Evolution vs. Revolution

Sometimes the best business ideas are not really ideas at all. They are simply new ways of doing old things.

For example, Melissa Kwan created a business to help real estate agents manage their open house contacts. As she described when I interviewed her on Built to Sell Radio, it was a “bloated” piece of software.

Then a fateful meeting with a venture capitalist changed her respective. The VC told Kwan to focus on one element of her platform: a simple open house sign-in form.

The tool was not revolutionary.

Agents have always had paper sign-up sheets for open house visitors to allow them to track who came to their showing and build their list of homebuyers.

There were two problems with the paper-based solution: First, visitors often scribbled their name and number, intentionally making follow-up impossible for the agent. Second, for those conscientious homebuyers who did fill out the form legibly, many were concerned about the loss of privacy. After all, who wants their name and contact information available to everyone who visits a popular neighborhood home?

Kwan’s solution was simple. She encouraged agents to ditch the sign-in sheet in favor of a simple online form. When a visitor arrived at the open house, they were handed an iPad and asked to complete the form. With a digital form, contact information was always legible, and once the homebuyer’s details were in the system, Kwan’s software allowed the agent to schedule and automate follow-up messages to homebuyers.

The simple open house form took off, and Kwan was able to get roughly 100,000 agents across North America using her tool. That’s when Kwan got the attention of another software company focused on real estate, HomeSpotter. After a brief courting, Minneapolis-based HomeSpotter bought Kwan’s business for more than three times revenue.

All from converting a simple paper-based open house sign-up sheet to a digital form. It’s amazing to think that almost fifty years after the personal computer was introduced and ten years after the first iPad was released, there are still big business opportunities available to innovative entrepreneurs who want to evolve—not revolutionize—their industry.

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