A CEO’s Tips to Growing and Selling a Business: Q&A with Chris Saitta
We recently interviewed Chris Saitta, managing director, Calterra Capital, to learn his keys to success. Chris played founding roles in two prosperous mortgage technology companies, Equator and Resitrader, both of which were Strategic Vantage clients until their lucrative sales.
Equator is a leader in mortgage default technology and was sold to Altisource in 2013. Resitrader is the industry’s largest loan trading platform, and was sold to Optimal Blue in 2018.
Q: Very few people in the mortgage industry have helped establish and have successfully sold multiple companies. What do you feel is the foundation for a good business?
Chris Saitta: Throughout my career, I’ve tried to find ways to improve the mortgage industry by solving difficult problems, so companies can operate more efficiently and improve their margins.
For example, we founded Equator in 2003 to provide better ways for handling loan defaults through technology. The company had achieved modest growth until 2007. When the mortgage crisis hit, things really took off. We grew to 500 employees with offices in Los Angeles, Irvine, Dallas, Denver and Seattle. By the time we sold the company, we were responsible for helping the mortgage industry work through an unprecedented rate of defaults.
In 2016, I founded Calterra Capital to help fund innovative companies. One of these was Resitrader, which provides a digital platform for trading mortgage loans. Prior to Resitrader, the secondary market traded loans primarily through spreadsheets sent over email. Today more than $8 billion in loan volume is traded per month through Resitrader’s ground-breaking platform.
Q: Once you have a great idea in mind, how do you execute?
Chris Saitta: No company becomes successful without teamwork, which begins with hiring great people. I’m a strong believer that a company’s culture can make or break a business. Both Equator and Resitrader succeeded because of the people involved. We were able to build a culture where people truly cared about solving problems. People have to feel good about what they are doing—in fact, they won’t stay in a job they don’t feel good about. Alignment is also important. People have to know your mission and their part in it.
I also needed people to work hard—harder than they would if they were just working for a paycheck. So we motivated our employees by giving them the ability to make a difference in how the industry operated. We gave them the opportunity to make their own decisions and let them know it was OK to fail, so they wouldn’t be afraid to try new things. We needed people to execute, not suffer from paralysis by analysis.
Giving employees the ability to make their own decisions was a big and very important step for us. I’ll admit that some people found it involved too much responsibility for them. But most people put in the work, and they really thrived.
Q: What’s your view of marketing and public relations?
Chris Saitta: Marketing plays a very big role in the success of companies. At both Equator and Resitrader, we were introducing new ways of doing things that required companies in the mortgage industry to change their way of thinking. Plus, we needed to communicate our vision and our culture to the outside world. These were huge challenges—and Strategic Vantage ensured we easily overcame them.
Before working with Strategic Vantage, my perception of marketing was that it was just advertising. By working with the Strategic Vantage team, I learned that it was one thing for us to tell people what we sold, it was totally another to tell people who we were and what our culture was, so that they knew they could count on us.
Through highly effective marketing and public relations campaigns, Strategic Vantage helped us build awareness, defined our culture and communicated it to the industry. The result: people trusted us and wanted to work with us.
It’s absolutely critical to align with people who can effectively articulate what you’re doing, so that you become a known commodity for solving real problems. That’s what Strategic Vantage did, and it’s why when people ask me what the key to our success has been, I tell them it’s Rosalie Berg and Strategic Vantage.
Q: What is next for you?
Chris Saitta: Both Equator and Resitrader succeeded because we were able to identify a need and then create a solid solution for it. That continues to be my focus. At Calterra Capital, we are working on projects and innovations that better the industry and solve its biggest problems. In addition to Resitrader, Calterra has made 35 investments, mostly in the financial technology sector, and is currently working on new mortgage initiatives, which Rosalie and Strategic Vantage will be a big part of.