Featured Member/Ambassador for Month – Kelda Roys // Featured Member // News // Mar 07 2016
The Doyenne Group, in our effort to raise awareness and effectiveness of female entrepreneurs in the Madison area, is creating a monthly spotlight on a local rising star. This month, come along with us in getting to know Kelda Roys and her local business contributions.
DG: What business do you own/work for?
Kelda: OpenHomes – a high tech real estate brokerage that makes it easy, convenient, and affordable to sell your home.
DG: What is your background? What got you to where you are now?
Kelda: I grew up in Madison, and moved to New York City as soon as I possibly could. I got my real estate license at age 19 to help pay for college. At NYU, I sold high end properties while earning my BA magna cum laude in Drama, Politics, and Cultural Studies, and I continued in real estate after graduating. I came back to the midwest for law school at the University of Wisconsin, where I graduated magna cum laude in 2004, and had the opportunity to work on the Innocence Project.
Then, I went into politics for 10 years. I spent 4 years as executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, advocating for reproductive justice and health. I decided to run for state assembly and ended up winning a six-way primary with 31% of the vote. I served two terms in the legislature, serving as Democratic Caucus Chair during the Wisconsin Uprising in 2011, and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Health and Health Care Reform among many others. In 2012, I ran for US Congress, one of the youngest women in US history to do so. After losing that race, I wanted to do something totally different.
I founded OpenHomes in 2013 and have been having fun and growing it ever since! I’d never been an entrepreneur, but I now realize that running a nonprofit requires the same skill set, in many ways, as starting a company. I’ve always been a risk-taker and a dreamer, so in a sense my varied careers have some commonality.
DG: What made you decide to start your business?
Kelda: My partner Dan and I were perennial house hunters. I never really lost the real estate bug, so I enjoyed the process. So often, though, I found myself frustrated by how archaic the real estate industry was, and how low the standards are for agents. I would complain to my him about all the problems I saw, and then about how real estate *should* work in Kelda’s universe.
DG: What is your biggest accomplishment so far in life and why?
Kelda: I think my first campaign for Assembly was a huge accomplishment. I spent a year knocking on 20,252 doors, and campaigned and won on my own terms, even though I was not the favored insider candidate. I’ve always been driven and a hard worker, but I really was able to sustain it for that whole campaign and keep my good humor. On election night, I just knew I’d won because I worked so hard.
DG: What is your biggest accomplishment in your business and why?
Kelda: I’m proudest of the fact that we have a net promoter score of 100. We survey all of our customers, and ask them, “Would you recommend OpenHomes to a friend or colleague?” and every single one of them has given us a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale, saying that they would recommend us. To me, that speaks to the fact that even though we are a tech company, and we make huge investments in software and efficiency, we are still serving our customers at the highest level. They are WHY we do what we do, so we can deliver them a great experience during a very stressful transition.
DG: What is the biggest obstacle that you have face while in business? What is the biggest fear that you have for your business?
Kelda: There are a million obstacles. Trying to raise my first investment round (before we had a product, customers, or revenue) while in my third trimester of pregnancy, that was hard. Being a non-technical founder of a tech company. Getting more customers than we could handle manually before the technology to support them was built.
Probably the biggest challenge is scaling. Because we have good revenue and regular cash flow, it can be very easy to just keep going as we are, and not make that huge leap to enter new markets, which will require new capital, new investors, and new staff. Knowing when and how to enter new markets, take on new capital, and what other investments we should make is one of the most exciting and stressful parts of being an entrepreneur. I’m responsible for serving my customers, of course, but I also need to give my investors a good return, and be an excellent employer to our workers. There are a lot of important interests to balance.
DG: If you could give one quote to live by, what would it be?
Kelda: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
DG: What words of advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Kelda: Don’t let others tell you what kind of business you should build. There are lots of ways to be a successful entrepreneur, and great businesses take many forms. Think about what YOUR goals are, and build your company based on that.
DG: What does Madison need to encourage entrepreneurs to stay and grow their businesses?
Kelda: Certainly concrete things like great engineering talent (especially mid-level developers), more venture/early stage funding, direct flights to places like San Francisco and New York, and affordable co-working space are all important. We’re certainly building a better ecosystem than we had 5 or even 3 years ago.
More broadly, we live in a Midwestern culture where failure and risk-taking are often seen as suspect. We glorify celebrities and the very wealthy, but not the person whose business flops or the child who takes an advanced class but gets a C rather than an A in the easy one. There’s starting to be a little cachet around startups and entrepreneurship, which is great, but it’s more than offset by the shame and derision that still often accompanies failure.
Finally, there are tons of smart, hardworking people out there with great ideas. To be an entrepreneur, you have to have the freedom to do it – that means the ability to get an education without mortgaging your whole life, access to affordable health care, and basic worker rights like parental leave and sick leave. People get stuck in jobs because there’s such a huge gulf between what a fledgling company can provide and what a big corporation or government can in terms of salary and benefits. If we socialized a little more support, many more people would be free to take the economic and professional risks that starting a business requires. Startups would be able to attract the kind of talent they need to grow. Entrepreneurs would be able to leave their day jobs and try to create something new. You heard it here – a little socialism goes a long way to making healthy capitalism!
If you would like to know more about Kelda and OpenHomes please explore their web and social media sites! Friend, like, and share her hard work and celebrate her success with us!
Address: 5th Floor, 30 W Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703