actual down payment registry is not a new idea. I mean, if you go back 25 years, to starting as early as 1996, 1997 FHA, the, One of the entities that insures home loans in the U S government home loans.

[00:07:38] The FHA put out guidelines on down pavement registry accounts that  lenders, don't use those pre-web guidelines anymore, but they do use, as I mentioned, the 2017 Freddie Mac guidelines. And Freddie Mac is one of the, major securitizers of conforming loans in the U S.

[00:07:59][00:08:00] So for lenders and brokers and for loan officers, branches, teams of loan officers, we allow them to cheaply add a new  arrow to their quiver to help them get purchase business, uniquely market to wedding buyers as well. And also to differentiate their offerings to real estate agents in their local market.

[00:08:21] The number two,  app. That Andover is working on that's specifically in that real estate and mortgage niche is, a FSBO or F S B O for sale by owner app called homes by social and homes by social's web app written in a super fast PHP on my SQL. So a little ancient technology in that regard. But it allows home sellers to self-serve access to post their homes for sale and list them on our site.

[00:08:54] The site then syndicates those listings to Zillow, Trulia, and others with kind of an [00:09:00] RSS style XML feed. but more importantly, we're sending those listings out to social media and specifically permitting sellers to get their home advertised for free on Facebook. The ads are paid for, and by usage fees, lead gen fees, from the local mortgage brokers and lenders, that can subsequently assist the seller in closing with a buyer for, through our platform.

[00:09:26]and also preapproving would be buyers that may end up buying a different house, not our sellers house. so really, really just a marketing platform. yeah, we don't charge the end user. And we charge our partners, our customers, our partners, if you will.  But they receive benefit as well. We don't advise them on, selling the house and they don't provide any real estate services.

[00:09:52]we're more or less like, like a sign in the yard or ad in the newspaper and in some respects, but we find that. [00:10:00] Social advertising and retargeting are very, very successful in selling a for sale by owners. So just like with DPG, with them payment, the service is free to the end users, to the sellers, and it's paid for by monthly fees from our lender partners.

[00:10:19] And we're toying with a. More direct ad platform and integrations. As we scale. Right now, it's very lean startup centric and VP. We're integrated. we are integrating with,  APIs and services like Twilio, into the app and we're looking at integrating rather with those services to provide free forwarding phone numbers and free voicemail.

[00:10:42] One of the most miserable parts of trying to sell by owner is the myriad of calls. And junk calls that you get from agents trying to get you to list with them. So the moment you put yourself on Zillow or Craigslist or any for-sale-by-owner platform out there [00:11:00] today, those numbers are scraped. That information is scraped and put in databases and dialers and, agents subscribe to services for those dialers, to pound them with phone calls to get them to.

[00:11:16] and convinced them they can't do it on their own. They need to list with a real estate agent. so we're looking to put a forwarding number out there on Zillow and the other sites, Craigslist and so on, that would allow the seller to screen calls for buyers only. And it's something that we really want to test out pretty badly.

[00:11:35] So, HBS or homes by social, what's the. This was the first project I started on back in 2016. If you listen to podcast or two ago, as far as the history of this startup, but I kind of shelved it until spring of 2019 a year ago. And, we expect to make a big push this spring to 2020 [00:12:00] to try to see some growth and build out the network of customers, lenders using the platform.

[00:12:07] And also try to learn from sellers and other local lenders. Try to get more feedback on what they would like to see through the tool. I think the biggest challenge is cheaply getting sellers to review the app and to check it out and to sign up for free ads for free listings, free phone number. It all sounds a bit fishy .

[00:12:28] If you look at it, it's, you know, all these free things when everybody is telling them that they need to. You know, spend five or 6% of their sale price to sell their home, then we're telling them they can get all of these things at no cost. So this is the same problem that the Twillio number would attempt to solve for, is the same issue that makes reaching buyers difficult.

[00:12:50] So if we scrape numbers and call them, they're going to put up their guard. Just as if, we're a real estate agent trying to get a listing out of them. [00:13:00]  , sellers   are also unsure about list price as well. in 2016, one of the feedbacks we got and talking to for sale by owner sellers was lack of confidence on what to list it for.

[00:13:15] Are they too high or are they too low? Where do they need to be to sell the property, sell the property within the goal, within their timeframe. So something the agents would generally advise on. Always. Technically they should be at least.  We'd look at providing automated valuation models or simply hooking into third party  APIs that offer this,   type of service.

[00:13:41]the number three app. Okay. Moving on, that is a little less formed and it's not so much an app. It's called review homes.com it's more of a media play, but less so an app and more a series of YouTube channel to this stage or vlog style, screen capture [00:14:00] videos hosted by local video creators. So it's pretty interesting.

[00:14:05] It's not a pure saas play, so it's fun to work on, but it's time consuming. I'll spend more time talking about review homes.com hopefully in future episodes, but kinda did diverge a little bit and talk about where the idea came from. You know, watching the kids spend a lot of time. . Watching YouTube videos.

[00:14:32]I would spend time looking at all these gaming videos and other kind of cheaply produced videos that they would watch, and it just struck me that there wasn't a lot of real estate content out there and any of the real estate content was very promotional. So there was no reviews of the actual product for sale.

[00:14:55] Every product for sale would have. [00:15:00] Comments and so forth. Even if we're not, we're talking about user generated content. We're talking about reviews on the Yelps and the Googles and other platforms where there isn't just the incentive of earning like affiliate sales income. We're talking about actual interested reviews of people that are just interested in that market.

[00:15:18] all the video content is generated by real estate agents trying to get buyers and sellers. So we thought it'd be interesting to try to find, want to be YouTubers would be content creators, that want to learn more about creating an editing video and so forth, and give them a business opportunity to create and post videos on.

[00:15:39]  YouTube and, essentially reviewing, what's listed, what open houses are coming up. And there's a whole series of, types of videos, but focused around that local market. And then again, turn around and put those videos on hosting platforms like a YouTube and, [00:16:00] to. Promote them with ads and then, you know, essentially have sponsored posts or sponsorships from lenders, title companies and so on.

[00:16:11] So, the ads would be  sponsored by, but not exclusively   motivated, like, buy this house through me, through my link, and I get paid. It's, you know, this house is shit and this house is awesome. and actually provide some unbiased reviews. I think that's the word I haven't stumbled on in the last minute or two, is unbiased.

[00:16:32] So, how can we do that now? Eventually there might be the opportunity to do some, you know, face to camera vlog style videos where you go out to the field and go into homes with seller permission. And review homes and do little featurettes and follow other, you know, users or consumers in the market.

[00:16:58] For now it's all [00:17:00] behind the screen, webcam, picture and picture cheaply made like watching my kids, watching YouTube, gaming videos and so forth, borrowing that style of video and applying it to the real estate market. And just imagine if there was 350 ,450. YouTube channels, publishing videos every other day or more, what kind of value we can create in the market. So anyway, review homes.com. 

[00:17:27] So on mile posts, I'll talk more about,  a bunch of other micro SaaS apps, between 2016 and 2017, 2018. I just was learning and learning and learning. And. Creating new things, new ideas. If I put this together with this, I can launch this, or, Oh, that's interesting.

[00:17:49] Someone's abandoning that. They launched this, or you know, Oh, someone put this on AppSumo of four years ago, and, and, got, you know, 1600 users and now they're [00:18:00] abandoning in it. And you know, here's. A tiny amount of money, I'll take it over and run it, even though it's not making any revenue recurring. So there's a lot of micro SaaS apps, I'll call them, that I'm running, that are written in PHP rails, JavaScript, Python.

[00:18:16]most of them generate zero money or five or 6,000 a year. not enough for a full time income. Some of them would generate six, three a hundred a month. Yeah, one in particular, but the support on it with such a nightmare, I shut off the billing and stopped collecting the money. So I'll tell you stories about that.

[00:18:39] That payments app, for instance. so a few of those, just to kind of list them off. One is called vCardhosting a vcard or VCRD. dot. Co, one is called status kit. Kind of a cheap status page creator. One is called cider with two R'S. I like Apple cider. So photography, a gift [00:19:00] registry, and then some legacy payments.

[00:19:01] Apps like calendar pay, landing pay is one of them. and got a couple of word plus plugins .  There's a whole bunch more here. I'm not going to list them. I'll go, if you guys really want me to go over some of these micro saas apps, I will spend some time doing that.

[00:19:18] Maybe we can partner on them or can a couple of them off or just give them away cause there's a whole list of them here. I made in my notes. I did buy one interesting app last year and I swear this will be the last thing and that is the app. That was created by a YC funded startup in the mortgage space.

[00:19:40] Started in 2014. Did some fundraising through YC, did some crowd funding, ran for about five years and shut down last year. And I was an investor in the crowdfunding campaign and I knew the co founder or knew the founder, rather, one of the cofounders. And, The [00:20:00] opportunity came about to buy that code base and buy the running app, the Amazon instance, the whole shebang.

[00:20:06] So I'll cover that in the future, what that experience is like and tell you what it cost and what I'm going to do with it, how it fits into homes by social review homes and so on. I've even got some e-commerce stuff that I tinkered with in 2017 2018 or woo commerce ecom play? Custom graphics related. I had a crate, joy based app.

[00:20:29] If you're not familiar with crate joy, it's come like Shopify for subscription businesses.  This will be a founder market fit episode, but this was, or lack of rather cause this was a subscription coloring book business. It was an adult coloring book business. Not. Adult like adult adult. It was adult as in, difficult to color stress relief, coloring books, if you will.

[00:20:56] I was called chroma club and I had someone that was working with [00:21:00] me on that and I think she, locally things that you can restart it and take it over because I still have boxes and boxes of coloring books. It was actually pretty successful and it was, work was working and it was generating a chunk of change. But man, it was a difficult business and difficult to support and a lot of time and juggling everything. It just had to get put aside. Okay? 

[00:21:28] So if you're listening to this going, man, you don't know how to focus. You're all over the place. You're working on three things. You should be working on. One, I'm working on downpayment.gift.

[00:21:38] That's the main thing. These other two mortgage related things are popping up here and there. Everything else is kind of on the back burner. and I'm just ignoring most of that at this stage in the game. Sadly, last three and a half to four years have been a time of rapid learning for me. A little bit too much on the high [00:22:00] spending low results, shiny objects, happy times.

[00:22:05] Anyway. Like I said, totally focused on down payment gift. If you had to break it down, you'd say, I'm like 80% focused on DPG. Don't pay with the after maybe 10 or 10% on review homes and 10% off on. So I social and if I can get some traction on the ones since they're both the same customer base, we can timeshare a little bit.

[00:22:28] But, much of my thinking right now is all about marketing to mortgage lenders. For all three of those apps. 

[00:22:37] I hope through. The updates in the milepost podcast that I'll be able to tell you about those SaaS sales and marketing efforts in that niche market right now. The 90 day goals, again, prevail. One 60 content pieces over the next two months. Number two, a hundred leads from three 12 webinars, [00:23:00] and number four for paying customers for DPG.

[00:23:04]  I hope that, this will paint a better picture for you. probably creates more questions actually than answers. But anyway, thanks for listening and share the podcast.  check us out at milepost.org. Thanks so much.  

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