REPEAT is a special interview series underwritten by CliftonLarsonAllen where we take a deep dive inside the minds of Minnesota’s rare repeat technology entrepreneurs. Repeat means to start a tech company, exit said company, and return start another one.
Aaron Kardell became a technology entrepreneur at age 14, and by 24 he had sold his first company. Today, he is the founder and CEO of Homespotter, a VC-backed mobile focused software company in the real estate industry. Part 1 can be read here.
What did you do after you left Pearson?
Even though still I had a healthy appetite for risk, there was still some trepidation about the possibility of being unemployed. Through an acquaintance I previously met at Pearson, I found another opportunity to spend half my time consulting and half my time exploring whatever was next. So I established a holding company for those projects and I stumbled into creating a Facebook game called World of Conquest, which was more or less a clone of the board game Risk.
That gained some traction by December of 2007, and I ended up selling that off to a venture-backed gaming company called SGN…
How was that exit?
It was a small exit, but relative to what was invested in four months, it was a good one. It also affirmed another win at age 27, a second one, which always helps the confidence.
What came next?
The other thing that I was starting around that time was another run in the K-12, Edtech space, a product called ConnectEd to create a safe social networking environment for students, teachers, and parents to collaborate. That was about a three year process from 2007-2010 before shutting it down.
What did it feel like to cease that pursuit after your earlier successes?
It was a reminder that success isn’t guaranteed, certainly disappointing and frustrating. I would say that in the midst of a lot of this, there was always a backstop of taking on consulting projects as a safety net I intentionally created.”
What did you learn from that experience?
It’s often asked: “Is this a medicine or a vitamin?” As in, does it solve a deep enough pain point? I think it was a good idea, but it wasn’t coupled with a solid business case.
And then what happened?
I began dabbling in iPhone development around 2009 and ended up releasing the iGarageSale application which became featured in the app store earned some sales… I would label it a nominal commercial success. Once again, I ended up shutting it down in 2012 due to a cease and desist from Craigslist as it was highly contingent upon scraping their listings.
How did it feel to essentially be told to stop?
Also frustrating. Then again I didn’t spend a lot of ongoing time on this one, so had I been more invested I might have cared more. But I think the big takeaway after this one was that I needed to be more committed.
And I was soon on the the next thing, MobileRealtyApps, which eventually became known as HomeSpotter.
What was the premise of that company?
At the formation stage it was the confluence of three things:
- My wife and I were looking for our next house and it made no sense that I couldn’t drive around and search for more properties on a native app with a solid user experience. So there was the personal pain point that planted the seed. Mind you this was before Zillow or Trulia launched their own.
- Because I had written iGarageSale previously, I had the map + location based experience already.
- There was a local real estate agent who wanted an app built, and was told ‘that’s too expensive’ so I offered to make it for less but to retain the intellectual property, which enabled me to learn and sell + scale to others as my own project.
When did it become HomeSpotter and why?
In January of 2015. Earlier on, we had been using that name to showcase our augmented reality feature and felt that it had greater potential in reflection of the product as a whole.
And you’ve raised how much for the company to date with a team of how many?
About $4.5m to date and have about 17 employees.
Taking a step back, what motivates you every day to do what you do?
That’s a good question…I think it’s the challenge. The challenge of creating something that people want to use and then building a high performing team around that. I like creating useful technologies that people are willing to pay for and hiring people to support that.
How has being an entrepreneur shaped you as a person?
Wow…well I could think of 50 different ways. It’s turned me into a leader, it’s helped me become more direct yet also empathetic to others. One small example of that is when we had someone come out to the house to do yard work and there was an outstanding invoice to me…and the person called me a sense of urgency about that nominal amount.
I understood where he was coming from and wanted to quickly fulfill my end of the bargain.
The whole entrepreneurial journey can be glamorized and there are things that can be great about it but there’s also the struggle, just like they were experiencing. So it’s helped me to appreciate where people are at with their own struggle.
Is there anything you don’t like about being an entrepreneur, or tradeoffs for you?
I think that’s very stage and circumstantial dependent upon where we are as a business. Fortunately, right now, we’re on a growth trajectory, but it isn’t always like that. In a small startup situation, you have to wear a lot of hats. And I am capable of doing that, but you also end up having to fill in gaps that aren’t always your strongest suit or lack passion.
How old are your kids now?
Nine and four.
Do they comprehend that your an entrepreneur or know any different?
I don’t think so, then again, my wife has a very traditional job in medicine and I think that they see the contrast.
Is there anything you would like to add?
It’s been interesting for us as business with HomeSpotter to have a second wave, almost like a startup within a startup. Sometimes within a single business, there are many paths to consider along the way.