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Opinion Editorials

Blocksy – Real estate’s next big thing or next big bust?

(Editorial) Blocksy is an interesting new startup serving the Big Apple – could they finally innovate the real estate space that has struggled to modernize for decades?

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Exhibit one: real estate

We are living in an exciting era where products, services and industries are being innovated at warp speed. The next generation of “it” comes faster and faster. With improved speed, function, and experience comes with it some seriously increased customer expectations, and there are some verticals that can’t seem to keep up. Exhibit one: real estate.

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For the last decade, dozens (if not hundreds) of start-ups have announced big plans to revolutionize the inefficiencies in real estate. Their promises have been to clean up the data, improve the agent-client relationship, open up the information and democratize the industry, save money on commissions, and more.

Looking back over the last ten years, can anyone honestly say that the process of buying or renting a home has dramatically improved? For perspective, take a moment to think back to ten years ago in other areas. What where mobile devices like in 2004? Video game graphics? The TV viewing experience? Mapping/GPS? Bank ATM machines? Even the experience at your dentist? Internet connections? Most people would freak out if they had to go back to products and services of a decade ago. When will real estate finally break through and see this kind of innovation and improvement? Will it ever?

Exhibit two: Blocksy

Will they provide the breakthrough that we haven’t seen in almost a decade (when Zillow was born)? Blocksy is a New York City start-up that promises better content, a cleaner website, more accurate information, and exclusive listings to help people have a much better experience buying or renting a home in NYC.

Have you heard this mission statement before? Me too.

So how is this effort different from its predecessors? For starters, they charge users $15 per month for a premium level of service and content. But let’s dig deeper…

Blocksy is currently focusing only on New York City. NYC is a totally different real estate market versus all other cities and towns across America. It’s part wild west (example: no formal MLS) and part oligarchy (example: a few huge RE brands control the market and seem to make their own rules). So the specific market definitely needs to be factored in any evaluation. Moving on, let’s look at Blocksy’s promises:

  • Better Website. I agree. The site is clean, easy to use and makes it easy to digest data and information. It is easy to search for listings and content.
  • Saving money. A testimonial on their front-page quotes a buyer who says she saved $200k by finding a unit in her desired building that only Blocksy had listed. I’m fairly certain that a halfway decent buyers agent would have done the same. I don’t believe you can count this as “Blocksy saving me $200k.”
  • Exclusive listings. Right in the same testimonial from above, Blocksy is implying they have exclusive listings. Hmm. I have no idea how this can be true. If they do – maybe this is valuable in some rare situations. If they have exclusives on truly great buildings and/or properties, this would have some value. I just don’t believe they do or that they will in the future. If they some how accomplish this, I don’t believe it makes much of a difference for most all users anyway.
  • Better content. They have some good data, especially for the sales market. They could use more information and detail, especially for the rental market (note that NYC is one of the few cities where the rental business can be very lucrative for agents/brokers). The information and charts are modestly better than I am used to for NYC, but it isn’t a dramatic leap forward.
  • More frequent updates (hourly). I’m not sure that hourly updates make a big difference given the reality of the real estate market, but it certainly can’t hurt. This is more of a PR win versus a customer experience improvement, though.
  • Better and more accurate listings and information. When I search the website, I see the same fuzzy, misaligned, and non-standard pictures, and I see the usual occasional typos, missing info, and bad data. If Blocksy can fix these issues it would be enormously valuable. They haven’t yet, though, and doing so will require a monumental paradigm shift. I don’t know how they can do it but I hope they prove me wrong.
  • And finally, the pay-for-service model. Blocksy does offer free use of the site. The premium fee is apparently for faster service and exclusive content. I did not sign up for the premium service, so I cannot evaluate it. I can comment on the model itself, though. When people pay for something, it creates an implied value of that thing (be it a product or service). Perhaps, like a placebo, this will create a user base that values Blocksy more than other RE sites. When one gets past this nuance, though, this start-up is asking users to pay for something that they can get for free in lots of others places. This is a tough sell and I don’t like it.

My (early) verdicts

Consumer perspective: I will give the free version of Blocksy a try, along with a few other leading sites, if/when I need a new NYC home. I would even give the 1-day free trial for the premium service a test drive. I hope these guys are better at this stuff than others, but I’m skeptical.

Real estate agent perspective: If I were an agent, I would focus on already proven websites and strategies for lead generation and client servicing. If Blocksy gets traction and starts to prove itself, I would jump on board.

Investor perspective: If approached I will stay far, far away from Blocksy.

Good luck, Blocksy. I hope that you finally create breakthrough innovation for the real estate industry. But I bet you fall well short. As so does the next one of your kind.

Hoyt David Morgan is an entrepreneur, angel investor and business strategy leader. He is an investor and/or adviser to a handful of exciting and high growth companies, and has been a part of several high-value exits. He is passionate about customer experience, smart business and helping innovative companies grow... and sailing.

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Opinion Editorials

Why entrepreneurs need minimalism too

(EDITORIAL) You don’t have to ditch your couch and all but one cushion to be a minimalist. Try applying minimalist thinking to your job if you’re having trouble focusing.

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As a concept, minimalism is often accepted as the “getting rid of most of your stuff and sleeping on the floor” fad.

In reality, minimalism is much closer to living an organized life with a pleasant sprinkling of simplicity as garnish—and it may be the answer to your entrepreneurial woes.

I in no way profess to be an expert on this topic, nor do I claim to have “all of the answers” (despite what 16-year-old Jack may have thought).

I’m a firm believer that you should take 99 percent of peoples’ suggestions with a grain of salt, and that mentality holds true here as well.

However, if you’re struggling to focus on your goals and you consistently fall short of your own expectations, following some of these guidelines may give you the clarity of mind that you need to continue.

First, reduce visual clutter.

If you’re anything like the stereotypical entrepreneur, you keep a thousand tabs open on your computer and your PC’s desktop is an unholy amalgam of productivity apps, photoshop templates, and—for some reason—three different versions of iTunes.

Your literal desktop doesn’t fare much better: it’s cluttered with notes, coffee rings, Styrofoam coffee cups, coffee mugs (you drink a lot of coffee, okay?), writing utensils, electronic devices, and…

Stop. You’re giving yourself virtual and visual ADHD.

Cut down on the amount of crap you have to look at and organize your stuff according to its importance. The less time you have to spend looking for the right tab or for your favorite notepad, the more time you’ll spend actually using it.

And, y’know, maybe invest in a thermos.

Instead of splitting your focus, try accomplishing one task before tackling another one.

You may find that focusing on one job until it’s finished and then moving on to the next item on your list improves both your productivity throughout the day and the quality with which each task is accomplished.

Who says you can’t have quality and quantity?

In addition to focusing on one thing at a time, you should be investing your energy in the things that actually matter. Don’t let the inevitabilities of adult life (e.g., taxes, paperwork, an acute awareness of your own mortality, etc.) draw your attention away from the “life” part of that equation.

Instead of worrying about how you’re going to accomplish X, Y, and/or Z at work tomorrow while you’re cooking dinner, try prioritizing the task at hand.

If you allow the important things in your life to hold more value than the ultimately less important stuff, you’ll start to treat it as such.Click To Tweet

Rather than stressing about the Mt. Everest that is your paperwork pile for the following Monday, get your car’s oil changed so that you have one less thing to think about.

Minimalism doesn’t have to be about ditching your 83 lamps and the football-themed TV stand in your living room – it’s about figuring out the few truly important aspects of your daily existence and focusing on them with everything you’ve got.

As an entrepreneur, you have the privilege of getting to do just that.

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Opinion Editorials

Two myths about business that could land you in a lawsuit

(EDITORIAL) Two misconceptions in the business world can either make or break a small business.

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Business casual

When you’re an entrepreneur with a small staff, you may be in the habit of running your team casually.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a casual environment for your team (most people function better in a relaxed environment), it’s wise to pay close attention to certain legal details to make sure you’re covered.

Labor laws still apply

It’s easy to misinterpret certain aspects of labor law since there is a lot of misinformation about what you can and cannot do inside of an employee-employer relationship. And since labor laws vary from state to state, it can be even more confusing.

As an entrepreneur, it might be strange to think of yourself as an employer. But when you’re the boss, there’s no way around it.

Here are two employment myths you might face as an entrepreneur along with the information you need to discern what’s actually true. Because these myths carry a lot of risk to your business, it’s important that you contact an attorney for advice.

1. Employees can waive their meal breaks without compensation

It’s a common assumption that any agreement in writing is an enforceable, legally binding contract, no matter what it contains. And for the most part, that’s true.

However, there are certain rights that cannot be signed away so easily.

For example, many states in the US have strict regulations around when and how employees can forfeit their unpaid meal breaks.

While meal breaks aren’t required at the Federal level, they are mandated at the state level and each state has different requirements that must be followed by employers. While some states allow employees to waive their meal breaks, on the other end of that the employer is usually required to compensate the employee.

For example, in California an employee can waive their 30-minute unpaid meal break only if they do so in writing and their scheduled shift is no more than 6 hours. In other words, when a shift is more than 6 hours, the meal break cannot be waived.

Additionally, when an employee waives their unpaid meal break, they must be paid for an on duty meal break and be compensated with an extra hour of pay for the day.

Vermont, on the other hand, provides no specific provisions for meal breaks and according to the Department of Labor, “Employees are to be given ’reasonable opportunities’ during work periods to eat and use toilet facilities in order to protect the health and hygiene of the employee.”

As you can see, some states have specific regulations while others have general rules that can be interpreted differently by each employer. It’s best not to make any assumptions and contact a labor law attorney to help you determine exactly what laws apply to you.

2. You own the copyright to all employee works

So you’ve hired both an employee and an independent contractor to design some graphics for your website. You might assume you automatically own the copyright to those graphics. After all, if you paid money, shouldn’t you own it?

While you may have paid a small fortune for your graphics, you may not be the legal copyright holder.

Employees vs. independent contractors

When your employee creates a work (like graphic design) as part of their job, it’s automatically considered a “work made for hire,” which means you own the copyright. An independent contractor, however, is different.

While any legitimate work made for hire will give you the copyright, just because you created a work for hire agreement with your independent contractor doesn’t mean the work actually falls under the category of a work made for hire.

According to the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 101) a work made for hire is defined as “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas.”

This means that unless your graphic design work (or other work you paid for) meets these requirements, it’s not a work made for hire.

In order to obtain the copyright, you need to obtain a copyright transfer directly from the creator, even though you’ve already paid for the work.

Always play it safe

The boundaries of intellectual property rights can be confusing. You can protect your business by playing it safe and not making any assumptions before consulting an attorney to help you discern the specific laws in your state.

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Opinion Editorials

Burnout is real, but so are these solutions to combat it

(EDITORIAL) Use these tips to avoid burnout and focus on daily care so that you can be your best you.

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burnout

We’ve all heard about it and we all dread it. It’s like the blue screen of death but for humans and despite common misconceptions, has actually been around and studied for quite some time.

Here I was thinking it was a relatively new phenomenon and that me burning out at 28 was almost unheard of! Boy was I wrong.

Regardless of how long it’s been around; it doesn’t seem like we are any closer to finding the route cause or a solid fix.

The guy who coined the term Dr. Herbert Freudenberger and some of his contemporaries came to the conclusion that burnout is caused by 6 elements: “Workload, Control, Reward, Community, Fairness and Values, with burnout resulting when one or more of these elements do fit a worker’s needs.”

Thank you researchers and Dr. Freudenberger for all your hard work, but I respectfully disagree. All these reasons or causes seem to wrongly attribute burnout, solely to work as well as over simplify it.

I am living proof you can just be burned out on life. And that is very different from depression.

My burnout started at the tender age of 28 and peaked at 29. I was working 80 hour weeks at my job, volunteering and fostering dogs and working on the weekends. My life had reached max capacity, and I was on overload to the point of system failure.

I didn’t recognize it at the time and therefore my methods of dealing with being pushed to my breaking point were less than healthy.

No, I went the opposite direction towards straight towards nuclear meltdown, because I couldn’t see what was happening and therefore couldn’t address it in a productive manner.

So, in order to know your burning out or already burned out, take a step back and try to get a different perspective. Like a bird’s eye view of everything that’s going on. Are you sick of the day to day grind? And the various pieces just not working together? Do you have more days where you want to “hulk smash” than not? If you said yes to any of these then you are probably on the burnout highway, headed straight for implosion.

But fear not, I have some tips for you:

Treat Yo’ Self- I have no idea who coined that but it couldn’t be more true. Give yourself a break, get a mani/pedi, have a night out with the boys. Do something you love that you don’t let yourself do often enough.

Hit the gym- It doesn’t really matter what gym you hit, hell it could even just be going for a run but get that blood pumping. As Elle Woods says, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands (or in this case lead to a total mental breakdown)”.

Put on some music– and dance like no one is watching. In the spirit of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, just let it all hang out.

Cuddle with your pet– your SO, a pillow, whatever. Hugging releases more endorphins!

Push back! If you are getting overloaded with work or school or anything, know your limits and learn to say no! And if “no” just isn’t in your vocabulary, at least learn to ask for help.

Turn off your damn electronics. Recently, France passed a law that said employees didn’t have to respond to their jobs in off hours. We may not have that law here but make that a law for yourself. Unless the World War 3 will start solely because you didn’t answer an email, then make sure you have a cut off point and make sure your job is aware of it. I was “on” 24/7/365 and to say that lead to a raging dumpster fire is putting it mildly.

Don’t overload yourself– but if you can, add in activities that relax you or give you “me time”. If you have an hour a week to spare on dance class and it doesn’t stress you out, then do it! Same for any activity. If it makes you happy, doesn’t occupy too much of your time or make you more stressed than you already might be, then consider throwing it in.

Get rid of any and all extraneous crap (activities, etc.) that give you a headache, or heart palpitations or nervous ticks. YOU DON’T NEED THEM!

But more importantly that throwing in a few of these tips, know yourself. Get in tune with how you operate and what you need to do and feel your best.
You won’t know what burnout looks or feels like if you don’t know what a happy and healthy you looks or feels like.

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