Greg Robertson: We began working with this company called J. Williams and the owner of the company is John Morris. He’s an eccentric character. He had this great CMA program, but it didn’t really have great MOS access capabilities.
One of my co-founders, Dan the programmer, had figured out how to not only bring data from the MOS system but also the photos. We had a marriage so to speak.
We would use our program which was called Lightning and their program was called Sellmore. It was the first comparative market analysis that actually had photos in it. It was a big innovation because now when agents are presenting their CMA, there are photos of the other comparable properties which is a very cool thing.
We ended up acquiring that company. Not only did we have MOS access software that we were selling across the country, but now we also have this reporting software. We called it Lightning CMA Plus which we sold around the country as well. It worked with our current software.
We did that and this was right around 98’-99’ when the internet started coming. We saw a lot of companies and their space being sold to internet companies. They’re selling for all stocks and the stock was going crazy. They were becoming millionaires and it was pretty exciting.
Then right around the end of 98’ or 99’, we got a phone call. It was an internet company. It was one of the first listing portals putting listings online that was inquiring about acquiring us. We also submitted, during the same time, an application for the Inc 500 which is a list of fastest private companies in the country.
When we filled out our application, it asked for a CEO. It asked for our positions. We really didn’t have a CEO. I was the director of sales and marketing. Maggie was the director of the customer service. Andy was the director of operations. Dan was the director of technology. We were all equal partners. We had no VC company. It was all bootstrapped. We just stair-stepped over time.
As we made more money, Eddie was the first to leave his job. Then Maggie, and then Dan was the last. We got some consulting gigs in the middle there, so it was a self-funded bootstrapped operation.
When we submitted that to a magazine for Inc 500 for 2000, some writer picked it up and said this company doesn’t have a CEO. They called us and they thought we had an interesting story and said they wanted to feature us in the Inc 500 magazine for 2000. We talked to a reporter. They sent a photographer over.
We were featured in a five-page article on Inc magazine. We were listed at 192. When all of that was happening, we were negotiating to sell to a company called Home Seekers. We negotiated that and we negotiated for $9 million, which was all stock. We were hoping of course that it would turn into much more money than $9 million.
Right around the end of 1999, we sold the company to Home Seeker and that was when the dot-com bomb hit. A lot of internet companies went out of business. Home Seekers got caught up in that. At one point, they got delisted from Nasdaq and they went bankrupt.
You could argue that it cost us money to sell to these guys. After building the company for so many years, all four of us ended up with basically nothing. Two of my co-founders, Maggie and Eddie, had to let go.
Sramana Mitra: What was your revenue level at this point?
Greg Robertson: At that point, I think we were at $4 million.
Sramana Mitra: Was that in 1998?
Greg Robertson: It was probably 1999. Remember, this was back in the day where we literally sold software boxes with a manual in it. It’s not a subscription-based thing. We got acquired and the negotiated price was $9 million in all-stock because that was what everybody was doing.
We started working there, and we all got raises which we thought was great because we were not making a lot. We probably each got a 35% raise but then things went pretty south quickly. You’re talking about the year 2000 to 2001. That was the dot-com bomb problems. A lot of these internet companies that were all riding high got hammered by the stock market.
Eventually, Home Seekers got delisted and then they filed bankruptcy. We never saw a dime out of the acquisition, which was really heartbreaking. During that time, they had laid off two of my co-founders – Maggie and Eddie. They wanted a programmer, Dan, and they wanted a sales guy. I guess they already had an operations guy and already had a lot of support people. That was a big travesty as well.