Kelda Helen Roys proves there is life after the Legislature.
The former two-term state representative from Madison's north side and its suburban neighbors has thrown herself into a web startup rather than following the usual arc of ex-pols. You know, cashing in on old connections through lobbying and other backstage wheedling.
Roys, 34, gave up a safely Democratic seat in 2012 to make a bold, if not foolhardy, run against the better-known Mark Pocan for Tammy Baldwin's old congressional seat. Pocan crushed her in the primary.
"Everybody said I was crazy. 'Why not just stay [in the Legislature] for 30 years?'" recounts Roys, who earlier served as executive director of the reproductive-rights groups NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. "But I didn't go there for a lifetime sinecure. I went because I was passionate about certain issues.
"It was a risk worth taking," Roys says of her congressional run. The same could be said of OpenHomes.
Roys' passion and hard work (she knocked on more than 20,000 doors in her first election) are two of the reasons venture capitalist Troy Vosseller cites for his investor group, the well-regarded (and oddly spelled) gener8tor, backing Roys' venture. OpenHomes offers a software platform that connects homebuyers and sellers in a way that promises to save big bucks for both.
Cofounder Scott Rouse, who worked at Shoutlet, StudyBlue and Asthmapolis, handles the tech end. Roys, who is an attorney and real estate agent, knows the business end.
"I started selling real estate at 19," she says. "I was in college in New York City and had to earn money."
Roys wound up graduating from New York University in three years (her major: drama, politics and cultural studies) and then attended law school at UW-Madison.
The OpenHomes game plan proved beguiling enough to attract a $20,000 gener8tor investment and three months of mentoring from the edgy investment group, which runs "accelerator" shops in Madison and Milwaukee for its portfolio of startups.
The platform allows homebuyers to directly arrange property tours with sellers. It also allows sellers to verify the financial and personal bona fides of the would-be buyers.
"If you have a house to sell, you can list it with us, and instead of paying the traditional agent a 6% commission, you pay us 1%," says Roys. For a $300,000 house, that translates to a $3,000 fee versus $18,000 for the traditional agent.
Roys, who is a Realtor, will put her listings on the realty group's powerful Multiple Listing Service. She notes that if a seller accepts a bid from a buyer represented by a Realtor, that agent would collect the standard 3% split-fee from the seller.
Vosseler thinks the OpenHomes platform has potential for the "scalability" venture capitalists yearn for. It's "a groundbreaking model attacking a huge nationwide market," he says. Investing in Roys' and Rouse's brainchild "was a no-brainer for the gener8tor team," he says.
OpenHomes' model will be woodshedded for the next few months under gener8tor's tutelage. Roys says she hopes to raise between $150,000 and $300,000 in seed capital this fall.