Businesses often spring from problems that founders encounter and then solve. But sometimes, founders are implored to open up shop because potential customers are insistent. The latter is the case for the inception of Curaytor.
Chris Smith already had a full-time job and was, by all accounts, crushing it. He was a charismatic salesperson for one of the biggest publicly traded real-estate software companies at the time. He traveled around the US, imploring realtors to maximize their individual growth and sales through social media. There was just one problem: Chris was too good at convincing people he had all of the answers. Instead of following in his footsteps, they wanted him to do the work.
Curaytor is a digital marketing and sales platform that offers websites, social media ads, and strategies to help real estate brands and businesses sell more effectively. But Chris didn’t set out to build this successful venture, at least not initially.
He says, “We would do seminars that teach social media to real estate agents, who are usually a little older. My buddy, Steve, trained me, and we were great at it. People liked our style, humor, and pace. It was as if we were going on tour. People would line up and try to hire us – every single time. It would always be the top people and they would say, “We love everything you just said but we don’t want to learn it, can we just pay you to do it?”
“I heard that, no lie, hundreds of times over three years. It wasn’t necessarily solving my own problem, it was more – there’s an issue. The software is not enough. People don’t care which website or email tool they’re using. There are a lot of people who have reached a certain point in their careers, and they just want to outsource it to a trusted, sharp group of people. These people felt comfortable doing that with me. So finally, after many years, I thought, all right, let me try to figure out how this works.”
At the time, Chris was a part of an active real-estate Facebook group. He made “internet friends” with a couple of like-minded individuals who saw the power of social media specifically for realtors. Many of the people in this group were imploring Chris to start a company but he was hesitant until he discovered that one of his new buddies had a technical background. If they banded together, their skill sets would complement each other.
Creating a Team to Divide and Conquer
Chris describes his co-founders as follows: “Jimmy (Mackin) was more public-facing but Andrew (Leafe) was burning the midnight oil. It became a good kind of trifecta because I was the face of sales and marketing when people signed up and then they went to Jimmy who was client-facing behind the scenes. Andrew was doing his thing, as coders do.”
Andrew’s challenge was to figure out how to get all realtor platforms (think email programs and RSS feeds) working together: “It was a lot of APIs and webhooks. This was before Zapier existed so you couldn’t connect MailChimp with any real estate CRM.” Chris explains that the early days of Curaytor were about building “a lot of relationships behind the scenes” and showing the companies the value in interfacing with other companies.
Curaytor was equal parts agency and marketing company, which eventually manifested into a proprietary CMS. Chris defines Curaytor as “a SaaS company with a services department.”
Chris was excited to finally offer his services: “I was finishing up my last couple of speaking gigs, and I decided to see what would happen if I pitched our services. We would take over all marketing for realtors. I pitched a $5,000 setup fee and $3,000 a month. Everyone fought to sign up.”
Quickly Developing a Deep Roster of Services
In the early days of Curaytor, Chris and his team figured out what clients wanted right alongside them. “We said, ‘We’ll do all of your marketing for you,’ but there wasn’t necessarily a definition of what that means to each person. At first, it was just a landing page for seller leads and a Facebook ad. We’d get that up and running.”
Chris describes the process as a gradual accumulation of offerings: “Slowly it morphed into building websites. Then email marketing, blog publishing, and lots more. But from day one, people wanted our social media skills and everything we could do with digital marketing.”
Curaytor assessed needs, and then went directly to the specialized companies to acquire the services. When the clients paid Curaytor, Chris and his team paid all of the vendors. The monthly recurring fee covered the software subscriptions plus a service fee.
Chris says, “We had a couple of agreements where we would get a percent back every time we sold services because we’re basically their Salesforce. We helped some really cool startups get their first several hundred or thousand customers. We were just better at selling their stuff than they were.”
Great Content Sells
Chris stresses that there is no substitute for strong content. “We have a 70,000-strong email database,” Chris says. “We have great content. We get high open rates because we send stuff people want to read. We’re probably 90 percent or more content marketing. We share more than most people probably would. We say exactly what you should do if you don’t hire us. But if you like everything we have to say and you’re too busy – that has always been our pitch – we’ll set it up and run it.”
Chris and Jimmy offer inspiring webinars and videos on their website. They have a business podcast, Water Cooler, with topics like 5 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Marketing. Chris has written a USA Today bestseller titled The Conversion Code. They see so much value in inspiring others and don’t shy away from sharing knowledge. But it’s never sanctimonious and always informational.
Chris’s initial team of three is now 50 strong. They grew at such a rapid pace, Chris didn’t have time to do all of the sales demos on his own. There was a period where he ran a demo on the hour, every hour. In dire need of help, he called up an old colleague who was exceptional at sales. Chris told him, “These leads are easy to close. All you have to do is keep them excited because we will crush it for them.” Chris was right. The sales were hot then and continue to this day.
It’s not all fun and games, though. Chris says, “You have to continually hire as you grow, but what happens when the wind stops? When Covid hits or you just bought a product release and a new competitor enters the market and gets a bunch of your customers to go try them. We are a service business. It’s tricky.”
Curaytor recently acquired a technology company, Fourwalls, on MicroAcquire, and is rolling the services into Curaytor’s offerings.
Jimmy says, “Our plan is simple: We’re going to integrate Fourwalls’ expertise in real estate data with Curaytor’s proprietary access to thousands of social media ads, video marketing campaigns, email marketing campaigns, and website data from the top agents in the industry. Acquiring Fourwalls allows Curaytor to understand, visualize, and extract value from hard data. It also eliminates the guesswork in growing your real-estate business.”
Curaytor is certainly onto something and the numbers (over $10 million ARR) don’t lie. Curaytor has figured out that giving people what they want is a secret worth sharing.
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