Exclusive Interview with Jesse Abrams
Recently distinguished by the American Marketing Association Hall of Legends as one of Canada’s top 5 “Marketers on the Rise” and by Marketing Magazine as a “Top 30 Under 30” Marketer in Canada, Jesse is an accomplished Digital Marketer and Advertiser who has a passion for growing businesses and never settling for the status quo. Jesse brings this passion for change and growth as the founder of Homewise, where he looks to change the face of the mortgage industry.
Prior to Homewise, Jesse was a Partner and VP of Client Services & Digital at Beyond Marketing Group (and the acquired Engagement Labs), where Jesse was instrumental in growing the business by 400% while accounting for 70% of revenue. Before BMG, Jesse spent 4 years building the Digital Marketing Department at General Mills. His contribution was instrumental to the growth of integrated marketing, quadrupling digital spending while driving the success of internationally recognized and business improving campaigns.
You’ve been recognized as “Top 5 Marketers on the Rise” and “Top 30 under 30”. How does this make you feel?
It’s humbling. I’ve been very lucky during my career to work with so many amazing people and companies in both the marketing and advertising world. The mentors and teams that I worked with were invaluable to me learning many hard and soft skills that I honed to bring successes in my previous roles and today. These experiences have helped me realize my entrepreneurial dreams are now being utilized as my team and I build Homewise.
What inspired you to create Homewise? What was the inspiration behind it?
I worked with one of Canada’s largest banks on their mortgage business for years. During that time I got a behind the scenes view and discovered how underserved first time home buyers are as well as the huge opportunity there is to meet the needs of this changing home buyer demographic. It is a group that wants more transparency and continues to shift to doing personal finances online. Further, when I bought my first home I experienced first hand how complex, antiquated and time consuming it was to work with the big banks, rate aggregators and mortgage brokers to find a mortgage. There was a total lack of transparency and overall, I just couldn’t believe how I never felt in control. It was then that I realized there was a gap in the market for a more streamlined online mortgage process that put the mortgage seeker first – introducing Homewise.
The fastest and largest growing audience in the home buying market today is first-time homebuyers, of which, 75% are millennials. Going to the bank takes time and often will not find you the best mortgage.
Further, with the new mortgage rules, chances are higher than ever that mortgage seekers may not even get approved by their own financial institution if they do not fit into their strict guidelines. Homewise takes tailored mortgage solutions to the next level, shopping around and negotiating for clients with more than 20 top tier lenders to ensure we are providing clients with the best mortgage (rate and features) while simplifying the process by bringing it online. Further, we provide an end-to-end solution that takes a client from the sign up to approval and beyond. All supported by a personal mortgage advisor.
What are some of the strategies that you’re hoping to put in place to change the mortgage industry?
Utilizing technology to simplify and streamline the process – The current mortgage landscape is based on face-to-face meetings, waiting for lines and paperwork. There is no easy solution for all home buyers/owners, let alone first-time buyers. This is why we have focused on building new technologies to digitize and simplify the process online. We are the only digitized mortgage solution that focuses purely on mortgages, has the fastest application process and works directly for and with the consumer, not for the banks. These differentiators are a key part of our strategy in changing the face of the mortgage industry. By focusing on a technology approach, we provide an unbiased mortgage choice from over 20 lenders, searching through thousands of options. Further, each client is supported by a personal mortgage advisor to provide the human touch. Our ultimate goal is to save our clients time and money. We also have many new technologies that will be released in the coming months and years to make the process faster, easier and better for mortgage seekers.
Transparency – the current options to get a mortgage are shrouded in a sea of complexity, jargon and fine print. We believe in providing clients with the full picture, enabling them to make informed decisions. We not only negotiate for our clients with over 20 lenders to find them the best mortgage for their needs, but we also provide options that include explanations as to why the mortgage products selected are tailored to their profile.
Education – Buying a home is usually the largest purchase of someone’s life, however, for some reason, we are never taught about it in school. This is why we have focused on not only creating a simple process but also educating clients along the way with informative content and explanations. Additionally, another issue in the marketplace is the fact that many millennials are paying thousands a month in rent because they think they can’t afford a mortgage. They may have been turned down by banks, given a rate they didn’t like or worse yet, convinced themselves that buying a home wasn’t possible before even looking into options. The big issue is this demographic do not realize they have other options. This is why we have over 20 lenders and we continue to add more, to ensure we provide a full financial picture to our clients and present them all the opportunities available to finance their home. Enabling them to realize their home buying dreams faster and more comfortably than they may have imagined possible.
Speed and availability – Homewise has the fastest application process in the industry. It takes clients only 5 minutes to complete a mortgage application and it is available 24/7. In fact, most of our clients fill out their application in the evenings and weekends, often from their phones. Life is busy, we understand that. That is also why each client is set up with a mortgage advisor that guides them every step of the way, allowing consumers to feel informed and empowered during the process, while we do the dirty work in the background. We also continue to build more tech products to automate more and more of the process to make it even faster.
Support – Homewise is not only online, but every user is also set up with a mortgage advisor that will take them through the process and provide advice on options, features and how to save the most money. Further, we provide support through call, text, email, and chat. Making it easier than ever to get in touch with us.
Throughout your career, you’ve had a huge impact on the marketing industry. Growing businesses by 400% and accounting 70% of the revenues are just some of your accomplishments. What approach do you use to make such a huge positive impact?
Never settling for the status quo. Throughout my career, I have been a bit of a black sheep. I always like to look outside the box and see what the next big thing is, rather than feeling comfortable and only looking back on what has worked in the past. I always believe in pushing for change and that measured risks drive the best long term successes. This led me to work on amazing new projects and lead positive changes both in larger marketing organizations as well as when I was in a leadership role at an agency. If you build a product for today, you lose sight of the opportunities of tomorrow.
With your extensive background in marketing, are you a strong believer that marketing plays a crucial role in the success of any business?
Definitely! Marketing develops the framework for consumer acquisition both in the short and long term. Be it through product development, consumer targeting, technical development or branding, marketing sets the tone on how your business will grow and drive conversions/sales – which is the ultimate goal of any company.
A compelling marketing strategy that connects with the consumer on a purposeful level and effectively presents the brand in a meaningful and memorable way is the key to the success of any business.
In today’s competitive landscape, consumers have a plethora of brands to choose from in every industry, so the marketing strategy needs to make it easy for the consumer to understand the brands offering and value proposition within seconds.
What are the most common marketing challenges that entrepreneurs face when they are in their startup phase?
Putting the consumer first. Many business owners live and breathe their product/service. Their clients, on the other hand, do not. So putting your client first and building a solution that meets their needs is integral to driving objectives. This ranges from developing a brand that resonates with building your website/app that focuses on strong user experience and uses consumer-friendly language (no jargon). It is so important to always think about your clientele and what would serve them best.
It is important to realize that marketing is not only about creative and ad campaigns. It is also about determining what your product-market fit is, as well as what new opportunities can arise to drive further conversions. This can be done through new products, features, and targeting strategies.
Thinking that spending money equates to better marketing is also a major mistake. I have seen million dollar campaigns that are less effective than ads that cost fractions of the price. Websites built by the top companies that are over-engineered and don’t provide the proper solution for the consumer-base. It’s’ all about finding ways to market your business strategically, always focusing on objectives and often with a scrappy and nimble approach.
In your expert opinion, what are the three best marketing tools that SME owners should refer to when they want to grow their business?
Google Analytics is such a useful tool. It’s not just about figuring out how many people are coming to your site, but also about determining where the traffic is coming from, where users are dropping off and what is attracting them most. In the end, the ultimate goal is conversion, so we consistently make big and small updates to our online product to better serve our clients and increase conversion.
Testing and learning acquisition tactics, be it through Facebook Ad Manager or the Google Ads Campaign Manager, you can learn so much about what is working and what is not. Be it ad types, copy, placements, time of day, day of the week, it is important to always optimize your ad placements to drive your business objectives.
The advice of fellow entrepreneurs. The best tools are often free. This can be your own personal network or the wealth of content on the web. Many mistakes are made by not utilizing the hindsight of others. I am lucky to have many friends and peers who are fellow entrepreneurs and industry leaders that I consistently speak with about their key successes and importantly, failures. This teaches me so much in minutes, rather than potentially learning the hard way in months (or more). The Canadian industry is amazing about helping each other out. There truly is a “high tide raises all ships” mentality.
On a final note, you’re part of several charitable organizations and you’ve also found a few of your own. Is there a reason behind your passion for charities?
From a young age, my parents have always taught me the importance of being charitable. So it has always been important to me to give back. It is such an amazing and fulfilling experience to see how much can be accomplished when people come together to help others in need. I can’t imagine being in a position to help and not taking action. Cofounding fundraisers like the Joel Schwartz Memorial Hockey Tournament as well serving for Sinai are only the beginning. I plan to keep the momentum and give back whenever possible.