Ian Wong of Opendoor

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Ian Wong, the co-founder and CTO of Opendoor, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Opendoor – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Real estate is a trillion-dollar industry – an industry that impacts everyone across the U.S. at some point in their lives, whether it’s relocating for a new job, upgrading to accommodate a growing family, or downsizing for retirement. Two-thirds of Americans own homes, and roughly 40 million people move every year.

This is often one of the largest financial decisions a person will make in their lives, but the process has remained relatively unchanged for decades, lacking innovation, choice, convenience and certainty. We set out to tackle this problem in 2014, pioneering iBuying and founding Opendoor with the premise of making the home transaction seamless and hassle-free.

Since then, we’ve been working to reinvent every step in the process, giving people a simple and convenient way to buy, sell, and trade-in homes. With our digital and on-demand platform, we’ve helped more than 75,000 customers move and expanded to 21 U.S. markets. We began by reducing the traditional 90-day home sales process into a few steps online, giving customers control of their move and peace of mind. Opendoor provides a competitive cash offer, removing the headache of repairs, listings, and open houses, and gives consumers a safe way to move on their timelines.

We didn’t stop with redesigning the sale of a home – we’ve made buying a home self-service and on-demand. With the Opendoor app, customers are able to search, self-tour, and submit an offer on their dream home. And for customers who are buying and selling at the same time, Opendoor can line up the purchase and sale in one simple, seamless trade-in transaction.

And most recently, we’ve introduced new ways to help people buy and sell safely with fully-digital, contact-free experiences. Our goal is to help buyers and sellers skip months of stress and uncertainty, and give them more confidence to safely move forward with the next chapter of their lives.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

At Opendoor, we’re modernizing the real estate experience to solve real-world pain points for millions of consumers, and with that come unique and interesting challenges.

Accurately pricing homes has been a key focus. Using large proprietary/3rd party data sets, advanced technology, and data science, we’ve created unprecedented pricing capabilities for the multi-trillion dollar real estate asset class. Given the heterogeneity of homes and the variability of macroeconomic trends, we are continuously refining our home valuation models. We have to estimate both backwards in time and forward into the future, manage inventory risk, and factor in quantitative features, like pools, flooring/fixtures, as well as qualitative features, like curb appeal and interior design. One key challenge lies in leveraging visual signals in our pricing algorithms.

However, where machines have blind spots, our human operators fill in. Our operators help identify variables that contribute to a home’s value (e.g. location near a busy street, sloped driveway, or proximity to a golf course) and our machine learning techniques help them understand how much it matters in the pricing algorithm. It’s a feedback loop that continuously improves our valuation model’s performance.

What does the future hold for Opendoor?

Our mission is to empower everyone with the freedom to move. Providing more choice to our customers has been our priority from day one, and we believe it’s even more important during uncertain times.

Since 2014, over half a million people have requested an Opendoor offer. Yet in many ways, it feels like we’re just getting started. We’re placing bold bets on technology to put more choice, convenience, and certainty into the hands of consumers. We recently announced a new way to sell your home direct to Opendoor in certain markets, giving homeowners the certainty of a home sale without the headaches and hassles of listings, open houses, or repairs. To ensure everyone’s safety in today’s environment, we’ve implemented virtual interior home assessments, eliminating any in-person contact.

We’ve also introduced Home Reserve. With this new option, Opendoor will buy a seller’s next home contingency-free and all cash, so our customers can list their current home on the open market and buy their dream home without a double mortgage or a double move. This option enables buyers to shop the home safely, the customer to move seamlessly, and a contact-free experience for all.

Lastly, we updated our self-touring system to provide remote guidance from a local Opendoor partner agent and the ability to see homes virtually through a live video tour. Homebuyers can also unlock and visit vacant homes via the Opendoor app, and we ensure that there is only one buyer visiting the home at a time. When buyers find a home they love, they can handle the offer process completely online.

We recognize consumer behavior is changing because of COVID-19. Our focus is on ensuring that we can help people safely move with ease and convenience.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in San Francisco?

Many startups are experiencing challenges right now; our company was one of them. But I believe that San Francisco is and will always be a hub for innovation and that we’ll see a lot of exciting new ideas come out of the local tech scene post-COVID.

At Opendoor, we have a talented team of engineers, data scientists, product managers, and designers in San Francisco who are all playing a role in disrupting the real estate industry. But we also believe that the best idea can come from anyone, anywhere. And for our business especially, we’re transforming an industry that transcends every corner of the country, so we need employees who bring diverse skill sets and unique perspectives.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

My advice is to take risks and pursue an endeavor you truly believe in. For me, I took a risk and co-founded Opendoor because I believed in our vision: a vision to rebuild every part of the home buying and selling process to make it simple, automated, and frictionless. We are solving real pain points for millions of consumers across America. Everyday, I am tackling new challenges, building the automated pricing model our business now relies on, and am just as passionate about our vision as I was from day one. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, explore ideas where innovation and impact coincide, and make sure you build a team around you that believes in your vision as much as you do.


For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series