Julie O’Donohue Founder and CEO of Next Address is disrupting the real estate industry with her online platform that connects property buyers and sellers. A former real estate agent, Julie says Australians are charged one of the highest market and advertising fees to sell their home, in the world. Her career experience has included her own Marketing and Events business, a range of Marketing, Communications and PR roles and owner operator of a 55 bed guest house in the Yarra Valley.
With Next Address, Julie’s mission is to bring transparency and lower fees to consumers in the billion dollar real estate industry. She has used her own real estate experiences, as well as that of friends to fuel her business drive. Julie’s used non-traditional funding sources to grow Next Address, including equity crowd funding, aiming to co-create the organisation with like minded investors.
How did the idea for Next Address come to you, and why did you decide to pursue it as a business?
I was walking my dog Tilly while reflecting on a friend’s recent real estate experience as well as my own. The main issues I experienced with the traditional real estate model was the lack of transparency between all parties, and high commission and marketing costs, and even more so the lack of interactive technology and communication being used. The industry was not maximising affordable social media to market homes and not capitalising on smart customer database communications systems, tools that could reduce costs and create efficiencies.
My previous experience as an ex real estate agent made me realise that the property industry was in need of a smarter platform based on direct communication and sharing economy, like Uber and Airbnb. I thought why couldn’t we apply this to the real estate industry in Australia?
The idea got me really excited and I registered the name Next Address as soon as I took the dog off the leash when arriving home. I then become a seeker of talented people to have around me, and together we started building a trustworthy platform that directly match makes sellers and buyers to each other – Next Address was really happening!
You’ve bootstrapped and recently used equity crowdfunding to finance your business growth. Why did you choose these alternatives?
When I realised the potential of Next Address, I knew I had to attract the right people who understood the current issues in the industry and who wanted to be a part of changing the landscape. I had heard of equity crowdfunding and was interested in giving it a go, as the direct communication with investors aligned well with us as a business. Crowdfunding provides an opportunity to have your investors become part of your tribe and also be your storytellers. As users they can also provide worthwhile feedback. Helping create a product that really meets the consumer’s needs.
How has Next Address grown its customer base and built trust in the competitive real estate market?
Our journey has just started, and we see the development of key affiliations and relationships as fundamental to our growth, such as progressive agents and developers, like minded businesses or personal networks. We have done lots of research to help us understand our key customers’ expectations, to be able to provide them with the best possible service. Trust comes with results and as we gain more traction and support, we will put an enormous amount of effort into nurturing reliable relationships.
The real estate industry in Australia is such large sector worth billions of dollars. When looking at the business structure for Next Address I knew I wanted to integrate a percentage of profits to social enterprises and the not for profit sector, and as a business we’re committed to give six per cent of profits to charity. I have worked in the non for profit sector for many years and being able to give back drives everything I do.
What do you think will be the future trends in the real estate industry in Australia and globally over the next decade?
Millennials, who are now looking to enter the real estate market, have grown up with technologies and social media. They have grown up with internet and being able to research things of their own and taking things in their own hands. That is why direct communication and transparency will continue to become more important in most industries.
Next Address will provide an automated system for buyers and sellers to make and accept offers online. An online negotiating tool, removing emotions and personalities from the actual purchase. We are also looking at an automated tool to enable real time participation in the auction process, which will enable all real estate transactions to go through the one portal.
We have seen similar platforms become very successful in several countries already, and in New Zealand 35 per cent of homes are sold using these kinds of sites.
What has been your greatest challenge?
The most challenging part has been to gain presence and maintaining growth amongst large well-established multinationals. But we are here to stay. I think that as long as you believe in your passion and act with humility and grace, you will overcome most challenges.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud to be working with such a great team. They have continued to believe, to pursue and to share Next Address’ values, which is propelling our business forward. This is how we have built a transparent and trusted real estate platform, which at its core, is owned by Australians.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
The most important advice I would tell future female leaders is to find mentors early on. Don’t be afraid to ask them any question, regardless of the size of the matter and how far along the journey you may be.