Technology Isn’t Enough | Stephen Bulfer at Streamloan

In part one of our conversation with Stephen Bulfer, he told us about his efforts to modernize mortgage lending with his company, Streamloan.

In part two of our conversation, he talks about how developing new technology isn’t enough—people have to change their behaviors to adopt that technology and his reasons for why he believes technology companies should be investing their key resources in how to inspire cultural change.

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Stephen brings over 20 years of innovation and technology experience to the mortgage lending industry, which he has immersed himself in since 2015 with StreamLoan, streamlining the mortgage process with digital technology for his mortgage lending customers across billions of dollars in mortgage originations and tens of thousands of users.

He has extensive software start-up experience, building both data analytics and mobile companies. Before StreamLoan, he most recently worked on ionGrid, a mobile security and collaboration company, to deliver software solutions to highly regulated industries including the financial sector. IonGrid was acquired in 2013 by NetApp.

Stephen has significant experience across strategy, build, and deployment of enterprise software at Fortune 500 companies including strategy and technology projects at Deloitte, the White House/Executive Office of the President, HP, Visa, MasterCard, Allstate, Kaiser, P&G, and over 50 Fortune 500 organizations.

Stephen has evaluated businesses through both an operating lens and an investment lens. In Stephen’s last corporate role as an EIR, he worked on connecting a large Silicon Valley tech firm to the startup ecosystem, with a focus on working with early to mid-stage fintech companies. StreamLoan is an award-winning mobile and SaaS platform. StreamLoan is a Silicon Valley-based venture-backed (with HQ in San Francisco).

Stephen’s real estate and mortgage experience cover both residential investment (20 years experience) and research; Stephen’s concentration during his MBA was real estate finance, with a special focus on the subprime mortgage crisis. Stephen holds two master’s degrees from Columbia Business School and the University of California Berkeley.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Stephen Bulfer 0:00
Quite often sort of, you know, learning or incitement inspiration comes from, from other industries from, you know, from from people that you typically wouldn’t expect, right? If you surround yourself with with sort of exactly like minded people with the same backgrounds the same, you know, engineering degrees from the same universities and the same, you know, company, legacy is etc, you get a similar product

Alexander Ferguson 0:30
In part one of our conversation with Stephen Bulfer, he told us about his efforts to modernize mortgage lending with his company Streamloan. In part two of our conversation, he talks about how developing new technology isn’t enough, people have to change their behaviors to adopt that technology. And his reasons for why he believes technology companies should be investing their key resources, and how to inspire cultural change. Stephen, great to have you back. I’m wanting to Now dig into how do you innovate? How do you overcome challenges because we all face challenges, and I’m sure you’ve, you face a few different challenges over your time, I’d love to hear your insight of how you were able to overcome. So looking back from the beginning of whether it’s this organization or your other four endeavors, as you said that you’ve built up what’s a an example of where you had a difficulty, and then were able to overcome that another entrepreneur can learn from

Stephen Bulfer 1:25
so we could speak for probably hours on the topic, you know, selecting one is a challenge, I think, you know, I get inspiration for innovation from, you know, a number of different places, I think, you know, quite often sort of, you know, learning or incitement inspiration comes from, from other industries from, you know, from from people that you typically wouldn’t expect, right? If you surround yourself with, with with sort of exactly like minded people with the same backgrounds, the same, you know, engineering degrees from the same universities and the same, you know, company, legacy, etc, you get a similar product. And so, you know, I like to just broadly speaking, you know, Challenge Challenge my own thinking. So, you know, sometimes that’s, you know, reading other material or meeting with people from radically different industries, whether it’s, you know, manufacturing or pharma, or, or, you know, textile design or, you know, radically different industries, you know, how are they tackling problems? How are they thinking about innovation? How do you move, you know, how do you move the ball forward, and think about doing something differently. And, you know, I guess, just, you know, in the spirit of kind of staying focused on sort of the mortgage world, I had the blessing and the curse of never being a loan officer, right. So I knew enough to be dangerous after doing more transactions, you know, as a real estate investor going through the consumer mortgage experience, refi, and purchase, and he locks in secondarily and all this nonsense, that, that I knew enough about what the borrower experience should be, and could envision through a lot of the consulting experience I had had on the enterprise and what the enterprise user persona view would be that I could sort of imagine the world could be a different place, right. And so when you think about innovation, you have to be able to expand your mind. And, you know, a lot of times the reason industries, or companies don’t change is they just keep doing the same thing again, and again, and again, and don’t really believe that things can be like, This is how we’ve always done it, we’re going to just continue doing it, like we’re making money, we’re operating our business, so let’s just keep going. And so a lot of the industry insiders sort of, you know, have been doing that in mortgage, you know, continuing to manufacture mortgages the way they have for the previous decades. And, you know, we’re getting to a point now, and we talked about this in a previous discussion, you know, the average cost of processing mortgages, you know, approaching $9,000, that’s up three times from pre subprime crisis, which is about 3000 bucks. So, you know, at some point, the duct tape and the Frankenstein monster that you try to create, and cobbling a few things together, it just it doesn’t work, right, you have to think about things differently. And, you know, innovation is truly taking a step back and looking at at at the problem with a fresh perspective,

Alexander Ferguson 4:17
what was what some of the challenges that you had to overcome to just get it launched that now on your fifth one, you kind of probably even already know, subconsciously if you can think back to when you didn’t know, what would be one of those things to just get it launched and get it started.

Stephen Bulfer 4:32
So, you know, again, taking sort of a page out of Eric Ries is, you know, lean startup and you know, Steve Blank, I had the fortune of studying with them during my MBA back in 2007 2008. So yeah, it was, it was it was definitely an eye opening experience. And it kind of forced you to think about you know, tackling problems and industries and customers and in a different way. Right and running a company a different way. So when I think about, you know, previous venture and something that we tried, tried differently, and it worked, we were able to sort of get through and be, you know, my previous venture ion grid. It was a mobile collaboration and mobile security company, we sold into US government, we sold into utilities, we sold into financial services, and many other highly highly regulated industries. And we had a horizontal solution that could be applied to anything from a public utility to a university to a financial services company. And when you have a great technology, and and it’s not vertically focused, sometimes go to market and the sales motion and the messaging and sort of the the world around sales and marketing is challenging, it’s like, how do you get the product to market? Right? What story should you be telling? What is the value proposition? How much are you saving? Or how much are you helping, you know, industry grow in terms of revenue, or a client growth. So, so we ended up, you know, doing a number of rapid experiments on a different sort of messaging and sales motions, and ultimately zoomed in on on one industry, the storage industry. So I was EMC storage engineer in a previous life. And it was kind of watching, you know, NetApp, and EMC and Dell, and, you know, a number of these other kind of storage technologies. And the, the intuition was that they needed to unleash or offer access a new protocol to the data, the data was really hard to get get get to is, like, kind of these old, you know, crummy big storage boxes, and you have to, you know, yeah, you know, do some kind of cryptic nonsense to get access to it, it just wasn’t friendly. You know, with a laptop, you can kind of hack your way with with a phone, forget about, you’d never get access to these. So, so the intuition was, okay, run a bunch of different experiments, figure out which industry. So you know, we looked at professional services, we looked at Telecom, we looked at, you know, number of a number of different sort of, you know, go to market motions, but really thought something around storage was interesting. And, lo and behold, it was we got a lot of interest. And we thought about data access protocols a little bit differently. So we thought about it through the lens of our mobile devices, being a window into the data. And that was, that was kind of a breakthrough, and went out and tested it. And sure enough, while we were going through this sort of industry kind of go to market experimentation, EMC announced that they bought a mobile company, one of our competitors. Okay, so that started to go down, we saw Citrix did something similar, we saw, you know, a number of these organizations buying companies that looked exactly like us. So, you know, we knew we were onto something, you know, ultimately, it led to, you know, to our company, also getting acquired by another another large data management data storage platform called NetApp.

Alexander Ferguson 8:10
Now, looking forward for your own business at you, you’ve painted the picture on our on our last chat of, of where you’re headed, What difficulties do you see you’re going to have to overcome? What hurdles? Do you see you’re gonna have to overcome in order to realize that vision?

Stephen Bulfer 8:27
So I think, like many industries, we’ve come to a, we’ve come to a place a development plays a technology, where technology is usually not, not always usually not the the limitation, right, so if you want to get to Mars, we have some of the technology to sort of make it happen and you know, may will work for people will rockets blow up, will they be able to come back? Right? So there you need, you know, hardcore r&d, but for solving, you know, I’ll call them the simple problems on Earth, mortgage finance, you know, CRM related thing, supply chain, you know, all these sort of, you know, Earth type problems that you know that we have technology that’ll do it. So it’s more about and specifically, you know, our experience within the the mortgage and real estate space, it’s how do you affect and change consumer behavior, or user behavior? People don’t, you know, people don’t change habits. It’s really, really difficult to change, a bad habit that you’ve had, and that’s been embedded right? And if there’s, if you don’t have a culture of change, and a leadership and investment that goes along with it, like guess what, people are gonna just default back to how they’ve been doing things. And so it doesn’t matter how great our rocket ship is, or our peers or competitors, etc. Ultimately, if the industry doesn’t adopt adopt these and it’s not just signing up with us and paying us to use the product like we love that. But it’s, you know, are they? Are they actually driving, you know, more revenue or more converted converted leads? Are they getting things through the pipeline faster? They reducing that ad $100 cost per loan? Like, do the business metrics actually match? You know, the story that we tell? And, you know, if not, we have a lot of work to do. And guess what, that’s not necessarily technology. Yeah, there’s some usability stuff and, you know, some design things that we can do to help and we’ve invested quite heavily in those areas to make it you know, really simple. But, but that’s, you know, that’s it is getting, getting people to do things differently. And it’s not easy.

Alexander Ferguson 10:49
behavioral change, and getting people to do things differently. That is the crux of if you’re trying to lead a revolution, or big disruption in something where people have been doing the same thing forever and ever, and probably applies to any other tech industry. To, to to see that to make that happen. What actionable or pragmatic things are you working on? To help? That behavioral change in mindset? Sure,

Stephen Bulfer 11:19
yeah. So without getting, you know, giving away our secrets into the castle, myself and my, my co founder and CTO at stream load both have what I would say, a unique perspective into the industry, right? We have deep, deep industry experience within real estate mortgage, deep technology experience. But we also have come from a technology DNA, both of us, we met at Deloitte, a long, long time back and work together. And, you know, what I learned there is that you can’t truly transform industries. With technology alone. It’s sufficient, but it’s necessary, but not sufficient. So it takes something else it’s the agenda stay quiet, like well, what is it? It’s, it’s it’s a change management and change leadership. And early on in my career, you know, I was like the hardcore techie and I’m like, That’s fluffy stuff. The reality is, that’s the real stuff. Tech is pretty easy. It’s, it’s the, it’s the how do you how do you invoke change? And what are all the incentives and the type of motivations to get people to do something differently? And and then also, sort of get excited about it, right? Like, not begrudgingly do their stuff like I got you but but really kind of treat it like flow? Right? I think, you know, Apple has done a fantastic job like you, I don’t know what to do, like, my day doesn’t start without my iPhone. And so it has to be so ingrained in your in your life and flow, that it’s it’s natural, and it’s hard.

Alexander Ferguson 12:54
The simple statement, you say of a lot of tech founders focused on the tech. That’s cool, the fluffy stuff, that doesn’t matter. you reverse it saying no. The fluffy stuff that people how they feel. That’s what matters.

Stephen Bulfer 13:09
Yeah. And that never thought I’d say that, but I did today.

Alexander Ferguson 13:14
You just did. Awesome. So books, podcasts, audiobooks, are there any that you’ve been reading or your favorites that you have enjoyed?

Stephen Bulfer 13:24
Yeah, so you know, I wish I had more time to just consume information if I couldn’t be a full time student. I absolutely would. Again, I think about sort of learning and just exposing myself to as much as much as I can, from as many different sources is critical to, you know, to being a great leader, and, you know, within our company, but also within the industry. So, you know, you know, you may kind of laugh at some of these titles, but like, don’t sweat the small stuff. Right? I’m rereading that for like the third time. And it’s all about keeping perspective, right? And we need that more today than ever. The books like Blink, right? Easy page, Turners, New York, you know, you know, Times bestsellers, etc. But that’s all about intuition matters, right. And then we talked earlier about, you know, how, you know, I had some intuition around where to take things, right, whether whether that’s, you know, here or in a previous company, it matters, right. And there’s some just some great insights there. The Economist is just a page turner, you know, sometimes it can be pretty dry, but, but I love it, right? It’s easy. It’s easy to kind of read and consume three, four or five, you know, 10 page article, and then move on just good, good information. It’s well written books like The Lean Startup. I’m rereading that again, you know, we had that as some reading material back in back in grad school, and, you know, I had the fortune to study with Steve Blank and spend some time with Eric Ries. And, you know, their their work is fantastic. And there’s so many so many insights and in a ways of just kind of rethinking what you’re doing. And so going back to brass tacks, so that you know, that’s that’s a great one, the Intelligent Investor, by by Mr. Graham. That one, that one’s awesome, right, we’re going through a lot of turbulence in the market, sometimes it’s good to go back to the brass tacks. And, you know, I had rereading a autographed copy by Warren Buffett, I had a chance to spend the day with him during grad school 2007, which was just like this phenomenal epic day. So it this is one of his favorite, favorite books, and it was a mentor of his and investing. So chewing on that one. And then Alan Greenspan, the edge of turbulence, which is all around sort of 911 and the these, like, big event, big one time events that, you know, potentially reshape the world forever, you know, going forward. So just starting to kind of, you know, get get back in and reread that and kind of go through the mindset and the thinking, like, oh, shoot the world is it’s changed, and it’s hard for people to believe like, you know, with the Coronavirus, and, you know, just the, you know, the horrible cases of deaths and, and infection and the world pressing pause, and, you know, what’s the impact to, you know, global growth and GDP and all of that, and lives, you know, down to, you know, people that, you know, can’t can’t pay their rent, because they are their service workers. Like, it’s, it’s, it’s challenging, but it’s good. Again, just to have some perspective. So those are a few.

Alexander Ferguson 16:25
Thank you for sharing that I’m gonna end with this last question. Sure. Looking forward, what kind of tech innovations do you predict we’ll see in the near future, and in the long in the long term? So one year, two years, and then 10 years?

Stephen Bulfer 16:38
Yeah. So, you know, I like to move away from the buzzwords, but I’ve always found being on the perimeter. And pushing the boundaries help define success, the early success, and then, you know, breaking into new industries. And so, you know, I was, you know, I was doing big data before the term Big Data, even it was invented, you know, back in, like, 2000, right? It’s doing a mobile, mobile, mobile security and bring your own device. You know, on the very early days, when devices were still kind of, you know, being developed and a new new one new form factors were coming out. So, things like rpa, and artificial intelligence, machine learning and some of these other, you know, I’ll come buzzwords, but there’s actually some real meat behind them, especially if you can invoke the change, and figure out how to tie it back from a science experiment to actually making a difference, right to, you know, to to your customers, businesses, which is really the big deal. So I think, for the foreseeable future, data will continue to to become, you know, a different differentiator. And those organizations that know how to mind collect and use data, in many of them big, you know, common examples. Now, of course, Amazon and Google and Facebook and such. That’s sort of an archetype for every organization.

Alexander Ferguson 17:57
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report, YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview, you can nominate them at UpTech Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.



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