What if there’s a singular solution that automates the day-to-day activities for agents, brokers, and teams? That’s what Elm Street Technology can do for you. Bill Risser welcomes Bondilyn Jolly, the VP of Marketing at Elm Street Technology. Bondilyn talks with Bill about how Elm Street is hyper-focused on being the leader that demonstrates how to run a tech company the right way. Elm Street helps real estate organizations define who they are. When they know what they want to do, how they want to do it, and for whom, they’re better able to position themselves in the market. Listen to this episode to learn more!
Bondilyn Jolly, CMO - Elm Street Technology
I'm talking to Bondilyn Jolly. She's the Chief Marketing Officer of Elm Street Technology. They're doing some interesting things trying to help brokers, agents and teams streamline processes. We're going to talk about Bondilyn's childhood like we always do on this show. We're also going to talk about starting a company in the late-'90s based on email marketing. Bondilyn, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me, Bill.
I was so glad that Molly introduced me to you when we traveled a lot and showed up at conventions and conferences and stuff. It was good to be back on the road.
I'm hoping that that's not changing in Q1. We're off to a rocky start for sure.
We have a few things on the calendar. Fingers crossed that we can continue down that path. You're in California. I grew up in San Diego. I know West Coast very well, but I also know that that's not where you grew up. I love the fact that I can talk to my guests and find out things about different parts of the country and you're in this, I'm going to call it the South Central area of New York in Binghamton. Is that your hometown?
I'm from Binghamton, New York. I grew up close to the Pennsylvania border. My family used to spend a lot of time up on the St. Lawrence River, which is where the US and the Canadian borders meet. I used to spend all of my summers up there.
As a kid, you probably had a cool childhood living in the country. Binghamton is not a big city, right?
It isn't. It's most well-known for the University of Binghamton, IBM in Endicott was there, which is where my dad worked and that's why we were there. I grew up in a rural community where the road I lived on turned into a dirt road as you got a little past my house. I grew up playing out in the woods and making mud pies, climbing trees and skinning knees. That was my childhood. I did my undergrad in Ithaca, but I was very much inclined to head South and get away from that cold weather as soon as I could. I always say, "I may not have been born in the South, but I moved there."
[bctt tweet="Streamline and automate your daily activities as much as possible. " username="billrisser"]
The path that we're going to talk about is how you ended up in Louisiana. You mentioned Ithaca College. I did a little research on that school and saw that it's up on the Southern tip of one of the Finger Lakes. Finger Lakes, for the people who don't know, are these series of long skinny lakes that are a couple of hours north of Binghamton, or maybe a little closer than that.
About an hour and a half outside of Binghamton. It's a stunning area. Cornell University is there as well. Ithaca houses fantastic universities that sit on opposite hills from each other.
Talk about that experience. You're eighteen and moving out of the house for the first time, far enough away that it's difficult for the parents to do a drop-in.
They could come up for all of my performances. I was a Music Major, studying Music Education and Performance. It was nice because if I had a concert or something like that, my parents would drive up to attend it. I could always go home on a weekend if I wanted to, but I had that sense of independence living in Ithaca as well. I did my undergrad in Music. A lot of people will ask me, "How did you go from music into running a software company?" It's interesting because whatever it is that side of the brain, that whole creative processes side lends itself to that business development side for me, they run in parallel.
I'll ask you another question about that, but first, you can't say music. We need the details. What are the specifics? What was your instrument?
I spent years as a classically trained pianist, but I majored in Percussion when I went to college. I was an orchestral percussionist. I specialized in the marimba, a large keyboard percussion instrument, and I studied at Ithaca with a gentleman named Gordon Stout, one of the premier marimbas in the world. I had the pleasure to spend four years studying with him. I was invited after that to do some Master's work in Austria and study Conducting. I had gotten heavily in the Conducting. Instead of studying Conducting, I chose to marry this cute guy named Ethan Jolly and to this day, I don't regret that choice.
A marimba. Those who are reading can go check that out. Do you still have a piano at home? Is it something you still play?
I have a beautiful music room in my house. I passed down the love of music to my daughter, who is a musical theater freak and a beautiful vocalist. She plays some piano and we have guitars and percussive instruments. You can come in and take over our music room any time, any of our guests.
[caption id="attachment_4126" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Elm Street Technology: The creative side of the brain lends itself to the business development side.[/caption]
Marketing or running a company wasn't in your plans as you're graduating from Ithaca. What was your first job?
My first job was as a music teacher. Ethan and I got married right out of college. We settled in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. I was an elementary school music teacher. It was a lot of fun, but after about a year and a half of doing that, my husband was transferred with his work to the New Orleans area. I ended up leaving in the middle of the school year and moving to New Orleans. At that time, I was like, "I can't necessarily go to a teaching job." I was doing substitute teaching.
I started doing some sales and marketing consulting for a large athletic club down in the New Orleans area. This is back in the late-1990s. I developed their very first website for them. They were having some retention issues, trouble communicating with their membership because they had to rely on the membership to come into the club back then to find out what was going on. The internet was popping into existence. I taught myself HTML and built their very first website as a means to disseminate information to the public. Within six months of doing that, I had so much business in the New Orleans area that I started my company out of a spare bedroom in my house. The rest is history.
You were helping people develop their sites. You're getting that entire background going?
It's funny because I did not know HTML myself. I was strong in sales and marketing. It was a natural avenue for me. At the point that I started to need a developer, I hired this young guy. He was in college at Tulane in New Orleans. I hired him as a part-timer and he ended up becoming my CTO and to this day, he is my lead engineer at Elm Street, years later. He's one of my work husbands, as you say.
He was with you when you founded that eMerge?
My company was called New Millennium Designs and then it became NMD Inc, and eMerge was a software product that we developed, an email marketing automation platform. We developed that, but then we very quickly became known as eMerge, so we would do business as eMerge. By the time I sold out the company, it was that eMerge platform was what was being acquired was that piece of technology.
I remember an email popping up somewhere in the early to mid-'90s, where it was being used actively. I was with the San Diego Padres at the time. Instead of having dumb terminals, we all got a PC for the first time. You were early in on the game there. Was it focused on the real estate area right from the beginning?
[bctt tweet="Stay open to ideas and allow things to evolve organically. " username="billrisser"]
It wasn't. We worked in law enforcement. We had an account that was a large government contractor. They will call watch systems to this day. We developed a software platform for them called the Offender Watch, which is the largest and most comprehensive sex offender management system in the United States. I had that software contract with them, but what happened was a lot of these law enforcement agencies across the United States were either federally or locally mandated to disseminate sex offender information to their constituency.
We built the system. It was an email and a direct mail system that would automatically pull sex offender records. If there was a relocation or a new record, it would automatically run appropriate geo searches on that regional area and send out email and direct mail notifications to the constituency. That was the base system that we built. What happened is a lot of these law enforcement agencies were coming to us and saying, "We want to send communication that isn't connected into this giant software solution. We want to send general communication."
We were referring people out to these SMBs, like the constant contacts. MailChimp was coming on the scene, yet these law enforcement agencies had some very specific criteria into which they had to communicate. These off-the-shelf solutions like the constant contact and MailChimp were not able to service those needs.
We ended up pulling that communication automation component of what we developed in this giant software and we pulled it out and packaged it separately as eMerge. We were able to customize and the experiences and the communication workflows based on the needs of our government clients. That's how it started and then we got stuck into real estate.
Let's talk about that. There had to be some person somewhere that was connected to the industry that said, "We need help with this part of it." Somebody saw what was coming as far as marketing. What was that connection?
In New Orleans, there was a large Keller Williams office. We had quite a few of their agents who came to us and started using the platform. That's when we started developing some content specific to the real estate space. It was an opportunity to do some testing inside of RE/MAX. We initially worked with RE/MAX's North American franchise team. We came in and did a case study with them. It blew up for us and it was strong. I credit the RE/MAX organization as the group that introduced and pulled me into the real estate space. That's where we started defining who we were inside of the space.
I entered the space doing franchise initiatives and business growth strategies, working with companies, and to this day, I still do a lot of consulting on that level, business growth, M&A, franchise development, recruitment and retention. We build and develop a lot of campaign strategies on our platform around that.
Once you saw the opportunity in the world of real estate, did the company then keep focused there and try to make that better?
[caption id="attachment_4127" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Elm Street Technology: The OffenderWatch is the largest and most comprehensive sex offender management system in the United States.[/caption]
We made one of those early mistakes that a lot of startup companies do, where for a bit, we were trying to be a little bit of everything to everyone. We were thinking we were going to compete aggressively in the SMB space. We were doing a lot of work in travel and tourism. We came into the real estate sector and so for a while, we kept thinking, "We're going to have a division. That's going to focus inside of each one of these business verticals." It became a little overwhelming.
We analyzed and said, "Where are our key opportunities? Where are the bulk of our clients live?" Real estate was that obvious choice for us. We ended up focusing aggressively there. We do a lot of work in ancillary type models, mortgage, lending, insurance, etc. We've used real estate as that foundation from where we started and then we've branched out from there.
You had offices for NMD or eMerge in Louisiana and California. What timeframe are we talking about when you started to focus on real estate? Is this the early 2000s?
It's been several years since we've been focused on the real estate space.
You've been at your company for a long time. What did the advent of social media mean for your company? There are some key connecting points there between, "What was happening in 2007 and 2008 and what you were doing with email?" Can you talk about that a little bit?
When we came out, we said, "We're going to be this the best of the best of email marketing automation." That's where our core focus was and then social media hit the conversation. It was very quickly that people were saying to us, "I've created this amazing email, but I want to share that content on Facebook. I wanted to go to LinkedIn."
Facebook was the first integration that we did as soon as they opened up their APIs. We came in and integrated with them. Very quickly, we integrated with Twitter and LinkedIn. We tried to expand all of that. It's important to allow people to consolidate and streamline their communication. For us, it was like if I'm creating a thoughtful and meaningful email piece, I want to be able to say, "I want it to look like this when it goes to LinkedIn. I want this to go to LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram. They might even want it to go out to Pinterest,” whatever that case is.
Being able to shape that story inside of one interface, syndicate and distribute that, and then analyze the outcome. That was big for us because a lot of our clients that we're working with would create an email with us, and then they'd have to go into Facebook and reiterate, and then LinkedIn, etc. We were looking at this problem or this challenge presented and how we could bring in technology that would help streamline and automate those daily activities for people. That's what eMerge became.
[bctt tweet="Define who you are and how best you can position yourself where you are. " username="billrisser"]
If we fast forward to 2018, you're still doing the same thing. You're still trying to figure out how to take all these different pieces and parts and make it all work seamlessly in the real estate space, but now you're doing it as part of Elm Street Technology. Let's talk about how you connected with them.
Elm Street was pretty new on the scene. They came out around 2015, 2016, they were founded. They were trying to solve a fundamental problem in the space. We have this problem with tech fatigue. Brokers are using anywhere from 15 to 20 technology products to manage their day-to-day. Agents are using 10 to 12 technology products. It can be very overwhelming and none of these technology products necessarily speak to each other.
That example I shared with eMerge where we were creating an email here, you were going to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter over here. Elm Street was a company that said, "We want to build a singular solution that runs on a singular data stack that will automate every step of the day-to-day for agents, brokers and teams.”
They were somebody who was on my radar. I'd been introduced to the CEO, Prem Luthra, by a mutual friend. At the time we started talking to them, we weren't interested in an acquisition. We weren't looking to be acquired, but we were searching out CRM solutions for integration opportunities with eMerge. I started having conversations with Prem in early-2018 and he ended up hiring me in a consulting role to come in and do some marketing work with the organization at the time. The more we got to know each other, the more we talked, the more I understood what the Elm Street vision was. It made more sense for us to come together and align.
To this day, the eMerge platform serves as the marketing automation arm of the Elevate platform, which is the primary tech stack for the CRM solution of Elm Street. It was synergistic for us and as a business leader, you always have to stay open to ideas and opportunities and allow things to evolve organically. That was a few years ago that we made that choice to merge with Elm Street and I haven't looked back for one second.
It seems like you were in that perfect situation where it wasn't out of necessity. You are able to get to know Prem, the company, and what they stood for. That's the ideal situation for forming a partnership.
Mergers and acquisitions, M&A activity, can be very nerve-wracking for people. From me and Prem's standpoint, we were exploring how we can create a win-win scenario. "What is this look like for us mutually?" We were able to come pretty easily to terms that were equitable on both sides of the table. We were the fifth acquisition of Elm Street. We completed our twelfth acquisition on New Year's Eve 2021. We're a company that's growing rapidly. We're focused on bringing that best-in-class technology to fill out this very comprehensive product suite.
I've had a lot of conversations with companies coming into us, looking at us and sharing my story. If you come into it with that win-win strategy from both sides of the table, it's going to be okay, but you need to do it for all the right reasons. There are a lot of people that do it for the paycheck. They exit and they leave their staff high and dry. I was able to bring in my entire team and to this day, everybody that came into that acquisition with me is still there and has meaningful roles within the organization, and that's important.
[caption id="attachment_4128" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Elm Street Technology: You can't manage what you can't measure.[/caption]
Without naming names, have you had a conversation with a company or two where you went, "Not a fit?"
I did. We had companies that had approached us. At the time I had these conversations,...