At the Homelight Girl Geek X dinner, HomeLight girl geeks talked about how they use data and human emotion to empower decision making. Speakers included Tina Sellards (Facilities & Administration Manager), Sandy Liao, (Head of Talent, Culture & People Operations), Vanessa Brockway (HomeLight Senior Manager of Business Development & Strategy), Molly Laufer (Director of Offline Marketing), Sam Ryan (Product Manager), Jenn Luna (Senior Software Engineer), Mary Remillard (Talent Operations & Culture Specialist), Ames Monko (Product Designer). Recorded at HomeLight HQ on May 23rd, 2019 in downtown San Francisco.
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Head of Talent, Culture & People Operations Sandy Liao kicks off a HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California. HomeLight girl geeks share how they use data and human emotion to empower decision making.
Transcript from HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner:
Sandy Liao: This is our very first women’s sponsored event at HomeLight. We analyze millions of home selling datas to be able to find you the best performing real estate agent in your area.
Molly Laufer: We’ve been in business for about seven years, so we have really robust consumer data and we can take that lead data and we can input that into traditional media planning tools.
Mary Remillard: Then plug it into our own algorithm that analyzes this really robust database that we’ve been building since 2012.
Sam Ryan: We have the small focus data groups that we can roll out to. We really utilize blind human testers.
Jenn Luna: We take in raw data that gets summarized and very recently we’ve been utilizing elastic search like crazy for scaling abilities.
Tina Sellards: Something that was really interesting to me on that ’08 Obama campaign was the data, honestly, and the technology that was being used.
Vanessa Brockway: Kind of taking a step back, evaluating what makes you motivated as a person, and then turning that into data to help us actually help drive a decision.
Ames Monko: The future direction of HomeLight at the helm is one where curiosity about customers’ experience gives us a unique perspective to stay connected to them.
Gretchen DeKnikker: From Girl Geek, thank you guys so much for coming tonight. If you guys want to come in and have a seat, we’re going to get started. So we’ve been doing these for about 10 years and this is over 200 that we’ve done so far, so we do them every week. How many people is this their first one? Cool. So stay on the mailing list. Come, you can do these every week up and down the peninsula into the South Bay. And this is Sukrutha.
Girl Geek X CTO Sukrutha Bhadouria encourages people to sponsor and rally their teams to plan a Girl Geek Dinner to increase your visibility in the organization and boost your career.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. I’m glad that there’s no more feedback. It was driving me crazy. Welcome, everyone. Like Gretchen said, this has been going on for 10 years. We branched into virtual conferences and podcasts, so you can listen to our voices some more if you go to whatever your favorite podcasting service is. A little history; we started off in 2008 and it was just a way to get women from various companies together. You got a sneak peak into the company and what they’re working on and the companies had access to these amazing women and these amazing women had access to each other. You don’t often get to hear about these wonderful accomplished women like those who are sitting behind me as easily if you don’t attend an event like ours.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: So we’re hoping that you’re going to be building your network tonight and making connections. The other thing is that we’re always looking for ideas and content that you might want, so do send us your recommendations and your requests, but please do get your companies to sponsor because that just increases your visibility within the company. I can tell you I got a lot of visibility and access to my CTO in my company when I got Salesforce to sponsor. It was great. You don’t get to get access to them as easily. As it is out of it, it just made my career trajectory improve drastically. So you want to do that.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: More than that, you want to, like I said, make connections tonight and please, there’s a lot of people who wanted to be here and couldn’t make it because we filled up and also because it’s a weeknight, so please tweet and share on social media. Our hashtag is GirlGeekXHomeLight, and I hope to see you at more events. We have one every week, like we probably already said. But we’re filling up really quickly this year, so hope to see you soon. All right, thank you. Sandy.
Sandy Liao: Hi, everyone. We’re going to … it’s always funny at these events where there’s no one ever sits in the first row or the first seat next to the speaker. But make yourself comfortable. Move up if you have to for anyone else in the back. So quickly, I just want to introduce myself. My name is Sandy. I’m actually the head of Talent and People Operations here at HomeLight. This is actually super exciting personally. I’ve actually been a fan of Girl Geek for almost two years now. Thanks, Jenn here, who introduced me to the group. I’ve had the opportunity of attending multiple events. These things are really … people ask me, is this for recruiting, is this for anything? To me, it really is just for yourself. It’s all of you guys taking the extra time and after a long day of work, after a long week, you guys are taking the extra time to come out, to network with other women in different positions also working in the technology world. I just want to thank you guys all for coming. This is our very first women’s sponsored event at HomeLight. I’ve envisioned this for a long time and I couldn’t have expected a better outcome. So thank you all for coming and welcome to our office here.
Sandy Liao: Great. So I want to kind of start off … we actually have a really awesome panel tonight. The way how we structure our panel is that we want everyone here to get a different flavor of the people that we have and all of our team, so from facilities to operations to marketing to product and engineering, we want everyone here to be able to understand a little bit about everyone’s role here at HomeLight and how we’ve all kind of came through all of our stories to become in the role that we are today. So we have a ton of buzz words in this valley talking about the word “diversity.” To me, I truly believe outside of diversity, it really means more than that. It means a balanced culture, it means a culture where you’re learning a little bit about everyone’s experience and background. It shouldn’t just be about your ethnicity or your race or anything else. It really should be about how everyone came about to become the person that they are today, and that’s how I define diversity and what it means to have a balanced culture. Very proud; I’ve been here for about three years. I’m very excited, I’m proud to have the team that we have today and I hope all of you guys are going to have a chance to meet some of our team member, and have a good time. So, thank you.
Sandy Liao: A little story before we begin to pass it on to the panel, I kind of want to quickly introduce myself as well as tell you guys a little bit about HomeLight. So who here has actually heard of HomeLight before the event today? Okay, nobody. No worries. That exactly was my response three and a half years ago. Who here has actually gone through a home-buying or selling experience in the past? Awesome. There’s a few of you.
Sandy Liao: So, the story of how I came about HomeLight was that three and a half years ago, I was actually in the process of buying my first home in San Francisco. I grew up in the city and I thought that I knew a lot about San Francisco, I know what neighborhood’s great, and I also consider myself fairly tech savvy. You know, I know how to use the Internet, I can go on and search for a realtor and do all that fun things. My mom was actually telling me, oh, use my friend. She’s great. She’s been a real estate agent for 25 years, but she’s never sold a home in San Francisco. And that’s the interesting part about this real estate world is that all of us really envision an idea of what the process would look like to one of the most important buying decisions or selling decision your life, but the truth is is a very complicated and emotional process.
Sandy Liao: So while I was going through it myself, I went online and I searched a couple of different real estate company online, and to be tech savvy that I am, I put in my contact information online and I was like, all right, I’m going to get some help here. And I did. I got 27 missed calls from random numbers within the same day. No idea who these people were. I got a whole lot of voicemails. Everyone’s introducing themselves, they know my name, they were telling me how wonderful they can be to help me, but the truth is I can’t … I don’t know who to call back. I can’t decide who’s actually going to be great. So I didn’t end up responding to anybody.
Sandy Liao: So that was my story initially while I was going through the process. Through a very similar networking event like this, I actually met a woman who was actually in a viewing at HomeLight and I was telling her that I’m looking to buy a house and I’m in the process of looking, she end up referring me to HomeLight.com, and she said, “Hey, maybe you should check out this company. I just interviewed with them. I don’t know what I’m going to …” She didn’t end up working here, but she was the reason that I’m here today.
Sandy Liao: HomeLight’s mission is that we empower people to make smarter decisions during one of life’s most important moments: buying and selling their home. Our goal is we analyze millions of home selling datas to be able to find you the best performing real estate agent in your area, so that you can make a great decision when you’re looking to buy or sell. Our CEO, Drew, who founded the company eight years ago was going through a very similar process with his wife, also looking to buy a house in San Francisco, and just find out how challenging and difficult it is to go through that process. With everyone here, we all believe there is a better way of doing this, and buying and selling a home should be a very, very exciting process in everyone’s lives. So we’re here to make that better.
Sandy Liao: Before I pass it down, today our topic here is to talk about how we utilize our data as well as our human emotions to empower all of our decision making. I’m going to hand it off here to Mary on the talent team who’s going to share with you guys a recent experience of hers utilizing HomeLight, our platform. So, thank you.
Talent Operations & Culture Specialist Mary Remillard gives a talk on “How the Marriage of Data & Human Connection Resulted in my Successful Home Purchase” at HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner.
Mary Remillard: Thanks, Sandy. Hi, everyone. Thanks for being here today. I’m actually on Sandy’s team. I’m the Talent Operations and Culture Specialist, which essentially means that I spend most of my days focused on recruiting on our higher needs across the board. I also do have a hand in our HR and administrative tasks, as well as our cultural and employee engagement initiatives, so a lot going on there. But I truly have been passionate about HomeLight since Sandy reached out to me, two plus years ago on LinkedIn and introduced me to the company and the people and the culture and our mission, which is to empower folks to make a smart decision as they’re going through one of life’s most important moments, which is buying or selling their home.
Mary Remillard: I have, in my two plus years, been pitching HomeLight as a recruiter literally thousands of times. I did the math, which is crazy. It’s been thousands of times. I have always felt like I genuinely appreciated the service that we offer, and I understood why we have this purpose of giving this service to folks. However, it was only until recently when I went through the buying process myself with my husband that I was able to fully comprehend the emotions and the weight of such a big moment in your life of buying your very first home.
Mary Remillard: So my husband and I, we’re super frustrated. We have always rented and we were probably touring our maybe 12th or 13th complex, and we were just never able to find that perfect situation for us. It was either too far from work, too expensive, not clean, the folks at the front desk were too grumpy for us. Whatever it was, we just figured out, you know what, maybe it’s time we stop buying … or renting, rather. So we’re very proud upstate New Yorkers, never thought we would leave home, but we found ourselves in Scottsdale, Arizona, and decided that, you know what, we are not getting any sort of return on investment as we’re continuing to rent. Why not put down some roots in the desert here and embark on this buying process.
Mary Remillard: So luckily, having been an employee for two plus years, I knew exactly where to turn. So within an hour of my husband, Will, and I making that decision, we were on our couch and we were engaging with Kimmy, who’s one of our home consultants in the Arizona office. She just asked us some quick questions around the home that we envision ourselves in. She asked us price point, location, timeline we were working with, those things of that nature. And basically she’s gathering that information to then plug into our own algorithm that analyzes this really robust database that we’ve been building since 2012. That’s how we’re able to determine who are going to be these best agents for Will and me as we go through this crazy task of buying our first home. But by the end of the day, we had engaged with two phenomenal agents and then we had this whole other issue where we had to decide between two great people. That’s a great problem to have. Unfortunately, a lot of folks don’t get to have the experience of that being a problem.
Mary Remillard: So ultimately, Will and I went with a gentleman by the name of Chris Benson, who’s an agent in Arizona. He’s lived there for many, many years, knows the area like the back of his hand, has closed 425 transactions, has nearly two decades of experience and he specializes in single family homes. So Will and I, we went with Chris because it was clear to us that he was going to be someone who would hold our hand and answer our seemingly endless list of stupid questions and just not make us feel bad about it, and make himself available to us.
Mary Remillard: So within 30 days, and mind you, Will and I decided pretty quickly that we’re sick of touring, we don’t want to rent, let’s buy a home, but our lease was coming up in less than a month. So we did not want to have to figure out a situation between different homes. We wanted to be able to move in immediately. So I don’t know if many of you can relate to that, but when I told people I wanted to buy a home and move in within a month, I usually got a pitying laughter, like good luck, lady. But we were able to do it, and the thing is why we were able to accomplish that is because HomeLight’s algorithm did its job.
Mary Remillard: Chris Benson was able to help Will and I get into this beautiful townhome that we’re so excited about because he’s closed homes with our needs, we wanted to buy a home around the 200,000 mark, which believe it or not in Arizona that’s doable. And he’s closed the majority of his homes averaging at 214,000. So the reason why he was so good for us is because he’s done this 425 times. He could do it with his eyes closed. So not only are we having a great experience, but so is Chris working with HomeLight because we’re basically teeing him up to work with people whose areas of need are right in his areas of expertise.
Mary Remillard: So we obviously had a really great time, but what also made this so wonderful of an experience is because Chris is a human. Chris has raised two daughters who he absolutely glows when he gets to talk about them, he knew the highways that I just wouldn’t tolerate for traffic and a commute, I live a mile away from work now. He speeds on the 101, he’s proudly proclaimed that, and he’s a Cubs fan, so him and my husband were able to go back and forth while I was just like, okay, baseball, woohoo.
Mary Remillard: But long story short, Will and I now are so excited about our future in Arizona because HomeLight did its job, its algorithm worked, it matched us with Chris, and because Chris is a phenomenal agent who’s experienced, and again, he’s done this 425 times. So that’s really the HomeLight difference right there, and I’m so proud to work for a company that now I know firsthand is truly making a huge difference.
Director of Offline Marketing Molly Laufer gives a talk on “Offline Performance Marketing: Using Art and Science to Drive Response and Revenue” at HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner.
Molly Laufer: Apparently I need a new headshot. That photo was like, eight years old, one toddler and many gray hairs later. I’ll work on that. So hi everyone, my name is Molly Laufer. I’m the Director of Offline Marketing here at HomeLight. I’ve been here for about seven and a half months, so I think on the panel I’m probably relatively newer to the team from everyone else. Here at HomeLight, I’m responsible for channels like TV, radio, podcast advertising, out of home, direct mail, and some of our large scale brand sponsorships. Now here at HomeLight, we utilize these channels not just to drive top funnel awareness and sort of general brand awareness and market share, but also to actually drive immediate performance. We utilize these channels as performance channels to drive leads and revenue, and I’ll get into that in a little bit more detail in a minute.
Molly Laufer: All right, so we were prompted here to talk about some of our passions and our hobbies that we have as well outside of work. When I thought about it and realized that I have a gregarious 17 month old, I realized that most of my current interests outside of work really are just around keeping my toddler alive and trying to main some semblance of balance, which to be honest, I don’t know how that works. So don’t ask me for any advice on that. But professionally outside of offline marketing and customer acquisition, the things that are really important to me specifically are around supporting veterans and their transition to the tech world from the military through networking and storytelling, as well as finding community and support for myself and other working-out-of-the-home moms, especially when they’re making their transition back into the tech world.
Molly Laufer: I started my professional career in 2007 as a surface warfare officer in the US Navy. I spent four years deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as a handful of counter-narco terrorism missions as well. I was the ordinance officer and force protection officer onboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts where I was one of three women on a ship of about 280 men. So being in this room with this many women in the inverse is freaking awesome. This is a really cool balance. And then I was also a training and readiness officer onboard the USS Nimitz, which is the photo here. This was probably back in 2010.
Molly Laufer: So anyways, that’s how I started my career. In 2011, I made what I think, looking back, was a very clumsy transition to the civilian world in technology, specifically in Silicon Valley. I joined a pre-revenue, pre-funding, pre-product, pre everything startup. I was the first employee at the direct to consumer e-commerce net company called NatureBox where I worked on community, I did a lot of our social media, our initial paid social media marketing, as well as influencer marketing, which then, for me, really pivoted into focusing on offline, like podcast and TV and radio. I was at Nature Box for about four years, and then I made a kind of non-traditional transition to the agency world. I worked at an offline performance marketing agency for a handful of years, and it was a great experience. I got to work with a lot of really interesting businesses and a lot of really interesting business models, but ultimately I was really eager to get back to be really hands on internally. I found HomeLight about seven months ago, and I couldn’t be any happier.
Molly Laufer: So I like to make this joke in some of my interviews which was in the Navy, the closest point of approach is when two ships are passing in the night and you want that CPA to be as high as possible, otherwise you have collisions at sea. When I came to the tech world and realized that CPA actually meant Cost Per Acquisition, and if you were doing your job right, you wanted it to be lower, that was a huge surprise for me, but that’s a whole ‘nother TED talk for another day.
Molly Laufer: So I’m going to talk a little bit specifically about how we approach, or how at least I approach, offline media planning and it’s really interesting that our topic today is around sort of using data and emotion to make decisions because I’ve always said offline marketing is this real mix of art and science. There’s a lot of data, there’s a lot of those really concrete, quantitative information that can go into making a media plan. But at the end of the day, like every decision that we make, whether it’s buying a home or even just looking at your grocery budget, you have to make some sacrifices, you have to make some decisions in your media plan because most of us work in areas of business where you can’t … money doesn’t grow on trees, you can’t afford to do anything.
Molly Laufer: So, you know, at HomeLight, I’m going to speak to a couple of these things. This is certainly not exhaustive. I listed a couple of different attributes that go into building an offline media plan. But some of the things that we do here at HomeLight that I think are really unique, we’ve been in business for about seven years, so we have really robust consumer data, and we can take that lead data and we can input that into traditional media planning tools like Nielsen and like MRI, and we can actually get really great personas about who our customers are, how old they are, generally where they live, what type of media habits they consume, are they more likely to watch TV on Roku or an AppleTV or Hulu versus a traditional linear buy, what types of stores do they shop at, and these are all the different types of inputs that we can start to input into a media plan.
Molly Laufer: Because when you think about buying cable TV, there’s hundreds of channels, there’s many different approaches. You have to start to narrow down the way that you think about what are going to be the right buys to attract the customer that’s right for HomeLight. Things like seasonality is also really important when it comes to doing an offline media buy. You know, there’s … every business has its own unique seasonality that they tend to see better efficiency for their business, but the thing that’s really challenging is that the media landscape also has its own unique seasonality. So for example, things like political campaigns, Black Friday, the end of quarter, and all of the local markets, you’ve got all the guys that are selling mattresses and trucks and they’ve got to get them off the lot at the end of the month. All of these things where you think yeah, I’m really jazzed up because I’m going run this amazing campaign at the last week of May, well guess what? Every single car dealership in America is trying to sell cars on Memorial Day weekend, and so you might end up being kind of SOL if you’re really banking on certain weekends like that.
Molly Laufer: So there’s all these factors that are kind of outside of your control that you need to have a really good grasp on before it comes to planning a media campaign. The other one that I’m going to touch on here before I move on is specifically around the competitive landscape, and I’ll talk a little bit more about this later on, but what’s really interesting is that in certain offline marketing channels, the competitive landscape either can work to your advantage so you can see where your competitor’s advertising, and you can take the move to maybe follow them. In absence of data where you haven’t advertised before, you could look at competitors or like-minded companies, see where they’re advertising, and choose to do the same thing. However, this approach really doesn’t work in other media channels. For example, podcast advertising or radio endorsements where you have an actual human, a person who’s standing up and saying all right, now onto a word from our sponsors. Those types of ad placements, they can really only have room for one type of product at a time. It would be very, what’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t know. It would be very inauthentic if a person were to endorse, say, one mattress company and then the next week turn around and advertise for another mattress in a box company. So things like competitive landscape and this sort of winner-take-all in the space can be really important.
Molly Laufer: These are just a couple of the facets that go into planning an offline campaign. The output that you see here, which I realized just looks like a bunch of dots and bar charts, because everyone’s impressed by dots and bar charts. No, but in all seriousness, what this tells us is this gives us an output of who our customer is, what types of media are they watching, and where are we going to be more likely to not only reach a higher percentage of our audience, but as you can imagine those are the placements that tend to be really expensive. It’s no surprise that most of our customers and probably all of yours are watching ABC and NBC and CNBC because guess what? That’s what all of America is watching. And so you get a lot of really interesting data down here on the other end when you look at well, what are some of the smaller networks that the audience is also watching? Can I add frequency and can I add additional touch points for our brand using lower reach, but very low-cost and high efficiency media.
Molly Laufer: So again, those are some of the factors that go into when you’re actually looking at a media plan. When you are using these tools and you get an output, at the end of the day, you can’t buy everything on a media buyer. You have to use some sort of prioritization and rankers. It’s different for every business. It’s different if you’re a national company versus a geo-based company. But those are some of the factors that I use, at least, here at HomeLight.
Molly Laufer: Another chart with lots of dots and bars. But this is really interesting. So I thought a lot and hard about how can I talk about offline media measurement. I could take an hour, and I think I have seven and a half minutes and I’ve probably already burned through five of them right now telling you about crazy stuff I did before I joined HomeLight. So I wanted to use this specific example because I like to be specific when possible. So the team knows this. I was in the Navy, so I use really nerdy, nautical analogies that no one really understands. But what’s really interesting is when you’re in the Navy, there’s actually two places that you can drive a ship from. The first is you can be in the bridge, right up there with a little wheel. It’s not really big like you see on the Titanic. It’s actually a little wheel that’s this big. It’s super anti-climatic.
Molly Laufer: So you can either be up there on the bridge looking out, seeing, hey, I see a ship over here off the port side, hey, I see a ship over here off the starboard side, and you can use your eyes and drive the ship, right? You can also, this is crazy, you could not have anyone on the bridge of the ship. You could all be farther down in the ship in the combat information center and using your radars to drive a ship as well.
Molly Laufer: Now I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that because you lose that eye contact to actually see what’s out there, but the analogy that I always like to make in offline marketing, and I promise there’s a good analogy here, is that when it comes to offline marketing, we have a really tangible way to get sort of directional signal-based indication of what type of media is working better than others. I would really equate that to sort of being downstairs in the combat information center, being able to just look at what the radar is telling me and using that to make navigation decisions. You’re certainly not going to get the full picture, and there’s no substitute for actually going above deck and putting your eyes out and saying, does that ship actually look like it’s pointing in the direction that the radar says it is?
Molly Laufer: But for us, specifically on … I use this example for TV because I think it’s really visual, but what we do here is, and this is … I wouldn’t say this is necessarily unique to HomeLight, I think this is pretty common in offline marketing, but a lot of people don’t know. We’re all sitting at home, we’re all watching TV. If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen a million e-commerce, direct to consumer companies pop up on TV over the last couple of years. And what’s really cool, and I had a stock image of it but it was kind of cheesy but I took it off, it was basically a couple sitting on the couch watching TV while also scrolling on their iPhones. Because let’s be honest, who does that with their spouse or their friend every night?
Molly Laufer: Yes. I love that. That is an offline marketer’s dream, right? Because when they’re watching a commercial and they see something really interesting, they just start Googling it. So this is the type of signal that we get when our TV commercials air. We can start to see directionally, well what type of response do we see when we air a spot on CNN at noon? How does that compare to a spot that we air on HGTV Property Brothers at 8 p.m.?
Molly Laufer: That’s certainly not going to give you the full picture of the impact of your media buy and I would probably need another two hours to go into that, but this is giving you some really good signal-based direction that we can use to make media optimizations. If you have a background in digital marketing, I would say this is the equivalent … this is about the closest thing that you would get to a direct click. In digital media as well as sort of some older types of advertising where you’ll see phone numbers on TV. You still see that today if you’re looking at a lot of lawyers and there’s a lot of local businesses that will really utilize phone numbers, and that’s what we use here at HomeLight.
Molly Laufer: All right. So I’m going to pivot and just sort of close with that’s all great, but if you don’t do offline marketing, how is this actually going to be interesting for you? So I kind of took a step back and thought, all right, what do I do when I have a decision to make? I like to use all of the data. We all do. But guess what? As we’ve talked about here and as you’re going to continue to hear, the data only goes so far when it comes to making a decision. So I thought I’d kind of leave with four pieces of advice that I try to follow myself when I have a decision to make, and I don’t necessarily have all of the information that I need.
Molly Laufer: So the first … maybe I should have put this last, but this is my favorite is building a professional or a personal board of advisors in your general role or industry that you can turn to to help when you’re facing a tough decision and you just need a little bit of outside perspective. So you certainly wouldn’t want to go to a competitor, you certainly wouldn’t want to ask a agency who’s working on a competitive product. You’re not going to maybe give them all the answers, but this has been really helpful for me and it’s events like Girl Geek, it’s events like even just talking to some of the partners that you work with. For example, at HomeLight, we do a couple of key large national sponsorships.
Molly Laufer: And so even just reaching out to those folks and saying hey, I noticed that you also have Wayfair sponsoring. Can I talk to the person who runs offline marketing at Wayfair? Hey, I noticed that Visa’s a sponsor, too. Would it be possible for you to be put me in touch with the person who has my role at that company? More often than not, people tend to want to be helpful and give advice in areas that they have experience in, especially if it’s not competitive. So trying to build up that board of advisors wherever you go in your career, it’s always been really helpful for me to get that outside perspective from someone outside of HomeLight.
Molly Laufer: This is interesting. So evaluating the risks and having worst case scenario planning. I’m a very positive person, but when it comes to making a decision, my mind first thing goes to what if this is the wrong decision and it completely fails? Not everyone’s like that and if you’re not, teach me your ways. But if you are and you tend to go to the worst case scenario, I like to think well, could I handle that? What would be the worst case? What would be the worst case scenario? And then what would I do about it? So when I made the decision to leave a very fast growing startup to go to an ad agency, I was really, really worried because I thought, God, this could be a career killer for me. Everyone says don’t go to agency side, you don’t get the hands-on experience, you’re going to be working crazy hours, it’s going to be crazy. They were right. They weren’t lying.
Molly Laufer: But I said, okay, what if they were right and I’m absolutely miserable in this role? It was just the worst decision I’ve ever made. I said well, I would leave and I would find another job. I said, huh, you probably can’t do that every career move, right? If you start to do that over and over again, you just become a career hopper or a serial hopper, but I thought if that’s the worst case scenario, I could handle that. Now what I didn’t do is evaluate what would be the best case scenario and the best case scenario, to be honest, was I think what ended up happening which was I got great experience, I touched different business models, I touched different products, I got my hands on media channels that I would have never otherwise had the opportunity to work on. And now, to be honest, that’s a strategy that I use in general, personal and professional.
Molly Laufer: This one I think is really interesting. I’m going to use an example from HomeLight which is when in doubt, let your values, whether it’s a personal decision or your company’s decision, guide what you do. If you’re ever at a turning point and it’s yes or no, you say what do my values tell me? And the example that I would use for this most recently was we recently announced a sponsorship as a title sponsor of the US ski and snowboard team, which we’re super excited about as you’ve seen probably from our conference rooms, all of our conference rooms are named for different ski resorts because one of our values here at HomeLight is work hard, ski hard. In my case, it’s work hard, mom hard. I don’t do a lot of skiing right now. The point is when we evaluated this proposal from the US ski team, we used a lot of data, we looked at what were overall CPMs, what type of response rates do we think we could get from the live and broadcast opportunities. But there was all this unknown that we weren’t quite sure about how we were going to measure or was it going to work.
Molly Laufer: So after evaluating the worst case scenario planning and saying if we were wrong, how will this impact our bottom line, we said, let’s let our values really guide us. One of our mottos here at HomeLight is work hard, ski hard. Let’s do this. And so that has been an area where I think whether it’s in your personal life or in your career specifically, taking a minute to think about the company values, which we all have on our walls and we talk about in all hands, but when you ever need to make a decision, let the values guide you because that’s technically what values should be for is for guiding decision making, not just for putting on a wall and using it in recruitment.
Molly Laufer: And the last thing I’ll say is trust your gut. I know I’m running over so I don’t think I’m going to give a specific example of this. Only just to say that personally, since becoming a mother in the last year and a half, I’ve realized that out of all the … you can go as evidence-based as you want on everything, but at the end of the day, there’s no one right way to be a parent, just like there’s no one right way to do your job. At the end of the day, trust your gut because it’s probably a lot better than you think it is, and have confidence in what your gut tells you. So, thanks for letting me chat.
Sandy Liao: If anyone wants a refill on wine, feel free to do so. I’m going to do that myself, so help yourself.
Product Manager Sam Ryan talks about her career journey and product management at HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner.
Sam Ryan: Hey guys. Sorry. Apologies in advance. I’m suffering from a little bit of a cold right now. But, Molly, thank you for that inspiring talk. Hard to follow up on that. But hi, I’m Sam Ryan. I’m a Product Manager at HomeLight. Thank you all for coming here. It’s actually quite unbelievable that we’re actually hosting this event in this office. So today I’m really excited to talk to you about a little bit of my journey at HomeLight into product, and a little bit about what products and engineering looks like at HomeLight.
Sam Ryan: So I was hired at HomeLight in 2016 by Sandy and I think I was employee number 38 at HomeLight generally and employee number four or five, I believe, in our Phoenix office. So not only was I hired at HomeLight, but this cemented my move from New York City to Scottsdale, Arizona, which I never expected. I had a very memorable first day in which I was tasked with building my desk, my IKEA desk, and hooking up my computer. But you know what? It really inspired, I think, my journey up until today.
Sam Ryan: So I was actually hired as what they called I think at the time, Sandy, you can correct me, but I think an experimental account executive/sales person. But really my job was I talk to agents for 40 plus hours a week because those are our users, and talk to them about what they like, what they dislike, what type of problems are they facing not only within the HomeLight platform, but generally, and what we could do better to support them. I was trying to solve a problem. We would introduce highly motivated buyers and sellers to top performing real estate agents across the country, but agents did not really like the HomeLight platform, and therefore we were having a lot of trouble getting updates from them in terms of the progress that they were making with the clients that we were introducing to them. So this caused inefficiencies not only within the sales organization, but obviously company wide.
Sam Ryan: So after a few months of this, I was obviously overflowing with feedback. I would turn to all of my teammates any time we would have someone from our San Francisco office at the time visit and I would just be like, guys, we have a problem and we need to improve the product or we can’t solve the problem at hand. So I think it was a few months into my career at HomeLight as an unofficial product manager, because we didn’t have a product team at the time, I had my first release. So I worked with one of our awesome UX designers, Wally, and one of our killer engineers, Charlie, who both are still on my team today almost three years later, which is quite amazing, in redesigning the referral manager or the CRM type product that our agents use to update us on the current status and progression of the clients that we introduce to them at HomeLight. And the users loved it, which was pretty crazy.
Sam Ryan: So I think it was really maybe a week after my year anniversary at HomeLight where I was officially moved to the product team, and I think I was employee number two. And the one thing I carried with me, or team member number two, the product team, and I think the one thing that I carried with me from working this experimental role where I talked to a lot of agents to being actual product manager was there is nothing more important to being close to your customer. However, HomeLight moves quickly. We release, and I think rapid cycles is putting it lightly, we release at a pace that’s unreal sometimes. Our team is just here for it and work so hard to do it. But, it’s really hard to use the traditional surveys and interviews, though we still do, to get rapid customer feedback.
Sam Ryan: So I think it’s so important. I spend many hours on the Internet scouring relevant news articles, forums, threads, reading the comments on these news articles, digging into Reddit. I have spent way too many hours on the real estate subReddit, just understanding, querying every type of HomeLight query that is possibly out there and just trying to dig in to what people are talking about, not only for HomeLight but the industry in general. Trying to embody my user but I don’t have time to be a real estate agent, though I worked in the industry before in New York City. To try to understand and this is an industry where we’re constantly innovating and the tech industry’s constantly innovating and real estate agents have a thought of fear and a thought of let’s embrace this, and what are we doing. HomeLight’s here to empower them and that’s super exciting. So staying close to the user.
Sam Ryan: Things that we do at HomeLight to kind of embrace the user and embrace their feedback and experience, but also release rapidly. I kind of gave a brief strategy and I kind of compare those and it’s funny that Molly talked about working on a ship and kind of some things there because I compared it to a rocket ignition system, which I had to caption because I kind of just Google image searched a launch button and this came up and I’m like, oh, there’s a lot of switches here and that makes sense. Because what we try to do because you have to release rapidly and we’re trying to gather all this feedback and all of these plans and just go, we have to have a lot of checks and balances in place to ensure that we’re not going to burn down the house, and we haven’t yet, which is super exciting. It’s been two years, so maybe I should knock on some wood somewhere.
Sam Ryan: But I wanted to give you guys, I don’t know, some of the strategy that my team uses to just ensure that we can release quickly, efficiently, but also keep the user at top of mind and ensure the success of the user and ensure the success of our product. So some of the things that we’ve done; we find users who love our product generally, and users that are … this might not be the best advice, but users who might be a little bit more tech savvy than the average user, and are willing to use things until they break and are willing to struggle a little bit to provide us feedback. We have small focus beta groups that we can roll out to. We really utilize blind, human testers.
Sam Ryan: Actually, before every single deploy at HomeLight, we employ our global app testers, GAT. It’s a great product and they employ actual human testers all across the country that will go through and follow step by step directions and use your product and provide you very, very granular feedback and the test usually fail because of silly things like copy or you accidentally said next and it says, “submit.” But it does point out, I don’t know, very interesting insights about the product and things that you can improve upon, fix, or fix your instructions.
Sam Ryan: Also, our support and sales team, so for every major release, I really encourage, generally, not only in support and sales, actually company wide, who wants to be involved in this testing process? I got this spreadsheet going, let’s go bug bash. So I really try to widely encourage company-wide involvement in those types of things, not only in forums that people who are talking about these things, but it helps me be informed about my product.
Sam Ryan: We utilize roll outs often. Any type of risky, major feature, we really like to utilize roll-out flags so that we have that after-launch protection. So worst case scenario, again, hasn’t happened yet, but we can roll back.
Sam Ryan: I also … In the planning stage, we implement tracking so that there are those flags that pop any time that something could go wonky even a little bit. So I really like utilizing user events, maybe a little bit too much, but I always have a dashboard the day before release that’s ready to go the second that we release and can trigger anything that could go awry at that time. Sometimes it’s triggering nothing. That’s best case scenario.
Sam Ryan: Also, we use Sentry for error tracking, which we use for all of our staging environments as well as production and consistently monitoring that around these major releases as well. Again, around release time, I stay very close to our sales and support team. They’re generally headquartered in our Arizona office, so we just made a major app release last week, so I was there in the Arizona office literally sitting at the desk next to them. It’s like, okay guys, let’s go. What’s happening? You guys are talking on the phone. What’d they say? Have they used it? Have they used it? They’re like, we’re making them download it now. I’m like, good. Let’s call them back tomorrow. But I think that’s some of the most valuable feedback that I get, of course.
Sam Ryan: Really encouraging direct channels of feedback, and making it not weird. You’re not bothering me. If I don’t answer you, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ll answer you eventually or maybe I won’t, but again, I really value all of it. I personally like utilizing Slack for these things, but of course not everyone loves Slack, so email, whatever. Just get in touch with me and get in touch with me two or three times if you need to. I don’t know, just encouraging that direct feedback loop. One thing my team embraces and the ping pong emoji is something that we use back and forth on Slack often. The ball is in your court. HomeLight generally really encourages ownership, not only over the products that we manage, but over the release and the success of those products. It’s not only me personally, it’s the team. So I currently oversee what we call the pro’s team, and that’s the professional experience at HomeLight that not only spans real estate agents, but other real estate professionals generally within the industry.
Sam Ryan: So we kind of pass this emoji back and forth because if the product fails, it’s not only I failed or you failed or he failed, it’s all of us. So we really like saying the ball is in your court. Like hey, I wrote this back, but … this name tag keeps falling off. But hey, you perform again, Sam, we’re going to test together and if I miss something, it’s all of our fault. But I don’t know, we like passing the ping pong emoji back and forth. But anyway, it’s been great having you guys in our office and it’s amazing that HomeLight has grown to the size that we are at today to be able to host this type of event. And Sandy, thank you again for introducing me to the HomeLight family. It’s been a great almost three years. Thanks.
Product Designer Ames Monko gives a talk on “Using Design and Empathy to Create Joyful Product Experiences” at HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner.
Ames Monko: Hello. My name is Ames and I’m a product designer. Tonight I’m here to talk to you a little bit about how I use design and empathy to create joyful product experiences. So I was going to ask this question, but Sandy stole my thunder, about if any of you have had gone through the process of buying a home, or know a friend who has gone through it. It sucks. It’s like the worst thing. So … you can go to the next slide. And I also need to go to the next slide. Manually. It’s mine. Ugh, this is the worst. Okay.
Ames Monko: So we all know, or if you don’t know, mortgages are a time consuming, confusing, and overall stupid daunting, bureaucratic process. Fun fact; traditional lenders don’t actually care about you or the experience that you have. Mortgages are technically, I would say, a very small percentage of their actual revenue making, they make money in tons of different ways. So they just kind of choose not to fix the process and then in turn, will just make you go through their very inundated, crappy process. Essentially they attempt to try to innovate, but by innovating, they kind of put a shiny UI on the top of the funnel, like put in your name in this and it’s so sleek and it’s modern because it’s the Internet. And then once they get you, you’re kind of just thrown back into their very clunky, not … just very cold process.
Ames Monko: Since the subprime mortgage crisis, home buyers know they deserve a higher quality of experience and making one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives.
Ames Monko: Oh yeah, I should put that there. So the already anxiety-provoking experience of borrowing money is currently made worse by multi-step process riddled with mortgage jargon, AKA anything you’ve ever seen from Rocket Mortgage, it’s not a rocket. It’s not. Sorry if anybody … you work at Quicken. HomeLight’s hiring. Just saying. My approach is like, what if in addition to streamlining the process … next slide. We could approach our design from a place of compassion and empathy. Throughout the past six years, I’ve worked in the mortgage tech industry with the goal of demystifying the process. I spent four years prior to being at HomeLight at Better Mortgage. I was one of the first initial employees of that whole project. It was myself, one front-end engineer, one quote unquote mortgage professional, he was just sent to go learn about mortgages, and one back-end engineer. We sat in a very small conference room in New York. In three months, we basically built what is the backbone of Better Mortgage.
Ames Monko: So that’s when I started … my Aries brain was like, oh, this is a pretty tough problem to solve and it’s kind of holding my attention and I would never say that in a million years, like I’m really passionate about mortgages. Because talk to me eight years ago, I’ll be like, what? I don’t care about mortgages. It’s not a thing. But as an empathetic person myself, having seen people, friends of mine, family members, go through this process, I’m like, oh, maybe I can use my expertise in design and also my empathy as a human being to try to start fixing this process. Next slide.
Ames Monko: From a design perspective, to remedy any potential pitfalls and offer support when needed. My approach is you want hands on? You can have hands on. You’re tech savvy like Sandy? You don’t even have to talk to anybody. If you can figure it out? Cool. You can do it all by yourself.
Ames Monko: These are millennials. Apparently I’m considered … I was born in 1980, which I’m apparently a millennial, but I didn’t really get the Internet until, I don’t know, I was graduating from high school, which is in 1999. I didn’t get my first cell phone until 2004, which was a cool flip phone. So the fact that … I was like, I need to find a picture of millennials and I just put these together. They look like millennials, I think. But more importantly, more than any other group, they are relying on financing for their home purchases. Many have already been confused and sort of let down by the student loan process, but nonetheless are still willing to borrow. But they expect the former archaic, home financing process to be simplified, transparent, and pleasurable? Which I don’t think we’re there yet. Next slide.
Ames Monko: So there’s this really great article. I put a link in here and I was like, oh wait, but these people are probably not going to get the link. But Adam Grant and Erin Henkel wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review. In it they say that the first step in empathizing with your customer is to gather insights and ask what is broken, frustrating, surprising, or uncomfortable for your customer. The second that you can train employees to put a customer first, it will dictate how you build and design a product. From a design’s perspective, fixing these problems in a visual way that makes people laugh, feel reassured, or feel like their needs are being met or anticipated is a solution that builds trust in my work, or our work.
Ames Monko: When we take something tedious and scary and turn it into a pleasurable experience, we make the applicant feel valued. If you can give a customer the tools, they feel empowered by that. This is their most important decision and if you can help them get there by just simply adding a more confetti button, do it.
Ames Monko: My goal has always been rooted in keeping joy at every step. People should feel excited about buying a home, not dreading it. I want them to look back and think about how great it was to buy a home, not the horror of the experience. It will definitely make meeting up with your friends less interesting because they don’t have anything to complain about and talk like, ugh, that was just like the worst thing in the whole world. So that will go away. Unfortunately, you’ll have to talk about more positive things. Next slide.
Ames Monko: The future direction of HomeLight at the helm is one where curiosity about customers’ experience gives us a unique perspective to stay connected to them. And with all the technical difficulties, I am now done.
Sandy Liao: Thanks, Ames. They flew all the way here from New York just to join us for the evening, so thank you so much for being here.
Senior Software Engineer Jenn Luna gives a talk on “Engineering’s Software Stack and How We Power our Matching Algorithm” at HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner.
Jenn Luna: Hey, everybody. Software Engineer, introvert, so I’m going to do my best. I was really nervous to go after Ames because her slides were so beautiful and mine basically look like a 10-year-old’s book report, and not a gifted 10 year old, just a regular 10 year old. So bear with me. Okay, so these are the things that make me who I am. Software Engineer for, I think, almost 10 years now, which is absolutely crazy. I am also a real estate agent on the side. I only do it for friends and family because I don’t have time. I’m a new-ish mom. New-ish because she’s almost nine months old and time flies. I’m all these things; I’m a teammate, an employee. In my free time I like to snowboard. I have dance lessons on Wednesdays and travel is pretty much the most important thing to me sometimes, besides my daughter, of course.
Jenn Luna: So here’s the most embarrassing picture of me that I never share with anybody. I started at Intel in 2008. I was a double E and I was hired as an electrical engineer. This is me in the sub fab. I really loved this experience because I got to go see all the robots making wafers and things like that. In the sub fab, you only wear half of the equipment, but in the fab fab, you have to put the whole bunny suit on where order matters and if you put your boots on before your hat, you have to redo the whole thing. It’s nuts.
Jenn Luna: So after four years at Intel, I decided I wanted to jump into software, so that brought me to San Francisco, of course. I found a company called SolarCity. Anybody heard of it? Awesome. They are now Tesla, but for five years, I was at SolarCity working in the solar industry. This is me at Bay To Breakers, just fully embracing the San Francisco culture. I loved it. I ended up moving back to Arizona, but everybody goes here and then goes back somewhere else. Anyways …
Jenn Luna: So when I started there, it was a super small team. I was in crazy startup mode. This part of my life was so exciting. It was nuts. There were just no requirements. Here’s a picture of one of my first requirements meetings with the CTO and it’s like, here’s what we want, let’s put it on a whiteboard, just spent three hours in a room and if you didn’t take good notes and you don’t build what I want, you’re fired. So this was crazy to me. This was actually my first project. And here’s another one that makes me laugh because what is this? It’s like, squares inside of octagons. I don’t even know how I completed this, but anyways. Yeah, so to make things worse, here’s our software stack. It’s just a giant monolith. We have a database and lots of codes that go to it, but no one can figure out how this thing works, right? So it’s like it was just really intense. Makes you feel like this. Super excited about a moving gif in my presentation.
Jenn Luna: So every day felt like this, but I truly enjoyed it because I was learning so much. It made the team bond. We sat for late nights together, drinking and trying to figure things out. It was a blast. I learned so much. The point is this was the most valuable five years of my software experience. We had a huge monolith. We built it into microservices. We went from a startup to well-oiled machine. We used to use SourceSafe for source control. Does anyone know what that is? When you check out a file, it’s locked. No one else can check it out. It’s just ridiculous. I don’t know. Maybe I’m the only engineer, is that why I’m the only one that thinks that’s funny? Okay.
Jenn Luna: So I’m going from this 10-person team on to five years of trying to build this thing out, and then eventually we have 150 people on distributed teams all over the nation. I worked remote from Arizona for three of these years, so I was coming to San Francisco every month. We didn’t have any processes. Like I said, we’d lock ourselves in rooms and then at the end of the day, we had scrum, agile, we were just knocking projects out quick. Requirements were everywhere. There was no way I could forget anything. Everywhere I looked, the requirements were there. So if I messed up, it was on me. Like I said, late-night releases. After that, we had pipelines, you’d push your changes to production, it gets pushed up to actually be released, and your stuff is out there, but not before going through massive amounts of tests. So it was way harder to mess up.
Jenn Luna: So everything was perfect, right? Sunny days every day, and I get bored. So to quote Miley Cirus, it’s definitely the climb because I really enjoy just trying to get what was messy into something beautiful and it was so much fun and I learned so much. So here’s a quick snapshot of our software stack afterwards. It was just really nice, microservices everywhere.
Jenn Luna: So since I became bored, I was looking for the next challenge. I had gotten my real estate license with my husband during late night classes. It was just something I was interested in. Him and I bought and sold a few properties together, so I wanted to truly understand this experience and I also didn’t want to pay commission to anybody. So it was nice to just get my license. I don’t know. Why not, you know? One of my things is I just try to do too many things, and it’ll drive me nuts, but at the same time I love it. Uh oh. Oh. Okay.
Jenn Luna: So I joined HomeLight … back to the monolith, right? It’s seriously not this bad. But it is a monolith. We have a giant code base. Here’s a more realistic representation of our software stack. Our sales app, our HomeLight.com, all the blogs related to that, internal tools, everything’s built on top of the same code base, right? We do most things in Ember, but we’re quickly adopting React. We have Ruby on Rails backend. We use Sidekiq for all of our acing job processing, and then we utilize Redis for things like queuing, and then we use a Postgres HomeLight database.
Jenn Luna: So HomeLight agent matching. I don’t actually work on the agent matching or the algo, but this, to me, is the core part of our business. I’m more of internal tools, sales app stuff, but because this is the most important part of our business, I wanted to talk about this so I had the engineer that works on agent matching give me the details through a fire hose a few days ago. So it’s definitely more than just swiping left or right. You’ve heard all these ladies talk about matching. We have algorithms, like Silicon Valley. That’s our secret sauce. We have four versions. These versions have over 150 data sources that power them through ETL and we have just under about 50 million transactions that are analyzed for around two million agents. So it’s a lot of data. Also a gif that moves.
Jenn Luna: So our matching process; I’m just going to quickly talk about it because it’s very involved and very well-thought out and it works extremely well and it’s definitely our pride and joy. We take in raw data, it gets summarized, and very recently we’ve been utilizing elastic search like crazy for scaling abilities. Before this last version, before our scaling was kind of on a vertical level. There was no way we were going to be able to keep searching through all this data as it grows and be productive. It took many seconds, which is bad in software world. So for millions of agents and transactions, we needed some other solution, so that’s what V4 has done for us. Elastic search also has some really great geo-spacial search context and it leverages scoring algorithms and decay functions that basically just helps you search the data better. And then after that, we apply all the basic matching criteria that these ladies talked about, like area, buyer, seller, property details, all the basics. Sorry about that. I don’t know what that was. Yeah.
Jenn Luna: So then after that, we geo-code the address. What we noticed is that neighborhood knowledge is very effective, so if the agent has had many transactions in an area where this house is being sold or wanting to be bought, we will boost those agents because neighborhood knowledge is just very effective with people. It helps them, they feel more comfortable, and I don’t know, you just kind of know things that maybe you wouldn’t have known if you are just diving into that neighborhood. Then we analyze these agent metrics, we rank the agents, these are based on things like number of transactions, how long it takes them to close a house, just a bunch of stuff like that. And then at the very end, we will apply agent preferences because it’s a two-way street and agents should have preferences. So if they want only sellers with blue hair, hashtag picky agents … so we should also let them choose what they want so that it’s a two-way match. I was going to put a picture of people with a heart but that’s too personal I think.
Jenn Luna: So lastly, performance is key for our data processing because we have millions of agents in our database, we definitely need to keep scaling correctly. So this Version4 that we have has brought our searching from eight to 15 seconds or so down to under a second, which is pretty incredible. So they can just keep scaling horizontally and it’s going to be totally fine. And elastic search … I think I already said this, I’m going to skip that. And then also, we are constantly refreshing this data every month. We don’t want any stale data. We don’t want agents to be picked up that have retired or don’t have any transactions in the last few months or anything like that. So we make sure that it’s meaningful. Then lastly, we do very slow roll-outs. We will roll something out, see what the results are basically in terms of conversion rate, so if something’s working really well, we’ll keep it but we’ll finally tune these algorithms and then once we have something that we think is working the best for us, we roll it out nationwide.
Jenn Luna: So that’s it for me. Thank you, guys.
Facilities and Administration Manager Tina Sellards gives a talk on “Connecting Data and Technology to the Human Experience” at HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner.
Tina Sellards: Thanks, Jenn. Hi, guys. We are going to have a dessert bar in the back. You are welcome to grab some now if you like. It’s cookie dough, but definitely something to stick around for.
Tina Sellards: So a little less on the technical side for me as the Facilities Manager, I’m sure you can imagine. My name is Tina Sellards. I am the Facilities Manager here at HomeLight. That is definitely not all that it encompasses my job. As many people know in a startup, I am an administrative assistant to our CEO, I do a lot of our licensing on our brokerage side and really kind of jumping into our title marketplace side as well, but then also this space that you see here, the food that you’re eating today, all of that stuff is definitely me. Thank you. So the human side is pretty huge to me, as you can imagine.
Tina Sellards: A little background for you on me. I went straight out of college, graduating from the University of Central Florida, very proud of that, UCF, go Knights. And then went into AmeriCorps right out of that. Really had that if not us, then who, if not now, then when mentality when I came out of school, and was ready to change the world. Learned a lot about government and what kind of bogs down that world as well as I went into that, and decided I wanted to really jump into changing that world as well from the inside and was lucky enough to join the ’08 Obama campaign. Really that network that you build, so huge, your tribe, the people that I met, my AmeriCorps experience helped me bridge that changeover into my work on the Obama campaign in ’08. I ran a region of Florida for them. Everything from getting the volunteers in the door, staffing, getting an office, doing all of those things with no money, really, on that side of things. So super interesting.
Tina Sellards: But something that was really interesting to me on that ’08 Obama campaign was the data, honestly, and the technology that was being used. This chart right here is from the Pew Research Center. It was really the first campaign that was using Internet as a main source of information for people. As you can see here, from 1996 all the way through 2008, among adult users, Internet usage for your political information went up significantly and they were utilizing a … I don’t know if you all are on it, a service called MyBarackObama.com. MyBarackObama.com actually was a community-based system. They had over 35,000 groups that organized 200,000 events throughout the US to get him elected. In some great foresight, decided to keep that live and use that as a community organization tool throughout his administration and then into the next campaign, which was actually pretty amazing. And then I also noticed something as I was looking at this research, too, which was very interesting to me which was how voters communicated about the campaign. Look at that Twitter down there. In 2008, only one person said they used Twitter to communicate. So just want to let that sit in a little bit as we kind of think about that. On the Twitter side of things, I think we’ve come a long way.
Tina Sellards: And come into the 2016 campaign. And I make this transition really to talk about Twitter, Facebook, Google, all of those things as we’re using and the data that we’re using, the technology that we’re using, and does it really connect us more. Does it do those things? Do you get the information? Is that the correct information? Are you getting to connect with people in the same group as you, those kinds of things. It was really important to me as I kind of came off of that campaign and started to move into a more kind of people-role in organizations that I was doing, how do we, as a group, as a community, really build that interaction and not silo ourselves into those easy data groups or easy breakup groups that we can kind of put ourselves in. I think one thing that just kind of zoomed in for me was fear. Fear is really kind of a driving factor, right? And why we allow ourselves to be siloed into some of these groups. A fear of maybe that big tech company to breakup your industry, or a fear of the unknown of a different group of people or community than you. Unfortunately, fear really can kind of drive some of these things and I think that’s kind of where we’ve come with some of the data and technology. How do we get away from that is the next question.
Tina Sellards: I think, and I very much subscribe to Brene Brown. I don’t know if any of you ever listened to Brene Brown or any of that, but vulnerability is how we do that, and leadership with vulnerability is a really key point in the human connection. I think we can really hurt ourselves and break ourselves up by just kind of communicating with the groups that we know and doing the things that we always know. Being vulnerable and letting ourselves be open to that information and being open to other people’s experiences is really how we build these communities and I think something here that I really appreciate about HomeLight and just bringing it together is a core value for us, and it’s not only a core value, it’s something we really live is being a part of our family and really being that open, unique kind of environment. I think it’s super important because I don’t think we’re going to conquer these fears and these issues that we have as a larger society if we don’t start opening up to that and really starting to have those conversations as a group.
Tina Sellards: So I just wanted to share a little bit about my experience on that and data, and the human connect and hope you all stay vulnerable, open, and communicate as a whole community together, because that’s important in building communities like HomeLight and other … Girl Geek, and things of that nature. Keep those communities open. Be vulnerable.
Senior Manager of Business Development & Strategy Vanessa Brockway gives a talk on “Data & Emotion in Making Career Decisions” at HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner.
Vanessa Brockway: Hey, everybody. Vanessa Brockway. I’m on the business development team here at HomeLight, and that means a bunch of different things, but we won’t get into that today. So one thing’s we’re asked about, things we’re passionate about. So in my spare time, love to travel and I love to do interior design. But the thing I’m going to talk about today is using data and emotion and making career decisions. I think that’s probably a common thread among everybody. Often times people are drawn to events like this when they’re thinking about the next move or what they should do next. I’m going to share a bit about my perspective on this and then how that led me to HomeLight.
Vanessa Brockway: So I think careers are a lot like The Game of Life where it’s not just kind of this up and to the right or corporate ladder, there’s a lot of twists and turns, unexpected events. You kind of sometimes are accelerating, sometimes you’re in cruise control and you can’t always predict everything that’s going to be coming your way. And so when thinking about how to approach your career and how to plan for it or how to decide what the next step is evaluating your life as a whole and the things that kind of get you going and what motivates you. As the qualitative aspects, it’s the emotion to drive the data that will also influence this.
Vanessa Brockway: So I put some images up here, but do you love to travel? Do you want to be on the go? Is exploring the world something that motivates you? Or is being close to home and being able to have a more flexible location where you are, is that something that’s important in your life that time? How do you define success? Is being on the cover of Forbes or making a 30 under 30 list? Is that what’s going to make you feel valuable and that you’ve done something? Or is it building a passion project or building a company of something that’s really meaningful to you. Is that how you’re going to define success? What is the environment that you want to be at all day? Is it a big company with lots of people, huge market presence? Does that get you going? Or is it smaller office, more intimate relationships with those people that you work with? What is it that you want to be surrounded by everyday? Kind of taking that step back, evaluating what makes you feel motivated as a person, and then turning that into data elements to actually help drive a decision.
Vanessa Brockway: So in thinking about an actual company or industry, and evaluating what is the actual size of a company that’s interesting to me? Where do you want to live? What are the demands of that? And how can you take what you’ve learned about yourself by reflecting and actually put that into specific data? So these are just a couple of examples of … LinkedIn, you can actually see the size and growth trajectory of a company. Where are the locations of their offices? GlassDoor; how do employees feel about that company that you’re looking at? What are the employee sentiment and benefits, and things that people get? Crunchbase; do you want to be potentially at a startup? How do you actually quantify what that looks like in terms of amount of fundraising that’s happened? Who are the investors? And also just looking at articles about that company and being able to gather what is the industry saying about the industry as a whole, but also that company in particular.
Vanessa Brockway: And then this is another piece. So separate from the company as you’re evaluating company, evaluating the role. So I found this comic online. I thought it was pretty funny. “I’ve always wondered why you decided to be a dog. I was fooled by the job description.” So don’t take a job description at face value. Take a step back and look at okay, what is this job within the company? What does that team look like? Is this going to be a very specific role where you’re going to be a ,subject matter expert, or is this going to be an all around athlete where you’re going to be asked to wear a number of different hats? What does the hiring plan look like? Is this company on a very, super fast growth trajectory and then it’s soon going to change? Or are we kind of more in a steady state? What is the title? Is that something that resonates with me? The comp, the benefits, does this company have cultural values that I identify with? And really looking at the specific role and breaking that down to specific data points that you can then tie back to how you evaluated yourself and looked at what motivated you and what was exciting for you.
Vanessa Brockway: So my personal story is I started off at a pre-seed stage company, which was Stitch Fix at the time. We were under 10 people, no funding, very different but it’s my first taste of startup life. I absolutely loved it. And then I’ve also spent time at publicly traded large companies like Shutterfly where you’re working towards quarterly earnings, your massive, massive companies. And also Haus, which was a company I worked before here and it was every step of the way, I got a different kind of slice and flavor of tech companies at different growth points in their trajectory. The way I ended up at HomeLight is I realized this was the exact point in time, the type of company that I wanted to be at. I’ll walk through some of those pieces about it of how I made my decision.
Vanessa Brockway: So for particularly looking at the growth stage of the company, for LinkedIn down in the bottom left. When I joined HomeLight about a year and a half ago, Series B, solid funding, had a runway that was very, very strong, but at the same time, this office sells under 50 people, so you’re able to do a number of different things and step into a bunch of different roles, which is something I really thrive in and really love. In terms of GlassDoor, so people loved working here. That was a huge check mark. Being able to see that the employees that were there go in everyday and working there. The real estate industry, something I’ve always been interested in. As I mentioned, I loved interior design but it’s not something I knew a lot about, so researching, seeing how the industry was talking about HomeLight, how they were talking about prop tech companies. Things like that really just help inform the decision. And on Crunchbase, looking and okay, who are the investors that are actually investing in this company? Actually reaching out and speaking to some of them, like hey, why’d you invest in this company? What do you think about it?
Vanessa Brockway: All those data points together help to make sure that the position you’re looking at, the company you’re looking at align with what’s important to you, but then also is setting you up for a successful position after you join. Yeah, that’s what I have to say.
Sandy Liao: By the way, when I saw Vanessa put all the slides, you actually really did a data analysis of HomeLight because she screen-shotted all those images before because nowadays, if you search HomeLight, our ratings, our LinkedIn, everything is different so you’ve actually done all those research prior to you joining and saved it in a document. That’s why you’re able to pull it into your presentation, which I’m like super impressive. It’s also unprompted. It’s impressive to know that someone actually did the work as much as Vanessa did to know, to identify HomeLight as a great place to be before she accepted the offer. So we’re great to have you and thank you for sharing that experience with us.
Sandy Liao: I’m going to be closing up here before the end of the night and I quickly just want to give everyone here a huge thank you for sticking around again. But nevertheless, I want to give everyone here on the panel a huge round of applause please. While we were going through the preparation for the night, all of us were giving each other ideas, what we’re going to do, what are we going to do. None of us have a full-time job of public speaking and we watch all these tech talk preparation, we’re like, oh my God, we need to find some sort of inspirational speech for all of you guys to take away. But I think that the big piece from all of us speaking here is that our takeaway is we’re all just going through the same thing in different stages and different environments, but hey, we’re all trying to be here to make something work and to see what some of our potential could be. So I appreciate all of you here that’s on the panel tonight to take this time to challenge yourself to make yourself uncomfortably, becoming more and more comfortable sharing your stories and supporting from one another.
Sandy Liao: So I’m going to quickly here, I’m going to promise to go through this really fast. But I just thought that while we tie in a lot of data and motions and talking about HomeLight, utilizing data to support our consumers, to really find the agent, and going through different marketing channels and career decisions. I think that it’s very important for everyone here who are looking into new career changes to understand what it means internally on a data perspective and what are some of the data metrics that I am looking into and that we are doing here at HomeLight as well.
Sandy Liao: So anyone here heard the term people analytics? Great. We got a few hands. So this is just like a dictionary definition that I found online. I don’t even know if this accurate one, but it sounds pretty accurate, but people analytics is the use of data and data analysis techniques to understand, improve, and optimize the people side of the business. So analytics is become this huge buzzword, everyone’s talking about it, whatever role you’re in, what is your data, how do you measure your success and all that fun stuff. We also are doing that on the people side. But what’s really important is that we want to start to be able to create data that’s useful and not just creating data for the sake of it, but we want to create something that’s actually meaningful for everybody and for all the business decisions.
Sandy Liao: So I’m going to share here on the four strategic imperatives for people analytics and especially for a company our stage, right? We can’t compare ourselves to companies like Google, Facebook who has kept millions and millions of data everyday that they can spend time on analyzing it. But what do we do when we’re only about less than 200 employees, we’re in about five different locations, locally, and what do we do with the analytics and the datas that we have?
Sandy Liao: So first it is essential for us to set alignment. What it means is that alignment, not just between our employees, but making sure that our leadership, our executives are also aligned with all the decisions that we want to make. So from the people side, we want to say, hey, we want to start having educate more, development opportunities, more events like this, but if leadership is not understanding the purpose of it and that we’re not aligned, these things will not happen. So in the very beginning, it’s just essential for finance, for the VP of finance and our CEO and executives to understand what are some of the goals that we’re trying to make on the business side. Example would be what is the revenue we’re trying to achieve for the year? What are some of the headcount goals that we have? Because without knowing the essential of our business goals, as much as I want to say, hey, people first, people first, but we also need to make sure that we’re going to be able to secure ourselves financially well. So setting that alignment from the very beginning is just very crucial for this stage.
Sandy Liao: And the second piece I want to talk about here is actually developing a data-driven culture. So this is unprompted, we’re not sponsored by this particular company, but at HomeLight, we use an anonymous feedback tool called TinyPolls. What it means is that every week this software will prompt us to ask all of our employees one question. The question could be how are you doing today to a question like this: in your current job, what is the number one thing that inspires you and that makes you happy here and want to work harder?
Sandy Liao: So this TinyPoll’s feedback was actually created when we started all of our different offices in different countries, right? Have you heard a couple of us spoke, they started in Phoenix, we’re in San Francisco, we now have New York. How do we still gather data from our employee on the regular basis and be able to have that transparent communication between leadership team and everyone individually? I was fortunate enough to come across this platform who serves just that. We just want people to give candid feedback without being feeling like they’re going to be punished or be in trouble if they were to share anything on how they feel. So this feedback tool, we’ve actually implemented for over two years. It’s actually been working very well internally. With this data, we’re able to understand how people are feeling for whatever location you are and also be able to make decisions and programs that’s actually going to surface the direct feedback from everybody internally.
Sandy Liao: Simultaneously, outside of the anonymous feedback loop, we also want to incorporate our performance data. What it means is that for us as a company, we started doing performance review on an annual basis, and then we also do a year-end check in, but these are not just data that you want to have between you and your manager, but we want to have 360 reviews that we get feedback from all of our peers as well. As much this is an important data between you and your manager, it is also really important for the business because we want to understand, hey, even if it’s not measurable bullet point percentage that we’re looking at, at least on a regular, quarterly basis that you are speaking with your manager to talk about, hey, I want to be able to achieve these five goals for the quarter and are you able to do that. At the end of the quarter, you guys should be sitting down, looking back at all the goals that you have set initially and if you find out that, hey, I’ve able to achieve three out of those five goals, what can the company provide you with, what type of training, or what are some of the resources for you to be able to hit the two bullet points in order for you to fulfill all of the achievement and goals that you had set initially?
Sandy Liao: So incorporating performance data is just crucial to the business, as well as yourself. So for any of you guys sitting here, if your manager has not spoken with you over the past quarter or past six months about how you’re doing from a performance standpoint, it’s just super, super important to hold that in your hands and make that calendar invite, and make them have that conversation, right? Because especially working in a startup, these things kind of get out of hand when we’re trying to do hundred things at once, but before any of us sitting here analyzing whether or not we’re excited to look for new opportunity or what not, it is just necessary to take that step to have that conversation with people that is mentoring you and that are working with you directly.
Sandy Liao: And last piece here, I want to incorporate a little fun before we end the night here, but collecting data is actually huge, right? So as I was interpreting how people analytics is becoming this huge thing, we, as a company, can’t share that we have a whole lot of data on the hiring side because so many of our roles are actually brand new to the company. So we have never hire a data scientist before and we are trying to hire that, so we’re trying to get data as we are developing these new roles and so forth. But a really fun data I’m sharing here today. This is actually a real, process, a number that we have from us hiring our most recent female engineer, Raquel, who’s actually here today. She flew in for this wonderful event. And we have actually sourced 448 female engineers around the country to get 26 recruiters screens. Can you imagine us just playing people, I’m sure a lot of you guys gone through this. Throughout those 24 screens, only seven of them made it through the hiring manager call. With the seven hiring manager, only four people actually got to the assessment stage. So out of the seven calls, only four of them were approved by the manger. With the four assessment, we got three on-site and ultimately we found Raquel here today.
Sandy Liao: So these are the example of data and this is actually one that’s a fairly good example. We have some ridiculous roles that we have opened for a long time and it’s the sourcing number even bigger, but the point is in order for us to make tangible and actionable items based on data, we need to start collecting them regularly, whether it’s phone screens or whatever sourcing number it is, it’s just very crucial to do that.
Sandy Liao: So the actionable item here, why there’s a dog. This is actually my dog. His name is Cooper. I rescued him about a year and a half ago. This is a significant picture for him because that was the day he got all his shots and he was straight legal to take on the action. He was ready to go. And since then, he’s been a wild, wild dog and I bring him around here once a while and everyone can share that experience with that. But that’s it for me. I hope this was helpful for everybody. We are a little … we ran a little later than expected, but we’re all going to be here hanging out, eating some desserts. We have wine and you guys are all welcome to just hang out and if you have any questions for us, we’re happy to answer them. So thank you so much for coming.
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