A Q&A with Amitree co-founder and CEO Jonathan Aizen. The San Francisco-based startup, which offers an app called Closing Time designed to simplify the process of home buying, announced the closing of a $2.7 million Seed funding round in early January. Investors include Vish Makhijani, Jerry Yang, Ash Patel, Michael Marquez, Farzad Nazem, Accel Partners and Rob Chandra. The company was founded in 2012 by Aizen and COO Paul Knegten.
SUB: Please describe Amitree and your primary innovation.
Aizen: Amitree is the company behind Closing Time, which we launched in March, 2013 to simplify the process of buying a home. It’s the first tool for home buyers that translates the complex, stressful process of home buying into a predictable, understandable flow of tasks and deliverables explained in plain English. Buyers provide a bit of information about their new home transaction, and Closing Time builds them a custom-tailored, easy-to-understand checklist with dozens of mission-critical tasks.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Aizen: Our target market is homebuyers and their agents in the United States.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Amitree from the competition?
Aizen: Our competition is plain old pen and paper, Word documents, and written reminders that agents and home buyers write to remind themselves to get that home inspection, submit their W-2 to their lender, or get homeowners insurance in time. Closing Time organizes all these tasks automatically for them, tailoring itself to the specific details of each buyer’s transaction.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $2.7 million in venture funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Aizen: We spent the last year listening and learning—we’re new to the real estate technology space—and are now at a place where our product has shown some great traction and is ready to scale. We’re hiring a team to help us do that, and it was the right time to take outside investment.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Aizen: We’ll be using this investment to further build out the product and team and to deliver an even better experience for Closing Time users.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Amitree? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Aizen: Both my co-founder, Paul Knegten, and I bought our first homes over the past few years. In going through the process, we found the web offered great tools for search and discovery; but once under contract, it was as if we walked off the edge of the Internet. We both had great agents, but it wasn’t really their responsibility to remind me to get my W-2 ready to submit to my lender—that was on me. I remember looking for tools online and, surprisingly, coming up short. No online tool existed that could tell me what to expect at each step of the way for the specific home buying transaction I was going through. So a couple years later, we decided to build one.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Aizen: We spent a lot of time interviewing home buyers and agents. Even though we felt pain in our transactions, we wanted to validate that others had similar experiences and that there was a true need for a product like Closing Time. We found a very healthy appetite for what we wanted to build, and got great feedback on what the product should launch with.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Aizen: Amitree comes from the word ‘amity,’ which means ‘friendliness’ or ‘cordiality.’ It speaks to our vision of making stressful, complex life processes more manageable and friendly. Complex processes like buying a house branch off differently for different people, just like a tree, so that plays a role as well.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Aizen: We’re funded well to accomplish our next milestones for the foreseeable future.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Aizen: Finding the right people is and will continue to be the biggest challenge to scaling a company. A company is only as good as the passion and excitement of the individuals that work together to see a vision through. And, did I mention we’re hiring?
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Aizen: We make money both from the brokerages that license Closing Time and through native lead generation in the product itself. Because the product organizes the tasks you need to do from the moment your contract is signed all the way through closing, it can recommend ways to get each task done—and this not only monetizes the product, but actually makes the product better. Instead of just telling buyers that they need homeowner’s insurance, we tell them who the best providers are for them given their situation, market, home type, etc. Creating value for the home buyer is our topmost priority, but it’s wonderful that we can do that while monetizing the offering.
SUB: What are your goals for Amitree over the next year or so?
Aizen: Our goals are to continue to partner with brokerages to deliver a better home buying experience for each of their buyers, as well as to make the product more accurate and helpful to home buyers as they go through one of the most stressful processes.