We caught up with this year’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner to see how the Philadelphia business community has contributed to their success. Check out what Mike Maher, Co-Founder & CEO of Houwzer has to say as we highlight one of the excellent small businesses that drives the Greater Philadelphia region. Join us to celebrate the 35th Annual Excellence Award winners on Thursday, November 9.
Where did the idea for you business come from?
My co-founder, a real estate developer, was tired of paying expensive listings commissions to traditional real estate agents. Watching what Uber was doing to the taxi industry in real-time, we thought there was a huge opportunity to reimagine the real estate brokerage experience.
Describe the moment that you decided to go into business for yourself. How did you feel once you made the decision?
This was my second time creating a startup from scratch, so it wasn’t necessarily the feeling of risk versus reward. But there was definitely a feeling of fear and self doubt because this was a big problem we we’re attempting to solve. I had built up a high tolerance for uncertainty and have always relied on my faith.
Who has been an inspiration to you as a business owner and why?
From a business perspective, once I first learned about Josh Kopelman and his story, he immediately became the model that both inspires me and drives me. Josh is an innovator, a true analyst, and the very best at what he does.
What makes your business model special?
It’s a cliché answer, but it’s most certainly all about the people at Houwzer. In a world of 1099 independent contractor real estate agents, it’s humbling to create a new model that empowers, trains, and positions agents to not just survive, but also succeed and thrive.
What is your business philosophy?
I’m a mission first leader. I believe there are two questions to ask before making a decision: 1) is it in the best interest of the customer and 2) is it in the best interest of our employees. That rubric makes achieving the mission simple. I truly believe the single biggest factor in determining the success or failure of an organization is the level of belief in a unified mission by each and every member of the team.
What is the most challenging about owning/running a business in the region? How do you deal with the challenges? What’s your secret to success?
First, I love Philly and the support I’ve received from so many people and organizations. There are certainly challenges that are somewhat unique to Philly, but we try not to focus on those things. Our secret to success is focusing on execution and having a growth mindset.
What’s so special about the Greater Philadelphia business community?
I love how small it is for the 5th largest city in the country. If you’re doing something interesting, there’s no one you can’t reach, and if you reach out for advice, people will give you time and be helpful.
Others will be looking to you for advice about starting and/or operating a business here. What are your top 3 tips?
- Don’t be afraid to fail, but believe failure is not an option.
- Focus on the mission and execution.
- Have a growth mindset built around passion and purpose.
What does it mean to you personally and/or to your business to be named an Excellence Award winner?
It’s certainly humbling personally, but it’s huge for the company. Our company is one big team, and I’m just the guy setting the vision. All the credit goes to them for their belief, diligence, and execution.
What are your strategic growth plans for the next 3-5 years?
We’re looking to raise at least 1-2 more venture rounds, scale the business into a national brand, reimagine the entire ecosystem of the home buying and selling experience, and ultimately become a $1B company.
What’s the most unexpected thing that has happened while running your business?
The most unexpected thing for me was being able to get to 50 FTE’s so quickly. In many ways, it caught us off-guard, but we’re laser focused on maintaining the culture we’ve built to date.
What resources or opportunities in the region helped your business succeed?
There are too many to name, but organizations like GPVN, PSL, Comcast, and others have been critical to my success personally. But if it wasn’t for my experiences while building Benjamin’s Desk and Bunker Labs, we wouldn’t have been able to grow so quickly as a company.
What resources do we need more of in the region to help our business community succeed?
We need a greater focus on the entrepreneurial and technology communities and the role they currently play and will continue play in the future.
Is there another business in the region you admire? Why?
I’m a big fan of the culture and scale that Nick Bayer has been able to build at Saxbys. Not only does Nick live out those values, but it’s also evident when you step into one of his operations.
What’s something that you think would surprise people about your business?
People are always surprised when they realize that we don’t make money off our listings. Yes, we list people’s homes for half the cost and the listing side of our business is a complete loss leader.