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Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

167 Immersive Home Builder Technology Tools - Kevin Hart

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Kevin Hart of Aireal joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how immersive home builder technology can allow potential buyers to envision and experience their homes before they buy.

Buying a home can be very intimidating and home builders are tasked with making the process less uncertain for potential buyers. Kevin explains, “The whole point being is that we want to give people confidence in what it is that they're getting from a purchase. There's so many question marks when you're making that big first purchase of a home, and it's such an emotional process that people have a lot of insecurities about the decisions they're making. So, we really want to streamline that, make it easier, and not only give 'em confidence in that purchase but make them excited because it's a key moment in their life that'll help set up those future memories that they'll have within that space.”

Much of the uncertainty surrounding the home buying experience could be alleviated with good home builder technology. Kevin explains, “So, giving people the ability to interact with their future home, the digital twin of it, from the time that they broke ground until the time they move in, improves that customer sentiment in a lot of ways. So, there's a lot of tips and tricks there if you actually understand more about that buyer psychology and what their why is for coming to you and trusting you to build that home.”

When considering digital tools, a home builder's primary attention should always be customer experience. Kevin says, “…always focus on that customer experience first and the value being added there and then the profit and revenue will take care of itself.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how home builder technology can allow your home buyers to envision their new home right from the start.

About the Guest:

Kevin Hart is the Founder and CEO of Aireal. Over the last decade, Aireal has developed immersive, intuitive technology that focuses on the intentionality of experiences that change how one interacts and visualizes their existing or future environment. Aireal has been awarded seven global patents, with an additional six pending pertaining to proprietary technology that allows a person to experience and customize a property at scale before ever breaking ground.

Before devoting his work full-time to creating Aireal, Kevin served as the National User Experience Lead of Sogeti (Part of CapGemini), whose clients included multiple Fortune 500 organizations such as Boeing, Procter and Gamble, American Airlines, and many more.

Kevin received his formal education from the University of Texas at Dallas in business, psychology, and neuroscience, focusing on the formation of positive habits through user experience design in technology. Kevin is also certified by Harvard Business School in Design Thinking and Innovation.


Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome to the show, Kevin Hart. Kevin is the CEO at Aireal. Welcome, Kevin. Thanks for joining us.

Kevin Hart: Hey there. Thanks for having me.

Greg Bray: And of course, we've got two Kevins today. We're just gonna go straight up and acknowledge that. So, we'll make sure that we try not to confuse everybody on which Kevin is which.

Kevin Weitzel: So, we're not going with referring to Kevin Hart as Kevin and me as Mongo?

Greg Bray: We can, if that helps.

Kevin Weitzel: Oh, okay. [00:01:00] Just making sure.

Greg Bray: All right. Well, Kevin, why don't you introduce yourself and help us get to know you a little bit? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kevin Hart: Yeah, absolutely. I really appreciate it guys. My name is Kevin Hart. I'm the founder and CEO of Aireal. My background prior to founding Aireal is in business psychology and neuroscience with a focus in user experience design. So originally nothing to do with the real estate space at all. But really there is a lot of commonalities between how user experience applies to all industries, even beyond technology. Always been an entrepreneur at heart.

I'm originally from northeast Ohio, moved down to Texas when I was younger, and started my first company back in middle school actually. I've always done new ventures ever since then and has led me to doing Aireal now for the last 10 years.

Kevin Weitzel: Well, normally we go into something personal about you, but man, you started your first company in elementary school. What was it? Mowing Lawns like me or what was it?

Kevin Hart: Similar. I really loved those commercials for Space Camp, and I [00:02:00] wanted to raise money to be able to afford to go to Space Camp. So, I started painting people's addresses on their curbs. And I had a great elevator pitch on how it helps emergency vehicles, find their house, and so on and so forth. And turns out I'm made enough money to go to Space Camp, but I really just turns out I'm made enough money to go to Space Camp, but I really just liked, making money more so, so I kept doing it

Kevin Weitzel: Because I basically force-fed that. Why don't you give our listeners something personal about you that's not home building related they can learn only on our podcast?

Kevin Hart: Let's see. So, I talked a little bit about obviously the entrepreneurship side, but I think something a little bit more close to home is that my wife and I, we absolutely love movies and I proposed to her in a movie theater with a custom movie trailer that was about our lives but used the actor, Kevin Hart, clips of him in other movies to kind of mimic that whole storyline. That's something that they're only gonna know about me right on here.

Kevin Weitzel: That [00:03:00] is cool.

Greg Bray: And did he sue you for like, name infringement or anything?

Kevin Hart: We'll call it even because when he was an investor on Shark Tank, ABC actually listed him on all their social media accounts as the CEO of Aireal and had his picture. So, I think we got a little bit of back-and-forth going on right now.

Greg Bray: Oh, wow. Wow. Well, that's an unfortunate confusion, so.

Kevin Hart: It could be worse. The guy is absolutely hilarious. So, fortunate to share the same name with somebody with his sense of humor.

Greg Bray: Well, Kevin, tell us a little bit more about Aireal. What do you guys do and what kind of offerings do you have?

Kevin Hart: Yeah, that's a good question. So, we started 10 years ago. We were focused around the very technical term of geospatial augmented reality. Which, if you're familiar with augmented reality, it means that we could put it longitude, latitude, and altitude coordinates with millimeter-level precision globally so people can walk up and around content. Like, it's actually there.

So, you could put a house on a [00:04:00] lot in full 3D, walk around it. It doesn't move. You get to experience what it looks like and then you can go inside, configure it, and even see your views out of the windows. So, that's where we got really started on. We have seven global patents on that technology.

And then what we really wanted to do is make it even easier for people to use immersive technology in the space of AEC, even specifically on residential real estate. So, we created a Web Embeddable experience that allows anybody to essentially fly around a community like you would, pretty much like a video game. And you could see all of the amenities that the community has to offer, proximity to key points of interest, like schools, restaurants, shopping, et cetera, for that community. And then you can go all the way down to that house level, customize the elevation, go in it, and then customize the interior.

The whole point being is that we want to give people confidence in what it is that they're getting from a purchase. There's so many question [00:05:00] marks when you're making that big first purchase of a home, and it's such an emotional process that people have a lot of insecurities about the decisions they're making. So, we really want to streamline that, make it easier, and not only give 'em confidence in that purchase, but make them excited because it's a key moment in their life that'll help set up those future memories that they'll have within that space.

Greg Bray: So, tell us then a little bit more about how you went from painting numbers on the curb to doing things with neuroscience and now doing augmented reality.

Kevin Hart: That's a really good question. So, growing up my father was in management consulting on the technology side and I had a lot of exposure to seeing him work in a lot of different fields by using the application of technology. So, I was always very interested in that, was very hands-on with it. And then when I was in school, I thought it was particularly interesting having this whole user experience focus because, like I was saying earlier, like user experience applies to everything. It's [00:06:00] not just technology.

Even like the built environments. When you design a space, it's designing behaviors in people who occupy it. So, like showing intention of like an office. You wanna work in an office, you don't wanna live in an office. Although at times I do feel like I live in my home office. But with that being said, it all comes down to that. And I was really excited about that field and like the ways that you can actually make people's lives better through using these tools that we can program and create. So, I studied that space.

Right outta school, I knew I wanted to create Aireal, but I wanted to not go out and raise a bunch of money and I had a really good job opportunity. So, I became the national user experience lead of a large IT consulting company. Before I took that job, I formed what is now Aireal as a company. I filed what was then a provisional patent. Now, as I mentioned, we have it broken out as seven granted globally. I moved in with my parents and I saved every dime possible while working that job.

But while I was working that job, I was [00:07:00] creating like the UX strategies for Boeing, and Proctor and Gamble, and American Airlines, and many others. So, it gave me a really amazing experience from a vertical agnostic approach. So, I got to understand a lot about a lot of different industries, and it allowed me to get very focused on the space that we knew we could make the biggest impact with Aireal.

Greg Bray: So, what is it about real estate that makes it the place you can make the biggest impact?

Kevin Hart: Part of it is, it's not necessarily a knock that just shows opportunity, is that it's pretty antiquated with the adoption of new technology. With the way that the world is rapidly evolving, the fastest way to fall behind is to stand still.

With an industry that has so much opportunity for growth, we knew that if we were to introduce a technology like we have to offer, as like a visual articulation tool, that we could help, not necessarily control the space, but hold the hands of the AEC industry and guide them to a way that they could better communicate the vision of a built environment.[00:08:00] We knew if there was a unique way we did it, where we didn't focus necessarily on technology first, but we focused on the value we were creating first, that we had a really strong opportunity to become an industry leader.

Kevin Weitzel: Being that we're on the digital asset side, you know, with the company I represent, do you find that it's just a, and this is a loaded question by the way, do you find that it's just a pretty device, a pretty thing that, you know, the builder can utilize on their website, or will it convert to a sales equivalency?

Kevin Hart: That's a really good question, Kevin. Good questions from Kevin today.

Kevin Weitzel: Kevin's are just good all the way around. Just gonna say.

Kevin Hart: All the way around. Good people. No, it absolutely is far more than a pretty picture. A couple of things here. One, we have proof that it works. Say for instance, on average master-planned developers waste about 18% of capital expenditure due to rework and change orders. For those that have that data, that we were able to pull that metric from that then [00:09:00] integrated our experiences to offer to their customers, it decreased that number by 12%, only down to 6% because at the end of the day, some people still have a change of heart that we can't necessarily count for.

But if you take a 12% savings of capital expenditure across the entirety of the community, let alone multiple communities, there's a significant amount of savings that's occurring there, and shows proof that unified expectations between a builder and a buyer being on the same page, drastically has an impact.

Greg Bray: So, that's for the person who has already made the purchase, right? And now, and it's the fact that, okay, I'm clear about what I'm going to be getting when I make this purchase. Am I understanding correctly that you talk about this expectation match, right? You've sold me X and I think I'm gonna get X as opposed to think I'm gonna get Y because you're able to show it to me in a way that I can understand better than, you know, architectural drawings, which nobody can read except architects.

Kevin Hart: Absolutely. On [00:10:00] the front end of that though, from like the marketing standpoint, getting it out there from like an exposure area as well, you'll see a lot of these builders that will offer promotions where it's if you're traveling to come see a community and you end up buying a home, we'll reimburse you $5,000 per home.

Well, the other benefit of the way that our technology works, whether it is Omnistream or Web Embeddable experience or our AR experience, is that you could literally do it from anywhere in the world and get that same experience and interaction, not only with the property but also with a sales representative that can help guide you and answer any questions. So, you don't have to travel there.

And that's where we were able to actually launch a significant amount of our business was during COVID when nobody was going out, but people were interested in buying homes, that was a way that we were able to like essentially introduce this new platform of technology and gain a lot of success with it as well.

Greg Bray: Tell us a little more about how the end user actually interacts. Cuz you've talked about a couple of different [00:11:00] versions. Is this the wear-the-goggles type of thing? Is this the hold up the iPad and look around? I mean, cuz I think that augmented reality term can mean some different things to different people who aren't as familiar with it.

Kevin Hart: That's an excellent point. And matter of fact, nine times outta ten, we don't even pitch it as augmented reality. The simplest way that we tell people about it is for all of time you will design something, build it, and then experience. And for the first time with Aireal, you get to design it, experience it, and then build it. So, all we're doing is switching those last two words, and it gets people to understand the gist of what it is that's actually occurring here.

Now, there's two different ways to actually view what that experience is. So, the first one is that Web Embeddable experience. So, I would say that's a step up from renderings. So, instead of your 2D images or video fly-throughs to step up is our Web Embeddable experience called Omnistream. With Omnistream, it embeds directly in a website. You can literally copy and paste four lines of [00:12:00] code that will provide you and it will work on your website.

Anybody can use this. They can fly around entire communities that have extremely high-quality graphics that are that of a single rendered image, but it's all being processed in real-time. And the way that it's able to do that is that it's all being done in the cloud. So, it doesn't matter what computer or device you're accessing it from, everybody's gonna get the same quality experience.

Within that, you could take as many pictures or videos as you would like as well. So, if you still want to use some of these renders for print collateral or social media campaigns, you're able to export them right out of the experience, and it does not cost you a dime more. Matter of fact, we even have a control that we built for B2B use cases called Director Controller that allows you to have all the features and functionality that a digital camera has. And so you can manipulate it right in the experience to change your depth of field, your [00:13:00] field of view, colors, even time of day, which obviously a camera doesn't do, but you can do right within that control as well.

After that is where you have the augmented reality experience and no, we aren't putting it on the glasses. Although we do research and development on the glasses, there's still a pretty big gap there and a high barrier of entry. We want to use technology that people already either have and/or familiar with. And so that's why we leverage your existing mobile device, or tablets, like an iPad.

So, with that, we are a white-label solution as well. So, we will create the application for the builder with their own branding and style to it. And then it could be used by an individual at the location to see it on the lot, or it could be even a sales rep tool where they guide somebody through it. Or lastly, it could be used by an individual where they can download it off the app store and they can use it literally anywhere. There's a lot of different ways that could be used, but it is still application driven as it is today.[00:14:00]

Greg Bray: So, you talked a little bit about your background. There's some psychology components, there's some user experience components, there's understanding people, and what helps people connect. So, what is it that builders miss in the opportunities to make connections with buyers online that, you know, you see out there, just in general? Not specifically to what you guys offer or don't offer, but just in general. What kinds of opportunities do you think builders are missing out on to make some of these connections?

Kevin Hart: I think a lot of it kind of boils down to empathy. Builders oftentimes are focused on like a lot of the logistics and the features that their homes and communities have to offer. But I think it's also when you take a step back and you look at the personas of who is purchasing your home, you learn a little bit more about what that customer journey is.

And I think there needs to be a deeper emphasis on consolidating the customer journey, minimizing the number of stops there are along the way, and then [00:15:00] also the inflection point from emotion. There's times where people have a lot of buyer's remorse. There's times when there's moments of excitement. How do we keep that brain in like that hot cognition phase? How do we keep 'em excited? I think there's some neglect there. But there is ways to look at the data from user metrics and insights to actually understand how to keep them engaged, how to interact with them further, and ultimately keep them in that happier mindset.

To give you an example, a little bit of a teaser here, not to put the cart before the horse. We have a new company that's launching here in about six weeks that's a subsidiary of Aireal called Spaces. Spaces is an AI interior design tool where people can literally upload any picture. We've already partnered with over 60 major furniture and decor brands, digitized their catalogs, and then it'll automatically find everything in that inspiration picture that you uploaded, and then automatically stage it within your future space, and then you can [00:16:00] buy it.

So, giving people the ability to interact with their future home, the digital twin of it, from the time that they broke ground until the time they move in, improves that customer sentiment in a lot of ways. So, there's a lot of tips and tricks there if you actually understand more about that buyer psychology and what their why is for coming to you and trusting you to build that home.

Greg Bray: When you have that conversation with builders, are they hearing you or are they just like, yeah, yeah, that's all nice, but I'm gonna go build the house now?

Kevin Hart: A lot of the builders, there's a lot of self-awareness. They know the way the industry is from the adoption of new technology. They see the surveys that come back from their clients. Even some of the best builders that are out there recognize that they have room for improvement. I think that goes for any company even outside of the home building industry. They're always looking to find new ways to do so.

It's just what are the ways that are practical and work with the way that they work today? That's the biggest thing is that there [00:17:00] can't be a lot of friction. You have to work within the rails that they have of what works for them. Once you understand that, we're able to integrate new technology that ultimately benefits their customers.

Greg Bray: I guess one of the reasons I'm kind of going down this path is cuz I'm still surprised at the number of builders who don't even have good renderings, who don't even have, you know, just some of these basics, and we're talking about things that kind of come a level or two after that.

There's a disconnect for me. It's like why do some builders just not quite hear this message, right? That this stuff is so powerful in connecting with your potential buyer. It helps 'em understand, it helps improve the whole process, but yet they won't spend a few dollars to get there. I don't know. Any thoughts from either Kevin on that one?

Kevin Hart: There tends to be, in any business, I get with it with Aireal, where you become a little bit of nose blind. When you're so close to your own product each and every day, if you don't hear the feedback from an [00:18:00] outside perspective often enough, if they're not knocking at your door giving you a heads up, you kind of get lost in your own thoughts there.

For some builders, if the person who's in charge or would ultimately make the decision on implementing those renderings, if that's not valuable to them because they can actually look at a floor plan, understand the scale, and imagine it in full 3D, then there isn't any sense of urgency for them.

Especially like during times of COVID, when I had one builder tell me that they might not need renderings cuz they could sell a cardboard box for $500,000. That's at the time when you really need to focus on this, because that's not gonna last forever, and you're not thinking about the customer from that standpoint.

As soon as you take a step back, think about the customer, and think about the things that not your everyday person understands because they don't understand this industry, and you frame it from that perspective, that's when people have this epiphany and realize that something has to be done to better articulate their value as a builder to their customer.

Kevin Weitzel: Now given your [00:19:00] budget of that $500,000 cardboard box, was that builder in San Francisco? Because that does seem to fit that budget. So, you're really far off there. No, but you're right, Kevin. And in all reality, it is crazy that when you are pitching to a builder, the language, you know, the linguistics you have to use to open the door and to create a pathway to your solution to their problem is different than what you can do just speaking on a much larger scale where you just talk about how hillbilly our industry really is, in comparison to the rest of the world, in technology. It is nuts that there is such a disconnect and that we don't take that introspective look as company owners and as company participants in that entrepreneurial role of how do I make my product more user-friendly?

Kevin Hart: I think it's an excellent point. It's bittersweet because obviously, I want there to be this full transformation for the end customers because ultimately [00:20:00] that helps a lot of people in a lot of different ways. But at the same time, that gives us the opportunity to step in and to present something like this. That's what helps us grow as a company.

So, we're more than happy to help hold people's hands and guide them through on the way to improve what that customer journey and what that customer experience ultimately is, and how they're providing value from the time that people are considering a space all the way through the time that they're actually occupying it.

There are a lot of industries that could use this kind of transformation as it is, but the one thing that kind of holds it back sometimes, that leaves a bad taste in people's mouth is that there's a lot of gimmicks with technology. Augmented reality, for instance, was a buzzword for so long, or even how we hear metaverse. Like that was the big rush for the longest time, but like, really the foundation and principles of what the quote-unquote metaverse was had been around for a long time and so everybody had like their chief metaverse officer and it's like, do they even [00:21:00] know like what they're doing?

So, you get a lot of these gimmicky buzzwords that put a bad taste in people's mouth. But if you take a step back, strip away the bad marketing language associated to it, and look at that core value that's in there and how it can help people visualize and bring their imagination to life, that's where the real value is. Take away everything else, take away all the games that people make on it, and focus on how you can really paint that picture for somebody and it's gonna pay dividends for you.

Greg Bray: So, let's talk just for a minute though, about the builder’s sales team and their interaction with tools like this. Because we've talked about the customer, helping the customer. But I think sometimes at the end of the day, if the sales team says, Hey, this will help me sell more, or because we have this, I am getting better interactions and faster closures and all those kinds of things, I think that gets some people's attention from an investment standpoint as well. But sometimes those are the people that are a little hesitant to [00:22:00] embrace some of these new tech tools and technologies cuz they're not quite sure where it fits in their part of the whole process. Any thoughts along those lines?

Kevin Hart: Yeah, so what it really comes down to is like at the end of the day, salespeople are competitive. If they know something's gonna give 'em a competitive edge, then they're gonna take a good look at it. This is something that does do that. Now we've had it where builders enforce applying it from like a corporate level. We've also had it where it's like a community-level buy-in too. So, we've seen both ends of the spectrum.

But if they know that it's gonna give them some form of competitive edge, it's gonna give 'em a chance to engage with more leads and have more touchpoints on doing so, then they aren't interested in it. Most importantly, they wanna make sure that it communicates all the value propositions that they would generally offer in person as well. So, the one point that we like to encourage through it is that there are ways that you can embed other things into our experience, like a live chat.

So, if somebody does have a [00:23:00] question, they can ask it and it goes right to a sales rep at that specific community. So, it's like you're there to answer anything if they need it, but you're not annoying. But also it allows you to capture more leads and be up more than one place at once because you could be interacting with people right then and there in the sales office.

But somebody across the country is interacting with the experience for your community, ask you a question, enter like a queue, and when you have availability you can answer 'em and address 'em. So, you're able to capture a lot more potential leads than you would if you didn't have it. So, that's obviously a really good opportunity for them as well.

Greg Bray: How about though, that person who just walked in, you know, because that home that they want isn't built yet? Is there a place for the salesperson to say, Hey, here let's go walk around and hold this and really connect with it while you're here?

Kevin Hart: Absolutely. Especially on the augmented reality side. I can even tell you firsthand, like when my wife and I were going through that process of buying and building a house. You would go [00:24:00] to a community, you would find a builder, they would have two model homes there, and you would be like, okay, I really like what this builder has, but this plan looks kind of interesting.

Do you guys have a house here in the community that has that floor plan? And they're like, oh, no. You gotta go drive about an hour away in this other community, and we have a model of it there, and you could check it out. Then you find yourself driving an hour across town, then you know you're gonna have to do an hour back. You might have traffic, but while you're there, you're there for 10 minutes. You make a decision, and if that's not the one, then you're back at it again. So, it could be a really time-consuming process.

But if you're in person with the sales rep and you have the augmented reality experience or even the Web Embeddable experience, they could take you right through every one of those models and allow you to customize it to your liking. You could pick out what lot you wanna see it on, especially if it's a premium lot. You could see all the value of having that premium lot, whether it's a bigger backyard, or view, et cetera, and you are directly related with that property at that point.

But the biggest [00:25:00] part of it is for a salesperson, is that you're not losing that FaceTime. You're not sending somebody away from you. You are constantly engaging with them at that point and having your entire home plan inventory, that's allowed to be in that community, right at your fingertips.

Greg Bray: Well, Kevin, I think this is the kind of technology that people think is unattainable and it's becoming so much more attainable now. I know it's not free, but it's the kind of thing though that compared to building that model home, this is definitely more attainable.

Kevin Hart: Yeah, absolutely. And we make it a point to keep the pricing competitive with what people are already familiar with from the rendering standpoint so that they have it where they know that the value proposition outweighs the cost.

Greg Bray: Well, we certainly appreciate the time you spent with us today. Do you have any kind of last thoughts or words of advice you'd like to leave to help these folks sell more homes?

Kevin Hart: Yeah, I think the basic thing I would say is always focus on that customer experience first and the value being added [00:26:00] there and then the profit and revenue will take care of itself. We've had that be our mantra and it's proven to work out really well for us. So, I would encourage everybody else to do the same.

To help you get there too, I would encourage you to go to our website and sign up for a demo. It's a no-pressure demo, more of educational and discovery from both sides. That's really when people have that eye-opening experience and start rattling off all of their use cases and the problems they think they can solve with it as well.

Greg Bray: All right. So, if they wanna learn more, go to the website, sign up for a demo. If somebody wants to connect with you personally directly, is there a good way for them to do that?

Kevin Hart: Sure. They can email me at khart, that's khart@aireal.io. That's aireal.io. Or find me on LinkedIn. I'm Kevin J. Hart on there because oftentimes if you look up Kevin Hart, you'll get a comedian, and that's not me, so. Go ahead and look up Kevin [00:27:00] J. Hart and I'll be there.

Greg Bray: You're not the funny one. Okay. All right.

Kevin Hart: No, no, no jokes. No jokes. All serious.

Greg Bray: Good to know. All right. Well, Kevin, thanks again so much for spending time with us today. We really appreciate it. And thank you everybody for listening to The Home Builder Digital Marketing podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you.

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