Placester Picks Up $2.5M to Push Real Estate Publishing Market

4/29/13Follow @gthuang

Here’s another snapshot of a tech startup making its way through the Series A crunch. This one hasn’t officially “made it” yet, but it seems to be doing just fine.

The startup is Placester, a real-estate Web publishing company based in Cambridge, MA, and it is announcing a seed financing round of $2.5 million from a total of 19 angel investors. The round was led by Romulus Capital, a Boston-area seed fund; other investors include John Landry, Jennifer Lum, and David Cohen.

What’s more interesting is how Placester got to this point. Chief executive Matt Barba (pictured) co-founded the company with Fred Townes, the former CTO of Mashable, in 2009. Barba had worked as a real estate agent while he was an undergrad at Boston University. He thought it would be easy money. He was wrong.

“I wasn’t a great agent, to tell you the truth,” Barba says.

The problem is that as a real estate agent for a small brokerage (or if you’re independent), he says, “you spend 80 percent of your time marketing, and you probably have zero marketing experience.”

Placester aims to fix that by providing agents with a simple software platform for designing and running real-estate websites. What looks simple on the surface is actually “a very dense technological challenge,” Barba says. That’s because all the data on apartment rentals and homes for sale is locked up in “multiple listing services,” of which there are some 900 in the U.S. across different geographies, he says.

So a big part of Placester’s strategy has been forming partnerships with these listing services to gain access to the data, and make it searchable on agents’ websites. The company’s goal is to help small agents get customers and compete with big brokerages like Century 21 and Re/Max.

“We’re about agent empowerment,” Barba says. “We want agents to have a clean experience.”

Placester is free to start and then charges $45 a month for its Web service. Barba says “many tens of thousands” of sites have been created using the software, and the company has seen double-digit revenue growth from month to month.

Which is to say, things are just getting interesting for Placester in a field that spans Web publishing, marketing, big data, and real estate. The 16-person company graduated from the TechStars Boston accelerator program in mid-2011, and has been building its business quietly but steadily. (In terms of market size, Barba says there are close to a million real estate agents in the U.S.)

And although Placester’s agent-centric approach is very different from that of established companies like Zillow, Redfin, and Trulia, there is one common theme.

“Innovation is tricky in real estate,” Barba says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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