NEW YORK – June 28, 2011 – September 2008 was one of the worst months in U.S. history to launch a business, particularly a real estate company. Despite the low odds of success, Kevin Lisota decided to turn his passion — buying and selling houses — into a full-time career. He founded the real estate company Findwell, a business that has done more than just get by over the past three years. It has flourished.
What makes Findwell different? How did the company survive, even thrive, in a flailing housing market? In part, Lisota succeeded by finding an untapped niche, catering to clients who want full service and expert advice, and then provided it at a fraction of the cost offered by traditional realtors.
“Commissions for agents had risen over the years, to the point where I felt the high cost to home sellers and buyers no longer reflected what was needed to help people through a successful real estate transaction,” Lisota says. “I was also frustrated with the level of service provided by many brokers; the experience had to be better.”
Lisota discovered a better way to do business, but he also credits technology for his company’s success and ability to reduce costs.
“I have an IT background, so I enjoy setting up servers and maintaining systems,” he says. “But I need to accomplish so much every day as a broker and CEO that I don’t have time to focus on IT if it takes me away from what pays the bills.”
Lisota recently moved his seven-person company to the cloud with Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft’s newest cloud service that brings collaboration to businesses of all sizes. Office 365 frees Lisota from unwanted IT responsibilities, while providing the Findwell team with several technology tools they didn’t have before.
“Office 365 helps us stand out from the competition because clients can reach our agents virtually anytime and anyplace. Real estate is far from a desk job. We’re always on the move, showing customers houses, evaluating homes, sitting down with sellers to fill out paperwork, and holding client meetings at the local coffee shop. We close on many homes each month and need to be able to connect with clients, collaborate as a team and tap into information at a moment’s notice. Office 365 lets us do this.”
The defining key to the success of his business, says Lisota, is to be available to customers around the clock, especially prospective clients who discover Findwell on the Web. “We need to respond to online inquiries in 30 minutes or less; otherwise, those prospects will go somewhere else.”
Lisota says his team also values the ability to hold online meetings using Office 365. “We can have an in-depth conversation with a client remotely, talk through a complex contract or market valuation, and work much faster compared with the average company in our industry.”
With Office 365, Lisota says he can leave the IT work to Microsoft and focus on his role as CEO: “We have a lot of aspirations, and plan to grow the business this year. Office 365 will help make that a reality.”
Small to Midsize Businesses and the Global Economy
Businesses such as Findwell are fast becoming the heroes of economic recovery, aided by new technologies such as cloud computing.
“Small and midsize businesses are the heartbeat of the global economy, employing half the world’s workers1 and inventing new ways of doing business,” says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “The cloud makes it possible for smaller businesses to access big business technology in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago, allowing them to leap forward and help propel the economic recovery.”
Small and midsize businesses can range from sole proprietorships with just one employee or a seven-person company such as Findwell, all the way to a venture that employs up to 500 people across multiple offices. These businesses play a significant role in today’s economic recovery; according to the World Bank, small and midsize businesses employ 1.5 billion people,1 and in the U.S. they have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.2
These companies have worked hard to achieve their goals, and Office 365 will make it easier for businesses to expand their significance. The worldwide availability of Office 365 marks the moment when small and midsize businesses don’t have to settle for “good enough” productivity and collaboration technology, or struggle to maintain a professional IT infrastructure.
With Office 365, people can come together from virtually anywhere and work together more easily, meeting face-to-face online, sharing work in real time, and accessing email and calendars on virtually any device. Smaller companies can create and maintain a custom website, manage data and stay in control of sensitive information — even with no IT expertise. They can now take advantage of the best technologies the largest companies use, but on a scalable pay-as-you-go basis, with solutions that are easy to get and use.
Powerful Enough for the Enterprise, but Perfect for “Mom and Pop” Shops, Too
Run by husband-and-wife team Jeffrey and Kerri Stewart, Bea’s Insurance is an Ohio family business that prides itself on giving clients personal service and the right commercial, auto, home and life insurance.
Kerri Stewart’s mother, Bea, started Bea’s Insurance in May 1999 when she saw the need for an independent insurance agency that focuses on treating customers with respect and mutual trust.
Bea’s Insurance recently turned to Office 365 to run the company’s email and website.
“The ability to share our calendars with each other has made a huge difference to the business,” says Jeffrey Stewart. “We can also access our email through our phones, which is a big plus when we’re traveling.”
The Stewarts said they tried another service before selecting Office 365, but found it wasn’t easy to navigate, and lacked critical features for document fidelity and collaboration with customers and partners who use popular Microsoft Office applications, including Microsoft Word.
“We’re more familiar with Microsoft Office, so it just made sense for us to stick with what we know and like,” says Jeffrey Stewart.
Access to Information, Anytime and Anywhere
Across the ocean in the city of Glasgow, the Wise Group helps people in Scotland and northern England access job training programs, find work, staff small businesses and regenerate communities.
The Wise Group’s 500 employees must be in daily contact with customers to update them about new job openings, training programs, and workers available for hire. To help employees increase productivity and innovation in these endeavors, the company recently upgraded to Office 365.
“We compete against large, multinational corporations, so we need to be flexible and fast when we set up new offices and bring on new people,” says Alan Lee-Bourke, chief information officer for Wise Group. “We wanted to reduce IT administration so we could focus on helping employees use technology and drive business. Our strategy has always been to outsource technology as much as possible.”
When Wise Group upgraded its hosted solutions to Microsoft Office 365, most of the company’s data moved to the cloud, where it’s accessible to people whenever and wherever they need it. Because employees can be productive from anywhere they have Web access, the company also expects to reduce travel costs and carbon emissions by up to 30 percent.
“Office 365 gives us the flexibility to work from different locations and still access corporate systems wherever they are, and that is absolutely critical,” says Lee-Bourke.
Wise Group will also retire 50 to 60 physical servers in its datacenters, reducing IT administration demands while saving power and server cooling costs.
“Energy costs in Britain are among the highest in Europe,” says Lee-Bourke. “We can save a significant amount by outsourcing our solutions to Microsoft because we can retire much of the hardware we no longer need.”
Lee-Bourke even jokes about what he’ll do with the space where the old servers once lived.
“We still have a server room, but that server room is going to be empty soon, and we’re going to install my Jacuzzi in it. I’m not interested in managing all that stuff; I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I want Microsoft to manage it for me.”
Familiarity, productivity and collaboration are just a few of the reasons businesses such as Findwell, Bea’s Insurance and Wise Group — and tens of thousands of others like them — are choosing Office 365. It’s a move that is saving time and maximizing budgets.
“It’s inspiring to see so many small and midsize companies get an edge with technology that will help them fuel future growth,” Ballmer says. “Office 365 is leveling the playing field. Now small companies can cater to their technology needs without big infrastructure investments.”