Interview with Glenn Kelman of Redfin

[photopress:glenn_kelman.jpg,full,alignright]Since joining on Redfin almost exactly a year ago, Glenn has earned a reputation of a colorful, intelligent, and unconventional CEO. In my quest to interview the real estate bloggers who have influenced me, I am very glad that Glenn took the time to talk about his foray into corporate blogging as well as the team he has built up at Redfin, many of whom are expert bloggers in their own right.

However, before I begin the interview, I have a request… Will someone please record tomorrow’s panel discussion between Glenn and Allan Dalton at Real Estate Connect when they both answer the question: Is the Realtor becoming irrelevant in the internet age? Now back to our regularly scheduled interview…

What inspired you to start blogging?

[photopress:Noam.jpg,thumb,alignright] The person who showed me how to blog is my friend, Noam Lovinsky, a 26 year-old Israeli-American with unnaturally large, expressive hands.

He introduced me to his subscription set the way a 13 year-old shows you his comic books. He is the kind of person who, if you ask him to play checkers, gives you a list of other people to play first, and says “Beat them, then we’ll play.”

The reason I enjoy blogging is simply because I enjoy writing; I once wanted to be a novelist. I take a child-like joy in finding colorful pictures on Flickr to post alongside the writing. And I appreciate the hurly-burly of comments, which helps us figure out what to do at Redfin.

On the other hand, I worry that blogging can be self-indulgent and even a bit solipsistic, all of us bloggers talking to one another.

But mostly I like it.

Are there any special topics or issues that you enjoy covering?

The Roman playwright Terence once wrote “I am a human; nothing human is alien to me.” The best topics for a post are always people. More than the topics, what I enjoy about blogging is the tone, which itself seems more human to me than most corporate writing: you can admit mistakes, make personal observations, sometimes explain how you feel. Ventures into other topics have been precarious: every time I mud-wrestle traditional real estate agents, I lose; my posts about Redfin sound like press releases.

What have you done to personalize your blog?

Mostly, just let folks write in their own style, unedited. Our blog has improved since Matt Goyer began posting; I feel the same way about posts from Eric Heller, Rob McGarty, Cynthia Pang and Bahn Lee. Each has his or her own voice.

Do you have any favorite posts?

It was fun to testify before Congress. Any post that quotes Emily Dickinson or P. Diddy is good. I like posts about odd Redfin employees because, well, they are so odd. But for some reason this post has stayed with me the most, because I like the picture so much (a Redfin employee trying to work while flying down the freeway).

What are some of your favorite blogs (real estate or otherwise)?

Very partial list (excluding RCG of course):
John Cook’s blog: scrupulously fair, blazingly fast.
TechCrunch: a carnival of start-ups, oddly idealistic and cynical.
SocketSite: which tries to be rigorously analytical but often is just compulsive.
Guy Kawasaki’s blog: probably the best writer on start-up culture in the blogosphere.
Matt Goyer’s blog: which taught me to be myself.
I also like what Joel, Kevin and Greg are doing. OK, sometimes Greg drives me nuts, but in a good way.
And I love the Redfin bloggers who provide eyewitness property reviews for different Seattle neighborhoods.

What tools/websites do you find most helpful in putting together your blog?

NetVibes is a good way to read blogs. We use Six Apart’s Moveable Type to publish our blog, and Google Analytics to monitor traffic. Flickr is a good place to find colorful photos. I’m glad we’ve finally made it easy to post to and Digg.

How does blogging fit into the overall marketing of your business?

First off, a blog isn’t just a marketing vehicle. It’s a way to have a conversation with the market, narrowing product cycles, gathering ideas, correcting blunders.

Second, I honestly believe that if Redfin were stripped absolutely bare for all the world to see, naked and humiliated in the sunlight, more people would do business with us. A blog at its best can facilitate that kind of nakedness.

Most important, the blog expresses our personality. Most corporate websites are a sensual deprivation chamber. Sometimes it seems like everyone in business is trying to act all grown up and professional and fake, but what people are really starved for in our denuded commercial landscape is a little personality.

What plans do you have to improve your blog over this next year?

We plan to introduce neighborhood blogs to each of the markets we enter, with eyewitness property reviews. This may end up being too much work, or too expensive, but so far our efforts in Seattle have been promising.

We’re also excited about using our blog for virtual focus groups, so that we can gather feedback on new designs before coding. Matt Goyer has already started to develop a community of folks interested in the design of real estate web sites. Now we just have to decide how much we have the guts to share.

The flip side of all this is that we need to make our site,, open to blogs, so that as you browse neighborhoods on the map or click on listings, you can see property reviews, neighborhood alerts, local real estate advice. In six months, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ardell is popping up all over with noisy opinions about this neighborhood or that house.

What is the one tool or feature that you wish your site had?

The ability for users to subscribe to neighborhoods, like Bainbridge Island, South Seattle, Bellevue, Green Lake.

What do you think real estate blogging will look like 3 years from now?

Ardell will run six separate blogs. Greg Swann will be predicting Zillow’s conquest of other planets.

Enjoy this interview? There’s lots more where that come from: