Abort Mission — The Life of and Lessons Learnt from Hutsy

Before I dive into our lessons learn from having been in the RETech industry for 3 years (from circa 2017–2020), I want to give a quick background of our journey.

Prelude 1: Life before Hutsy

Rashid and I had met in college through a mutual friend when I was transitioning into tech. Turns out we connected unnecessarily well the first time we met; we had ended up chatting for 3 hours on how we wanted to change the world in our own, large ways.

He had, already at the age of 19, been running his own design and development studio (Sophire Studio) in NYC. Naturally, I had to join him and help him run his business :) We had an amazing stint for a year where we mostly made a ton of mistakes, but also had a ton of fun learning about how to sell, how to build, how to communicate, and most importantly how much we loved working with each other.

We knew the imminent setting of Sophire Studio as we began to itch for a baby of our own. Him having a network of real estate agents and brokerages in his home town of San Antonio, Tx, from when he had worked as a web developer back in high school, it only made sense for us to reach out there and begin working towards problems they faced on the regular, that could be fixed by a software solution.

We had little notion of what a ‘startup’ was, but we quickly had a Wordpress platform running (FlareAgent), with paid users that were growing rapidly from 15 to eventually 200 agents over the span of a year and a half. What we had set out to do was very simple — automate real estate transactions for the real estate agent and brokerage.

The rest is history.

Two college chums, who had no idea what they were really doing, chanced upon Y Combinator for the first time, got very lucky to be the first batch that had access to their Early Decision program and ended up being one of the first 7 YC cos to be accepted that way for the S19 batch.

We spent the last few months wrapping up college, and eagerly moved to San Jose for what would be a wild ride for the next 12 weeks.

Prelude 2: The birth of Hutsy

As soon as we embarked on our YC life, we were quickly made aware of the expectation of us to meet by demo day if we wanted to stand a chance of raising a successful seed round.

We went back to the drawing boards and realized that the chances of us growing 10–20% week on week were slim, given how niche our target demographics were (we were targeting elite agents who had their own team of co-agents and transaction coordinators), and how slow our sales cycle had shown to be.

With much guidance from our YC partners (shoutout to Holly, Aaron Epstein, Dalton and Gustaf), we landed on an initial version of Hutsy. We knew, deep in our hearts, that we always wanted to serve the consumer at the end of the day, we just didn’t know how as college students. The biggest thing YC helped us with is probably in understanding the extent of what we could do if we broadened our minds and stopped being our own road-blocks.

So there we began, trying to change the annual trillion-dollar-home buying (and eventually, selling) market in the US.

Prelude 3: The spark that never became a flame

We set a goal for ourselves for the remainder of our YC batch — we had one month left till Demo Day — to pilot with 3 homes.

A month later, we presented proudly on stage having closed 4.

Thus began our fundraising process.

Through a series of miscalculations, mistakes on my part, and perhaps just circumstances (not going to say that WeWork’s scandal caused our fundraising to fail, but there seemed to be a pattern across all the other real estate cos in our batch were affected), we ended up raising a meager sum that left us with 8 months of runway. From September 2019 till June 2020, we needed to somehow flip Hutsy from being a baby that was unproven, to successfully blowing consumer and investor minds to stay alive and continue the Hutsy saga.

We planned that we would have a soft launch in December, and a hard launch in March, and that would give us a couple months of buffer to a close more homes before we ran out of $, allowing us to make the decision of raising if we needed to and putting us in a good position to do so.

Through a hard grind to close partnerships across 8 different cities (NYC, Miami, Portland, SF, LA, San Antonio, Austin and Seattle) with real estate agents, lawyers, mortgage brokers, inspection companies, real estate data/feed providers etc, and a simultaneous push to pump out a software platform for home buyers as we relentlessly tried to acquire them, I am really proud of us for how much we were able to accomplish in the 6 months that followed.

We made our final and best attempt to bring Hutsy to the nation at the start of March with our hard launch, our hopes up high.

Lessons learnt (the top 20 I can think of right now)

Alas, through a series of unfortunate events, namely COVID and the market crash, the home buyers in our pipeline ended up getting major cold feet, and any potential new ones backed away really quickly.

Understanding the gravity of the situation (that within a few weeks, we would not be able to pay rent again), we made the decision to shut down Hutsy and move on to other endeavors.

So, for anyone who is pursuing a RETech startup, or is just interested in this industry, here are lessons that we learnt and felt were true. YMMV ;)

  1. Selling to agents is not impossible, but sales cycles are long, and finding the right sub-demographics of agents is very important. Agents are spammed with a ton of software everyday, so standing out is very important.

To wrap it all up, I want to say that through this story of ours, I hope you take away, not that building a Hutsy equivalent is impossible, rather that you would have to do it differently from how we did it because it clearly did not work for us. I hope that our lessons will be yours without the burden of failure, and that you will be able to bring forth to the world something amazing in this space that so desperately needs humongous change.

All the best to you and your team :)

PS: Rashid has moved on to working on a cool new database idea. If you have experienced any distaste towards garbage databases are, reach out to him at aziz@sophire.com. I am currently working at H1 as a PM, and we’re constantly looking for talented fullstack engineers to join our team. Reach out to me at abhi@hey.com if you’re interested.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store