Stavvy’s CTO on moving a whole industry to digital

HousingWire Editor in Chief Sarah Wheeler sat down with Jim Butler, chief technology officer at Stavvy, to talk about moving real estate from paper to a digital transaction, how the company is using AI, and the vibe you get working with industry experts.

Previously, Butler served as CTO of HqO, an employee experience platform for commercial office buildings, and CTO of Global Supply Platforms for Verizon Media. He has also held the CTO role at matchmine, a media discovery network, and eCredit, a B2B credit decisioning platform later acquired by Fidelity Ventures. Since 2002, Butler has served as the founding chairman of the Technology Leadership Council, Boston chapter. He is an author and has three granted patents in the areas of digital media and reliable web service architecture.

Sarah Wheeler: What led you to join Stavvy last year?

Jim Butler: This is my fifth time around as CTO, and what attracted me to Stavvy was the really impressive line-up of industry experts in the company. Most of the executive team and those in compliance measure their industry experience in decades and some chair MISMO boards. This isn’t a business domain where you can fake it for very long and they’re the real deal.

SW: How do you decide what you want to develop next?

JB: Stavvy is a digital transaction platform built for real estate professionals and eClosing has been our bread and butter traditionally. Since I’ve been here, the vision has been to be as broad of a platform as possible, with a lot of different pieces, which allows our customers to pick their journey. They can choose the whole platform or just parts of it. eClosing is a huge part of that, from hybrid eClosing to remote online notarization (RON).

Our acquisition of Brace in 2023 brought in a lot of tech on the servicing side of the house, including tech for decisioning, the waterfalls on that application, what they might be eligible for, etc.

Our recent acquisition of assets from Evolve mortgage, SigniaDocuments, include its SMART Doc engine and whole set of docs for mortgage, including HELOCs. We also brought over some of their talent, Tim Anderson and Charlie Epperson, who have been pioneers in smart doc standards. We’re pushing in that direction, starting with ourselves, away from pdfs so we get to more structured data where we think a lot of goodness lives. So right now I am focused on pulling all those pieces together.

SW: How do you think about build versus buy?

JB: We’re technologists — we love to build things! Building everything is way more fun, but other really bright people out there working for different companies are also building great assets. So we ask first, will we do it as well as they have? Even if we believe we can, how fast can we do it? The opportunity lies on the timeline, do we need to get there faster than we can build it? The other part layered on top, especially on acquisition versus partnering — are we buying customers or expertise?

SW: How are you leveraging AI?

JB: What we’re doing today with AI is more horizonal than industry specific. We’re using OpenAI to do a basic first round of triage and false positive detection on the stream of low level security events that we get, which we set up for SOC 2 compliance. It’s a noisy stream a and we want to focus on higher-value things. A close cousin to that is the vulnerability scans we’re constantly doing, going through chatGPT, a classification and resolution recommendation that will get slacked to the right person for more efficiency.

On the engineering side, we’re starting to look at (Amazon’s) CodeWhisperer for code completion. It’s really interesting stuff. In addition to amping up engineering efficiency, we have people who know this tech but not that. We have a number of different technologies under our roof, and if I know language A but not language B, AI can help get me through a lot of the low-level syntax stuff. The common theme in all of this is gaining more efficiency.

Closer to the product side, we looked at using AI to auto annotate, for example, where signatures go (while still on pdf). So a human does a quick review and finds the outlier, which is a great application for AI. There are companies providing those services, with or without human QA, and we looked at investing in that ourselves, but decided not to because we want to target investment into smart docs.

Things are evolving very rapidly so we always keep our eyes open.

SW: What keeps you up at night?

JB: Security should keep everyone up at night — whether they are a security professional or not. Security has to be in the mix — that’s the world we live in now. Beyond that, making sure we are where we need to be as we progress through 2024. There’s almost certainly a tipping point coming — it’s one of the reasons I decided to come to Stavvy — because of the opportunity for such an enormous industry to go paperless over time. Like all tipping points, once it starts to happen it then goes very fast after that. We need to make sure wer’e in the best possible situation when that happens.

So what keeps me up is making sure we’re ready for it. Can we move fast enough? What keeps me up is there is no such thing as fast enough.!Love to happen tomorrow. We’re constantly asking ourselves: Are we doing the best things, the right things ? Do we have the right assets in play? It’s so easy to get behind if you’re complacent about those things.

SW: What’s one thing people may not know about Stavvy’s tech that you think is incredible?

JB: One is that the people around the tech are feeding us intel about what should be building, which is knowledge that engineers may not be that up on. The amount of industry expertise around us has helped us to flavor what we’re doing — not just the requirements, but how we’re thinking about things. It’s an influence that’s hard to quantify but you can feel it. Dovetails to something very similar with security: If a company is extremely security-minded, there are tangible things you are doing and there is just a vibe when you know that people have that mindset.

And then the sheer amount of configurability. It’s hard to evolve your way to this configurability. From a product point of view, it would be like evolving the foundation of the house after you built the house. Feedback from our customers shows we are ahead here.

SW: What do you see as the biggest opportunity in 2024?

JB: I think 2024 is going to be a really interesting bridge year. We all know things have been tight the last few years, and things are moving in the right direction. We expect things to pick up this year, but certainly 2025 should be a great year so ’24 is that bridge year. This is a time when business should be ticking back up, giving customers and investors confidence while getting us time to come out of ’24 in a really good position.

Our customers are trying to increase their cost efficiency and as part of that they’re looking to simplify their tech stack. There is a lot of inefficiency in managing a lot of contracts and integrations are always a nightmare. As a highly configurable, highly knowledgeable platform, we think we’re well positioned for this environment. A lot of what we’ll be doing in 24 is tying these different tech capabilities — the high-value assets we have between Brace and Signia, together. By the end of the year we hope to have a lot of that North Star realized.