TechStars Boston Alum Placester Raises $2.5 Million For Its Professional Website Builder For Realtors

Posted: May 7, 2013 in Funding & Exits, Startup, Technology
Tags: , , ,

20130507-230236.jpg After launching out of TechStars Boston back in
2011, Cambridge-based real estate marketing
platform Placester has raised $2.5 million in seed
financing in a round led by new Boston seed fund,
Romulus Capital, with participation from other angel
investors. Founded in 2009 by a former real estate agent, Matt Barba, the service helps realtors launch
their own websites. During TechStars, the startup was originally designed
to help realtors with online advertising, but that soon
changed. “Helping real estate professionals promote
their listings online through syndication was our initial
focus,” explains Barba. “However, we quickly learned
that the vast majority of real estate professionals don’t have anything to promote,” he says.
“Essentially, they didn’t have a website. We learned
there was a much more fundamental problem to be
solved: Helping real estate professionals establish
themselves online.” Barba understood first-hand the difficulties realtors
faced in putting their data online, including data
access fees, paperwork, technical challenges, and
more, because of his own background in real estate.
Realtors have to pull their data from MLS (Multiple
Listing Service – the regional entity where real estate professionals enter and store homes that are
available for sale or rent), then pay for an IDX
integration allowing customers to search their listings.
This can be expensive because there are 900 U.S.
MLSes, and the information retrieval methods for
these are not standardized. “This difference is one of the main contributing factors
to the cost of creating a platform that allows real
estate professionals to establish an online presence,”
Barba says. “Additionally, most MLS’s charge fees to
help offset the cost of purchasing the MLS software
from third party vendors, and to provide additional services to the MLS’s agent membership. These
fee’s aren’t overly burdensome to large brokerages,
but can often be in the hundreds of dollars, which can
be overwhelming for individual agents who are just
starting to invest online,” he adds. These challenges lead to customers finding that a lot
of realtors’ websites had out-of-date listings, which is
a poor experience. Meanwhile, the existing website
providers often caused problems of their own: they
were slow to deliver, or used out-of-date technology,
for example. Built alongside co-founder Frederick Townes, formerly
the CTO at Mashable.com, Placester addresses
these problems by offering a platform where realtors
can create their own maintenance-free websites in
around five minutes. The sites are based on
WordPress, optimized for SEO, and are mobile and tablet-friendly. For individual real estate agents, a single package
includes set up, hosting, and MLS fees. Instead of
relying on a third-party solution, Placester built its
own technology to retrieve and update the MLS data
on the fly, which helps keep the websites current. Offered as a freemium service, paid users ($45/
month) also have access to the MLS search
capability, search-indexed listing pages, premium
themes, customer support (phone and email), and
more. Today, the company covers around 85 percent
of the MLSes across the U.S., and is expanding. There are “tens of thousands” of realtors on
Placester, Barba says, but declined to provide exact
figures. Hundreds have converted to the paid product
launched around five months ago, and user growth is
20 percent month-over-month. Also participating in the financing round were David
Anderson, David Cohen, Angel Street Capital, Adam
Berrey, Bob Mason, Josh Summers, Jennifer Lum,
TechStars, and other Boston investors. The round
was raised in three tranches with $800,000 closed
right after TechStars, $650,000 about six months later, and another $1 million closed today. Now a sixteen-person team, the company plans to
use the additional funding to add more themes as well
as grow its MLS coverage to 95 percent. Also in the
works is a formal partner program, which will open up
the platform for others to build on.

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