Stay focused. It takes time to launch a company, create brand awareness and start making money so it is important to stay focused on the short-term goals. Ever since the day we started, I’ve had a small whiteboard on my desk with short and mid-term goals, specific numbers to hit, and dates to hit them by. I look at it daily to drive my actions for the day. I’m happy to say that I consistently hit those goals and enjoy updating them regularly to keep pushing further toward our larger goals.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Leonhardt.
Julie Leonhardt is Co-Founder and CEO of Vuse, an intuitive video mobile platform and virtual marketing assistant that empowers real estate professionals and marketers to create captivating, pro-quality videos on the go. Julie is passionate about questioning the status quo and unleashing creativity and human potential. She has deep relationships across the real estate brokerage and technology space. She was previously Chief Operating Officer of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates, Inc. Prior to joining Sotheby’s, Julie was Senior Vice President of Affiliate Services and Head of Operations, EMERIA region, for Christie’s International Real Estate. She also worked as a commercial real estate finance attorney at two leading Wall Street firms: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP. She was recognized by Housingwire as a Woman of Influence in 2019, and has been featured in numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, REAL Trends, and Mansion Global. Julie is a graduate of Westmont College and holds a Juris Doctor degree from Fordham University Law School. She currently lives on a small New Jersey farm near New York City.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path has been untraditional, spanning multiple industries. I have gone from teaching high school to becoming a Wall Street lawyer to moving into senior roles in the luxury real estate industry as senior vice president at Christie’s International Real Estate and then COO at Sotheby’s International Realty.
After spending five years working with agents and brokers in the luxury residential real estate sector and listening to their pain points and challenges, my co-founder and I identified a major void in the industry. Today’s modern agents and marketers are continually looking for ways to better showcase their properties, and while video is now expected, it can be costly and time intensive to produce. The idea for Vuse was born out of this need. Vuse offers a simple, affordable, and high-quality video creation and virtual marketing assistant app tailored to real estate professionals’ specific needs. The Vuse app helps real estate professionals and marketers create captivating, pro-quality videos on the go and allows anyone with a smartphone to keep their video content pipeline fully loaded. There is a real opportunity for innovation in technology in the real estate sector, but it must be all about supporting the agent. I was excited to create this new tech platform and bring innovation to the industry.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
We announced my position as Co-Founder and CEO of Vuse on March 12, 2020 during the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S. I had invested my own money into the company and had left a salary job at a global firm to launch Vuse, so it was an incredibly scary moment to start the company at one of the hardest times the world has faced. The silver lining moment for me was when I quickly realized real estate agents needed our video and virtual marketing assistant app even more so during the lockdown when they couldn’t tour potential buyers through homes in-person. I started receiving calls from brokerage owners and heads of marketing asking how quickly we could launch Vuse so that they could use our product. We worked with our developer to accelerate the release of a beta version of our product and offered it to agents who subscribed at no cost.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I had quit my job, invested my money into the company, and had investors’ money on the line so I have had no choice but to continue to show up even when times are hard. People are counting on me, so I have to dig deep and find the motivation to persevere, like we all do. But what really drives me each day is my love and passion for our product. I get to talk to real estate agents all the time and I know our product fulfills a huge need for them. The opportunity to bring real innovation and solve a major pain point in the real estate industry is what continues to motivate me daily.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
The business is doing well. We have more than 900 subscribers currently utilizing the beta product that we launched during the lockdown to assist real estate agents with their video and marketing needs. We plan to launch the official product this spring. Just this week, we cracked the code on a major functionality piece of the app. It is exciting to see the product come to life.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My business partner Leanna Creel is an award-winning filmmaker, so she has the creative eye, whereas I bring the luxury real estate expertise to our company. However, because she was underwater working from home with two kids doing “remote learning,” I decided to take it upon myself to create the Vuse app Instagram pages and posts for the day of our company launch announcement. When the post went live, she and our designer were mortified because the edges and borders were off, and it did not look polished. They re-did the post immediately. What I learned from the experience is that as a co-founder of a startup company, there is a lot of pressure to feel like you must do it all because you have limited resources, but there are times it is better to just let the pros handle it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The Vuse app empowers agents to create multiple variations and types of video content by directing them through the process and using algorithms to create content based on real estate marketing best practices. Our product features avirtual marketing assistant which reminds and inspires real estate professionals to finish, create variations and share videos through push notifications. It schedules marketing reminders, creates new content automatically, and prompts the agent to act in order to keep the agent’s social media feed fully loaded.
One of our beta subscribers in Los Angeles just started her career, and she utilized the Vuse app’s virtual marketing assistant to create six different video variations for a home she was selling within the 10-day timeframe in which the house sold — the LA market is crazy hot! The video content allowed her to show-off the property she was selling, and she received four times the amount of engagement on her Instagram posts that featured the property videos created by Vuse than the posts that only showcased property images. More importantly, dozens of people clicked through to view her agent profile, which is the ultimate goal for an agent — generating new clients.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- It is important to take time to step back from the day-to-day work activities and carve out a few days to focus on big picture planning and strategy for your company.
- Don’t forget to take a vacation or take some time off to unplug, especially during these challenging times. A change of scenery and downtime can be extremely helpful so that you feel more refreshed and energized to dive back into work when you return.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Our company would not be where it is today without my business partner and Vuse Co-Founder Leanna Creel. She is a true partner and friend. We have known each other for years and have had a few opportunities to work together but the timing wasn’t right. We were finally able to join forces last year to launch Vuse, a women-founded and run tech startup. It is great to work with someone so smart, talented, and committed, but also someone that I trust so completely. When things get really hard or one of us is struggling, we can get real about it and provide support. This allows us to come to a stronger result in the end.
Recently, we had a situation where we hired a vendor, I did the contract, we started work and the vendor was not delivering after we made several attempts to communicate our dissatisfaction and reach a solution with the vendor. Finally, Leanna had to get all bad-cop and we ended up firing them for failure to deliver. She stepped in and got loud in a situation where I was trying to be diplomatic. It was a learning experience, but she had my back the whole time.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, many real estate agents were not able to show homes on the market to potential buyers in-person and this had a tremendous impact on their ability to promote properties and close deals. We received numerous calls from real estate agents asking us when we were going to launch Vuse so they could showcase properties virtually to prospective buyers. There was such a demand for a video creation tool during the Coronavirus lockdown, we decided to launch the Vuse app in beta format last April and provided it free-of-charge to more than 900 subscribers.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Everything takes longer than you expect. Since you are working with limited resources and funds, you must learn how to do almost everything, so things inevitably take more time. I used to start with a typical day “to do” list like I would have made in my corporate job but quickly learned that so many of the tasks were things that I was doing for the first time, and therefore, I had to learn them before I could do them so half a day could disappear before I knew it. I have learned to take that into account when planning my days.
- Be patient and kind to yourself. New challenges will arise, and it will take you some time to determine the solution and next steps. You will be learning along the way so mistakes will happen. Remember not to get too down on yourself. Instead, learn from your mistakes and move forward. There are ups and downs and I’ve definitely had periods where this is a daily challenge. There is so much to learn, unforeseen challenges that pop up, things I’m learning on the fly, and some days it’s really hard to stay positive. I’ve coined the term “newbie learning” in order to remind myself to be kind to myself in those moments. Somehow, naming it what it is makes it easier to accept my mistakes and move forward.
- Understand your own strengths, skills, and time available. I have a lot of strengths and can generally figure things out if I work hard enough but I admit that creating and running our financial model and P&L have required a level of skill and knowledge that are better served by someone who does this for a living. We just hired a fantastic fractional CFO to take this on, which frees up time for me to focus on the things that I’m best at.
- Prepare to make sacrifices. I miss my team, my assistant, and all the resources that were previously available to me. I gave up some of the glamour and the perks of having built my place at the top for the short-term in order to build something bigger in the long run.
- Stay focused. It takes time to launch a company, create brand awareness and start making money so it is important to stay focused on the short-term goals. Ever since the day we started, I’ve had a small whiteboard on my desk with short and mid-term goals, specific numbers to hit, and dates to hit them by. I look at it daily to drive my actions for the day. I’m happy to say that I consistently hit those goals and enjoy updating them regularly to keep pushing further toward our larger goals.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There are many organizations and people out there pushing forward the movement to empower more women to seek and achieve leadership roles and create new ventures in business. However, capital and other support is not always as readily available for women-owned companies so I would love to start an incubator to support female entrepreneurs so that more resources are channeled to empower women to lead. I wholly support this movement through supporting organizations like Catalyst and Chief and through the day-to-day choices I make from selecting vendors who value diversity to mentoring young women coming up in the ranks. The more diverse perspectives we bring into our workplaces the more we all grow and succeed.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!