OJO Labs is making moves.
The AI-powered digital assistant announced it’s raised $62.5 million in Series D funding on Wednesday. The Austin startup has already put some of the financing toward the acquisition of Movoto, a residential real estate search site, and plans to spend what’s left of the cash on expanding its AI-powered personalized property recommendation engine.
CEO John Berkowitz said OJO will add its digital advisor to Movoto’s listing portal, as a way to personalize how consumers navigate the complex real estate site. When users are ready to talk to an in-person agent, OJO will refer clients to a Movoto agent, or partner brokerage. The San Mateo-based Movoto said it receives 24 million visits monthly.
“We are assembling two super powers together overnight,” Berkowitz told Built In. “Big scale companies have to focus on serving consumers generically, and deep personalization companies wonder, how do we scale? We’ve uniquely kind of solved that with this acquisition.”
Berkowitz said the two companies will now be operated under the OJO umbrella, although they will retain their independent brands. He said the new funding lifts the hiring freeze OJO had been under, and that the 347-person company will be investing in engineering, data science, product talent and more.
The company also plans to spend the cash on growing the amount of data that informs its personalization engine.
Founded in 2015, OJO Labs gathers users’ home preferences and budget, and then its AI system talks prospective buyers through the process of finding — and buying — the property of their dreams. When the AI system runs into a question it cannot answer, the OJO system automatically alerts a human member of the team, who takes control of the conversation. The AI then learns from that encounter and expands its capabilities.
“So the burden is not on the consumer to train OJO, the burden is on OJO to train itself,” Berkowitz said.
The company currently has four offices: its headquarters in Austin, the Movoto office in San Mateo, a data gathering and compliance site in Minneapolis-St.Paul and a data organizing site in St. Lucia. OJO’s island team tags, categorizes and provides real-time responses to create a conversational experience for the customer, and an opportunity for the AI to improve. Berkowitz said the company will grow its teams in each office.
He said the pandemic has totally upended how people are thinking of buying a home. Going forward, he plans to expand the data points that people are now prioritizing, like room to build a custom home office. Instead of treating all starting buyers the same, Berkowitz said he wants to develop its personalization engine to account for those who come from generations of homeownership versus those who may be the first in their families to own property.
“You’re starting from a different position. We’re going to serve both of you,” he said.
In addition to the consumer-facing digital assistant, OJO sells its software to brokerages like Sothebys International Realty and independent real estate agents to ensure lead inquiries don’t fall through the digital cracks. OJO earns a referral fee for each lead that results in a close.
The Series D round brings total investment in OJO Labs to $133.5 million. Wafra led the round, with participation from Breyer Capital, LiveOak Venture Partners, Royal Bank of Canada and Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures.