PERSON OF THE WEEK: Bill Colby is product development manager for RES.NET, a wholly-owned subsidiary of U.S. Real Estate Services (USRES) that provides a variety of specialized technology portals designed for various aspects of the real estate industry.
MortgageOrb recently interviewed Colby to learn more about what inspired him to join the real estate finance industry – and more specifically the technology side of the business – as well as what he sees as being the biggest technology disrupters in 2020.
Q: You have been working in the real estate finance industry for more than 20 years now. Who or what inspired you to enter this field of work?
Colby: When I first joined the workforce, I was a successful insurance salesman, but not at all passionate about that line of work. I was ready for a career – something I could do for a long time and truly enjoy.
In retrospect, it is really one of those things that kind of just happened by circumstance. At that time, being a loan officer was a coveted and respected title, and I had friends who were in that business and who were doing really well. So, I gave it a go – and everything just fell into place. It did not take long before I realized I had found my true fit and that I really enjoyed working in the real estate industry.
Q: For the first 10 years of your career, you focused on the business side of things, originating loans for small and large lenders, then ultimately having your own successful brokerage firm. What lessons could you share with others who might like to follow that path?
Colby: Everyone should have a commission-only sales job for at least a year during the beginning of their working life – it’s the only way to truly understand the value of customer satisfaction and retention. Getting new customers is hard. You have to feel the pain of that to really understand the importance of customer-centricity. This same principle applies when you’re weighing how to improve products or launch new ones – the customer must be the focus.
Q: Now let’s shift to your focus today, where you have been involved with product development and technology to help the industry. Why did you decide to make this change?
Colby: It was a natural progression. For the last 11 or so years, I have worked in nearly every position: operations and executive leadership roles, developing process and structure, business development and sales, and now, product development. Over that time, I have gotten to know our customers and what they want and need to be successful, as well as the business as a whole.
It made perfect sense to put that experience and knowledge to work making products better for our customers. It all comes down to what the customer needs. I do not believe in developing a product for product’s sake. If there is an industry need or challenge, I determine a way to solve for that issue.
Q: Looking into your 2020 crystal ball – with both your broker hat as well as your technology and product experience – what do you see as being some of the new and innovative technologies that will help the industry moving forward?
Colby: I don’t know that there is any one specific innovation that will be the where-for-all in the coming year. Of course, implementing an easy-to-use system that integrates into existing applications will be key. Also, by being nimble and building flexible products, one can hedge on unforeseen changes in the industry and satisfy greater numbers of customers with the same core product. I have seen this in practice over and over and it will continue to drive ideas in 2020.
Additionally, it will be important to expand third party integrations so that working with other vendors can be more seamless. All of these efforts increase flexibility – it’s all about letting the customer decide how the software will best benefit them.
Q: Given that our industry is cyclical, what advice would you give to ensure success not just in the near term, but for many years to come?
Colby: Diversify revenue streams. Ebbs and flows are normal in every aspect of life. But we know that customers don’t go completely away in the ebb. You need to focus on what is valuable to the customers during the ebb. Ask yourself, “What do they need and how can we provide it?” It sounds a bit cliché, but it is true that there are often new opportunities that arise during these times.
This should not preclude you from planning for the slow times financially and organizationally – every business must be prepared to weather storms.