Scarlet Letters and Dying by the Sword

Redfin and Our CEO

Scarlet Letters and Dying by the Sword

At BloodhoundBlog Unchained last Thursday, Greg Swann hosted Redfin for a debate on whether all the venture capital that has been poured into real estate is driving out the little guy.

Greg maintained that small brokers could flourish without having to spend millions on a website, because what counts in real estate is the personal connection an agent forms with his customer. An audience member observed that he told all his clients to use Redfin for search and to use his services to buy a home.

Greg is probably right. Redfin’s 2008 traffic grew nearly three times faster than our revenues, so there isn’t a direct correlation between people loving our site and loving our service, despite our best efforts to blend the two.

Even if the relationship between traffic and clients isn’t one-to-one, we still believe an increasing number of consumers will begin their home search — and their agent search too — online, and that we can use technology to monitor the quality and increase the efficiency of the experience.

But why summarize the argument when we can replay it? Without my quite realizing it, Marlow Harris recorded the event, so you can hear how real estate folks talk to one another when no one else is around…

We talk about scarlet letters, dying by the sword, and stumbling into what became our one true love, customer service. My only regret is that I referred to Redfin as initially “too rinky-dink” to run ads. It is true, we were a few guys in an apartment with a few months of cash when Zillow and Trulia launched nationwide sites. And even though we released map-based search first, we had done so building our own map, for Seattle only.

From that rinky-dink start, and because every other business model just seemed unbearable, Redfin happened onto the biggest-possible problem: to change the entire game, by building a home-buying application that binds online and personal interactions into one seamless experience.

We’re still trying to figure our when consumers want to use our site and they when want to talk to a human being, how we can work with the industry and change it for the better too. Sometimes now that seems too hard. Mostly it seems like a lot of fun.

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