Real Estate

3 moments that shaped the career of Knock CEO Sean Black

Inman Connect Las Vegas returns live, Oct. 26-28, 2021, at the Aria Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the lead-up to the big event, we’re talking with scheduled speakers about the moments that made their careers. Consider this just a taste of all the knowledge that will be shared at ICLV. Make plans to join us.

Sean Black is a force to be reckoned with in the proptech world.

Once part of the founding team at Trulia, Black is now the co-founder and CEO of the homeownership startup, Knock.

At its core, Knock is a real estate tech company that aims to improve the homebuying process. Its Home Swap program allows homeowners to shop for new homes without having to rely on the equity tied up in their old homes. The program pre-funds clients for a traditional mortgage for a home, and can even provide down payment funds. If the home being sold doesn’t sell right away, Knock will take care of the mortgage for up to six months and then provide a backup offer.

Black’s company is at the forefront of what he calls a “real estate transaction revolution” and has already brought Knock to 65 U.S. markets since its launch.

Over email, Black broke down the three moments in his life that helped shaped his career.

An internship at The Vatican 

Sean Black grew up the youngest of five kids, and all of my siblings were in real estate and new construction. My brothers were both in new construction, and I spent school summers helping them turn apartment complexes into condos as a teenager. I got paid by the hour the first few summers but then got wise and started my own contracting business and went from making $5 per hour to $1,000 per day managing my own crew at the ripe old age of 15, thanks partly to years of reading Entrepreneur magazine.

One of my sisters worked for a real estate broker during that time, and both of my sisters ended up working at GMAC Mortgage for years. One of them crossed over to the tech side when GM bought Ross Perot’s EDS Technologies to power GMAC mortgage tech. Like many of my generation, I watched the movie Wall Street too many times and decided to study finance in college and work on Wall Street myself.

I landed a summer internship at the Vatican before my senior year of college when the head of my brother’s Franciscan high school and a family friend got appointed head of finance for the Franciscans in the Vatican. This family friend was investing heavily in Blue Chip technology companies and it was there working for him that I got a full appreciation for the power of technology to change the world, scale exponentially and create generational wealth.

I went back to work at the Vatican after college to continue investing in tech and simultaneously started a nutrition supplement business called EuroPro that exported GNC-type products all over Europe, mostly as a way to pay for my weekend travel excursions throughout Europe while feeding my fitness addiction. After gaining the prerequisite two years business experience required by most MBA programs, I sold the nutrition supplement business and used the proceeds to pay my way through grad school and transition into the tech world.

I won a business plan competition in my first few weeks in the MBA program at Babson College outside Boston and used the prize Babson hatchery space and the remainder of my EuroPro money to start my first internet company in between classes. But the first big tech bubble burst and my startup baby was thrown out with the bath water. 

Meeting Barbara Corcoran and his Trulia Co-founders

I moved to Manhattan after completing my MBA and met Barbara Corcoran at a cocktail party. It was six months after 9/11 and she was still running the Corcoran Group and she convinced me that real estate was ripe for technology innovation.

She offered to show me the inner workings and I spent three years under Barbara as a VP, learning all things real estate and soaking in her special style of leadership. All the while I was writing a business plan for a real estate search engine code named BigDigs.

I found my first investor and board member for BigDigs while still working at Corcoran. On the other side of the country, two Stanford MBA students launched a real estate search engine then called RealWide. Fortunately, the early investors of both companies knew each other from Stanford and they decided to join forces. Even more fortunately, the name was changed to Trulia, which stood for trust and transparency. The rest is history. 

The real estate transaction revolution in 2015 

The merger of Trulia and Zillow marked the end of the first two online real estate revolutions. The Digital Revolution that started in 2000. This basically just digitized the print classifieds and MLS books and made them available on the internet. Trulia and Zillow started the Information Revolution in 2005 by putting context around listing in the form of school information, crime statistics, commute times, neighborhood rankings and home valuations like the Trulia Estimate and the Zestimate. This democratized the information buyers needed to make the biggest purchase of their lives for the first time ever.

But sellers didn’t benefit from this wave of innovation at all. There was still every bit as much opacity and inconvenience on the sell side and the cost of the transaction, borne mostly by the seller, continued to increase with home prices.

By 2015, the internet had made every other consumer purchase cheaper, better and faster, but not real estate. So I got together with my former head of product at Trulia, Jamie Glenn, who had run Yahoo Real Estate before Trulia, and our technical cofounder Karan Sakhuja to figure out how to democratize the real estate transaction for sellers the same way they had done for buyers at Trulia.

When we launched Knock in 2015, we pioneered Buy Before You Sell. Our flagship Knock Home Swap addresses the mass market problem for the two-thirds of homebuyers who also need to sell by turning every buyer into a cash buyer and giving them and their agent complete control and transparency into both sides of the transaction in the Knock app right on their phone.

The newly launched Knock GO (Guaranteed Offer) now does the same for first time homebuyers by turbocharging a conventional home loan with a cash-backed closing guarantee and appraisal protection to win bidding wars in today’s hot housing market.

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