Chris Heller shocked the housing world in 2017 when he stepped down as CEO of Keller Williams become CEO of mellohome, loanDepositto serve as a true one-stop-shop for “buying, financing and improving homes”.
But now, just over two years later, Heller is leaving mellohome and loanDepot for OJO Laboratoriesa real estate technology startup whose flagship product is an AI-based conversational assistant currently used in the real estate industry.
OJO Labs, a Texas-based company, announced on Friday that it has hired Heller as the company’s director of real estate. But that’s not the only big hire OJO is making.
The company also recently hired Karen Starns as chief marketing officer. Starns brings a strong pedigree in AI and digital consumer products to OJO. Prior to joining OJO, Starns led brand and customer experience at Amazon for Echo, Alexa, FireTV, Kindle and Amazon’s portfolio of smart home devices.
And now Starns brings that experience to OJO, which was honored earlier this year as a member of HousingWire magazine’s HW Tech100 as one of the best technology companies in the housing industry.
But the name most likely familiar to players in the housing industry is Heller, whose hiring to run the mellohome surprised many in the business.
mellohome’s goal was to serve as a central point in the home buying process, from finding the home and connecting a buyer with a real estate agent, to securing financing for a home ( via loanDepot, of course), and even connecting buyers and owners with approved contractors.
mellohome is an extension of mello, loanDepot’s proprietary digital lending platform that the company launched two years ago.
The hiring of Heller marked a big development for the fledgling offshoot of LoanDepot.
Heller served as President of the Global Division of Keller Williams and then CEO of Keller Williams from 2010 to 2017, as the company grew to become the largest residential brokerage by number of agents, homes sold and sales volume. with more than 930 offices and 177,000 agents. .
But after less than two years at mellohome, Heller is moving to OJO with best wishes from loanDepot.
“We wish Chris and the team at OJO Labs the best,” loanDepot said through a spokesperson. “His leadership, coupled with his knowledge of the industry, has helped make mellohome the company it is today and we appreciate his contributions.”
It should be noted that both Heller and loanDepot have ties to OJO.
Two years ago, loanDepot entered into an agreement with OJO Labs to act as OJO’s mortgage provider.
The company claimed that OJO’s artificial intelligence technology combined with loanDepot’s mello digital lending platform would enable buyers to access real estate and mortgage information, help them pre- qualify and guide them through a fully digital and mobile experience.
And according to Heller’s LinkedIn profile, he has served on OJO’s board of directors since April 2018.
And now he comes to OJO full time.
The company has been in growth mode for several years. In May 2018, OJO raised $20.5 million to expand, and earlier this year it raised another $45 million.
According to the company, its AI-powered platform, called OJO, “can understand a user’s intent and preferences to answer almost any real estate-related question.”
The program interacts with consumers on behalf of real estate agents and brokerages, and is available around the clock to help consumers with questions, home search needs, mortgage information and other resources. related to the purchase or sale of a home.
According to OJO Labs, engaging the consumer in a two-way dialogue over an extended period of time provides the AI assistant with “key insights it can then share with a real estate agent when the consumer is ready and chooses to connect.”
Now the company has both Heller and Starns in the fold to help it grow.
“Karen and Chris are uniquely equipped to bring OJO to consumers in a natural and enjoyable way while empowering real estate agents, loan officers and other service professionals to act like superheroes for their clients,” said the CEO. of OJO Labs, John Berkowitz. “The hiring of these two leaders is the perfect demonstration that because of OJO’s technology and strategy, there is no need to choose between obsessively serving consumers and helping the real estate industry thrive.
As for what Heller and Starns will actually do at OJO, the company is more clear about Starns’ job responsibilities. In a statement, OJO said Starns will “build channels at scale to continue to rapidly grow OJO’s user base while building a brand that consumers will trust.”
Starns said she’s thrilled with the opportunity at OJO.
“We have an exciting marketing challenge to educate and introduce consumers to technology that solves real problems by meeting them where they are and redefining the way they research, buy and sell a home,” Starns said.
“What ignited my excitement about OJO is the organization’s empathy for customers and their authentic, differentiated approach to the real estate industry,” Starns said. “In summary, I’m a brand marketer at heart, and the best and most influential roles I’ve had have centered around building a brand that people love and can’t. not happen. That’s what we intend to do with OJO.
On Heller, the company doesn’t specify exactly what his job entails, though the company’s website does provide more details about Heller’s new gig. “As Director of Real Estate for OJO Labs, Chris shapes partner strategies, creates a cohesive structure between real estate professionals and OJO, and accelerates industry adoption,” states the executive biography. from Heller on the OJO website.
What this seems to suggest is that Heller will work to drive adoption of OJO across the real estate industry, using his connections at Keller Williams and beyond to accelerate OJO’s growth.
real estate giant realology already uses OJO’s technology across its brands, which include the Best Real Estate Homes and Gardens, 21st century, Banker Coldwell, Coldwell Commercial Banker, TIMEand Sotheby’s International Realty. Realogy is also an investor in OJO, having participated in the company’s capital raise in 2018.
“What really sets OJO apart is their leadership, their team and their ability to deliver on their vision. OJO was the first company to enter the real estate industry and drive innovation of an AI assistant to benefit consumers and agents,” said Heller.
“Since meeting the OJO team several years ago, I have seen them combine vision, operational excellence, creativity and extremely talented leadership to bring an important and valuable product to market,” Heller added. “The foundation is in place so that we can continue to build one of the most important companies in the real estate industry.”