Venture Corner: Taking the Leap
Transforming a runaway hobby into a real estate company
What is your business?
CIMLS.com is an open commercial real estate listings service – essentially a huge database of commercial properties for sale and for lease. Most real estate deals are done through in person contacts. By creating an online marketplace where all interested parties can search and list properties for free, we help investors find and close deals. On top of this free service we offer a premium account with document attachments, more photos, and higher ranking in our search results. Our mission is to make buying property as easy as trading stocks.
Are there competing products out there? How are you different?
There are a couple other big competitors out there that rely on traditional methods (lots and lots of people) to collect and manage data. CIMLS.com is all about automation. Rather than paying people to go take pictures we leverage Google Streetview. Instead of paying an army of researchers to call property owners we use web crawlers to scan broker websites. Making these processes smarter enables us to offer more data for a fraction of the cost.
How did you get the idea?
Really, I started as a customer. Working with my family’s real estate business I realized how little information was accessible to most investors. Options were limited to either complete reliance on brokers for information or shelling out thousands of dollars for access to closed data services.
We looked around for other services, and when we could not find another that fit our needs we made our own. The great thing about coming from this perspective is we approach the business from the mindset of a customer every day.
How did you all meet?
Our venture started as a dot com family business – with my father (Izad Khormaee) and me collaborating on the initial idea. Later we brought in Andrew Parisio – a friend from my undergraduate experience at the University of Washington – to help us build out the technology behind the site.
What were your backgrounds prior to HBS?
Prior to HBS I worked for Microsoft for four years first as a Program Manager in engineering and later as a Technology Evangelist in sales. Izad is a 20-year veteran of the technology industry and real estate investor. Andrew worked for four years running the technology infrastructure at CSG Channels – an international cell center. Our diverse skillset make for a strong group effort – we each know our area of the venture and trust in our team to take care of the rest.
What significant milestones have you hit?
We’ve been working on CIMLS.com for quite a while now. There are a quarter million brokers with over $50 Billion worth of listings nationwide on CIMLS.com today. This answers the question “will people use our service?” with a resounding yes!
What is your next step in the venture process?
Our goal is to transform CIMLS.com from a runaway hobby into a real company. From our work during my RC year and summer we’ve built a great toolkit to offer our customers. The next step is to get out into the Commercial Real Estate Community to make sure everyone knows about what CIMLS.com can offer them. We’ve enlisted the help of Dustin Mann (a fellow OI) to manage our East Coast launch – so stay tuned – we expect great things!
What has been the best part of starting your own venture?
At a big company there are a million and one different demands pulling you away from your core responsibility. At CIMLS.com – there is just one: make our member’s lives better. That’s it. There is no better feeling than waking up each morning knowing we get to focus on that mission every day.
What have been the biggest challenges, and what lessons have you learned so far in the process?
Hiring. One of the great advantages of running a business is the opportunity to choose the people I work with. However, this is the biggest challenge we face today is the onus of finding those people is on us. Finding really great people to work with has been really tough at every level, but worth the effort!
When you have a question about entrepreneurship, where do you turn?
To the customer. The only way to get a real answer on any business decision is to implement it and document the results. Nothing replaces firsthand experience. Nothing.
How do you balance life at HBS with starting your own venture?
Throughout my RC year I was heavily engaged in the day to day operation of the business. Juggling life at HBS with running the company was really tough, but well worth it. The school really does have an amazing and limitless array of resources in the form of all of the people that orbit HBS – faculty, students, and alumni. Interacting with all of these great people has accelerated our growth during the short 9 month school year. However, throwing the company into the balance of sleep, socializing, and schoolwork usually meant sacrificing the former two.
Could you also talk a bit about your decision to defer your second year?
I already miss the HBS campus, and being surrounded by so many amazing people every day. However, deferring my EC year was a surprisingly simple decision. I learned what I needed to run CIMLS.com in my RC year. I need to see this venture through before taking my next step. Then, my EC year will be the perfect time to step back and decide what’s next!
How can HBS encourage more entrepreneurship?
Nothing replaces firsthand experience. If HBS encouraged all students to experience a micro startup (just go build and sell something – anything), I think we would see an explosion in interest. Humans are naturally reluctant to attempt the unknown. So we need to make it a known quantity to eliminate the initial fear.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
If you’re thinking about starting something – just do it. There is no better way to learn than by doing and there is no better time than right now.
Cy Khormaee is a member of OI taking a leave of absence to run CIMLS.com– a free and open commercial real estate marketplace. Formerly he was a Technology Evangelist at the Microsoft Corporation focused on Social Computing. Prior to his role as an Evangelist, Cy was the Program Manager responsible for the analytics engines behind MSN.com and Windows Live Messenger ad sales. Cy holds a Bachelor in Computer Science from the University of Washington.