Launching a startup wasn’t high on the professional priority list for Lynn Leegard, who for decades was the top attorney for many of the Twin Cities’ leading real estate firms.
But in an age when many brilliant CEOs are already dreaming of retirement and crafting an exit strategy, Leegard launched a company based in the Twin Cities that closed the last virtual hole in the home buying process.
“I was very committed to solving what was out there [seen] as a real problem in the industry.”
Although the inventor and entrepreneur wasn’t on Leegard’s list of career goals, that’s what she became in 2013 when she launched TrustFunds, a technology company in the Twin Cities that enables homebuyers to send their serious money electronically instead of a paper check.
Because of her deep company-wide experience and knowledge of the many state and federal laws that govern the industry, Legard knew that real estate executives don’t embrace radical innovation easily.
However, global tech companies are pouring billions of dollars into ideas that will transform the buying and selling process – and give them a foothold in it.
Legard’s goals were far less ambitious. She simply wanted to make things safer for the buyers who write the checks and the agents and brokers responsible for dealing with them.
Usually, the buyer wrote a check and gave it to his agent, who took the check to the registry agent. The registry agent handed this check to the credit account holder, who deposited the check and waited for the money to clear the buyer’s bank. TrustFunds does it all electronically.
“I said, ‘That’s ridiculous,’ she said. ‘We’re going backwards.'” I said, ‘We need to find a way to do it faster; This is not how we should do business. “
Legard was intimately aware of the dangers of dealing with paper checks. For decades, she was a corporate advisor to one of the largest brokers in the Twin Cities. She also served as the president of the Minnesota Association of Realtors.
“The idea for TrustFunds really came from my passion for risk management for the industry,” she said.
Although Legard had little experience in the world of technology, she was confident that her idea was unique. Internet searches confirmed this belief.
She hired partners who were familiar with the electronic payment business to help with the technical work and put together a team with the kinds of skills she didn’t have.
“I combined their experience with mine,” she said.
There were many lessons to be learned along the way. Since it was the first to offer such a service, Leegard had very little guidance on how much to charge. Based on the reaction of her first potential clients, she said she was charging too much, so she quickly renewed her rates.
“When you are a completely new concept and a completely new idea, it is hard to know the tolerance of prices in the market,” she said. “For us, he always had to be smart, flexible and very pivotal when needed.”
I also learned that one should never assume the most obvious innovations and that the most reasonable business solutions have already been tried.
Today, the company is used by more than 440 brokers in nine states and Leegard is still trying to sell the idea to more brokers.
Often, when you pitch the idea to brokers and leaders of local multi-list services, their sales pitch is often met with enthusiasm and bewilderment.
She said potential customers sometimes tell her that they don’t believe wire transfer wasn’t really an option for buyers and their agents.
“It just made so much sense, they just thought someone was actually doing it,” she said. “But on the other hand, it was a paradigm shift.”