Dustin pointed out that John Cook over at the Seattle PI just published an interesting interview of Redfin’s CEO, Glenn Kelman (Direct link to the mp3).
Before I jump in, I should point out that I run ShackPrices.com, a site that is faintly a Redfin competitor. That said, that both Redfin and ShackPrices are much more worried about our customers and competitors with lots of money than we are about each other. I’ll try my best to stay unbiased.
Up to this point, Dustin has been under the impression that Redfin is very insular (He’s even gone so far as to say “arrogant”). I get the impression that Redfin has some interesting technologies, but they are still looking for their path; Glenn is doing a big marketing push on a site that has only had cosmetic changes (to real estate buyers) in the last year. Throughout the interview he raves about his site. I think he says exciting ten times and “crazy-happy” or “crazy-love” at least three times. If you check Redfin.com, their news bar clearly shows that they’re on a marketing push (it also shows they still don’t have an interface person who can tell them to use that valuable space more effectively).
Glenn then talks about how addictive (crazy-addictive?) he finds the Redfin site. Personally, I get much more excited by the technologies behind PropSmart and Trulia. Those sites seem to have added to cool aerial photos with some real focus on the user interface. Redfin gives you great information about individual houses and even shows you the lot line, but it doesn’t give you any medium- to big-picture information. Neighborhood and city pricing information is worth much more than a single house’s historical sales (and this is coming from the dude who has only historical sales on his site).
I think it is interesting how an interview can really bring out the best and worst in somebody by just letting them talk. More articulately than anyone else I’ve heard from Redfin, Glenn describes the company’s lack of focus. For instance, he talks about how every state is different and national websites can’t accommodate that. Next, he talks about how he’s going to expand down the West Coast and all over the country. He talks about how cool the site is and how technology is changing, but gives digital photos of houses as an example of this trend (that was cool 5 years ago!). Even in vegan-city Seattle, I want to know where’s the meat to go with this fluff? When asked what’s driving traffic to Redfin, Glenn says “because it’s an awesome site.” I think I would have gone with “aerial imagery, property outlines and past sales data.” And if they don’t add to that list, they risk becoming just-another-mapping-site.
A while back, Anna wrote this article that showed how Redfin wants it both ways with real estate agents… and it is interesting that while Glenn is new to the staff (he started in September), he inarticulately describes this same conundrum that Redfin faces.
we’re not trying to serve the real estate agents… sell people out to real estate agents… what we’re trying to do instead is serve the consumer directly…
But when pressed by John about how Redfin makes money, he says
How do we make money now? People sign up for a real estate agent… The real estate agent and Redfin share the fruits of that.
Which essentially means “by selling customer names to agents.” I’ll give him credit – I hate the housevalues model and find it to be really sleazy and maybe there really is something to be said for waiting until someone requests an agent. However, they are not, as he says, “trying to do something totally different.” Redfin is just leaving more money on the table and, possibly generating higher-quality leads. I’m going to read into this, though, and say that they don’t plan on working with agents for long – note his question to himself “How do we make money now?”
Dustin says “it is not hard to read between the lines that he’d really like to squeeze those agents out of the business if only it wasn’t for those “great” relationships he’s built up with a few of them.” I agree. Late in the interview he emphasizes how he wants to balance the business model:
… balancing our business model. We’ve got real estate agents that are partners, that we still value enormously, but we want to make sure we keep the focus on the home buyer and seller who is the customer.”
Word to agents: now that we have funding, you are not a priority.
This is my favorite part:
If you walked into Redfin, all you would see are engineers and a customer support person.