Derek Devore is the founder of Duvora, a team of home search professionals that help home buyers increase their success of finding a new home quicker and easier.
Before devoting full time to Duvora, Derek served as a web developer and marketing consultant providing advertising solutions to companies such as Google, Technicolor Studios, 20th Century Fox as well as providing real estate agents with marketing solutions for high-end luxury real estate in Beverly Hills, Hollywood Hills and Bel Air areas of Los Angeles, CA.
In addition to providing technology solutions, Derek enjoys sharing his knowledge with other entrepreneurs and likes to spend time on Quora, Medium and LinkedIn answering questions and providing value to startups and others looking to start their business career.
In this interview with Startup Savant, Derek shares his entrepreneurial journey disrupting how home buyers would find their dream homes. Having a background in web development, Derek shares how he developed the new home search platform drawing on his person-to-person approach to clients. He also shares persuasive advice on how to fuel your passion and realize we only have now to start.
His advice for entrepreneurs starting a business:
Get your product out early and to as many people as possible in your focus group. This is so important. Be prepared to start, restart and pivot several times in these early stages. Get your legal stuff out of the way and make sure it’s solid. Work relentlessly on your “mental” game. Always choose (yes, it’s a choice) to be optimistic and goal-oriented.
Why did you start Duvora? Can you tell me a little bit about your business and what you do?
Duvora is a free home search concierge service for home buyers. We basically handle your entire home search for you, from start to finish. A buyer will tell us what they're looking for in a new home and we go out and find it. It’s that simple.
This frees up a ton of time from their busy schedules. It’s a fantastic service for an entrepreneur, families with small children, new moms or dads, or basically anyone with limited time to search for their new home.
I started the company out of frustration from the current state of online home search. I believe that no one should need to go on 10 different websites to search through hundreds of property listings, speak to dozens of realtors, receiving constant email alerts, getting phone calls from realtors trying to pitch them properties they don’t really want...why can’t someone else handle all of this for them?
In this day and age, I know that I can grab my phone and order food, or a car ride, or a massage or psychological therapy. Basically, anything immediately. Yet nothing like this exists yet for home search? We want to change this.
When did you know that you had a business on your hands and not just a ‘good idea’? (The ‘Aha!’ moment)
This happened when we “soft launched” the product to a small group of people in the beginning. We received such heartwarming feedback and a lot of “Thank you” emails and phone calls. It was a moment of clarity - like, “Wow, this is something people really need.”
I truly believe that any entrepreneur has the ability to disrupt any industry if they're willing to really look deep into the pain points of individuals and solve their problems. The reason most get stuck is that their thinking has been conditioned by their environment into thinking like the masses; i.e., “This is the way it’s always been and there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken, etc.”
I believe the key is to understand what the consumer wants and deliver it to them, before they even knew they needed it.
Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest? How did you find it and ‘niche down’?
I think our competitive advantage is that we are a human-to-human contact business. There is a thin technology layer on top of what we do to keep things running smoothly, but at the core we are a service which is driven by human interaction between the home buyers and our team of representatives.
There is no shortage of apps and sites which can deliver a computer-generated list of properties which match certain criteria, driven by keyword-related searches and algorithms. However, these algorithms can’t judge how a buyer feels about a certain area. Nor do they know the difference between a “warm Spanish style home” versus a “cold Modern-looking one”. This is how we are different.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? Is there something you are most proud of?
The most exciting thing about being an entrepreneur is seeing your ideas and dreams unfold in front of your eyes and begin to take flight in ways you didn’t think were possible.
I spent so many years doing things which didn’t make me happy. Different jobs, different relationships...all these things we inherit from this blueprint we're given at an early age. Entrepreneurship not only gives you a sense of freedom, but it’s one of the greatest gifts that you can give to yourself because you're expressing the real you to the world while simultaneously solving its problems.
I guess I’m most proud of being able to say that I’ve broken the mold and continued to make my passions my living. To me, this is priceless.
When you started Duvora, how did you plan everything out? Any resources you used to write a solid business plan?
I never wrote a business plan. I just started “doing”. I built and launched the MVP quickly so I could start getting feedback right away. I took this feedback very seriously to make the service better and better. I kept changing things organically while tracking the progress along the way. From there, I went out and just started spreading the word about the service to anyone who I thought might be a potential home buyer.
I wanted to have a hand in most everything at the company. Everything from writing some code, to designing, to taking customer phone calls, blogging, copywriting, etc. I wanted to understand clearly each part of the process early so I could communicate clearly to the people I would hire later.
Looking back on this, it’s probably not the best way to go about things, but I always had a feeling that if I delegate too much early on, I wouldn’t understand how things are progressing or in what direction.
How did you find the time and money to get Duvora off the ground? Any advice for entrepreneurs with minimal time or resources?
Well, the time part wasn’t really that difficult. I made a strict regimen of waking up at 4:45am every morning. Since we have a small son, it’s important for me to always plan my day the night before so I know exactly what I’m doing in half-hour increments. I basically live at the mercy of my iCalendar. This keeps me focused and on-track; plus I know that I’m making time for him which is the most important to me.
As far as funding goes, I funded the business with my own money from investing and in real estate. Acquiring rental properties during the market crash was one of the best decisions I’ve made since this income keeps me from having to spend my time doing things which aren’t my focus.
I also wanted to keep 100% ownership in my company early on. I’ve always feared that diluting the company too early might back me into a corner and leave not much equity to divide in the future if I really needed to do so. I made a decision to keep full ownership in the early stages.
How do you balance life and work to remain connected and available for your loved ones? Any advice for me?
My advice would be to plan your day, methodically, the night before. I always know that my calendar is filled and my ideas are out of my head and put into Evernote so I can refer back to them at a moment’s notice. This helps me clear my mind and focus.
Also, set aside one day where you can actually not do ANY work - completely shut off and go enjoy life with your family in some unplugged location. Treat this like your weekly therapy, because it really is that important. Being an entrepreneur is hard and your mind, body, and soul need some time to recharge and get re-balanced.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you have hit with your business? What was the #1 thing you did TO get there?
The biggest milestone for me was a personal one. It was the milestone of passing through the first year without giving up. So many things happened during that first year of the business that I really felt defeated at times. There were legal problems, site development problems, employees who left to go to other ventures, etc. I took a lot of time to reflect back on my life and my professional career to realize that I had no shortage of good ideas, but didn’t withstand the turmoil to see them through to the end.
The number one thing I did to get to that point was just make a final decision about the way I wanted my life to turn out. Once this decision was made, I made a solid promise to myself that I WILL see this through to the very end. Whether it becomes a failure or an overwhelming success, I will always keep the momentum going forward no matter what.
Who has been your greatest influence as an entrepreneur? How did they shape your business?
I can’t really say that I’ve had only one great influence. It’s more attributed to being a keen observer to successful business people and trying to “reverse engineer” their methods to success. Not only their business methods, but their attitudes toward failure and being resilient through the tough times.
I try to read as much as I can about people like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Sara Blakely and try to visualize myself taking a similar professional path. I’m a firm believer of spending a little bit of time each day to attempt to visualize where you want to be in 5, 10, even 20 years in the future.
I really believe that one of the most difficult things to conquer is your fear of failure, which may or may not be shaped by your experiences in your past. Our brains are wired to always refer back to memories in our past to make decisions going forward - which isn’t always the best way to make decisions as an entrepreneur.
Taking time for yourself everyday to visualize where you want to be creates a pseudo path which your brain can use as a new reference point. I find this helps me out a lot.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice that you would give someone starting a business in California? What do they need to know from the beginning?
- Get your product out early and to as many as people possible in your focus group. This is so important. Don’t be embarrassed about the way it looks and functions at this stage because you will be trashing most of it anyway based on feedback from your group. Be prepared to start, restart and pivot several times in these early stages. The point is that you want to launch something that people really want, not just what you think is a brilliant idea.
- Get your legal stuff out of the way and make sure it’s solid. As entrepreneurs, we always want to focus on the fun stuff of building, creating and seeing our dream become a reality. However, the fact is that none of these things will matter if you're not prepared. It’s worth the extra time and effort to have your work copyrighted, apply for patents, and consult with an attorney early on.
- Work relentlessly on your “mental” game. Always choose (yes, it’s a choice) to be optimistic and goal-oriented. Have a sincere passion for your business that burns within you from the moment you wake up in the morning till the late hours of the night. Appreciate this opportunity that you're given. The time we are living in right now is like no other and never think for a second that this opportunity cannot disappear.
When you have a goal-oriented, driven attitude, you will start to attract the right people who have the capacity to help you through this journey.
Being an entrepreneur is extremely difficult and you will always need a small group around you who will push you to do better..
Having the right mindset and a tight support group working together in sync will allow you to accomplish more than you ever could imagine.