Prior to founding RealKey in 2015, Christopher was the number one Mortgage Originator in the United States from 2010 to 2011 and personally funded over $2 billion in residential loans in all 50 states. A born entrepreneur, in 2013 Christopher also co-founded Sindeo, a San Francisco-based startup that raised $50 million to create a new mortgage experience. As a recognized business and thought leader in the mortgage industry, he has successfully scaled numerous mortgage loan companies. In his current role as CEO and Founder of RealKey, Christopher is leveraging his breadth of industry experience to transform and enable faster, more efficient mortgage loan processing.
Where did the idea for RealKey come from?
In my former life, I was a mortgage loan originator (MLO) and earned the position of Top MLO in the U.S. for two consecutive years. I have lived and breathed mortgages for decades and I know first-hand the pain involved for MLOs to close loans by certain deadlines. The pressures that MLOs face are arduous. Whether it be chasing documents from clients, verifying information, or simply keeping everyone in the process – from home buyers to lenders to underwriters – updated and informed. They are also limited by how many loans they can close in a month, which makes it virtually impossible to grow their business. With mortgage loan demand at a record high due to current historically low interest rates, MLOs are challenged to keep up, and many in the industry feel burned out and overwhelmed, similar to those on the frontlines in healthcare during the pandemic. I wanted to build a platform that solves the problem by automating documentation collection and review by underwriters and processors, as well as simplifying communication for everyone involved through a centralized chat.
The RealKey Digital Mortgage Platform takes the loan application data from the lender, converts it to document requirements, invites in the party expected to meet each requirement based on their role in the transaction, as well as invites in the parties that will need access to those documents based on their roles. They can then chat and communicate within each document requirement room, while being provided with onscreen instructions to facilitate getting the right documents the first time. As data and documents are gathered, our system triggers additional needs to avoid waiting for processing or underwriting. The platform essentially cuts the time needed to process a loan in half, enabling MLOs to process more loans in less time so they can grow their business, while also giving them more personal time to enjoy people and activities they love.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The business day is typically packed with back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings — whether it be sales and marketing or product/development or interacting with investors. As CEO, I am wearing many hats at any given time and need to be able to change gears quickly, while being focused and providing actionable feedback that drives the vision and growth of the company. This means a lot of coffee, but little time to respond to emails and other tasks that require hands to the keyboard. Because of the busy days, I find myself completing most of my non-meeting related duties in the evenings, typically going to bed after midnight.
To keep organized and ensure urgent needs of staff and others are met, we utilize tools like Slack, Clubhouse, and others to maintain order and escalate anything that needs immediate attention. With myself at the center, I am in many different systems that are not always easy to keep as up-to-date as I would like. Having a reliable team of experienced thought leaders allows me to have confidence that things are progressing as planned.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Much of what we have built comes from my unique experience in the industry and vision for transforming how loans are processed. Getting that from my brain to a deliverable product takes time, patience, and hard work from a lot of different people. Our product is fairly complex with many potential users, which makes that herculean task all the more difficult.
Fortunately, I have a reliable team of people who have built world-class products, including the former TurboTax Design Lead and Intuit’s Principal Design Strategist, as well as a former Oracle Director of Engineering and one of Barracuda Networks’ Lead Architects. We typically start by whiteboarding our ideas using simple sticky notes and drawings. We keep the psychology of our users in mind, focusing not only on functionality but also improving where we can to make the customer experience more enjoyable. We then prototype the product to test and use, identifying gaps and additional improvements before sending the designs for beautification by our visual designers. As we’re doing this, we are painstakingly documenting everything for development, to ensure they build the product as designed and intended. I can confidently say that our company takes pride in our attention to detail and delivering a world-class experience.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I have always been fascinated with automation. As an entrepreneur, I am always looking to solve problems and I find myself looking at the world through a different lens than most. Whether it be dealing with a government entity or ordering food from my local restaurant, I always see room for improvement through technology.
When I got into the mortgage industry, I applied this fascination to my everyday job, pushing myself to do more and be more. When the housing crisis hit, I found myself working with a startup in auto repossessions, of all things. I found a way to use technology to improve that archaic industry, automating the task of repossessions. After leaving that company, I returned to the industry I knew best, mortgages, and applied my experience to my own business. This was how I processed more loans than anyone else without a large team supporting me. This trend of automation continued with my last company, Sindeo, and ultimately now with RealKey. I wouldn’t be surprised if I tried to automate another industry in the future.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Multi-tasking and lots of coffee/energy drinks.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To quote Game of Thrones: “You know nothing, Christopher Hussain.”
Younger me was very cocky and thought he knew more than most people. That was far from reality. Over the years, I have learned to surround myself with smarter people than I, who can help me avoid costly mistakes or speed bumps that may slow down progress. Listening is a skill we sharpen as we age, and also realizing there’s always something to be learned.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That’s a hard one to answer without potentially getting in trouble. 🙂
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be prepared to lose, but have confidence that you will win.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Surround yourself with the best. Having confidence in your team and reducing weak links allows your company to maintain a high velocity while avoiding speed bumps and obstacles.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have not had the easiest path and there are plenty of failures I have had throughout my career. I’d say the hardest was likely the housing crisis in 2007-8. I went from running a large office I owned as part of a franchise brokerage I was sales director for, to working in an entirely different industry. We sadly had to let nearly 100 people go over a matter of a few months. It took time to build that business and seeing it go up in flames was very difficult. A lot was learned from what happened and has been applied to the businesses I have created since. Despite the depressing times, I had a very supportive girlfriend (now my wife) and family to help me maintain my footing. Staying positive and knowing I had a good brain on my shoulders gave me confidence that I would not only get through that experience, but I would end up stronger and better because of it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
It might already exist — but I’d love to have an app that stores my gift cards for use without keeping the physical cards. I’d then like it to work with my digital wallet when I spend money at said vendor. Ideally, I can exchange with others on the same platform as part of a pool — and I would specify on the app the stores I would want to exchange for (surely Amazon/Costco/Walmart would be popular). As an example, I have a gift card for Best Buy for $50 programmed in from my birthday that someone gave me, but I never buy from that store. Someone else who is at Best Buy can use that card’s credit in exchange for their unused Amazon/Costco/Walmart credits. Sounds easy in theory, though I imagine there needs to be extensive buy-in from gift card companies. At the end of the day, to friends and family, I can easily use a Visa gift card and welcome Amazon/Costco/Walmart gift cards (which are boring but practical).
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spent well over that on some rare beer today. It’s my side hobby, something I enjoy because I buy it to share with others. I’ve met some great people around the beer community, including investors (it’s a residual income hobby). My specific purchase was a case of Double Dry-Hopped (DDH) Hazy DIPA from Electric Brewing — easily the world’s best brewer of that style. After a long day of meetings, it keeps me happy at my desk responding to emails and moving things forward.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
There is no SINGLE piece of software that makes us more productive. It’s a combination of products that we use. It’s also in how we use those products that makes them valuable resources. You need to buy into the products to really get the most out of them. For us, our basic toolset includes: Slack, Zoom, Outlook (I prefer it over our Gmail/Google Calendar), G-Suite, Clubhouse, Miro, Hubspot, and Figma.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’ve always liked The Art of War. Lots of good lessons in a short and easy to read package.
What is your favorite quote?
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and be unsurprised by anything in between.” Lee Child/Maya Angelou.
- Being an entrepreneur takes more than just vision. It takes organization, hard work, and a great team to execute.
- Surround yourself with experienced people, and learn to listen to them. You don’t know everything.
- Failure happens. As a leader, you must have confidence you will win, but know when to walk away and accept defeat as well. Too many entrepreneurs dig themselves into deeper holes by not knowing when they have failed.
- Software can automate many things and make life easier. Like any tool, the benefits and output depend on who uses them and how they are used.
- The rare beer community is an amazing place. Also, networking is a key concept to entrepreneurial success. Always make time for drinks with someone new.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.