Founder and CEO, FlyHomes
If you had 500,000 airline miles, where in the world would you go?
That’s not a hypothetical question for customers of FlyHomes, a Seattle-based real estate brokerage that awards homebuyers one airline mile for every $1 they spend on a home purchase. In other words, a customer that buys a $500,000 home receives 500,000 airline miles at closing — as opposed to a more conventional bonus, like cash back.
For homebuyers, “it’s the coolest and most fun thing — the exact opposite of getting a discount at closing,” says CEO Stephen Lane ’16, who co-founded the company with Tushar Garg ’16 in 2015. “It makes you think about the adventures and crazy things you’re going to do and the first-class tickets you’re going to get.”
Attractive as this perk may be, it’s not the only way that FlyHomes differentiates itself in the competitive world of real estate. In a break from the old-school process of working with an agent, FlyHomes offers an online platform that gives homebuyers the flexibility to design and own their real-estate shopping experience. Customers have access to a suite of tools and resources to independently manage the home-buying process, along with access to full-service real estate agents who work on-call to provide as much or as little support as customers prefer. Through the platform, homebuyers can peruse MLS listings, schedule tours of homes and even submit offers online. Agents are available by request for help with negotiations, closings, vendor referrals and other relevant issues.
With this offering, FlyHomes has a very specific target market in mind: “Tech-savvy young professionals who love to travel,” explains Lane. In other words, the company is going after Millennials — the largest and fastest-growing segment of homebuyers. “They’re natural brokers in the market,” says Lane, who is also a member of Generation Y. “They love to tell their friends, ‘Hey, I just got a million miles for buying a house.’ And it works out really well in terms of expanding the broader ecosystem of Millennial home buyers.”
Leading a tech company in the real estate space is something that Lane was perhaps destined to do. A self-described “tech nerd,” Lane says that, as a kid, he was fascinated by the process of constructing buildings and would regularly check the webcam broadcasting the construction site of Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park) in Houston. He also has the classic persona of an entrepreneur; he explains that he’s always liked to set and achieve “crazy goals,” from walking on to the University of Texas-Austin football team to climbing Mt. Rainer to emailing the CEO of Microsoft to get a job (a strategy that did, in fact, work).
However, at the start of his JD-MBA Program, Lane had an idea for a startup that was different from FlyHomes. He was interested in developing a data company that would rate houses according to a number of different variables (e.g., energy efficiency, quality of flooring) and sell the data to real estate brokerages. Some of his colleagues in the Zell Fellows Program convinced him to pivot. “I got some strongly worded coaching,” he recalls. “They were spot on.”
While Lane is gratified by the progress of FlyHomes, he’s quick to dispel myths about the process of launching and leading a startup. For every one piece of good news, Lane says he gets 10 pieces of bad news. “It’s a grind,” he admits.