We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Kari Klaus”,Founder and CEO of the Virginia – USA based start-up “VivaGreen”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
VivaGreenHomes.com is an innovative way to buy, sell, and market sustainable homes—a kind of multiple listing service (MLS) specifically designed make sustainable homes easily marketable to the general public— something that has not yet been accomplished. Additionally, professionals and companies (real estate agents, architects, builders, appraisers, etc…) can market their occupation or skill set and for clients to find exactly the professional that they need.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
We launched on October 15, 2014 and we are in the first stage of promoting the site, enhancing features and searches, and ensuring that we have the largest, highest quality database of sustainable homes being actively marketed.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
The business model for VGH is simple and effective. Anyone can post a listing for free. Unlike predecessors sites who charged fees for listings, we want as many listings as possible to make the database complete. It’s also free to anyone or company to have an account. Currently, we are also ad-free. We make our money on additional services like featuring a listing, a Realtor or a professional, etc…All effective ways to market pros’ skill sets and quickly sell homes.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
I have the most excellent team! My husband and myself. My husband has had many years in the IT business and assists with the technical elements of the website. He is extremely successful with his own separate company, Clear Skies Security. And with my marketing background, knowledge in real estate and sustainable homes, I complete the team with the design and structure of and marketing of the website and its features.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We don’t have competitors, we have “predecessors.” Quite simply, if you were trying to market or find a home with green features previously, your options were very limited. VGH clearly identifies national certifications or for the millions of other homes that do not have a certification, but have for example have solar power, recycled materials or any of the hundreds of green features, they receive a VivaGreen Homes Score, ranking their “green weight” in 1 to 5 stars.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
We have a substantial database of active listings already, making it widespread and realistic for people across the country (and soon globally) to find a sustainable home in their area. Within just the first two months of launching, we’ve maintained between 400-500 active listings across the USA. VGH’s predecessors have substantially fewer listings and many are outdated. So already we have a higher quality, larger database with new users every day, and it’s totally unique and innovative.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
So our competitive advantage is simple –VGH makes it easier to market all types of sustainable homes while buyers can easily find right home for them. A few other sites provide little more than brochure-ware, essentially the same type of paper flyers you would pick up at an open house. And unlike other sites, our basic listing services are free, we carry a much larger and high-quality database, so buyers aren’t wasting their time looking at properties that are not actually available.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
VGH was so innovative (and still is) that a very large portion of it is coded from scratch. Finding good software developers is difficult. But later with more advanced software and with my husband’s assistance a lot of new code was added for the innovative site features. Also, the challenge is trying to find the best way to reach your audience and I’m happy that sites like www.start-ups.co exist to help promote new businesses like mine.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Insiders understand how innovative VGH is—completely altering the future of selling homes. I’ve received a lot praise from insiders: how VGH is going to change the sustainable homes marketing & the real estate industry. Outsiders don’t see the complexity of sustainable homes; marketing, building techniques, products, certifications, etc…If you create a business and do it right, it should be easy and understandable to the general public– You’ve done your job successfully.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
This is start-up, yes, with potential to fail, of course. But it’s also my passion. I can clearly see how marketing sustainable homes to the mainstream public will revolutionize the marketplace, and furthering this is the movement towards cleaner energy & sustainable products. Housing will always exist and marketing it will never go away. That’s why the company is called, Viva Green Homes. “Viva” means “Long-live” and so that is also this company’s future—a very long life.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
Because sustainable homes encompass so much of the eco industry; solar, energy efficiency, building products, water conservation, and so on…the possibilities are endless. First and foremost, I see VivaGreenHomes.com as a MLS site, but I purposely began the company with the intentions of incorporating other products, services and professionals, which are key to the sustainable homes marketplace.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
Prior to VivaGreen Homes, it was impossible to distinguish quickly or even search for a home that was “extremely green” versus those with a few eco features. There also was no large database of these types of listings. And the few web sites that claimed to provide a marketing platform for green real estate were little more than brochure-ware web sites with a large portion of outdated listings.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Even though I haven’t strayed much from the original concept, putting all the big ideas into reality is a whole other set of obstacles. Patience and prioritizing is very important. I’ve prioritized the basic elements to allow the site to perform well and to get the general idea across to the users. I’m patient as I continue to implement new features and to listen to feedback on how to improve most effectively.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
In six months we hope to expand to more global markets as well as begin implementing some of the other features that will continue to make VGH unique and cutting-edge. Those are both different types of obstacles that may prove trying. Entering into foreign markets where real estate practices are very different, VivaGreenHomes.com may have to add or adjust some of its format in order to implement these markets successfully.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
It’s all about matching up supply and demand. Buyers want homes with sustainable or energy efficient features and professionals and homes owners want to market these in-demand homes. VGH does exactly that and does it the best, making it a truly innovative experience. Professionals and/or companies can finally market their expertise to people seeking their exact skill set.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
So far, I’ve had a lot of success reaching out to agents who are in the midst of marketing a green home on a traditional MLS site or to pros who specialize in sustainable businesses. These groups have been very interested in having a new, efficient way to market their skills, products, and listings. Buyers and consumers have responded well to social media outlets.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
The current users and customers primarily are real estate agents who are listing a sustainable home and those buyers who are interested in finding one or interested in the sustainable homes market as a whole.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Right now, it’s a mix of users from social media and from direct contact. As our ranking on Google grows, the users and customers will begin to come from organic searches for sustainable homes, MLS, and green products and services.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Just some of the reviews that VivaGreenHomes.com has received just since its launch, “Jennifer Ozak @GreenConejo @VivaGreenHomes Love LOVE your web site! Will definitely bookmark for future frequent visits ” “Great site and I can tell a lot of thought and effort went into it’s creation!” Green Realtor from Scottsdale, AZ
20. How are you going to scale?
We plan to scale naturally; depending on the growth we will likely continue to rewrite parts of the software to keep the site efficient, adding more servers as needed, and bring in experts on global markets should there be a need.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Feedback so far has been positive, but some insiders would like more home features and professional credentials added, while some users want to see more search enhancements— both are in the process of being added. From my visionary side, I hope to go public with unique features within the year to broaden the site to consumers who are interested in the emerging sustainable homes market. With new ideas all the time, VGH will be an ever-growing site.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Yes, we plan to go international. Entering into foreign markets where real estate practices are very different, VGH may have to add/ adjust some of its format to implement these markets successfully. VGH is already geared to accept multiple languages and currencies. The challenge is to incorporate different real estate practices as well as constantly updating with new and emerging sustainable building practices and products.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I don’t see the ceiling. VivaGreenHomes.com was designed to be flexible enough to accommodate as much growth as is available– globally. There will be challenges of course maintaining a much larger site, but adding a workforce to help keep it efficient and cutting-edge is what I am aiming for.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are always looking for software developers to assist with implementing and adjusting site features. Please feel free to contact me at Kari@vivagreenhomes.com
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
My business is self-sustainable, but I’m very interested in partnerships and funding from Venture Capitals. VivaGreenHomes.com has the potential to explode the market, not just the sustainable homes market, but be a true competitor to other major MLS listing sites. Having a partner or the funding to get there quickly would be a win-win for all. Contact me at Kari@vivagreenhomes.com
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Besides patience and surrounding yourself with talented people (great advice for life as well), I would really like to emphasize that discouragement is something that you have to put out of your mind. Most people cannot see your vision until it’s complete, so don’t get upset or frustrated when they can’t see it or don’t get as excited as you. Just keep moving forward with your visión.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I’m really proud to put my name on VivaGreenHomes.com. It’s a compilation of my passion,experience, and education and I believe that it will change the sustainable homes marketplace for many years to come. Viva, VivaGreenHomes.com!