Hauling myself out of bed this morning, I jabbed my foot into a sharp piece of plastic. I peered into the gloom to see what it was and remembered that Redfin just won the Seattle 2.0 award for “Best Startup.” Our trophy had started the night in bed and then been cast aside — until I stepped on it.
And now the trophy is in our office near Pike Place Market. We’ll treat it like the Stanley Cup, letting everyone on the team take it home for one night to use as a dinner plate or a magnifying glass. There are many cliches appropriate for this occasion, all of them true. Any success we’ve had so far is because of other people, not me. The award seems silly compared to the magnitude of the challenges we face in making Redfin the world’s best place to work, in serving our customers, in creating a lasting business.
And it is important for others to remember that we could still screw up; we are already keenly aware of this. In fact, every pore of our skin has become less attuned to the typical sensations of warmth, hardness, dryness than to the zillion, seething ways we are screwing up right now. But we’re confident we’ll figure out how to stop screwing up, mostly faster than new screw ups can occur.
And it’s nice for a moment to take stock of how far we’ve come from David Eraker’s sweaty summer-time apartment at 10th & Roy in Seattle. We had a website running on one computer, built from a map of Seattle hand-stitched together when Google or Microsoft had no online mapping services; we had a few hundred thousand dollars in capital and plenty of bills. Two other startups had raised millions from two of the Valley’s best firms to launch national real estate search using open technologies.
In my first week, I walked out of the apartment and into the stairwell to call our sole investor, Madrona. My message was simple: “Holy shit.” Our competition had far more money, more engineers, and executives that had built publicly traded consumer Internet giants. I came home that night and communicated to my wife in the most meaningful language available to the two of us, citing Han Solo’s comment to Princess Leia before escaping the Empire’s fleet with a jump into hyperspace: “Sure hope that tractor beam’s out of commission, or this is gonna be a real short trip.”
Somehow, the tractor beam was out of commission, and our little ship escaped into deep, open space. Later that week, we decided against running real estate ads and instead became a brokerage, hiring real estate agents and serving customers. It was a feel-good decision to make because of all the ways we wanted to make real estate better, but I also remember feeling a shadow of pain — “as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” We knew in becoming a customer-service business not only that ours would be a far longer and more complicated journey but that we were largely the kind of people with the compulsions to delight and to grind that we would need on that journey.
And then we got back to work.
Many thanks to our founding team of David Eraker, David Selinger, Michael Dougherty, to all the folks who worked for free but especially the last two — Savan Kong and Bahn Lee — to all the folks at Redfin past and present who pour your guts out for Redfin, and to all our fanatical, roof-raising customers. Thanks too to this community. Without your advice and support, we’d have never made it this far.