Pete Flint, co-founder and CEO of Trulia, talks about what it takes to build a business and what’s next for the online real-estate marketplace

July 17, 2013, 7:25 p.m. ET

How Trulia’s CEO Built the Business

After Struggling to Find Off-Campus Housing, Co-Founder Creates Online Real-Estate Service

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN

Pete Flint, of Chigwell, England, struggled to find off-campus housing while pursuing an M.B.A. at Stanford University.

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Pete Flint says aspiring entrepreneurs need to be ‘customer-obsessed.’

Frustrated by the situation, he spent his entire second school year in 2003 researching a solution, which later developed into a business plan for an online home-search service. He and his classmate, Sami Inkinen, created TruliaInc. TRLA +2.86% in 2004 after raising $2 million in funding from prominent Silicon Valley investors such as Ron Conway, Greg Waldorf and Kevin Hartz. They launched Trulia.com the following year.The online real-estate marketplace provides details on property listings nationwide that consumers can view free of charge. It also offers real-estate professionals the opportunity to promote their businesses in advertisements on its website and mobile apps for monthly subscription fees.

Trulia last year posted annual revenue of $68.1 million, a 77% jump from 2011. Since going public in September, its shares have more than doubled, trading at $37.09 on Wednesday from its initial pricing of $17.

The company now has 14 free apps for helping home buyers and renters connect with agents and brokers on various mobile devices. Collectively, the company said the apps attracted roughly 11 million unique visitors per month in the latest first quarter.

San Francisco-based Trulia currently has 550 employees and will add about 300 more later this year when it completes its $355 million acquisition of Market LeaderInc., LEDR +1.65% a provider of software tools for real-estate agents, mortgage brokers and others to manage leads and contacts.

But analysts say Trulia faces mounting competition as the barriers to entry in its niche are low and many startups are trying to break in.

Mr. Flint, the 38-year-old chief executive of Trulia, recently talked with The Wall Street Journal about what it takes to build a business and what’s next for the company. Edited excerpts:

WSJ: Did you get any value out of your M.B.A.? Would you advise entrepreneurs to go to business school?

Mr. Flint: It was a great opportunity to learn from top academics and lecturers, think deeply about problems I wanted to solve, and build a great network in the U.S. I also benefited from interacting with people who were studying different disciplines and had different backgrounds, professional experiences and perspectives. For entrepreneurs, a lot of exciting innovation happens at the intersection of different disciplines.

WSJ: How did you come up with the name Trulia?

Mr. Flint: We were about providing truthful information so we played around with that and ended up with Trulia.

WSJ: How did you raise your initial funding?

Mr. Flint: After forming a business plan and building a prototype, we started networking to find potential investors. Many more people said ‘no’ than ‘yes,’’ but ultimately a small group of people believed in our idea and helped us begin to build the business.

WSJ: Why did you recruit a co-founder?

Mr. Flint: Having a business partner is incredibly valuable because it enables you to amplify your good ideas and quickly squash your bad ideas. A co-founder can also really help you get through the dark days in the early years.

WSJ: How did you initially get real-estate professionals to share property information with you?

Mr. Flint: Through a huge amount of hard work and face-to-face meetings. First, we worked closely with the industry to talk about what we were building for consumers and why it would be good to work with us to get more exposure for their listings. Second, we traveled the country, state by state, convention by convention, meeting with brokers, franchisers and agents.

WSJ: You took Trulia public in September. Why?

Mr. Flint: We saw an enormous opportunity to build a very large business. Raising capital and becoming a public company enabled us to do that. It enabled us to make acquisitions and build operational and strategic rigor within the organization. Trulia was a well-run company with a great management team but going public has forced us to really focus on the way we run the business, the people we bring in and the way we look at the long term.

WSJ: How did you handle the transition from founder to CEO?

Mr. Flint: I surrounded myself with incredible people. That’s helped me grow as a leader.

WSJ: What’s been your strategy for competing against rivals like Zillow Inc. Z +1.85%and Move MOVE +1.18% Inc.?

Mr. Flint: We have the same listing data but we provide unique insights that are not available anywhere else—insights on the block and neighborhood where a home is located, including crime statistics, commute times, local amenities, flood zones and fault lines.

WSJ: Are you in the market to buy or rent a home?

Mr. Flint: I am a homeowner in San Francisco. I’m not looking at the moment but I’m constantly using my product. It’s amazing to look inside people’s houses. We just announced that we’re building a Google GOOG -0.12% Glass application that enables you to walk down the street, look at a home for sale and bring up the listing for it. Our VP of consumer engineering came up with the idea for the app after he became one of the first 2,000 people to get Google Glass. He developed the app on his personal time over the course of three weeks. It comes out next year.

WSJ: Have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Mr. Flint: The bar is getting higher and higher for startups to become successful. They need to be customer-obsessed and they need to be the very best in their industry. So if you don’t see a path to doing that, then you should revisit your plans

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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