CEO Andrew Crefeld
Update: HouseLens said Feb. 17, 2016 it had added drone video, photog to its mix. Earlier: It told the SEC 15 October 2015 that it plans a $6MM raise and has $1MM-in. - Ed.
THREE YEARS after Andrew Crefeld released his grip on a full-time dayjob, the 40-year-old IT engineer-turned-entrepreneur is preparing to raise Series A capital for his HouseLens startup.
HouseLens plans to raise a minimum $2MM and as much as $5MM, in order to fund its expansion into a total 40 U.S. markets, up from its current 23 active markets, said founder and CEO Crefeld. There's an immediate "land grab" opportunity to gain market share in the sector, he added.
The six-year-old company is on-track to generate video-sales revenue of $1.8MM this year, up from $850K in 2013; and, 2015 revenue is ballparked at $3.6MM. It aims to reach profitability in 2015, said Crefeld, who holds controlling interest and said he has personally invested more than $300K in the venture.
The company previously received a $500K equity capital investment plus $500K in licensing fees for rights to develop five markets from Stefan and Inga Wiese, a German couple that often vacations in Middle Tennessee, Crefeld said. HouseLens employees also are offered ownership incentives.
The HouseLens board of directors includes Crefeld, Stefan Wiese and James Stover, the latter the founder and CEO of Diagnovus, the Nashville-based startup developer of molecular-diagnostic assays.
A-round proceeds will be used to increase sales and staffing. HouseLens projects it will do more than 10,000 home-sales videos this year, up from 444 produced in full-year 2010. The company recently passed the 1,000-video monthly production mark for the first time, said Crefeld.
HouseLens has 24 full-time employees, 28 independent commissioned sales reps, and a pool of about 60 active freelance talent and field producers, he told VNC.
In 2009, Crefeld made some limited sorties into the Angel and investment communities here and in California, but he has not previously secured institutional investment.
Asked about exit scenarios, Crefeld said while he's focused on growing the company, he sees an eventual sale to a large strategic as a likely outcome. Major sector entrants include Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, Redfin and others, according to VNC research. Zillow gets more than 45 million uniques per month. Nearly half of homebuyers begin their searches online, while about 92% use the Internet for home searches, at some point.
Prior to the Wieses' investment, Crefeld and his wife funded the company by leveraging his previous corporate salary and bonuses, bridging at times with credit cards, ultimately zeroing-out card debt by rolling retirement funds into the company. He was advised in the latter process by Guidant Financial.
Another independent startup company, VideoLens, includes Crefeld and Wiese among its owners. VideoLens is positioned to serve non-real estate clients, and could eventually focus on such verticals as yacht clubs, said Crefeld, adding that VideoLens is not his development priority.
Its other advisors include attorneys with Bone McAllester (Nashville); it banks with Regions; its accounting is by ABS Financial Services (Hermitage, Tenn.); and, its payroll and HR support is provided by Century II.
The company was previously advised by attorneys McKenzie Laird in structuring its employee incentives plan. In addition, local financial advisor Mark Bacurin has been working on modeling for the prospective capital raise, said Crefeld.
Though HouseLens has gained some footing, it has at times been a tough slog.
Since at least 2001, in addition to managing a dayjob he previously held as an IT analyst with Nashville-based Caterpillar Financial, Crefeld devoted what energies he could to video, website and auction-portal development projects. The Dot.com bubble had burst, but he had gained a strong sense of the Internet's potential, he told VNC. YouTube's 2005 launch reinforced his sense of the importance of online video.
By Autumn 2007, Crefeld was producing early versions of online home tours. He formally launched HouseLens in April 2008. In 2011, he left his job with Caterpillar, where he'd worked for a decade, and then did contract IT work to make ends meet, while both HouseLens and the U.S. economy regained traction.
Though Crefeld said he believes the HouseLens model (including its talent pool) buffers it somewhat from competition, he acknowledged that with 5 million residential listings up for grabs each year, competition is likely to heat-up.
In addition to Zillow and other monsters, large national "virtual tour" companies include TourFactory.com (Home Debut, Spokane); HomeJab.com (Philadelphia); CirclePix (Springville, Utah), WellcomeMat.com (Boulder), among others, Crefeld said.
Showcase Photographers, based in Franklin, Tennessee, offers an array of architectural still-photographic services, including interactive floorplans for online display, according to its website. In Nashville, Green Hills-based StudioNow, an AOL affiliate, provides general custom video-production services.
Turning to prospects for cross-border development, the CEO said domestic U.S. potential is so great, international expansion is not likely, near-term, though some consideration has been given to eventual entry into the UK.
Houselens' current US markets include Nashville, Northern Virginia (adjoining D.C.), Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Louisville, Houston, Indianapolis, South Florida and Atlanta, among others.
HouseLens/VideoLens Chief Operating Officer Jim Griffin's prior experience includes duty in franchise development with Maytag Whirlpool Electrolux and in business banking with First Union National Bank. And, he's been involved in a variety of hospitality and real estate businesses.
Chief Marketing Officer David Greenberg has previously played senior corporate marketing roles with Ford, Mazda, Iron Solutions and CNH (Case New Holland), and holds an MBA from Duke University and a bachelor's in marketing from the University of Massachusetts.
The company's CIO is Josh Lomelino; its creative director is Anthony Boshier. Its VP-Sales is Ron Stoneman, who has been aboard since 2010, when he became HouseLens' first full-time sales person.
Crefeld, his wife and their three pre-teen children live in Wilson County's Mt. Juliet, while HouseLens offices are on Rundle Ave., off Fessler's Lane in Nashville.
In 1996, Crefeld earned a bachelor's in electrical engineering at Cedarville University, near Dayton, Ohio. VNC