When Downtown’s innovation hub, Downtown Launchpad, opened in 2020, it was a bright light in a gloomy year. Even with the clouds of pandemic-induced uncertainty hanging over the city, the Houston innovation community showed that they weren’t just up for a challenge, but ready to come back stronger than before.
As MassChallenge and gener8tor, two of the Launchpad’s inaugural residents, prepared for their cohorts, they rolled with the punches, shifting to virtual programming and welcoming new companies in with enthusiasm.
In a short period of time, Downtown’s centralized innovation ecosystem has played host to some of the city’s most promising startups, including the following four companies taking their businesses to the next level.
Anyone following the real estate industry since the beginning of the pandemic has likely read about historically low interest rates, decreasing inventory, increasing home prices and much more. As a prospective home buyer or seller, especially a first timer, navigating those particulars and the multiple stakeholders involved can quickly become overwhelming.
Enter Bobby Bryant, founder and CEO of Ask DOSS.
DOSS is a Houston-based startup that’s participated in two Houston accelerator programs: MassChallenge Houston in 2019 and gBeta in 2020. Bryant credits both programs with having a profound impact on DOSS’ development. Each cohort experience helped his team better understand, share and diagnose problems, build solutions, and ultimately simplify the real estate process for everyone.
21st century real estate
“So you’ve done your research on HAR and Zillow, and you’ve probably found a few homes that you’re interested in,” says Bryant. “What happens next? First off, you don’t have any reason to go back to those sites again, do you?”
For Bryant, the current system is inefficient. Consumers are expected to hunt for homes, shop for realtors and mortgages, find a title company, good insurance, and more—all independent of one another. It’s a process that can only be described as fragmented, inconvenient, and unfriendly to consumers.
“Too many people in the industry ignore the Internet and the one big promise the Internet made to us. It promised to make things easier and cheaper,” Bryant says.
That’s why he’s made it his mission to bring real estate into the 21st century, giving consumers innovative tools and resources to make financially savvy decisions. And Bryant aims to achieve those lofty goals through DOSS, his online platform, which allows customers to navigate the entire life cycle of homeownership in one place.
Selling, buying, renting, purchasing warranties, insurance, hiring a title company; the goal is to have it all under one roof.
Technology is essential
DOSS goes beyond giving consumers innovative tools to play with on their smartphones and laptops; it’s also revolutionizing the way realtors work. The platform aspires to create a new breed of real estate agents, known as tech Agents. DOSS’ website defines these agents as professionals who “leverage technology to increase transactional efficiencies that automate and streamline the real estate process to reduce cost for the consumer without sacrificing service.”
For anyone who’s ever gone house hunting, it certainly makes sense to work with a realtor who is doing everything they can to make the process easy and transparent.
Bryant adds that the need for tech savvy agents is reaching a point of urgency: “Millennials currently make up the largest demographic of buyers, yet the system hasn’t evolved from a Baby Boomer mindset. The majority of realtors might tolerate tech, but they don’t leverage it. Savvier agents are needed to make life efficient and economical for clients and themselves.”
From recession to innovation
Bryant first entered the real estate industry on the mortgage side more than 20 years ago. Following the recession in 2008, however, he transitioned to the online marketplace and began seeking ways to make homeownership simpler. The housing bubble had exposed that buyers were not adequately prepared nor being vetted properly. The solution: Step up and give consumers better tools and resources.
In 2008, Bryant joined iBuy Realty as a Real Estate broker. His experiences over the next eight years would radically change his views of the industry and what needed improvement, namely technology. Those lessons ultimately led to Bryant founding his own company, DOSS, in 2017.
That of course is where MassChallenge and gBeta enter his story. Bryant knew there were still important pieces of the puzzle missing, including being a part of the tech community where he could workshop ideas, diagnose problems and be among peers, rather than on an island by himself.
In addition to seeking out important validation moments and building strong relationships with industry leaders, Bryant was attracted to these accelerators because neither takes equity from participating startups. That’s something Bryant thinks is critical for young, early-stage startups.
Know what stage you’re in
“Accelerators are nothing if you don’t know what you want to get out of them,” he says “It’s so easy to have a full tank of gas but be going in the wrong direction.”
Bryant's main advice for founders applying to MassChallenge and gBeta is to know what stage your startup is really in. That way you can leave the best impression possible with mentors and industry leaders.
During the MassChallenge Houston’s inaugural 2019 class, for example, the DOSS team found itself in the accelerator world for the very first time. They learned a lot about in-kind credits and raising capital. It was a great experience, but Bryant wishes DOSS’ mission had been a little more refined so they could leverage the full benefits of the cohort.
That experience no doubt shaped how DOSS approached gBeta, refining their mission ahead of the program, allowing them to work with experts on more advanced business development, like honing in on messaging and refining their pitch.
Find a mentor
Bryant points to mentorship as an essential part of the cohort process. He cites two mentors in particular: Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston, Inc, and Wogbe Ofori, founder and principal of 360APPROACH, a Houston-based advisory practice that provides guidance and support with an emphasis on small/middle-market growth-stage ventures and turnaround opportunities.”
“Robert was a great advisor, and has helped a lot since with making introductions,” says Bryant.
Connecting with industry leaders like Pieroni and Ofori seems like a no-brainer. The breadth of their knowledge and networks can open doors that founders never expected. Ofori, for example, not only mentors startups for MassChallenge and gener8tor, but also for Founder Institute and Capital Factory, while also acting as a committee chair for Houston Exponential.
Already keeping his promise
“We want to radically evolve the way homes are found, bought and sold, while also servicing the American dream,” he says. “To do that, we need to save you time and money.”
The DOSS app launched in spring 2021 and is now available for iOS, Android and desktop. If you’re looking to buy, rent or sell a home in Houston, Austin or Dallas, you’re in luck. You have an incredible wealth of tools to explore right at your fingertips.
The main reason Bryant wants to create the next era of real estate search and transactional experiences? He believes DOSS can help ensure that every product and service you use is of the highest quality, and that savings can be passed down to both buyer and seller. That definitely sounds like a win-win.