Michele Serro had a terrible time buying her first home in 2006. Her agent didn’t seem to “get” her or her needs. “My confidence went down,” she says. “There were multiple moments where I wanted to throw in the towel, and I thought maybe I shouldn't buy.” She went online for help to guide her through the process, but the buying process seemed to vary significantly depending on the city, state and property type, and the information could be confusing. “I wanted something that looked at it in context, as a journey,” Serro says.
When she couldn’t find it, she created it. In 2012, Serro founded Doorsteps — initially designed as a shared online workspace for agents to attract, educate and guide clients. Agents could join for $25 per month then invite their clients (who could use it for free through their account). To Serro’s surprise, potential homebuyers who didn’t yet have an agent kept trying to join on their own too. So she revamped the site so that buyers (or pre-buyers) could join on their own for free. And Doorsteps became “an interactive guide to buying a home for early-stage homebuyers.”
In its first year, the site brought in more than $1 million in revenue, thanks to a lucrative partnership with a bank, and was used by more than 6,000 agents and 7,500 homebuyers. After the first year, the partnership ended, but five months into its second year, Doorsteps was acquired by real estate search engine Move.com, which operates Realtor.com. Last quarter, it grew its agent and lender paying customers by 40 percent. Today, more than 10,000 agents and 40,000 consumers use the platform. We talked to Serro, who remains CEO, about how she grew her company so quickly and how she’s maintained her vision since the acquisition.
You have a non-technical background as an opera singer, then design consultant with IDEO. How did you get Doorsteps off the ground?
I firmly believe that as a non-technical founder, you need to partner with a technical co-founder. But at the time, I didn't feel like anyone would take me seriously unless I had some knowledge of what I wanted to build. I needed to do some work first. So, I raised a very small amount of money, less than $200,000, did a friends and family round, hired a company called Pivotal Lab and got an education in how to build software.
The person working on my project at Pivotal ended up leaving Pivotal and launched the company with me. I was also staying in touch with some of the contacts I’d made through IDEO, including the CEO of mortgages at a major bank. They told me, “I'd love to license some accounts with you to give to our agent partners.” So I ended up signing a fee-for-services agreement for a year, which was the amount of money I would need to support a five-person team: close to $1 million. That was how I funded the first year.