Actually it was a great evening at the MIT Enterprise Forum program last Wednesday (3/15) on the topic of Online Real Estate. I was on the volunteer program development team that put the evening together, and I got tagged to put together this note for you And my own personal thanks to all who helped us with insights and contacts to build the program, including Dustin. There’s already been a lot of great timely comments on the program in this blog, so this note is primarily to report some of the stats and survey results, and a couple of my own comments on disruptive technologies and market inertia (or active resistance, as the case may be).
Attendance at the dinner/program meeting was a sold-out 400 people, one of the highest numbers ever for an MITEF program. The program panel was made up of three local online real estate companies – House Values (Niki Parekh), Redfin (David Eraker) and Zillow (Spencer Rascoff), plus a broker, Real Property Associates (Gordon Stephenson), and an Internet savvy agent, who was also our moderator (Jim Reppond, Coldwell Banker). So it was a good crowd, and a good spectrum of players on the panel. The program consisted of introductions of the players and their companies, key questions and panel responses led by the moderator, and open Q&A from the audience.
Wednesday morning (3/22) we reviewed the results of the online survey we sent out to the 298 attendees that we had emails for – we got 96 responses back, which is a pretty good sample. Here’s some highlights of the responses:
- 63 % were there because the program was relevant to their work or job – usually not that high; lots of Realtors present, as expected. For over 60%, this was their first time at an MIT Forum event. The other large segment was more the regular MIT Forum attendees who follow, and lead, tech-driven companies and their business issues.
- 87 % said the topic was relevant to them; 78 % said the program met or exceeded their expectations.
- 69 % said the level of detail was just right, but 31% said it was too general – higher than we would have liked.
Enough of the stats. Here’s some quotes from the comments that show more of the flavor of the event, and some of the mixed reactions it generated:
“Having Zillow, Redfin and House Values in the same room at the same time was the reason I decided to attend. Not necessarily the speakers themselves, but the companies they represented.”
“I was expecting to hear about more revolutionary technology. It seems the real estate industry is still in the technology dark ages.”
“The topic was “The New World of Buying and Selling Real Estate”. The moderator and the audience of R.E. agents didn’t allow for a real discussion on the future because they feel so threatened by these new technologies. Boos from the crowd of R.E. agents and a moderator who encouraged it stifled an open and honest discussion.”
“It is difficult for businesses to share the future directly as competition is present and they cannot release product plans before they are ready to launch.”
“It was good to hear the stories on the companies’ background and how they work. Although, at times it almost seemed as though I was at an infomercial.”
“Great topic; always fun to hear the spirited discussion that an industry in transition generates.”
All of the above once again proving that it is very difficult to satisfy all of the people all of the time, and that divisive subjects generate divisive reactions. It would be fun to do this again a few years from now, when more of these companies are bigger, and public, and have more visible business strategies.
So now I get to put in my nickel comments, based on my own background as a tech exec, seven years working with the MIT Forum on these kinds of programs, and now full-time realtor for several years. I think that this is an industry in the very early stages of being hit by disruptive technologies and the new business models that they enable. The mass and momentum of the industry are huge, and the consumer market is highly diverse. It may take quite a while for the new business models to clarify and engage their target segments of the market and start to get real (no pun intended) traction. The players we see today may not be the players of the future (for example, see Dustin’s earlier post about Google Base vs Zillow). But some will get traction, and as they do we will see a lot of resistance and delaying actions by those whose market is being disrupted. Some resistance will be tightened corporate policies, some will be PR campaigns, and some will be lobbyist-driven regulation. Anything sound new here? We’ve seen it in industries as diverse as airlines and telecoms and travel and books and so on … Delaying change is worth $billions to the incumbents, and they are pros at the game. But it still looks to me like the technology train is on the tracks, and gathering speed. Personally, I will take every advantage I can of the technology-driven changes… and I will continue to welcome ‘old-fashioned’ people-driven referrals