The Real Estate Sessions Rewind – Enlai Chu, Founder, Productive App
The Productive App will prepare you for the call before you even answer the call. This app is really useful, especially in real estate, because of all the little details you can have in your calls. The Productive Call Assistant will take notes for you and remind you of all the important info. Join Bill Risser as he talks to Enlai Chu about his Productive app and what it does. Enlai is the Founder & CEO of Productive.app. He has over 20 years of experience in messaging, voice, and video communications. He will show you how to solve one of the biggest pain points for real estate agents; double data entry. Make it so that once you’re done with your call, you’re done with your work today!
Enlai Chu – Founder, Productive App
I have got a great episode for you. A piece of technology, first of all, that I never knew existed about. We have got the founder of the company. The tool is called Productive. It is a productive app and it changes the way you will use your mobile phone. You got to read as we are going to be sharing this with you. He is up in the Bay Area, where all the great technology comes out of. He has got some great stuff to share and I can’t wait to get this thing started.
Enlai, welcome to the show.
Thank you, I’m happy to be here.
You and I met not too long ago and we are both working with EXIT Realty on some cool project they are doing. It was nice to chat with you because 1) You have this amazing technology that I might have drilled you with a bunch of questions about, but 2) It is cool that we have products that are going to be able to play off and help each other. It is a nice situation.
I’m excited to be here and talking to you again. Thanks for the invite.
The very first thing I ask on the show is where you grew up or where you are from, so I will start that off with you. What was home for you?
I grew up in Vancouver, Canada. If you are from the Pacific Northwest, the question is always, “Is that VC or Washington?” I grew up in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I went down and finished off my school there and did my university at the University of British Columbia. I spent a few years working there. My cousins had moved there and liked it. The family decided to head over and my brother as well, so we all went there. Great food and weather if you are okay with the rain. It was a wonderful place to grow up.
It is the trade-off with any of the Pacific Northwest is the rain, but I have been to Vancouver. My wife and I journeyed up there in 1984 for the World’s Fair. You were not there yet, I’m guessing. It is such a beautiful city. I feel it is the most European city that I have ever been to in the United States, is that kind of flow?
It is multicultural, and that was one of the things that were great to explore. You have got the bilingual language thing going on with French and English, and then going to different parts of the country. You feel that European side of the country, but that was one of the big reasons why it was so comfortable, and it was almost like having the experience of traveling the world in a single location.
As an entrepreneur, thinking about the strategic reasons why your company can get acquired is good to have in mind.
The rain thing was interesting because it does rain a lot, but it is also one of those opportunities for appreciation of sunshine. When the wind stopped, the clouds are parted, you can hear the angels singing, and everybody is out. Obviously, the air outside was clean and fresh almost all the time. I loved it here.
We made the quick trip over to Victoria, which is a whole other world. It is a cool place. If you love to ski, you will love it. I love Vancouver.
Did you get up to Whistler or any of the local mountains?
We were there in the summertime. We did go to Banff and Lake Louise and all that good stuff. That was the fun part and getting up into the Rockies.
You got everything, skiing, hiking, and city life all in the same location.
Let’s get back to work. You get a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of British Columbia. What was the first gig out of school? I had a good friend of mine who said, “It is not the first gig you get out of school. It is the second job that matters more.” I would like to find out what that first one was.
My first gig was in the semiconductor industry, and Electrical Engineering gives you the option to venture into either software or hardware and different industries like Chip Design. I started out in the application side of semiconductors, building software that controls the robots and manufacturing for chips. I got the travel to fabs and where the bunny suits. I did that as my first job out of school.
In high school, you knew you were going to start your own company. You had that entrepreneurial drive in you. Is that right or wrong?
I did. I wanted to invent, create, and build stuff. Interestingly, I did not know what an entrepreneur was. I did not know what that word meant in high school. I remember in one of my college interviews, one of the questions was, “Who is an entrepreneur that you respect the most?” This was back when I was in high school, and I did not know who to say. I said Lee Iacocca because back at that time, he was changing things around. I do not think that was the answer that the interviewer was expecting, but that was the first introduction to that word.
You are right. Once I got accustomed to thinking about it, I had to make a decision on what major I was going to go through in university. It was a choice between engineering or business. I remember my conclusion was that if I started with engineering, I could go off and do an MBA or a Business Degree afterwards, but I couldn’t do it the other way around. I couldn’t do a Business undergrad and then get a grad in Engineering. That was how I started out in engineering.
Let’s continue the path. You then ended up moving down to the Bay Area, San Francisco, South of the Bay in Silicon Valley, and you went to school and got your MBA there.
Productive App: Productive will prepare you for the call, so you’re not trying to remember who or why someone is calling you. They basically prepare you for the call before you even answer the call.
I did. I had joined a startup company in the Bay Area. A good friend of mine moved down, and they needed engineers. This was one of the first Voice over IP companies that were starting at that time. Working in telecom has always intrigued me because it is a rapidly growing industry. I jumped at the opportunity to come down to the Bay Area. While I was here, I did my MBA at UC Berkeley because I knew I wanted to round out my skill sets on the business side. I was going to start a company. I came down here and did the engineering thing and the end of the school thing. It was a wonderful experience.
While looking at your CV, you have been involved with seven different companies that have been acquired. Some of those were your companies. I’m going to call you an expert in the process of working at a company that gets acquired. There got to be some pros and cons to that process. It would be neat to know that because I have never been able to ask that question to a guest.
I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert because I did not make them all happen. I have been part of companies that were acquired and they were all acquired for different reasons. The first one was acquired for strategic reasons. The first company I was at was a company that was acquired by Cisco. Back then, the Voice over IP space had started to boom and it was going to drive a lot of data traffic. For Cisco, it was a strategic opportunity, but it has been a whole series of opportunities through the acquisitions. The hostile acquisition is the formal word of having stock bought up of a public company.
What I learned through it all was thinking about the strategic reasons why acquire a company. It was good to have in mind, especially when I started my own company. I had a previous company that was acquired by Skype and to them, it was a strategic reason. We were in the messaging space, Skype was strong in the voice space, and it was a good fit with IP. Going forward, it is always good to have in mind high-level thinking of, “What could potentially happen down the road?” As an entrepreneur, that is critical that you have to think ahead and see what the possible paths for your company are.
It seems to me that a lot of the young entrepreneurs have an idea to get going with it and are thinking too hard about the exit up front instead of maybe working hard on the product.
It is never a bad idea to think about exits, especially if you are raising money. If you are building a company as a cashflow business, you are not as worried about what the outcomes are from an exit perspective, but if you have investors, you want to do it because you are responsible for the stakeholders as well. In the grand scheme of things, it also make sure that you are aligning products either from a competitive perspective or whether it is a synergistic perspective to get partners working with you. It is super important to always plan ahead. It is all part of the entrepreneurial path.
It’s never a bad idea to think about exit strategies, especially if you are raising money.
Let’s talk about what you are doing now. I’m going to call it Productive. I know there is a parent company and some other stuff going on there. You tell a great story. I have heard you say it a couple of different times. Let’s share with the audience the history of the cell phone. How did you talk about that when you were presenting to a room full of people?
I started this company through some personal experience. At my last company, we were one of the early innovators in virtual numbers, which was the ability to procure second phone numbers for your phone calls. These were phone numbers that people could add on and get additional functionality that was not available on their primary cell phone numbers.
What we learned was that people were excited about the second phone number because of the additional feature sets that they got, but they did not want to have to manage an additional number or have to give out a different number because at the end of the day, they always end up either getting confused or people are going to keep using the original cell phone number that they had, so they now have multiple numbers they have to manage.
Therefore, if we were going to provide additional functionality that people were excited about that was truly useful, we would have to do it on the primary cell phone number, which was that number that people have had for years now. If you think back about the very first phone that you got and the phone calls on that phone, or if you got a call, you could do 1 of 2 things. You could either pick up the call or hit the red button, you hang up the call, and it sends it to voicemail. Fast forward, decades for some of us, and your phone rings, you can either hit the green button to pick up the call or you hit the red button and decline the call. That hasn’t changed.
We also learned that it wasn’t the ringing part or the hangup part that mattered. It was the conversation and the information that you exchanged during the call that mattered. The question was, “How do we enable productivity features for people to work more efficiently with these phone calls?” Even now, when you get a call, you are probably scrambling for a notepad or if you are lucky, you are sitting in front of a computer with Evernote open or some note-taking software, and you are able to capture the information manually. That is what you have to do now.
Why are we doing things manually? Why are we capturing information manually? The other forms of communication that you use, whether it is email or messaging, we do not take notes after you read an email or read the text message. This is the last form of communication now that people have to manually do work because there are no features on top of these basic phone calls that we have. I wanted to bring and combine all of the technologies that are available now and enhance the native cellphone calls on your phone.
This works for any salesperson anywhere in the country, right?
It is a lot deeper than that. It is interesting because when we first started, we had a lot of people asking us if anybody still used the phone call. The people who asked those questions are thinking from a perspective of, “I use a lot of video conference calls,” so everything is moving towards video conference calls. They forget that there is a whole segment of people that aren’t sitting in front of the computer 100% of the time nor do people have plans for voice calls 100% of the time. It is very much like when messaging comes out, emails are going away.
Productive App: Virtual or secondary numbers didn’t last because of the extra work. People were excited about the additional features. But they didn’t really want to have to manage an additional number.
Every single communication medium has its purpose. You can probably think of a time when you have been messaging somebody or emailing back and forth, and all of a sudden, someone decides to give somebody a call because they need to get things done quickly. This is exactly the same. It is never going to replace video calls, like video calls are never going to replace phone calls, because one is planned, one is ad hoc. There are so many reasons. They all serve a purpose.
We are focusing on industries where it is the norm for voice calls to be part of this toolkit that people use to conduct their business. There is a lot of these industries, real estate, sales, legal industry, recruiting, and finance. We have a whole list of industries that have come to us to integrate with their digital workflows.
Let’s talk about real estate and realtors who live on cell phones. We know that. Talk about the pain points that you are solving for them. Even though real estate is not your background, you embraced the real estate world with your product. I love how you can lay out a scenario as to how this works for a realtor.
We did not start in real estate. Interestingly, we started out in sales because we came out of an accelerator called Alchemist, which is a B2B and an enterprise focus accelerator up in the Bay Area. We were exposed to the Salesforce and HubSpot world, the general CRMs, that serve the sales market. We started there, but we started getting a lot of inbound requests for integration with real estate CRMs.
That opened up a whole door of new CRMs. We had never come across and realized that in every one of these industries, there were systems that people have put in place to try to organize their data. They had the need to collect information to get that, what we call the full 360 for every touchpoint, to try to update every customer record and communication. They were having to do this manually on their phone calls.
Every other communication channel had integrations except for this final gap they had. Real estate was a pull and we realized that this was a perfect use case because agents live on their phones. They are not sitting in front of the computer, driving or multitasking. They are really busy. This was a perfect opportunity for us to bring the technology and try to automate the work for a realtor. That is why we are focusing on this industry right now.
Let’s go ahead and walk through a use case. First of all, this is what blew my mind the first time I heard it. These integrations are so deep. Let’s walk through it. I’m driving down the street and I get a phone call. As a realtor, how do I use your product?
Phone calls are the last form of communication today that people have to manually do work.
The first thing we do is when a phone call comes in, we pull as much information about the caller for you as we can. These are from public sources. If this person is someone you have never talked to before, we try to identify the name of the caller for you. The typical information to get when somebody calls you is a name because this is going to lead to your ability to now go enter the person as a lead in your CRM or even to be able to put them into your address book. We will try to look it up for you, so you do not have to talk on the phone.
If you have a CRM, we call the contact with CRM, pull information about the caller from your CRM to instantly prepare you for the call, so you are not trying to remember. “The name looks familiar,” but you can’t remember what this person’s calling about the last time you talked to them. It could be a few months or years ago. It could be 1 of the 10 or 20 people you are dealing with. We prepare you for the call before you even answer the call.
Now, when you answer the call if you choose, we automatically record and transcribe that conversation for you. It is interesting. We have had someone tell us that they do not answer the call when they are driving because they have nothing to write with, which is mind-blowing because each call is worth tens of thousands of dollars in this industry. People are also dialing down lists of agents and if you do not answer the phone, they are not going to leave you a voicemail. They are going to call the next person.
For us, we want you to be able to be prepared and have the peace of mind that the conversation that you are having is going to new referenceable. If you ever need to go back and look up a piece of information that was conveyed to you, a lot of times, you can’t ask the question again because it sounds like you weren’t listening. It is all available for you.
We help you to capture that information. You can take notes and the notes are automatically organized by the person that you are speaking with. You never have to go at the end of the day, take your long set of notes, and go organize them by a person. It is all automatically already organized per person. At the end of the call, typically when the other side hangs up, your side hangs up and that is a normal phone call, but with our system, the other side could hang up, but your side stays on and your call assistant asks you if there are any notes that you want to take.
You do the brain dump. 2 or 3 things that you want to remember about the call if you summarized the call and everything gets pushed to your CRM automatically. The philosophy is that when you are done with your call, you are done with your work. We do not want you to have to save all your work, spend an extra hour editing a day, trying to organize your notes, and manually type information into your CRM. The full voice to CRM experience, end-to-end, is automated.
That nasty phrase, “Double entry,” is gone.
Yes. People already have a tough time doing the first data entry, capturing all that information manually on a piece or typing it in, and then doing a second set of data entry, taking the same data, and putting it into a CRM. That double data entry is gone.
It is funny I have talked about CRM to realtors for a long time about how important it is in their world. Can it be a FranklinCovey Planner? Could it be an Excel spreadsheet? Sure. Every time you get a phone call, there are a few things you got to do. One is you have got to document what that call was about. This is where they are sitting at their computer. Go ahead and schedule the next call. If I remember right, you can even do tasks as well.
It is all of the main work. The manual work or the busy work, we call it on your calls that we have automated. Tasks are the next big thing. As you type notes, you might have a whole bunch of notes, but there are only 2 or 3 things that you need to do, but those are 2 or 3 things that you would now have to put into another list. We enable you to integrate to-do items into your CRM. Each CRM comes with a task list as well as follow-up items, so all of these can also go into your CRM.
Productive App: When the industry is protecting the consumer, the burden of proof is on the call agents to justify, support, and provide supporting materials for those.
You notice that I use CRM quite a bit and we talked about CRM as well. The workflows of agents have gone digital. The most efficient agents, the ones that have a system, are the ones that get the most done. From an efficiency point of view, this is invaluable, but as your business grows, we know that in this world, it is about referrals, keeping top of mind with your previous clients or even future potential clients. A CRM enables you to do the type of automation where you remind them, you might send newsletters, etc., and you can’t do that with a traditional paper logbook. The paper logbook works for a little while, but then once you start getting 3, 4, or 5 books, you can’t control the data. It is not usable.
I heard this question in both of the presentations that we were together. That is, “Is this legal, the recording stuff? Isn’t it creepy? Do I have to tell everybody that we are recording them?” How do you handle that?
The first typical question that we would get is, “Is this legal?” The answer is yes. We keep you legal. In the US, federally, the laws are that one party has to know that the call recording is going on, and so this is new. What this means is that you can’t surreptitiously record a conversation between two people without them knowing about it, and that is what this law is about.
In 12 or 13 states, it is all-party consent. In 38 states, it was also single-party consent, but in the 12 remaining states, everybody has to know about it. This is why when you call a business now, you will hear the disclosure, “The call is recorded for quality purposes or for training purposes.” Businesses are already doing this.
We enable you to have the same type of disclosure on your cell phone calls if you record the calls. Now, you do not have to disclose and the reasons can vary specific to your use case. It doesn’t have to be about training. It could be about compliance, archival, or note-taking. You could even customize what the recording disclosure message is.
We have agents that say, “For me to provide you with the best service, I’m recording the call to take notes.” We have ones with a sense of humor and they say, “I’m recording this call because my memory sucks.” It is totally up to you how you want to disclose it, but this is the type of functionality that has traditionally only been available on business minds and call centers, and we are bringing those to your traditional cell phone call.
Make it so that once you’re done with your call, you’re done with your work.
For people that do not want to record both parties, we have added functionality that has never existed before. Instead of going from recording everybody to recording nobody, we have an option for you to record just yourself. At least you can remember what you are committing to or what you have to do. If you want and you can reiterate what the other person is saying, but it is now the ability to have this recording option where only what you are saying is being memorialized. This is a step in the innovation in the voice space that hasn’t seen much innovation to give you the types of functionalities that work for your workload.
This is the coolest product I have heard of in years. It is great. I guess you are always thinking ahead and I do not know what you can reveal here on the show, but I would love to know what is next. What are you thinking of? Is there something else that can happen that you can share? You can say you can’t share. That is fine.
I’m happy to share it because one of the exciting things is that we are sparking a lot of imagination or creativity in our users themselves. What typically happens is they experience the feature and the question that they come back to us was, “Can you now do this?” One of the applications that we have had has been around archival for risk mitigation purposes.
We had a conversation with a real estate commissioner who said, “This is amazing. Not just from a technology perspective, but because there are actual use cases from a risk mitigation perspective.” Whenever there is a complaint from a consumer in this industry, the agents are asked for records, like call records, what did you talk to this person about, and describe the conversation. An agent goes, “I do not know what I spoke to them about on this date at the time,” because nobody keeps those types of detailed notes.
When the industry is protecting the consumer, the burden of proof is on the agents to justify and to provide supporting materials for those. This becomes a mechanism to provide accountability but also protect and serve as insurance for the agents. That use case is one that we are looking into the ability to mark in a legal way what the agreement was between two parties. It is the same way as you could pull an email up or a messaging conversation up and have those used as records of communication.
We want to also be able to use the data that people have collected for themselves in order to utilize them for more productivity features. Imagine now, the conversation is being transcribed in real-time to be able to extract notes from those conversations, so you do not even need to take notes. Imagine an agent having a typical call, you would be asking the same 8 to 10 questions. “How many bedrooms are you looking for? What is your budget? What neighborhoods are you looking for?” This is where the manual data entry and a double data entry come in.
What we have learned is that there are two types of data that people care about recording or keeping, which is the detailed information, but then again, there are these takeaways, the key bits of information that you need to enter into the CRM. If you can automate the eight questions and be able to capture the answers for the eight questions, you can put all of these eight questions separate from the rest of your notes and that is what we call form filling or slot filling to help you with that work.
There is a whole series of features coming on. I won’t disclose all of the features, but you can imagine where this is going. We are going to help you automate your work and we are going to build what we call Autopilot Forward, where all you have to do is talk, you can sit back, put your feet up, and all your work gets done for you.
You are telling me I do not have to send a Google form anymore. I can have a conversation with somebody and everything’s filled in. It is awesome.
This is quite important for the real estate industry. It is about differentiating yourself with, first, your relationship, but also the level of service that you provide. I remember having a conversation and this wasn’t in real estate, but this is in the insurance industry. We were looking for a company. I had sent out a bunch of requests for quotes from different brokers. All of them except one sent me back a multi-page form that I had to fill in.
One of them said, “We need to get a bunch of information from you. Do you have time right now because I can go through this form and I will read you the questions, and you can answer them,” and I’m like, “Thank you. I do not want to have to enter the information manually. If I have a question now, I’m shooting an email back, waiting for a response. I want somebody to spend the time and go through this form with me.”
I remember I got out from behind my computer, sat back in my chair reclined, and had this conversation with this broker. This broker got my business because they were willing to take the time to do this. In this industry, the more you can enable this type of interaction where you are providing this level of service, that is going to differentiate you from the other agents that you are potentially competing against.
I’m going to ask you the same final question I have asked 311 previous guests. I know you are not a realtor by trade, but you will be able to come up with an answer in this. What one piece of advice would you give a new agent getting started?
I would say start early and have a system. A digital system is preferable. I have heard agents start with Excel or Google Docs, but very quickly, you will realize that the ability to get the data that you have input into another system where to utilize it is where the power of the digitization of data comes in. You can get a CRM and there are a lot of options out there. The price shouldn’t be what holds you back. A lot of the CRMs are provided by the broker.
As soon as you have a system, then start diligently using it. Keeping it up-to-date, keeping the leads in there, updating it with their communications, when we spoke to them, and what they are talking about. This way, you can build this system where you are maintaining your relationships. What has come up in events that you and I have been to as well as to create that flywheel for enabling you to build that client base without you having to hold the crew anymore because, over time, you are going to be able to build up your reputation.
Kudos to what you are doing. This is your critical part of this flywheel. It starts with the first client that you are going to get. You are going to do a great job because you are going to be responsive to all the technology that you are using. You are going to be able to remember what they need and serve them quickly, and then they are happy with what you do, tell the world about it, and from there, you generate the referrals. The most successful agents do now is build that flywheel of success that builds on itself.
Enlai, if I want to reach out to you or I’m going to find Productive, you probably have a couple of places you can send me to.
Our website is Productive.app. I’m always available. You can reach me at Enlai@Productive.app.
This has been great. I’m so happy you agreed to be on the show. I will see you in the future at other events and things as we move on. I have got a few people here in the St. Pete area that I’m going to turn on to this tool. I guarantee you they are going to sign up. This is fantastic. One of them likes to golf and be on the phone on the golf course. It is perfect.
We do all the work for them while they are on the golf course.
Enlai, thank you so much for your time. This is great.
Thanks for the invite, Bill. We will talk soon.
Thank you for reading. Please head over to RateThisPodcast.com/RESessions to leave a review or a rating, and subscribe to our show at your favorite podcast app.
- EXIT Realty
About Enlai Chu
Enlai is a seasoned entrepreneur, creator and technologist with over 20 years of experience in messaging, voice and video communications. His current company, Phoneic, is upgrading cell phone calls with new features and application integrations that automate mobile workflows.
Prior to Phoneic, he co-founded group SMS and virtual number company 3jam, which was acquired by Skype in 2011. At Skype, he ran the company’s SMS and core messaging teams.
Named the Forbes Future Capitalist in 2003, Enlai enjoys the challenge of conceiving and developing new, innovative products. He is also a Co-Founder at Silicon Valley Canada, a company that helps U.S. startups set up engineering offices and hire talented developers in Vancouver, Canada.
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