Hassan Riggs: Helping Real Estate Agents Thrive

Automated lead management for the sale

Hassan Riggs has one goal in mind with his tech startup: to help make real estate agents more money.

Portrait of Hassan Riggs.
John Robinson

Riggs is the founder of Smart Alto, a qualification and appointment-setting platform designed to help real estate agents make additional money each year. The company’s platform integrates with agents’ lead sources, prescreens new leads, filters false inquiries, sends targeted text messages to the right leads at the right time, and ultimately enables agents to schedule five times more appointments than they would by themselves, Riggs told Lifewire in a phone interview.

"When I was in college, I worked in the real estate space, so I knew that real estate agents often did not have the time to consistently follow up with online leads," he said.

"This idea was always in the back of my head. Then in 2017, me and a buddy started Smart Alto because I knew this problem existed and we wanted to help real estate agents who were already doing well take their business to the next level."

On average, realtors make an additional $40,000 a year when they use Smart Alto’s platform, according to Riggs. In the past four years, Riggs has been able to scale and grow his business with the help of accelerator programs. 

Quick Facts

Name: Hassan Riggs

Age: 36

From: Birmingham, Alabama

Random delight: He’s in a book club with a bunch of guys from Washington, DC. This month, they are reading Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. 

Key quote or motto he lives by: “Listen to what everyone says, but don’t do what they say just because they said it.”

It Takes Change to Grow

Hassan was doing digital marketing consulting for Hilton in the Washington, DC area prior to joining Y Combinator to launch Smart Alto. He was a part of the startup accelerator’s winter 2017 cohort, and he's since secured $820,000 in funding, bringing his total venture capital raised to $1.1 million. 

While Smart Alto is based in Birmingham, Alabama, Riggs personally has since relocated to San Francisco, and leads a distributed team of 10 employees from there. Smart Alto encompasses a team that includes sales, engineering, product, design and customer success specialists.

Though the company was poised for growth heading into 2020, following a year in which it doubled its revenue, Riggs said everything changed when the pandemic hit. 

"We made some really tough changes," he said. "In order to keep the business alive, I implemented a COVID-19 strategy, and a part of that was, we re-negotiated all of our contracts."

These negotiations included securing discounts from business partners and helping customers work out payment plans, to avoid cancellations.

"Don’t despise small beginnings. Start small and make progress every single day."

While a lot of tech companies halted hiring last spring, Riggs said that adding some team members in sales, customer success, and engineering has helped his company thrive through the pandemic.

"People were pulling back from a lot of growth areas and we started to double down on growth," he said. "By focusing primarily on growth with our hires, we were able to sustain our company growth. We ended up growing our team by 30% year over year."

More Access Is Needed

Riggs said his No. 1 challenge as a Black tech founder has been access to both investors and knowledge capital. 

"Yes, we did raise money but, man, it was a true drive," he said. "Going through Y Combinator and AngelPad definitely gave us credibility, but it was hard just getting introductions to people because, the reality is, most people who say they want to help really don’t."

Riggs said Smart Alto has been able to build relationships with strategic investors in Birmingham, which is where the company raised the majority of its funding and why it is still headquartered there today.

A casual portrait of Hassan Riggs.
John Robinson

These relationships with Birmingham investors are what helped Riggs grow his network of mentors and advisors. He said while Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator wanted Smart Alto to remain headquartered on the West Coast, that just wasn’t viable for his business plans. 

"The reality is, that wasn’t the best place for us to grow our business," he said. "We had to pivot, move, shape, and evolve to find the best place for us, and that happened to be Birmingham."

This year, Riggs is looking to double in business again, grow the company's sales team, and land contracts with some big customers. Right now, the majority of Smart Alto’s business comes from individual real estate agents and small teams, so Riggs is eager to get into enterprise sales. 

For aspiring Black tech founders, Riggs said it's important to not lose momentum in this sometimes discouraging sector. He also stressed the significance of starting to build strong professional relationships as soon as you can. 

"Man, I could write a book on this," he said. "Don’t despise small beginnings. Start small and make progress every single day."

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