Movers & Shakers: Dan Green on first-time home ownership, learning to be a CEO and the rarity of free time
The best part of Dan Green’s job was when he could sit across from a new homeowner, watch them finalize financing for a house and see the emotion on their faces. Now, he’s doing that on a macro scale with the Cincinnati-based startup Homebuyer, a new mortgage lender made for first-time buyers. Green, a veteran mortgage lender and software developer, sat down with TechOhio to talk about bringing his people-first philosophy to the startup world, learning about running a business on the fly and getting to know Cincinnati.
How did you find yourself launching Homebuyer in Cincinnati?
This is my third company in the mortgage space. I’m a former software developer, and about 20 years ago I did a project for a mortgage lender in customer relationship management. I fell in love with the business, but I learned that mortgage lenders don’t have a client life cycle. They don’t put the customer at the center of their business. So for the last two decades, I’ve been working to solve that problem.
What makes your approach different?
The mortgage business has traditionally been transaction-based. It’s about getting a customer in the door, getting them an interest rate and then moving on.
That’s never really been how I think about home ownership, and more importantly it’s not how a homebuyer thinks about home ownership. It’s about their goals and what they’re trying to accomplish in buying a home. Customers aren’t just a transaction. They have actual needs and are looking for actual advice. If you can turn that transaction into a customer-focused relationship, you deliver a much different type of service.
How have you changed as you’ve progressed from developer to founder?
I don’t think there’s all that much difference between developing software and running a company, in terms of the process. It’s about having a defined goal, knowing how you want to get there and executing step-by-step. It’s also important to recognize that nothing ever goes properly the first time. You iterate, iterate, iterate to get it right.
How do you spend your free time, if you have any?
When you’re running a company, the concept of free time is kind of a strange concept. But when I’m not spending time with our customers and our team I’m probably spending it with my wife, our three kids, our two dogs, our Guinea pig and our rabbit. Often, we’re going to sporting events. I’m a runner-musician, so in any remaining time I run marathons and play guitar. I try to do what I can do to keep busy and also try to find time to sleep.
Do you have any other creative outlets?
In our office in OTR, there’s a fully furnished studio in the basement. So we do a lot of recording there — videos to help educate first-time homebuyers and help them with the next decision. But when we lost access to the studio because of the pandemic, we had to bring it to my house. So often, you come in here at random times and you’ll see me doing a video podcast with other members of the team. Sometimes I’ll even be in Los Angeles or St. Louis or Austin to record.
Where does your passion for mortgage lending come from?
Home ownership is a big part of the American dream. I’ve been a loan officer sitting across the table from thousands of homebuyers. And when you can help somebody accomplish something they didn’t even believe was possible, it’s an emotional experience. Buying a house is an anxiety-riddled process. People get very nervous and think that they can’t do it or that they don’t deserve it. When you’re able to show them a path forward, it’s incredible. And it not only helps your homebuyer get to the next stage of life, but you’re helping to create generational wealth.
You can see the profound effect it has on people when they realize that they’re becoming homeowners. There are often literally tears. The first time you can experience that is amazing, and any loan officer will tell you that. When you see a first-time homebuyer actually get their keys and you get to be a part of that experience, it’s wonderful. I love seeing that for people and I’m happy to help people do that as often as I can.
Why is now the right time for Homebuyer?
It’s exactly the right time to be developing a tech-forward business in mortgage because consumers are ready for a better and different experience. What’s been great about Homebuyer in particular is that now we’re at a time when homebuyers are getting more comfortable with the process. They’re online, they’re willing to share information to simplify their own process and they’re seeing that they can automate and handle things themselves. That enables us to reduce costs and give them the guidance they need. The typical homebuyer is 23 to 37 and they’re used to conducting business online.
What motivates you to keep pushing forward?
Consumers evolve, retail evolves. There is so much to achieve and there’s so much that’s possible with good technology and better process. But that software piece of my background still drives me. It’s about continuing to push and deliver a better experience in what’s typically looked at as an antiquated paper-heavy business. There is such an opportunity here to build a better mortgage experience that makes life easier for first-time homebuyers.
What have you learned about being a leader?
I’m not sure anybody really knows how to run a company. I think, as leaders, we all have to be fluid. Really, our job is to serve our team. I think what makes for a good leader is the ability to look at your team and know who they are and what they need in order to accomplish their goals. And that’s also what makes for a great company.
What does the future look like for you and the company?
Thinking about five years from now, I want Homebuyer to be viewed as a product that is helpful to consumers and has done good for communities and the economy overall. But I also want to cultivate a great place to work and build a company that our team is proud of. It’s important to me that we take care of our people and that we lift up our teams. I want us to help employees accomplish the career goals that they’re looking to achieve.
What’s made Ohio and Cincinnati a good home for this venture?
Ohio’s been a terrific state to build a company. The tax rates are favorable for businesses and there’s an abundance of talent. It’s also less expensive to build a company here because of the cost of living, even with all that talent. Like anyone else, we looked at other options for where to grow Homebuyer when we started. But what we’ve learned is that here in Cincinnati, we have an opportunity to build large and inexpensively, and that’s huge. Our capital goes much further here.
One of the great things about starting a business in Ohio now is that if you are a young entrepreneur, there are plenty of people that you can talk to who have been where you are, so seek them out. Everybody pays it forward in this community. You don’t need to go at it alone. And the thing is, you’re going to make mistakes and that’s OK. You can learn from others who have experienced what you’re going through.
You’ve put down roots in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. What do you like about OTR?
OTR is a really interesting place to start a business because of this concentration of like-minded people. There’s not that typical corporate mentality — show up at nine, leave at five. There are a lot of interesting people solving interesting problems. And when you have a density of people like that, there’s a magnitude of growth you build just by chit-chatting.
You can go to Union Hall and sit down with people from all over the place who are building really, really cool stuff. That’s energizing, and it’s a lot different from going to work at your nine to five, sitting on the expressway and coming home. I love the undercurrent of energy and people doing interesting things.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur?
Building a business is a challenge. You should not try to do it alone; have a support staff. And here in Ohio, there is a group of entrepreneurs that are here to help. Pick up the phone, send an email, a Slack message, a text. Find us anywhere. There’s always somebody willing to talk, so leverage that and build your business better. In Ohio, you’re in a terrific state to build a company.
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