Published in The American Genius
Long before launching a global software company that would sell for half a billion dollars or becoming CEO of one of the most successful young companies in real estate, Rick Rudman was an Air Force veteran with a degree in accounting and just a few dollars to his name.
Leveraging one of the more valuable benefits offered to America's veterans, Rudman purchased a $65,000 rowhouse in Baltimore, Maryland, with a VA loan that required no down payment.
He spent the next four years gutting the house down to the studs and rebuilding it by himself.
"That's where my love of home improvement came from, and it's when I started doing real estate investment on the side," Rudman recounts today from the patio outside a second home in Oxford, Md. "I have this weird mix of technology, finance, and real estate that all came together to make this happen."
The "this" to which Rudman is referring is Curbio, a national home improvement company based in Maryland that was last November named the second-fastest growing business in the Washington, D.C. area. Since co-founding Curbio alongside partner Matt Siegal in 2017, Rudman has served as its President and Chief Executive Officer.
The firm recorded 100% annual growth in each of its first five years, and Rudman expects to approach $70 million in business in 2022. Fewer than 1% of companies, the CEO notes, reach these levels of revenue in just half a decade of operation.
"I'm a growth CEO," Rudman says. "I'm not a real estate agent, I never ran a brokerage. I look at things from a growth perspective, and the main thing that drives company growth is product-market fit. How close does the product that you've built match the demands and needs of the marketplace? And the fit here is so good that it's even surprised me."
While Rudman may not have been entirely convinced from the start, the value of Curbio's service in the market was evident to REACH, a strategic growth accelerator managed by the venture capital arm of the National Association of REALTORS®. The REACH program focuses on connecting entrepreneurs and innovators with the trillion-dollar global real estate industry through education, mentorship, and market exposure.
Rudman first connected with REACH back in 2019, as the program recruited for its seventh-annual cohort.
"We hit it off from the first call," Rudman recalls now more than three years later. "The beauty of the program is that REACH and the people involved in it have made it their job to find companies that they think are going to be the most innovative and the most helpful to the real estate community. And Curbio is a perfect example of that."
I was fortunate to have helped launch the REACH program from my previous position as NAR's Senior Vice President responsible for Business Development and Strategic Investments. Recognizing the innovations that had and would continue to transform real estate, I wanted new disruptors working alongside the individuals most in tune with the industry's day-to-day direction: real estate agents.
Through the REACH program and companies ranging from Curbio and Notarize to BoxBrownie and Feather, as Rudman articulates today, "NAR is promoting programs that help real estate agents get more work done, get it done quickly, and get it done reliably."
Late next month, the fourth annual iOi Summit will take place in Los Angeles, featuring the latest iteration of the Pitch Battle competition that Rudman's Curbio won back in 2019. As it has done since the first iOi in 2017, this year's Pitch Battle will give the newest and most promising real estate technology startups the opportunity to showcase their innovation and defend its place in the market.
Each participant will conduct a live, 4-minute pitch about how their product or service will transform global real estate, followed by a 4-minute rapid-fire question-and-answer session from a panel of judges.
As the winner of the 2019 iOi Pitch Battle, Curbio earned $15,000, some well-deserved national publicity, and a booth at that year's NAR conference in San Francisco. But, as Rudman describes, the real reward lies in something much less tangible.
"You're recruited to REACH based on your potential, but when you win the Pitch Battle it means other people recognize your company has a lot to offer, too," Rudman says as he reflects on the 2019 competition. "That means a lot. It's a stamp of approval, and it's a badge of honor, so to speak."
Now operating in 32 markets across 18 states, Rudman expects Curbio's operation to expand to over 75 markets within the next few years.
As enterprises like Curbio achieve unparalleled levels of growth, REACH continues to identify new entrepreneurs with an eye on the real estate market. It has expanded globally—into the U.K., Australia, and Canada—and this year's U.S.-based REACH cohorts have alone engaged 17 new companies across the residential and commercial sectors.
Selecting and connecting new technologies is a critical aspect of REACH's value. But any business owner, marketer, or REALTOR® knows how important it is to engage clients in their own, unique story. To make customers the central figure in and the main beneficiary of that business's labor. And to make their value clear, apparent, and digestible for every potential partner. For Rudman and Curbio, REACH's influence here was essential, as well.
"If you can't tell your story quickly and get people excited, you're gonna have a problem," Rudman notes. "You need to craft a message that will be heard and understood by the right people. And REACH helped us do just that.
"To me, our success, the fact that we've doubled our revenue every year, says to me the process that REACH follows works pretty well. In our case, they picked a winner."
NAR will debut its fifth annual Pitch Battle on September 28, where the next in the competition's line of winners will be crowned. Click here to learn more about or to register for iOi, or watch the Pitch Battle live on NAR's Facebook page.