Podcast Episode 320: Melissa Gillham
How to Raise $105 Million in 17 Hours For Real Estate Investing

The Investor Acquisition System:

  • Find More Investors
  • Raise Money Online
  • Finance Your Projects


Today's Guest - Melissa Gillham, Vice President Marketing, Origin Investments


Melissa Gillham heads up digital and social media marketing for the real estate sponsor, Origin Investments, out of Chicago.

Melissa oversees what is probably the most effective digital marketing program of any real estate developer yet to enter the crowdfunding space and is known for having built the system that launched the most successful raise ever recording in the industry - $105MM in just 17 hours.

See below for more links to Melissa's and Origin's online profiles.

What You're Going to Learn


* How to raise $105 million in 17 hours

*  Advanced real estate crowdfunding strategies

*  How to build your content library

Engagement on your website versus on social media

*  What to prepare for when investors research you

*  How to select the content to produce

*  Balancing your corporate versus personal positioning 

*  The crowdfunding time commitment

*  How to overcome digital marketing challenges

*  Best practices for real estate digital marketing

*  Real estate newsletter best practices

And much, much more.

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Show Highlights

How to Raise $105 Million for Real Estate in 17 Hours

Adam: On November 16th of 2018, Origin Investments announced that they had raised $105 million 17 hours. So, my one question is, of course, how? That's it.

Melissa: I'm absolutely happy to talk about that.

Adam: All right, go for it.

Melissa: I guess how I'd answer that is it definitely was not quick. It wasn't easy. Yes, we got those commitments in 17 hours, but this was a year's worth of work in the making. So, previously we had had no open fund for the year preceding that open fund that we announced - the Open QOZ Fund.

For that entire year, we didn't just sit around doing nothing. We actively were producing content. We were creating as much content as we could to try to get interested people into our database. That allowed us to build up our lead database so that we had a big group of people in our database, when we were ready to announce a new open fund.

One of the things we did during that time was we didn't just get these leads, and keep them in our database, and not talk to them. We send out an email newsletter every two weeks. We give people content. It's not promotional. We just talk about the things that they need to know when they're investing in private real estate. We also created a waitlist on our website. For that year, if people came to the web site, they wanted to learn more about us, and they wanted to be the first to know when we had an open fund, they were able to sign up for that waitlist, as well. We also would keep them updated through emails by talking about what we had going on in our closed investments. We would talk about how those properties were doing.

When it came time to open this fund, we had an interested group of people that we had already cultivated over the last year. That made it a lot easier. When we were ready to hit the ground running, we didn't have to go and find people to talk to. We had already cultivated this group. That made it a lot easier when thinking about who is the base that we were going to.

Now, when we were ready to launch, we also still had to do additional things. We had to put together email campaigns; we hosted a webinar; we put together various collateral, which talked about the product; we put it up on our website. It wasn't just flipping a switch, but I think the real key to getting that interest was cultivating these people over time.

Advanced Real Estate Crowdfunding Strategy Explained

Adam: All right, so you mentioned a waitlist. I've been interested- was that a conscious decision to stimulate a response in prospects, or was it just really because you didn't have anything to offer at the time?

Melissa: Exactly. It was a little bit of both. On one hand, we know that scarcity really helps. People are interested in things that maybe they can't have access to. So, I think there is something psychologically appealing to people about a waitlist. Now that we have two open funds, it's interesting ... I miss having those waitlists [cross talk]

People like things that aren't available, so that's a big part of it. But we really didn't have a fund at the time, so we definitely did have a list. By joining the list, people knew that they would be the first to know when it was available, and people like that. They want the first VIP access.

How to Build Your Real Estate Content Library

Adam: All right, let's talk about the different types of content that you produce over there. There's video, and there is the kind of thought leadership content, as well.

Melissa: Yes. We have a huge library of articles right now, and we've invested in writing articles for about the last three to four years. I'd say there's- a lot of that content is very evergreen, so, it's the what people need to know before, during, and after they invest in a private real estate investment. We only recently last year started producing videos, so that was new for us. We've got a video producer on board. He's great. We're just starting to see what video can become for us.

We're also contemplating starting a podcast. I love talking to you and just getting tips, because we really think that's a missed opportunity. Some people love listening to podcasts, so, it's just another way to reach people. We've also tried to package some of our content into different guides so that people can get ... They don't have to just read individual articles. They can read a full guide.

Engagement on Website vs. on Social

Adam: A question, then - I've noticed that you have lots of views of articles on the website. Yet, when you look at LinkedIn, for example, the same articles have almost no interaction. It's like there's no engagement. Tell me what you think about that. What is going on?

Melissa: We are involved in social media, and we post our things on social media, but I think there's a lot of opportunity for where we can grow on social media. Right now, we're just posting really our own content, but we don't do a good job retweeting other people's content or engaging with other people's content that we're posting. I think if we did more of that, we would see a lot more engagement on our social media channels. I think, right now, we're only at the start of what we could be doing in terms of [cross talk]

Adam: That's really interesting you say that, because my thoughts is that the real estate investor is not likely to- or somebody who's in that frame of mind, or a sophisticated investor, is not the kind of person who tweets, or who post comments. But what they will do, if they see something, is they might go to the website and do some research. That's where all the interaction, all the engagement actually happens, right? Different personality.

Melissa: I think that makes sense. I also think it comes down to what our goals are and where we spend our time. Our goal has been to create content, in order to drive traffic to our site. So, we create that content, and we are seeing that the number-one reason why people get to us is through our organic content, by searching through organic search. It makes sense that that's where we're investing our time and that's how people are finding us. If our goal was to really create engagement, and to just have discussions, and to connect with people, then we would be more active on social media.

I think what you're saying could be true. Yes, our target audience isn't necessarily just looking only on social media, but we know that when they have questions, or when they're looking for resources, that we definitely know that they're googling. I think they're all- they are all active on social media, but it may be for just more personal reasons versus just looking for investment opportunity.

Real Estate Investors Will Research You. Here's What to Do

Adam: My sense is that investors aren't chit-chatting about investments online, but when they learn that Origin has an opportunity, or they even hear Michael's name, or David's name, or the name of the company, that they do research online. Then, because you have this library that's out there, your credibility is enhanced and is built that way, and it just funnels everything into the website.

Melissa: Absolutely. So, we target high-net-worth investors. I think a lot of people have conversations with their friends, and their family, and in their personal networks. "What are you investing in? What have you heard here? How does this sound?" But then, I do think that we definitely see, at night, everyone's googling to do their due diligence on their own time to conduct that research and to inform themselves. But they are getting ideas from their friends, and their networks, too.

A lot of these networks have started to actually formalize and go online. There are various investing groups that do have forums that we see people posting about and coming into our website from. We do see some conversations happening on Reddit. That usually isn't always the high-net-worth investor, but we see more and more of that. So, I think more of those conversations will start happening online, and I think it behooves companies like us to get our presence out there and to get our libraries created, so that when more of this conversation does continue to happen online, that we are the first people that show up when they search.

How to Create the Real Estate Content to Produce

Adam: Tell me about content production, and how do you come up with the ideas for the content? Who writes it? How long is it? What have you found works, really?

Melissa: That's a great question. I always, whenever I get started, I just use what's called the customer journey map. I don't know if you've ever heard of that, but I really put myself in the shoes of our customer and the person that we're trying to target. Then I go through every phase of their journey. I think about what's on their mind, when they're- before they even know they have a problem that they're trying to solve.

Here, when it comes to an investor, they're really thinking about, "How can I make sure I have more than enough money for retirement? How can I make sure I can keep up my current standard of living when I'm ready to retire?" That's really what's on their mind there. Then we move on to now, they realize they have a problem that investing can solve. Now they know they need to find an investment opportunity to achieve these goals. Then they're going to start actively researching different solutions to this problem that they have. What are the different investing opportunities out there? Then, when they find Origin, they need to figure out why Origin is the place for them to invest.

After we put ourselves in the shoes of that journey, then what we do is we literally sit down, and we write every single topic that is associated with every phase that I just talked about. What's some content we can provide at each stage. We have a running spreadsheet that we keep, and we update every year.

A lot of that content is evergreen, which means that regardless of what's happening in the market today, they're always going to want to know why should they invest with Origin, or they're always going to know why is private real estate a good investing opportunity? That's evergreen content. On an annual basis, or even when things are happening in the markets, we think about what do we want to write about today that might be timely? Qualified Opportunity Zones, right? We talked about opening our fund earlier. That was something that is new and timely, so we wanted to create content for that, as well. We just keep a running list.

Then, I'm very fortunate, because the people at our company are really smart, and they're great writers [cross talk] are willing to write and contribute to the website. So, I usually assign out articles and topics, just based on who I think might be the best person to write about them internally. Then, like I mentioned earlier, we have a wonderful person that we work with in the company, externally. She does not write all of our content, but she writes a good percentage of it. Then I literally edit, personally, every article that we write. It is a big time commitment, but we've found it to be very useful.

Similarly, how we create our videos is we just think about what are different topics that we have in mind that we think would better come to life in a video? We have Michael, and Dave, and other employees who are more than willing to be our thought leaders in talking about these subjects on videos, as well.

Like I said, I'm fortunate, because we have great thought leaders at this company, so it's not like we have to do a lot of external research. We're really just pulling from our own firsthand knowledge of being in the business over the last decades. So, I feel like I'm very fortunate, when it comes to having this engine.

Balancing Corporate With Personal Real Estate Content

Adam: What about the balance between personality and corporate? People say that investors invest with people, as much as with the deal. How do you integrate the personality of the company into your marketing?

Melissa: That's a really good question. Michael and Dave have very unique and distinct personalities, and they're both really competent leaders in the firm, but they have different specialties. Michael oversees more operations side of the business, the product side of the business, and Dave oversees asset management. We have a tendency to make them the leaders of their own areas, and the areas- They had experience in their own personal lives, before they came to Origin that I think are both really interesting and unique that they pull from.

So, we do try to- we keep the content focused on their different personalities and what they're interested in, personally, too, because, if they're going to commit all this time to helping marketing through these different articles, and videos, we want them to be passionate about what they're writing about, and interested in the subject. So, we really talk about that.

As it relates to social media, I think that we definitely have an opportunity for improvement there, too. I would love it if Michael Episcope has his own Twitter. He has a really unique personality. He is a risk taker. He's really interesting, and he's really opinionated and [cross talk] in a good way. I think he has a unique point of view. I would love it if he would have a Michael Twitter that he would share things on. There's a long list of priorities, and he's running a company, so I'm not going to ask him to do his personal Twitter, but when he posts on LinkedIn, I think it's interesting.

Most of our content goes out on our corporate social media accounts and our corporate website, but we do like to inject everyone's personality in their own individual articles. Like I said, someday, my goal is to get them both very active in having their own personal Twitter accounts and whatnot. Dave shares really- he does like to post on his LinkedIn, so he's really engaged in that, but we could still do a little bit more of that.

The Real Estate Crowdfunding Time Commitment

Adam: What is the time commitment for principles in a major real estate development company that's looking to raise capital? What is the time commitment to all this content production, and social media posting, and marketing, in general? Is it-

Melissa: I think that Michael and Dave's time is best spent running the company, and finding the assets, and managing people's money. We don't ask for all of their time, but we do ask for some of it. Honestly, these gentlemen really like to work. They're very involved. I'd say like they go above and beyond, when it comes to contributing to this.

Not everyone has to be involved. It's up to you how involved you need to be. If you have a team that you can work with, or even just one person who can help you, a lot of that responsibility can be outsourced. You just need to look it over, make sure you agree with the thoughts in the article, and sign off on it.

A lot of times, we just have an interview with Michael, and we interview him, and ask him questions, and then we write the article. He does not write every single article. There's just not enough time in the day for that. I don't have a specific amount of time. You do have to give some time, but it definitely shouldn't be your full-time job.

How to Overcome Real Estate Digital Marketing Challenges

Adam: When you came in to Origin, two-and-a-half years ago, what were the biggest challenges that you found, coming into the organization?

Melissa: Origin had done really well in terms of their marketing, before I got there. They had invested in the foundations. They hired an agency to help them with their logo, their brand voice, the messaging - to create the website. When the recruiter had reached out to me, the first thing I did, obviously, was Google the firm. I saw they had a great website. I saw Michael had contributed to Huffington Post. So, they seemed legitimate.

When I came in and talked to them, the one thing that stood with me is that marketing reports into Michael, and he was just very committed to marketing. He likes to experiment and very passionate about it. He believes in marketing. I knew that I didn't have to change that. In some cases, marketers might be brought into an organization, where they really have to prove that marketing has value. That is not the case here.

But Michael was so passionate about marketing that they were trying so many things that it was hard to tell what was working. When I came in, one of the first things we did was just try to ease up on doing all of the things at once and to try- I'm a big believer in testing, and you definitely have to experiment, but there were so many things that we weren't trying long enough to see if they worked or not. So, just to try to ease up a little bit to figure out exactly what it was that was working.

Second, another thing we did was we had a great website, but the only call to action on the website was to create an account. Some people who come to your website, they might not be ready to create an account yet. That's really targeting the people who are really far along in their journey, who know that the company is right for you. They might be ready to create an account, but not everyone is.

We changed up the website just to create some additional offers. People can now download guides; they can subscribe to our newsletter. That really helped in terms of getting additional leads in through the website and thinking about how we can maximize that.

I think, also, when I got into the position, the jury was still out on would creating this content really help? I think it was helpful to have me on board to measure everything. I'm big into measuring and showing what is working/what isn't, and just help educate on that creating this content is a long-term investment, and you're not going to necessarily see the results overnight. It takes years. It takes months. You have to start. I think showing that, and educating on that, and just being able to increase the output of what we were doing, I think, was really helpful.

Uncovering the Best Real Estate Digital Marketing Techniques

Adam: When you came in, and you saw all these different techniques that were being tested, or at least experimented with, that, presumably, based on what you've said, didn't necessarily have measurement metrics behind them, what did you find? What kinds of measurements, digital-performance metrics, did you implement, and what did you find didn't work very well that you abandoned?

Melissa: One thing we did, right when I started, that didn't work very well was outsourced our media purchasing to a company in which we spent a lot of money to just do more brand-level messaging. I think it might have helped [cross talk]

Adam: You mean paid advertising? Is that what you mean?

Melissa: I think you should always do paid advertising, but we worked with a media planning company. We gave them a few hundred thousands of dollars, and then we did some advertisements that were just about investing with Origin. Then they just went back- they went to our website. It was hard. We kind of lost people from there. We got some traffic, but we weren't really sure what happened to them.

One thing we prioritized was trying to stick with promoting our content and to stick with promoting our products versus just promoting only our brand. I think when it comes down to- there's a lot of companies who you'll see do banner ads and whatnot that just direct people towards their individual home pages. But what we have a tendency to do now is when we're promoting our products, we create a specific landing page that we can measure each individual traffic and see what happens with each person that comes to that individual page. So, we've tried to move towards doing that.

If I had a huge, unlimited budget, I would for sure have just general brand-awareness campaigns, which I would be doing things just to get Origin's name out there. And I would be doing all of the content, and I would be doing all the product campaigns. But we're trying to prioritize our spend, so, we just- we can't do every single category. If I have to prioritize, I will always pick the product marketing. and the content marketing [cross talk]

Adam: Interesting. Product marketing and content marketing, meaning that you are ... Product marketing is advertising the funds, themselves, but content marketing is distributing and encouraging people to sign up for a download of some sort?

Melissa: Correct, yeah, or just talking ... Giving them information about why they should invest in private real estate. Then, the brand-level marketing is just promoting Origin, the company, in general.

Real Estate Newsletter Best Practices

Adam: Now, your newsletter, tell me something about that, because you have various components. You have Thought Leadership; you have In the News; you have What We're Reading. You send it out on Saturday mornings. You're the only person that does that.

Melissa: Right? It's funny, when I came to Origin, I had the belief that you had to send a promotional email out on Wednesdays. That was just the best way of the week to do it. We found that Saturday works really well for our investors. I think that when it comes to individual investors, it's the weekend, they have some time. Surprisingly, a lot of people like to- we see a lot of our leads come in on Saturday night- or Sunday nights, I'm sorry; not on Saturday. People have lives.

On Sunday nights, a lot of people are starting to think about- they have some time. They're saying think about what they should be researching, where they might want to invest. We've found that we get really decent engagement rates on Saturday. I mean, we might continue to test this and switch it up. That might have worked for the last couple of years, but we like how it kind of cuts through the clutter and really stands out, because no one typically emails on the weekend.

Adam: No, and I totally noticed that. When you say engage, you mean click-through, do you?

Melissa: Yes, we check the click-throughs, and open rate of each piece of content to see how they perform.

Adam: I see. It's a fairly standard formula that you use, though, or do you test that, as well - what goes into the newsletter?

Melissa: We've used this format for a while now, and you actually ... We're having this conversation at a very good time, because I literally- we were just talking about it as a team, earlier this week, about maybe it's time to revisit. You get on autopilot. I think we've been doing it the same way for the last year and a half, so, now is a good time for us to revisit it, and look at the numbers, and say what do we think is working? What isn't?

I've tossed around like maybe we need more themed issues, where you have certain themes, and then everything in it relates to a certain theme. Then we've tossed around, maybe we want [cross talk] more ... Maybe we want a whole video section, a whole article section. There's so much we could be doing. We've been on autopilot for a while, and it's time- we're looking at the numbers and thinking about what can we do to make sure that we keep our engagement numbers high.

The Investor Acquisition System:

  • Find More Investors
  • Raise Money Online
  • Finance Your Projects


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