360 Properties LLC Founder Johnny Bello spoke with Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about launching his West Hartford, CT-based startup, which provides an innovative approach to viewing properties online.
NAN PRICE: Is this your first startup?
JOHNNY BELLO: I launched my first startup when I was at Ithica College. EyeConnect was a camera for the visually impaired that connected to the person, their guide dog, or their cane. The camera streamed video that would be transmitted to a third party who would help the impaired person navigate.
NAN: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
JOHNNY: I’ve always been an entrepreneur, but that really sparked my entrepreneurial spirit thanks to Brad Treat, a professor at the business school with a specialty in entrepreneurship. As a successful entrepreneur, he shared his experience and knowledge with his students. It was the most hands-on class I’ve ever had. I discovered my love of entrepreneurship at that point.
NAN: What happened to that startup?
JOHNNY: We competed at the Ithaca College Business Competition and New York State business competition at Cornell University. We did really well and received a lot of positive feedback. Unfortunately, after much deliberation, as much as we wanted to help the blind community, with the demands of college, it was challenging to get the funding. I still keep the idea in my back pocket.
NAN: Tell us about how you developed the business concept for 360 Properties.
JOHNNY: It started back in college as my senior thesis. We had to advise a local theatre as if we were a marketing agency. We introduced a virtual tour, since many college students didn’t have any idea what the inside of the building looked like.
When I graduated about a year later, I came across my friend’s estate, which was having trouble selling. This is where 360 Properties began. I called him up and introduced the idea of creating virtual tours for properties. That night, I did some research and found out virtual tour software had recently been created. At first, I was heartbroken.
NAN: Because you thought you had an original idea?
JOHNNY: Exactly. Then I realized: All I really have to do is obtain the technology, set up a brand behind it, and start selling 3D virtual tours.
The next week I quit my job at SolarCity, moved back home, and set up the business. That was September 2017. I haven’t looked back since.
NAN: How are you getting the word out and building clientele?
JOHNNY: Connecticut was having an exposition in Ireland showcasing different business in the area to get people from Ireland to visit the state. It was perfect timing. The state was looking for a way to innovatively showcase Connecticut and 360 Properties stepped in. Using our system, the expo was able to virtually exhibit Connecticut in Ireland.
It gave 360 Properties a strong portfolio early on because we were able to do virtual tours for some very credible businesses in Connecticut including the Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport, the Maritime Aquarium, Foxwoods Resort Casino, the Pez Visitor Center, and the Nathan Hale Homestead, which is a Connecticut Landmarks estate.
NAN: You noted you had the idea and then you realized it was already being done. How do you differentiate your business?
JOHNNY: Other people are doing this, but not many. People tell me photographers are our competitors, but they’re not. We align ourselves with photographers. They already have a network, but they’re doing something completely different. Even with high dynamic range (HDR) photos, 360 Properties can’t really mimic a professional shop. A million-dollar estate is going to need that professional photo for certain shots.
Collaboration is important. It’s such a small industry and there are enough properties for all of us to succeed if we can help each other out by working together.
One way we’re differentiating ourselves is by providing aerial inside footage. In winter 2017, 360 Properties won the Ithaca College Business Competition, which was hosted by Ithaca College and Rev Ithaca Startup Works and we were awarded $750 to purchase a drone. We’re incorporating aerial footage into our services and combining that with the virtual aspect.
Another way we differentiate ourselves is by creating promotional videos to share on social media. We help cross-promote businesses. So, we can promote 360 Properties, but at the same time, we’re creating awareness and branding for the companies we’ve done business with, which helps them get exposure.
This is all marketing. We’re not really trying to focus on ourselves when we do 3D tours. We’re really focusing on the customer. We’re trying to help them get exposure. Obviously, we’re marketing our services, but they are marketing their business.
NAN: They are using your services as a marketing tool.
JOHNNY: Exactly. We help them in every way possible to get them publicity and it comes back full circle. The more we help them, the more we are going to receive help in the end.
NAN: In what ways is 360 Properties innovative?
JOHNNY: What makes us innovative is that we’re providing local businesses an opportunity to take their brick-and-mortar location and place it on the internet for the rest of the world to view at any time, from anywhere. These properties can be viewed through any device whether it’s a smartphone, desktop, tablet, or even a virtual reality headset.
NAN: Did you work with any Connecticut resources as you were launching the startup?
JOHNNY: Yes, I connected with Connecticut Small Business Development Center Director Mary Ann Kay Della Camera when I first started. I also received the Entrepreneurial Learner’s Permit from the state for entrepreneurial startup funding.
NAN: Aside from funding, what has been your biggest startup challenge?
JOHNNY: I would say time management. There’s so much to do right now. It’s challenging trying to not only manage my time but also focus on one thing at a time. There are so many different avenues—you can go to entertainment venues, movie theaters, and museums, or you can focus on housing with real estate flippers, developers, and builders.
NAN: So, you don’t have one set niche?
JOHNNY: There are so many opportunities, but when you try to do everything you don’t do anything right. So, right now we’re targeting real estate and commercial real estate because the return is there.
We can provide an innovative way to showcase a house and save realtors’ time. They don’t end up showing houses to people who aren’t really interested. They can share a link to a virtual tour, and if the potential buyer wants to see the property the realtor is more likely to close. And if the buyer isn’t interested in an in-person viewing, well, the realtor saved time they would have spent showing the property.
NAN: What is your ideal vision for the company?
JOHNNY: Our long-term goal as a company is to create a virtual online community for metro Hartford where people can visit shops, houses, restaurants, historic sites, art galleries, and more, so the rest of the world can tune into what we have to offer here in Connecticut. And then, eventually, I want to take that concept and push it around the world.