How did she do it? A Q&A with Minna Song, Co-Founder of MeetEliseJuly 11, 2019
Wanting to create a company with lasting positive impact, Minna Song co-founded MeetElise, the first company to tackle rising housing costs with artificial intelligence. She now boasts major real estate players like AvalonBay Communities and Equity Residential as both customers and investors.
Golden Seeds’ Managing Partner Jo Ann Corkran has become an advisor and sits on its board of directors. The two sat down together to discuss Song’s path to success and the future of the groundbreaking company.
JC: Tell us about the origins of your company.
MS: My co-founder, Tony Stoyanov, and I were coming off the heels of starting a company in the social media advertising space and quickly learned it was not a problem we felt strong devotion to solving. We wanted to create a company that would have a positive impact and the potential to affect every person, so we looked at the fundamental human needs: food, water and shelter. Ultimately, we saw the most opportunity in shelter and decided to learn about the housing industry’s inefficiencies. I got an administrative job at a brokerage firm to experience the real estate industry. While working there, I discovered that slow human communication caused most of the bottlenecks for renters finding a new home. My cofounder and I decided to use our backgrounds in software engineering and artificial intelligence (AI) to create a platform that could eliminate these bottlenecks and make conversations more efficient. MeetElise was born.
JC: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
MS: Our mission is to make housing more affordable by reducing property management costs. Despite being one of the most important industries, real estate can be late to adopt new technologies. The majority of current tools are built around setting reminders for people to complete certain tasks. MeetElise solves problems with automation versus just nudging humans to take care of them.
For example, people hate following up with leads, but it’s one of the most important activities in any sales process. When someone is renting an apartment and forgets to reply to an email from the leasing office, most industry tech tools focus on delivering an alert to the leasing agent to send a follow-up note. It doesn’t complete the task but rather provides the agent with yet another notification. In comparison, MeetElise uses AI to send a personalized follow-up note to the potential renter automatically, freeing up time for the leasing agent to focus on other priorities.
JC: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?
MS: It’s been a challenge to convince property management companies to change their processes because it’s a risk for companies to try new and different ways of operating versus getting better at their current methods. But, ultimately, it can provide a bigger payoff. In AI, we call this the explore vs. exploit tradeoff. Real estate is a pretty conservative industry and big players tend to choose to exploit what they already know. However, we’ve found that leveraging case studies with metrics helps us make our case. Providing real data around how MeetElise can benefit their company gives our potential customers concrete and quantifiable evidence, which makes it easier for them to make a decision.
JC: What is coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
MS: Our goal is to make AI the status quo in real estate. We’re exploring the ways that state-of-the-art AI can be used to make all property management processes more efficient, beyond the leasing process and initial move-in. We want to enable property managers to immediately service their tenants from the moment they first inquire to when they move out. MeetElise will help schedule viewings, automatically follow up, and answer maintenance requests to make the entire process more efficient and less expensive. We’re also hiring a sales team to help get the word out about MeetElise and how AI can benefit the real estate industry.
JC: What advice do you have for early-stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?
MS: My biggest piece of advice for anyone starting a company is to know that everything is a process, and you need to put in the hard work to constantly improve each process. Every time that you pitch a potential investor, launch a new feature or interview a new hire, take a step back to evaluate what went well and what didn’t go well so that you don’t make the same mistake on the next pitch or launch or interview. Keep doing that over and over until you get the best version of that process. If you’re not getting better, you’re just going to fall behind.
JC: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
MS: First of all, Jo Ann, we greatly value our relationship with you as an investor, trusted advisor and board member. Especially because we are first-time founders, you’ve challenged us with hard questions that helped us understand what’s best for our business. You’ve guided us through how Golden Seeds makes decisions, who to include in funding rounds, and how to choose the best partners for our growing company. In addition, Golden Seeds has very deep ties in the real estate industry, which has helped us with networking. This week alone, we had introductions to five different multifamily real estate companies. Our network continues to grow with potential leads as a result of Golden Seeds’ support.