Open Book: Brandi Luedeman
Hear from our Head of Research about Opendoor’s approach to research and consumer insights
Open Book is a series of interviews where you get to meet members of the Opendoor design team.
What do you do at Opendoor?
I’m the Head of Research and Consumer Insights. My team is in charge of making sure that our company deeply understands customers’ problems, motivations, and reactions so that we’re building things that people actually want, need, and love.
How did you get your start in research and insights?
It was a bit of a winding road. I started my career believing that I would be a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. However, after completing a post-baccalaureate program where I learned to do functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research and then my master’s degree, I realized academia wasn’t the right fit for me. I dropped out of my PhD program at Harvard and endeavored to figure out if an academic researcher could make herself useful in tech. I was drawn to tech by its promise of high-leverage work with global impact and a more open culture.
My first role out of grad school was in engagement marketing at Trulia, and it was there I became aware that user research and consumer insights functions existed. My first thought was, “oh, I see … there are people who study people in an industry. I’m in!” I took a role as the founding member of the research team at MyFitnessPal, loved it, and have been in research ever since.
How does your background influence the way you approach research and run your team?
I probably insist on a higher bar for the rigor of our research. Our team works with a startup mentality, so we move fast and are scrappy. But because of my and my team’s academic training, we’re also painfully aware of all of the confounds and biases that can creep in when research moves too fast or your sample sizes are too small. When we run into a research question that’s going to require a lot of time and resources to answer accurately, we align with our collaborators that we’re either going to take the time to answer it right, or we’re not going to answer it with research. In those instances, we coach the team to use logic, analytics, and their good judgment instead.
My background also probably influences how I structure my teams. At Opendoor, we have combined the disciplines of user research (which often sits within product or design teams) and consumer insights (which often sits within marketing teams). I prefer this structure because I believe that both disciplines have the same core: deeply understanding people. This quirk in my perspective is probably because I grew up as an academic vs. industry researcher, but from where I’m sitting, user research and consumer insights teams use many of the same tools, many of the same methods, and answer many of the same underlying questions. To me it’s just a difference of packaging — you can frequently take the same insights and form them into design requirements for the product team and positioning pillars for the marketing team. I do recognize that this amount of overlap between the two isn’t the case for all companies, but for now, it works for us at Opendoor. And I like having the focus being on deeply understanding the customers we serve vs. which internal team we collaborate with most.
What are some of your team’s biggest accomplishments?
As our Chief Product Officer Tom Willerer put it the other day “when the Research team at Opendoor speaks, people listen.” I’m proud that we’ve built our team such that every member is trusted and respected as an expert. We conduct extremely high-leverage and high-impact work, so we’re taken seriously, and our findings have a huge impact on our company roadmaps. Opendoor is different from every other company I’ve worked at in that it doesn’t take much researcher time to “get buy-in” or have people act on our insights. If anything, it’s almost the opposite — we sometimes have to run after people because they want to act on our insights and recommendations before they’re fully baked. I think this is a good problem to have.
One recent example of the research team’s leadership came when COVID-19 first hit the U.S.. In the first week of April, the world was still swirling in shock and confusion, but our team had already conducted 50+ interviews to understand how buyers, sellers, and agents were reacting. We also spun up what we called “Project Pulse” which gave us both qualitative and quantitative data to help us understand how consumers’ perceptions and needs were evolving on a daily basis.
It sounds obvious now, but one of the things we discovered was how top-of-mind health and safety had become for everyone, almost overnight. Suddenly just agreeing to have your home inspected or going to check out a property you were interested in buying could be putting your community’s lives at risk. Our product, marketing, and operations teams immediately doubled down on safety, updating our processes, protocols, website, emails, and in-app messages so we could keep serving customers safely.
What are your passions outside of work?
My “framily.” My actual family lives in Florida, and I miss them terribly. Luckily, I’ve got some really close friends in the Bay Area who I consider my chosen family. Some of us actually moved in together to ride out the pandemic in a way that felt safe but less socially isolating. Over the holidays to make up for the fact that none of us could travel to be home with our families, we transformed our living room into a ballroom and held a masquerade ball. It was a great way to ring in the new year!
What areas are you most excited to investigate next?
EVERYTHING. I’ve never met a question I didn’t want to answer. I’ve been at Opendoor for over two years now, and I continue to find every day exciting because there’s still so much to learn. It’s one of the most complicated and fast-moving businesses I’ve ever seen. It’s impossible to be bored.
Right now, I’m most excited for my team to continue figuring out how to virtualize every step in the home buying and selling process. This was already part of our company’s long-term vision — to take residential real estate transactions entirely online and make them as easy as a few clicks online — but when COVID-19 hit, we saw the need to accelerate this work to keep our employees and customers safe, as I mentioned earlier. We did an incredible job of streamlining a contactless experience; and now that we’ve got the foundation laid, I’m looking forward to continuing learning from our customers and dreaming up what the future of residential real estate looks like. How do you build a process that makes people feel comfortable and confident making the biggest purchase of their life through a website? I don’t have all the answers right now, but I’m really excited to figure it out.
Other entries in the series:
P.S. If you liked what you read and are interested in learning more, check out our jobs page! We’re always hiring.