In a year full of milestones — including our IPO and acquisition of leading industry provider Title365 — we’re excited to announce yet another: Kristen Estrella, President of Title365 and HousingWire Vanguard Award winner, is officially joining the Blend leadership team as Head of Title365. Kristen’s industry expertise and extensive executive experience will play a vital role as Blend and Title365 continue providing innovative solutions for our customers together. We hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we did.
Tell us about yourself and your background. How did you start working in the mortgage industry?
It all began with my childhood years residing just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. The family relocated to southern California during my teenage years and it’s been my home ever since. I currently reside in Dana Point with my husband, high school senior daughter, and three rescue dogs. I enjoy spending time with my three furry family members, cheering on my daughter’s volleyball team, and traveling with the family — you can frequently find us in Oahu, our happy place.
My journey in the mortgage/title industry began in 2001. It’s funny how life works. I never told my classmates in New Orleans that I wanted to work in the title industry when I grew up. But, when the company I had previously been working for moved their headquarters to the East Coast, I decided to start looking for a new opportunity, which led me to First American.
I spent 18 years at First American before being approached for a new opportunity with Title365. It was definitely a very difficult decision to make after being with the company for so long, but I saw some great opportunities at Title365, which is how I ended up in my current position. And, of course, we are now part of Blend.
What are you most looking forward to as you join Blend’s leadership team?
I’m really looking forward to being able to represent Title365 and drive a successful integration with Blend. A vital key to success is understanding what the priorities are going to be for the company so I can help drive towards them, starting with our new ones for 2022, which is going to be exciting.
I want to continue to learn more about the Blend portfolio of services and how we can continue to grow — whether that’s with new logo acquisitions or additional market share. And ultimately, with my background, I’d like to be able to dive further into the potential of expanding products beyond originations.
Finally, I’m excited to get to know the leadership team better and eventually spend more time with them in person.
It’s been several months since Blend and Title365 officially joined forces. What has been the biggest visible advantage?
One advantage has been the ability to bring more clients to the great title system and network we’ve worked hard to develop here at Title365. Blend obviously has a very robust client base and being directly connected to them enables us to sell to those clients and expand our services.
Another advantage has been our ability to connect. Now that both teams can work together and collaborate, we are able to start making our vision for a better title experience more obtainable. We can set bigger and better goals while challenging ourselves to continue to innovate. Both teams bring a wealth of talent and experience to the table, and we’re already seeing the positive cumulative impact of these synergies.
Last but not least, I have enjoyed Blend’s open communications style. From their bi-weekly All Hands meetings to their countless Slack channels, the overall commitment to a transparent, collaborative culture when working with the teams has been highly productive and enjoyable.
As a female executive, what are some of the biggest challenges and lessons you’ve learned?
In what is a highly male-dominated industry, a female’s perspective has not historically been present to help shape the industry. As we have seen in society today, it can indeed be a challenge to instill change to such a paradigm and a contributing factor as to why our industry might not have made the progress it could have. With Blend’s progressive culture and capabilities, I’m excited about how we can make change and progress in this space.
One lesson I have learned and put into practice is to speak up. If you want to have a seat at the table, you need to ask for it and not just assume or expect somebody to invite you. It’s important to have an opinion and voice it so you can be heard. It’s not necessarily the biggest challenge, but it is important. To this point, Blend is highly invested in diversity and inclusion, including Employee Resource Groups (ERG) — a forum that amplifies voices in many areas that might not otherwise be visible in most corporate settings. I look forward to getting more involved in the Women at Blend ERG and being a voice for women in leadership.
What are the traits of leaders you admire?
I have the utmost regard for strong, motivating communicators. People who possess the gift to motivate you to excel — excel even further than you might have believed yourself. Most of the world’s best leaders were not just talented individuals, they made those around them better.
Another trait is to be a positive role model. Someone who can stay strong and positive while dealing with difficult situations; in other words, keeping cool under pressure.
While there are so many other leadership traits I admire, a final one to mention is that a strong leader knows how to show respect. This is bidirectionally beneficial since they look up to you as a trusted leader while you are building up their own self-confidence. Respect, trust, and confidence: a tried and true formula that elevates results beyond expectations.
As a leader, how do you set the tone for your team?
Tone is an interesting word. I believe that the tone can change a room immediately. Some leaders just have “it” and when they walk in a room, you immediately feel that positive energy, respect — they capture your attention and motivate you to perform. When you walk into the room, your team is going to quickly read and understand what tone or vibe you are bringing and react to it, either positively or negatively. Strong leaders set the right tone from the start. Tone is especially important these days with Zoom calls and the lack of face-to-face interaction.
I personally try to have a lighter, more laid-back style. My teams know I have respect for them and empower them to lead and make decisions without micromanagement. They understand that I am always there and focused on setting them up for success. They understand when it’s time to have some fun and loosen up, but they also understand when it’s time to buckle down and get things done. Understanding and finding that balance is key and always starts with setting the right tone.
If you weren’t working in the mortgage and financial services space, what do you think you would be doing?
I’ve always enjoyed working with people. I had originally seen myself in the medical field. In high school, I played volleyball, ran track (hurdles), and worked in the training office for football. I guess that is where my passion for sports and people merged. I found great joy in helping the team trainers and doctors when people were injured. Seeing disappointed players and contributing to their recovery was very rewarding for me. I feel like in some way I have brought that caring and nurturing to my teams through my leadership role and style.
What is an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Most people would answer this question with either a customer win or a financial goal that was reached. But for me, in my professional career, I would say when I left First American for Title365, I was overwhelmed by the response from my team — the notes and the cards and the feedback that I received on what a difference I had made for many of those team members.
I was always challenging them to be the best that they could be, building confidence in them. You could see the growth and that fueled me. Being able to receive that personal feedback from such a large group of people really made me feel as though I had done my job as a leader in the company. Having people that wanted to follow in my footsteps and say that they learned so much from me and they want to be a leader, too, is the best compliment. Being a positive role model and mentor is something I am very proud of and will continue to push myself to be.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I want to say that I think it’s great that we have another woman on the leadership team. I hope my position and influence will motivate and encourage other women — from young girls dreaming of what they want to be when they grow up, to college students forming their career aspirations, to professionals who need the confidence that they can do it too. For example, I look at my daughter who is a senior in high school and will be going off to college. I want to be a good role model for her and I hope she’ll have the strength to pursue whatever she wants to do that will make her happy. Supporting women in leadership is, and will be, an ongoing passion of mine. I am excited about the opportunity to connect to the women of Blend through our Employee Resource Groups.