Nick Mulder of Hypofriend tells us about helping customers make smarter mortgage decisions.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nick Mulder: Of my family of 5 – two family members are working with me at Hypofriend, my father, and my brother. They’re leading all things data and analytics. While I focus on all things product-related together with our CTO, Pavel, who by now feels like another brother in our ‘tribe’ of 35 people. Overall, we are doing fine; fortunately, we are able to work 100% remotely. My brother and I work from Berlin, and my father works from his farm in Northern Holland or in Malta.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Hypofriend.
Nick Mulder: I started my career as a product manager in 2014, when I joined Zalando originally as a trainee. It was either a traineeship or a career in consulting. I chose to go down the more creative path and never looked back. I was confident about my decision as I had cofounded two smaller startups before joining Zalando; neither were an amazing success but taught me how to design apps, understand metrics, and ultimately solve problems without financing. This scrappiness proved helpful in my career as a product manager where engineering resources are often the limiting constraint. At Zalando, I designed the same-day delivery app because our team didn’t have a designer; in the end, this was a key step for us to build out the service and ultimately roll it into the overall shop in Germany. I enjoyed the mobile experience and took that with me joining 8fit as the lead PM, shipping almost 50 experiments around UX, pricing, and others to lift retention and lower churn.
I was then approached by Ada Health to do something similar; at the time, they just had a prototype which we ended up completely revamping into the app it is today. While at Ada, I experienced the pain of buying a home – both the property search as well as the poor mortgage advice I got from a broker that connected me via Immobilienscout. This was ultimately the inspiration to found Hypofriend; we are building an online financial advisor for homebuyers & homeowners.
Together with my father, Dr. Christian Mulder, and later on Pavel Jurasek, we founded Hypofriend in 2017 to help customers make smarter mortgage decisions. With a team of almost 40 engineers, economists, and mortgage experts, we have helped hundreds of customers understand mortgages better and realize their dream of buying a property in Germany.
How does Hypofriend innovate?
Nick Mulder: As opposed to other brokers, we focus on the entire customer journey from affordability to finding a property to finding the best mortgage loan to finance the home. By focusing on taking a transactional business into a customer-journey business, I was personally able to apply my product experience; otherwise, it would have been a very sales & operations-heavy business model, which would not have been the perfect match. So far, we have rebuilt the entire tech stack around mortgage advisors, thanks to Chris and Pavel, who have rethought how to give mortgage advice but also how advisors can optimize their time through our own powerful CRM. This has helped us build a remote-first company that enables our advisors to work across Germany. At the same, our customers are welcomed with a seamless experience, which allows them to easily learn about mortgages and home buying without having to speak to someone directly. The more transparency we offer, the more trust we build with our customers, which in the end is a win-win for us all.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Nick Mulder: At the start of the pandemic, the entire German real estate market came to a screeching halt, and we saw our transaction volume drop by almost 40%. However, as soon as the lockdowns were lifted, we saw a swift recovery. We’re very fortunate that the effect of COVID has been positive on home buying in general; across the globe, people are enduring more hours in their homes than ever before, and the desire for an office or more space has led to an increase in demand of real estate. Our company, Hypofriend, Germany’s fastest-growing online mortgage advisor, has benefited from this surge. Our online platform allows customers across Germany to seamlessly interact with our mortgage advisors and partner banks, allowing us to both advise them online but also finalize their mortgage without ever seeing them. This has positioned us very well compared to traditional offline brokers who rely on face-to-face meetings.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Nick Mulder: As a company without external funding, we were somewhat caught by surprise by COVID, which meant we had to do diligent financial planning as well as draw up several contingency plans. Fortunately, we navigated through the difficulties and could continue our growth trajectory. We had to freeze hiring, which took away some momentum, but this was reversed towards the end of summer when we had the full conviction we could sustain a profitable growth path. In 2020, we still managed to double our head count and almost triple our revenue.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Nick Mulder: At Hypofriend, we had to reinvent the tech stack for mortgage advisors. We rebuilt our advisor tools from the ground up, which positioned our advisors to work remotely in an efficient and secure way. Besides our own software, we rely on Slack for communication, JIRA for our product & engineering, and Notion for all things documentation. In terms of philosophy, we are a family-run modern business. We’ve learned that we need to emphasize transparency in order to create a culture that promotes autonomy as well as passion and care, both towards each other but also towards our customers.
Additionally, we promote an environment that rewards teamwork instead of individual successes. We noticed that this had been a key contributor to our learning as a company as a whole. By aligning incentive structures with teamwork, we re-emphasize the notion of sharing learnings and helping each other, which proved particularly helpful when we were faced with tough lockdowns.
Who are your competitors?
Nick Mulder: In the German mortgage B2C space, we work with but also compete with all of the banks directly. We have over 750 lending partners integrated on our platform, so while our recommendation engine helps our advisors and customers understand which product is right for their situation — we can use our platform to see which bank offers this product at the lowest price. By being independent of the banks, we are able to give independent advice and optimize the outcome for the customer in an objective way that most banks do not and cannot. There are other more traditional larger brokers like Interhyp AG and Dr. Klein, who have dominated the markets for the last decades, but we aim to surpass them in the next five years with our customer-first approach. Compared to both traditional players, we have a wider network of banking partners, better customer-facing products, and better-trained advisors.
And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Nick Mulder: We plan to stay in the game by continuing to focus on our advisor productivity as well as our end customers. By delivering the best products and customer experience, our brand will continue to grow and eventually surpass that of the other players. We want to become Germany’s most-trusted financial advisor for homebuyers and homeowners across multiple products. To do that, we will continue innovating and building whatever it takes.