Faces of Entrepreneurship: Christopher Hussain, Founder & CEO of RealKey

Christopher Hussain is the CEO & Founder of San Francisco-based startup, RealKey,  a centralized mortgage and real estate automation software today after two years of preparation, it accelerates loan processing and drastically shortens property transaction closing times. Hussain took a moment to update the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center on his journey as a founder so far. 

What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
CH: The willingness to take “calculated” risks. So many people try to start businesses without understanding the risks, steps, and resources needed, which is a large part of why so many businesses and startups fail.

Can you describe the a-ha moment that led to the idea of your company?
CH: I was the #1 mortgage originator in the US for 2 straight years. Having completed more mortgages than anyone else in the US during that time, and having been a real estate agent as well, I have a unique perspective on the mortgage/real estate ecosystem. I noticed that the bulk of time spent by all parties involved with buying a house and getting a mortgage was tracking down documents, information, and updates by phone and e-mail. I mapped out a way to solve this problem by connecting all parties into a single centralized portal while having drinks with my ex-co-founder at Sindeo and a mutual friend. They both immediately told me I was onto something. The very next day I began filing paperwork for RealKey and developed the business model. The real aha moment was when I mapped things out, that technology and user mentality has finally caught-up to allow my vision to become a reality. Had I tried doing RealKey years earlier, it just would not have worked.

What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?
CH: You learn a lot through making mistakes. You should not be an entrepreneur if you cannot take a beating (consistently), learn from those mistakes, get back up, and don’t make those mistakes again. Some of my biggest lessons throughout my entrepreneurial career have been:

  • Hire quality people — the money is worth it.
  • Hire fast. Fire Fast. As a startup, you must maintain velocity and momentum by hiring faster than larger corporations, while not allowing the wrong people to stick around too long.
  • Have a good cushion, and be prepared to weather any situation.
  • Profitability is important. Too many companies rely on their next investment to exist.

How is your company changing the landscape?
CH: Buying a house and getting a mortgage involves tons of information and documentation being gathered by countless parties all on different systems. Most of their days are spent e-mailing and calling asking “Where is this? Where is that? Was this ordered? When will this be completed”. RealKey simplifies things as the centralized portal for all information, documentation, and updates by connecting to the systems each party uses today. RealKey then analyzes that data and automates where and how that information is sent to each party, as well as whether more or less data is needed. This creates a ton of transparency for both professionals and consumers on what is happening throughout the process and what is next.

What do you wish you knew when you started — anything you would do differently?
CH: I would have been more conscientious when I started my career about the connections I made. Knowing the right people, being in the right circles, and graduating from the right universities makes fundraising far simpler than it has been. Despite traction beyond the majority of companies receiving funding, fundraising was not easy for our business.

What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
CH: Make sure to look at who you are hiring as your inner circle and leaders internally. It is important they look good on paper as much as their abilities in the workplace. This makes a difference to investors that do not have the time to get to know every member of your team. It is also important to have loyalty and pride in the product being built. This goes a long way on many fronts.

Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
CH: My recently deceased father. He worked from making boxes in a warehouse to being the EVP of Sales for Avnet (one of the largest hardware companies in Silicon Valley). He used to always sing to me at night Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes”. That song has inspired my life to this day. It tells the story of hard work and having high hopes to overcome insurmountable obstacles.

What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
CH:  Success is different for everyone. For me, I want to see my full vision for RealKey through to completion. Success financially will surely follow.

What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
CH:  My highest moment will be getting married this October to my fiance I have been dating 15 years. If speaking of my career, becoming the top mortgage originator in the US for 2 straight years was a big high (RealKey getting into the NAR – National Association of Realtors REach accelerator and winning the Digital Mortgage Best in Show were both big wins as well). As for lows, the housing crisis hurt the most. I lost all of my money and went into extreme debt after putting tons of resources into a large office I had. I am still reeling from the effects that period had on my finances and career.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
CH: The most important thing is to get a good breakfast and get all social media and news updated and out of your system to focus on the rest of the day. Additionally, I find that accomplishing simple tasks in the morning like making the bed, taking out any garbage, putting away dishes, etc. start the day off with the trend of completing tasks.

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known for? What do you want your legacy to be?
Someone who stayed real to myself and did not make it because of my parents’ or because I stepped on someone to get here. All of my family, friends, and colleagues will attest that I have been through a lot and worked very hard to get where I am today. There are too many successful people that have no appreciation or empathy for those in lesser positions in life. It is important to me to always stay grounded and appreciate and celebrate each success that comes.

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