Nishant Pant is a serial entrepreneur and his latest venture is NEO local agent, an application that connects real estate agents with customers using platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Prior to NEO local agent, Nishant built Trip Karma, a ‘uber’ like app for local carpools and vans. Nishant is an eternal optimist and passionate about technology.
Nishant introduces his startup ‘Neo Local Agent’ which puts the real estate agents a voice command away from their clients by establishing a communication channel via Amazon’s Alexa. With approximately 4,000 real estate agents already on the network, the NEO Local agent is gaining popularity.
Nishant is a serial entrepreneur with his first startup built a knowledge base around local restaurants, parks etc. on iphones early on while the iphone platform was catching on. Even though that startup had 84,000 users and was catching on, Nishant couldn’t monetize it for various reasons. One reason was that competition caught on very quickly.
Even though Nishant has been doing all his ventures as side hustles, he said time was never an issue as he was very passionate about all his ventures. Even though not all of his ventures did not take off, Nishant believes that his optimistic attitude carries him through. Secondly, he believes that success is nothing but a series of failures.
Nishant talked about ideation and vetting initial ideas through some sort of customer adoption filter and secondly working to make sure that there is decent adoption by users. Even if there is no monetary exit, Nishant felt satisfied with user adoption like his app called trip karma which was a uber for local carppols and vans.
Nishant worked extensively with media to get recognition for NEO local agent. He selected relevant real estate media and sent very customized messages to get his app recognized. After one breakthrough, 200 agents signed up for his app and that lifted his platform.Nishant gives few pieces of advice. (1) Entrepreneurship is hard so be very passionate about it (2) Always tell your story. Don’t think people will discover (3)
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hi Nishant welcome to the podcast.
Nishant: Hi Ramesh. Thank you for having me.
Ramesh: So Nishant, tell us what this agent Neo voice technology is all about.
Nishant: Sure. Yeah. So, you might be familiar with Amazon Alexa and Google assistant, right?
Ramesh: Correct, yes.
Nishant: Yeah. So, there are like hundred million Amazon echoes in US households right now. And although the capability right now is still evolving, like you can use it for reminders and you know, finding recipes and stuff like that. But more and more companies are getting creative about how you can use these virtual assistants, which are sitting in people's home waiting for the next command. So, what we have done with agent Neo is, if you are a real estate agent, you can sign up with us and then you get your own Alexa app, which you can give out to your clients and leads. And then from that point on, your clients can simply talk to Alexa for all the real estate needs. So, I’ll give you an example. So, let's say a client is looking for a home, they can just say, Alexa, find me a two-bedroom home in Seattle. So now you gave it two pieces of information. You need a two-bedroom home and you need the location in Seattle. So, what it will do is it will engage you in a quick conversation and it will ask like tell me what's your budget, how many bathrooms? So whatever information you give it in a natural language, it'll understand it and then it will ask you the missing pieces and then it will take that information and hand it to your agent and connect you over a phone call. So that's just one example. There are many ways of interacting with it. Like you can find your home value, you can sell your home, you can book a home showing stuff like that. So, it basically, in a nutshell, it's a communication channel between a real estate agent and their client. And our punchline is we put real estate agents voice command away from their clients.
Ramesh: Okay. So, essentially, you're creating a network of the home buyers and real estate agents using the voice technology so that they're connected and close by while one of the most important transactions in the lives of these people is going on.
Nishant: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. That's what the goal is. That's how we are evolving. So, we have around 4,000 agents on our network right now and slowly as the platform is catching on, we are seeing more and more activity. But yeah, you got it. That's what the whole platform is about.
Ramesh: Okay. So actually, on the side, I was curious like why did you name this agent Neo? Why didn't you just say voice enabled platform for real estate or some boring name like that?
Nishant: That is an interesting question. I didn't think anyone would ask that, but so I'm a big fan of the movie the matrix. Yeah. I am a big fan of the movie. So, in that movie there is a, the main characters name is Neo. Yeah, the main character is Neo. And then since, this is a platform for real estate and real estate agents. So, I kind of merged agent with Neo, so that's how I came up with the name.
Ramesh: Excellent. Very good. So, we know that this is not your first startup, so you had multiple startups. If you could trace back, first, let's go with the entrepreneurial story, right? So, it's before, at some point you switched careers, you left a job and then started. So, what was your first startup?
Nishant: I’ve done so much. I guess part of that, what the significant side. But I’ve done so much that it's hard to trace where my journey started.
Ramesh: But anything that's significant that you can think of. Not necessarily the first one.
Nishant: Yeah, so I would say the first, relatively successful startup I heard was, it was called, it was an iPhone app back in 2012 called locally. And at that time iPhone were just you know the smartphone are just catching on. And then what I did with that was, it was, let’s say you move to a new city and you have no idea what to do with, where is a good dentist, you know, where are the good restaurants? You have no idea. So, like who do you, who do you ask? And at that time, they were just like online forums. You can, you know, like unstructured information on all over the internet. So, Yelp wasn't that well integrated into the community. So, what I did was, so we had an app locally and then what you could do is you can open the app and ask a question say, who is a good dentist around here? And then that question would get sent to all the locals in that area and they could start referring businesses to you. So that's one, or if you could just ask the question like, where is a good park for Kids or dogs and then the locals can start answering your questions. Or let's say you just go, you go to a new restaurant and you're like, like 10 dishes here which one you like to try. So, you can ask a question and that question will go to people who frequent that restaurant and they can start answering your questions. So, it's all, it was all about building a knowledge base, a local knowledge base around communities and which people can share with them.
Ramesh: Yeah. Actually, I was already seeing that . One is you're dabbling with the latest technologies to some extent voice and then you're like a building community on the fly kind of thing.
Nishant: Yeah, yeah. Right, right. So, yeah, so that look, we had a really good reception from the community. We had like 84,000 active users every day on it. So yeah, that's the first significant startup that I remember.
Ramesh: So, was that an exit for that? What did you do with it locally or do you still have it?
Nishant: No, it's not there anymore. So, it was an interesting story. So, we got a lot of traction, a lot of media attention and you know, people using it. But it was kind of a weird situation I was in. I didn't have my green card. I'm an immigrant obviously here. I didn't have my green card at that time. So, when we started getting approached by angel investors and vcs, we always got stuck because we didn't have the green card. So, when you don't have a green card, you can’t quit your job. So, you have to have, have a salary job, otherwise green, your visa gets canceled. So, we couldn't take investment. And because of that, what happened was we couldn't scale in time. And then what happened was within months we got copied by like at least five other competitors, like literally feature to feature got copied and they were able to raise money. And so basically, we just couldn't keep up with them.
Ramesh: So Nishant this is a great story actually. Lots of you know, ups and downs that you're telling us in this podcast. Excellent. So fine. Then is this, what about the agent Neo right now you're doing? Is it, is this your full-time venture or is it a side hustle?
Nishant: No, it's a side hustle. So, like I'm always doing multiple things. Like I have a digital marketing company, I have a web design company, I have a company which competes with Uber and Lyft where I live. So, like I'm always doing multiple things. So, this is just one of the things that I do.
Ramesh: But you don't do not have a salary job or anything. You just, you're an entrepreneur full time.
Nishant: Yes. Now I have a contract job too. So, like I also, you know, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I have acquired so much knowledge by doing things, you know, myself that I also do contract jobs, consulting jobs for companies. Like, let's say a company has the idea and they want to build a start up, then I go in as an expert and then I tell them exactly how to lay things out, how to hire a team, which technology platform to use, stuff like that. So, I do consult too.
Ramesh: Okay, so Nishant then that raises a really good question, which is because a lot of people number one is they don't know where to start. I mean, they have a job, or they got laid or whatever right? They don't know where to start. And here you are a somebody like you who is, who knows so many things and you're dabbling in so many things. So, the first question in this space, how do you find the time to do multiple things?
Nishant: Okay. So, yeah, that's a really interesting question. So, one thing about time is if you are doing something you are passionate about, time magically shows up. You don't have to find time. I mean, you are an entrepreneur and you are so passionate about what you're doing. I'm sure you understand what I'm saying. So, it doesn't magically show up, you don't have to find time. Like a simple example, let's say you are into bodybuilding, you will find time to go to the gym. Like no matter how busy you are, you will find that one or two hours every day and just show up at the gym. So, I think it's all about passion. Time is never a problem. It's about passion.
Ramesh: That’s good. So, second thing is, so the very first one that he talked about the locally thing, so it didn't go anywhere. So obviously that was a not a positive movement for you. I'm sure. I mean, I don't want to call to depress you, but definitely were not happy about that. So how do you pick yourself up from those kinds of situations and say, okay, fine, it's done. I want to do the next one. So how do you do that?
Nishant: Okay. Yeah, that's a good question. You know, when you are in a situation like that, like I explained to you. Lets be frank it's not fun, right? So, it's not easy, easy to do it. But I think for me what works is that I am just in incorrigible optimist, like I guess for the negative things on my mind. So, if something doesn't work out, I just take all the learnings from that. And then I always think of situations like this. So, this example locally, so I did, I created an app from an idea to conception. I was able to approach investors, investors to interest. So, imagine the amount of learning that I had. We were able to scale up the platform to handle 84,000 active users in a day. So, every single step is a huge learning. So, like I always tell my wife that, you know, success is just the last step of a series of failures. Success is not in like, it doesn't, the first step is not success. You know, like you just buy a lottery and you just win the lottery. It doesn't happen like that. So that's how I perceive life. And that's how I perceive all the ventures that I’ve, I undertake that, you know, every step is going to take me somewhere. So, I don't like, I don't get disappointed really. Like that just doesn't happen to me.
Ramesh: Excellent Nishant. Actually, there are two key things that came out of the discussion and let me summarize, because I don't want to miss. One is you said incorrigible optimist, like I then definitely your unrepairable. So, you're an optimist matter what. That's the number one, that's a good thing. The second one, I think you said it's a great nugget. Success is nothing but a series of failures. Success is something that comes at the end of a series of failures. That's beautiful. So then how do you pick your projects? Like, the common thread I saw was that there's some voice technology going on, but the way I look at my entrepreneurial journey, just give an example. I want to have something that gets me a cashflow. So that way you know, other things are not struggling. And once I establish that, then I find other areas where I'm experimenting. I'm passionate about, that may have a longer-term success, but they won't immediately do. So how do you go about your multiple ventures? Like are all of them experimentation or any of them are like giving you some cashflow so you have enough confidence to go invest your time and effort into other things. How do you go about it?
Nishant: Yeah, so when I started my journey, so you know, I'm just really passionate about technology, coding, that kind of stuff. And because I'm so passionate that I'm always reading, you know, online tech magazines, publications and what's coming, what's new, what Google are doing, what's Apple doing? So, since I immerse in that. Anything that new comes up and if I see that, you know, that can solve a problem, then I start thinking of, you know, like how can I leverage this? For example, I tried now augmented reality is big virtual reality is big. I'm already thinking about how we can leverage these technologies to solve a problem or make our lives better. So it is already merged into it. I keep getting ideas, like I’ll come out of the shower and my wife is my partner in crime because like I just bombard her with all my ideas and she's not into technology, but she's a really smart person, she always. She plays the devil's advocate. So, I’ll come out of the shower and I’ll say, you know, an amazing idea and then I’ll tell her this is my idea and then she start poking holes in my theory. And that kind of, I think that really helps me because, you know, I sometimes get really excited about new technology and she kind of helps me bring me back to earth. And so that's how I get my ideas. But then once I have an idea and I do a little bit of brainstorming, research about the idea, the potential. I always, you know, involve my wife, because she is just that person. She's involved in my life that much. But then I’ll go and do some market research. I just don't just jump at it and start working on it. I'll do market research, I’ll talk to people and say, if you had something like this, would you be interested in using it? And if I get a good reception, then I started seriously thinking about how I can do it. And all of my ventures that I’ve done, they are, I would say 80% of them are money making ventures. The target of, because you know, I'm putting in so much of my effort into my ideas. So, when you get a reward for your efforts, that keeps you going. So, the goal always is to generate some kind of income. But I also do community work. For example, I gave you, I mentioned trip karma, a website, which I developed, which competes with Uber and Lyft in the area where I live. So that's purely a community effort. So, all it does is connects riders with drivers. And I don't make any money up from it. But my reward from that is when I meet people and they're using it, I tell them I'm the founder of trip karma. And they recognize me. That's my reward. Reward is always not monetary, but it's important to have some kind of a monetary reward as well.
Ramesh: Excellent. Actually, so Nishant this is another great segment where, so basically, we talked about ideation. So, you come with the initial ideas of Hey, in all the ways technology and then there is some person who kind of put some structure and then says, Hey, you know, is its realistic idea or not? In your case it's your wife. Right? In the other cases like you need to have some mentor, somebody who kind of a sure, you know, put some structure on. The third thing that you talked about is a market research and market viability. Such an important piece because without that, you know, making sure that particular idea is a viable in the market place. And then the entrepreneurs will not be able to, you know, make too far. So that's another thing that you talked about. So good. I mean, there's lots of things. And then in your case you are looking at monetary for sure. Making sure that you are in business, you can bring home some bacon, otherwise you'll be starving. But in addition to that you also, you know, looking for other things like community services, some you know, goodness that you bring through your technology to the society. Right? Excellent. Very good. Okay, so Nishant I want to go into another area where the way, I mean, the reason we got connected in the first place was I was looking for people you know, how they found their first paying customers. Like what are the different strategies that they have you know started off to get the first paying customers. In your case you have a very interesting story of how you wanted to you know, use the media to get the message out and then get the first paying customers. If you could talk a little bit about how you work that idea. Where you are sending queries to the media companies and that kind of stuff. Yup, go ahead please.
Nishant: Okay. Okay. So, like I'm trying to think agent Neo is the really the first platform which is generating a decent amount of income for me. In the past I mean, although I mentioned that locally, we have so many active users, but we didn't, we never got to a point where we were able to monetize the platform. So, in my experience that I have tried, like every single thing that you can think of to get the word out. Because only building a product from just an idea in your head is hard enough. But then getting the word out is really hard, at least, at least from my experience. And you know, you can build the best product out there, but if no one heard about it, then there's no point, right? So, you have to get the word out. So, yeah, in my experience, like I’ve tried like all any kind of advertising platforms, Google ads, Facebook ads, LinkedIn, Twitter, reaching out to influencers or Instagram digital marketers. But what really worked for me is organic growth. So, reaching out to publications online, which are in the same niche that you're launching a product in. If you can get them to write about you, then that's what really brings in the most traffic. So, for example, the agent Neo platform, I reached out, I would say at least 200 magazines in real estate. And I just got lucky that one of the premium magazines in the nation, they wrote an article about me that, you know, this is a new platform and they're launching in next month. And they have a beta right now, so the beta is free for a month. So just that one article got me like, I think around 2000 agents in like three days. It was like ridiculous amount of sign up that I got in three days.
Ramesh: Excellent. I mean, that is I mean, after trying for how long did you have to work on that particular strategy?
Nishant: So, the first time that I noticed that in organic word of mouth growth are like in this case online publication writing about you is, I learned that from locally. And going back to your original question, when you were asking me how to do you feel about locally not being successful. So, what I learned this from locally because locally I was trying word of mouth, emailing my friends, approaching them on Facebook to like it, share it, nothing was working out. But then we got covered on tech crunch and tech crunch and then I think one more magazine, I can't remember which one. And that got us, I would say 80% of our customers like within a week. So, although like you would label it as failure, but really that one golden nugget that I got from locally, that's how that's the most effective way of getting the word out. So, I use the same learning here in Agent Neo. I started reaching out to magazines in my niche, the real estate, and that's the same thing worked here too.
Ramesh: Excellent. Hey Nishant, actually when I was talking to you, something came to my mind. You're the guy, you know, I look at it as somebody who plays with the technology a lot. And always you know, okay this is a little bit of personal question. Do people around you, family or friends think, man, this guy's a crazy guy. He's just playing with all kinds of crazy ideas. I mean, do they think of you like that? And then secondly, if anybody even dare to say in front of you or you came to know about that, I mean did that bother you?
Nishant: Okay, so yeah funny question. Yeah, I like that question. So, if anybody thinks I'm crazy, I think it should be my wife. And if she doesn’t think I am crazy, then I don't really care about anybody else. So that's number one. And second thing is like, When I go out and socialize with friends. I like, I just don't talk about my work at all. Like I never talk about work. I just talk about, you know, what's common between me and my friend and what other kids doing, that kind of stuff. So, I'd never bring up work, so they never know. They just know that I'm a technology guy. That's it.
Ramesh: Okay. Okay. That's fine. So somehow that came to me. So, towards the end of the stretch here Nishant, so looking back at the journey and I know like for example, the green card thing was out of your control things that you can do much about, but things that were in your control from a journey. Are there any things that you think you could have done differently in your entrepreneurial journey?
Nishant: Yeah, so since I'm a technology guy, so I started out as a programmer. I still, I take code quite a bit. And by nature, I was an introvert initially and talking to people and, you know, telling them about stuff I'm working on, that was really hard for me. The selling skills weren't there. But then slowly as I grew older and I went along in my journey, I realized that, you know, that's equally important. So, I had to make an extra effort to change my personality so that I don't, like when I see somebody, I tell them, you know, this is what I'm working on. And I don't give them a like the technological, the details, like what platform I am using all that stuff. Because it's irrelevant to them. But since I'm always trying to solve problems that we face, I connect to them at that level. So, you know, for example the trip karma example I gave you, the community service I did. When I tell somebody I build trip karma, then I tell them, you know, how do you get around here? It's really hard to get around and there is no Uber or Lyft and they say, yeah, I know it's impossible. And then I tell them, you know, I just build this platform and if you want to be a driver on it, you can, because it's a community service that I did. So, telling your story that I think that was the thing that took me awhile to learn that you need to tell your story. Otherwise all the effort you're putting into your product is of no use. If you don't tell the story. So, does that answer your question?
Ramesh: No, it does. But anyway, but that's something that you realized and then you really worked on it. And then so that's great. So last question Nishant, for aspiring entrepreneurs or the entrepreneurs planning to try to grow what advice would you give based on your journey?
Nishant: I think the only advice I can give is that just do what you're passionate about. Because entrepreneurship is really, really hard. I mean it's a very lonely place because when I was, especially when I was switching from my, you know, being a salary job to entrepreneur, it was like none of our friends would understand why am I doing this? Because I was working at night. I would do all these things, no reward inside. First of all, there was no guarantee of any reward that you will ever get. So, unless you're passionate about something, you will end up burning out. So, passion is the only thing that keeps you going because there are so many things that will come your way. So many failures. And the only thing that keeps it going is passion. So, don't get into something just because it is the next hard thing. Do it only if you're passionate about it. That's my only advice I can give.
Ramesh: Excellent. Nishant fantastic podcast. I really enjoyed. I can relate to you from many angles. I'm on the other side of you. I'm more on the marketing and sales side. Less so on the coding side. So, I'm your counterpart on this one. So great podcasts, by the way folks, if you're listening, you can find all great episodes like this at www.rameshdantha.com. That's where you go into the podcast section, www.rameshdantha.com. Nishant Thank you very much.
Nishant: Thank you.