Inman Conference: Online Real Estate Starts to Feel Frothy

A few Redfin folks went to last week’s Inman Conference in San Francisco; Inman is a big real estate and technology conference. Like all conferences, it felt like an alternate universe: smaller, friendlier, more competitive, shorter-lived.

But this one also felt set in a year of magical thinking, 1999, when San Francisco was at the height of the boom: Trulia dressed up some of their employees in big green foam-suits, like their logo. Terabitz drove people around in Mini Coopers and hired models and acrobatic sign-twirlers to work the sidewalk. A Redfin knock-off bought a booth and sent five people to the show. Behind closed doors, everyone talked about the meltdown in real estate and mortgage.

On the same night we were running a focus group, a real estate website threw a big party and somehow printed the address of our San Francisco office on its invitations. Before we could decide whether to invite everybody in, everybody left.

On a walk through the sunshine of Yerba Buena’s fountains, the great Adam Koval kept asking why each of us cared so much about a site that was such hard work. Later that day, Zillow’s Rich Barton waved from an escalator as he drifted away.

I sat down in a meeting with executives and consultants from a social networking service for real estate consumers and went unexpectedly berserk on hearing that agents would be able to challenge and sometimes remove reviews. (I later apologized, and the entrepreneur graciously forgave me.)

One of the conference’s real estate super-bloggers approached a big brokerage’s CEO to introduce herself in the flesh, stomping off when he seemed to have no idea who she was. “He knew,” she later said. “Oh, he knew!”

Before my blogging keynote, Joel Burslem assured me I had time to go the bathroom. I came back a few minutes later to discover the entire crowd twiddling their thumbs. I began my speech convinced Joel had just told everybody where I had been.

After the keynote, developers in Redfin’s San Francisco office announced “Hell has officially froze over,” because someone on Bloodhound Blog had made a kind comment about Redfin. I visited the blog and read that “I was full of sh__.”

Lennox Scott and Redfin at Inman

(courtesy of whiteafrican on Flickr)

Everyone talked about switching from Google Maps to Microsoft Virtual Earth or back again.

Many people came up to us to say “That this whole conference hates you except me.” This was usually followed by their saying they had only one (friendly!) question, which was usually “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

And everyone kept asking us why we came to the conference since we obviously didn’t belong there. For the first time, actually, we had thought we did…

(Thanks to Marc Andreessen, Netscape co-founder, for calling out our post on entrepreneurship. Everyone has probably already seen our bonus link, a video of people dancing on treadmills, but we had to be sure…)


  • JD

    Glenn: Thoroughly enjoyed listening to you speak at Inman. Thanks for taking part.


    Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thomas Heimann

    “A Redfin knock-off bought a booth and sent five people to the show.”

    Harsh words Glenn; you know there were actually quite a few companies who are doing what you are (giving buyers a commission rebate) long before you did. Someone could accuse Redfin of being their knock-off.

    While you have done a truly superb PR job for Redfin, and while Redfin certainly is at the leading edge with respect to the search and mapping technology you have developed, you have not invented the idea of flat rate or commission rebates.

    My personal feeling is that an approach of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ would make more sense. Right now it’s ‘us’ customer centric “next gen” real estate firms against ‘them’, the established agent centric business models championed by the NAR.

    Buyside and others are not a threat to Redfin by any stretch of the imagination.

    Maybe a better (and more visible approach) would be to create an alternative industry organization of customer centric real estate firms, and invite all of these ‘maybe future compeitor’ firms to join, to create an effective powerbase to support your ‘hand to hand combat’ as you enter new markets. Better to have Redfin be perceived as ‘the champion of a new era’ than an arrogant antagonist.

    Just a thought, I certainly would be game.

    Aside from that, enjoyed your presentation and debate at RE Connect, keep up the great work!


  • Glenn Kelman

    Good point, Thomas, and apologies to the folks at BuySide. We don’t claim to be the first alternative brokerage, but BuySide entered the market after Redfin, and is similar in its national ambitions and its technology-driven approach. While we view BuySide as a competitor, we have attempted to rally competitors around a common cause, most recently with the Real Estate Consumer’s Bill of Rights.

  • Brian Brady

    My respect for you grew 3 minutes after my session was over (I was on a panel right after you).

    After my palms stop sweating and my knees stopped shaking, I thought “Damn! That was tough. How tough did HE have it?” You brought a lot of value to a roomful of people who looked askance at you.