Michael Grabham is what you might call a serial entrepreneur. He has a knack for starting and running (successful) businesses. He is the current Seattle director of Startup Grind, is actively engaged in one of his many start-ups, SendInBlue, and is also running his social venture, Survive the Streets. Michael is juggling many jobs, however, for the purpose of this blog I am going to focus on one particular business that Michael founded back in 2002, Executive Wireless Inc., an organization creating mobile apps at a time when that was not yet a common startup venture. As CEO and President, Michael oversaw the success of a real estate application that changed the way realtors did business. This product, Wireless Realty, allowed realtors to access their multiple listing service (MLS) on the go instead of heading back to the office, thus transforming the way the industry conducted business.
Identifying the Market
After creating the promising Wireless Realty app, Michael began his pursuit of brokerage companies in Vancouver, BC as his target market. His initial plan was to reach the top five brokers in Vancouver’s marketplace, and so he set out to talk to all of them. After his initial interactions with brokerage companies he began to realize that he was pursuing the wrong market for his product. He quickly learned that brokers are not the ones using the MLS, real estate agents were. Not only that, but he learned that brokers did not have enough influence over the realtors to push the product on them, due to the realtors’ status as independent entrepreneurs. Therefore he needed to change tactics and target the realtors themselves. He marketed his product directly to the realtors and was met with great success.
After his initial success in Vancouver, Michael was ready to expand and started to pursue markets in Seattle, Buffalo and a variety of cities across the country. He determined these geographic markets based on several factors: successful real estate markets, large urban centers, and existing relationships. His primary criteria for entering a new city was the number and quality of his existing relationships in that space. Having relationships and advocates pre-exiting within a city made the adoption of his product easier and more likely.
Disrupting the Market
When Executive Wireless Inc. came onto the scene, it disrupted the current real estate market. However, it wasn’t disruptive in the typical sense of the word; it did not result in displaced employees and lost jobs. It instead filled a need that wasn’t currently being filled and solved a pain point. Prior to this product, realtors were reliant on visiting their office to check on MLS.This application allowed agents to work remotely, instead of being tied to the office, freeing them up to spend more time making sales and showing homes.
Offering a mobile app for MLS had never been done before; Michael was throwing this new technology into an existing market. This product was completely optional, but received high adoption rates as realtors realized the convenience of the tool. Most realtors reviewed this new market entry as a positive change and contribution to their field. This product was a first step in moving the market to where it is today.
Positioning the Company
Executive Wireless, Inc. positioned themselves as being innovators, game-changers, and industry leaders. As the first company to enter the space, they experienced first mover advantages. Once competitors entered the field, Michael and his company were already seen as the MLS mobile experts, which put them in the position of being the trusted go-to company.
Michael relied heavily on relationships and communication to promote his product, a tactic he says has worked at every one of his organizations. He began in Vancouver due to the fact that he had many personal, family, and business connections. He attributes the leveraging of these relationships to his successful entry into the market. After initial adoption of his product, word of mouth allowed him to expand. Eventually his app became the status quo and was an expected tool of the trade, making marketing unnecessary. He expanded next to Seattle where he used the same relationship utilization, specifically with a close connection at Windermere who was already a huge fan of the product. This was an opportunity for success and he took it. Relationships were integral to his success in each consecutive city.