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Looking to the Future, and Not the Past

Some of you may know that the Broker Public Portal recently hit its initial funding milestone. I just looked at the website again. The most prominent message on the page…

NATIONAL MLS CONSUMER FACING WEBSITE

future-glassesI still don’t get the investment strategy. The web is 20 years old. Investing in a website NOW has an incredibly low likelihood of long term success due to the fact that we are long past the saturation point on the web. Buyers are not racing to find a new website to find properties, I can assure you of that.

I am betting Zillow/Trulia and Move/Realtor.com are happy that this initiative is taking place. Why? Because it means all those involved are exerting time and money into a technology initiative that is based on technology with its best years long behind it. In a recent interview, Fred Wilson mentioned he likes to get out in front of trends rather than invest into things that are already obvious (minute 36 of the video below)… the industry should follow his lead and look forward to the future, not to the past.

All that said, I wish the industry the best of luck on its endeavor.

[Photo via http://www.scientificamerican.com/]

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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  • And the lack of urgency is baffling. Modern startups build and deploy apps and websites in days, not months.

    • I know, right? Crazy.

    • Most start ups have the motivation of the fear of failing and going out of business. Brokers building a portal know that they will still have their traditional business even if this doesn’t work out. That doesn’t help in getting the appropriate urgency built up.

      • I’m not sure they’ll have their traditional business for much longer if Zillow is successful in establishing itself as the go-to website and app for finding homes and agents. With all those leads and brand recognition it’ll then be one short step from portal to broker.

        • Thanks for saying that out loud. It seems so obvious from the outside doesn’t it? But, you get strung up by the “everything is awesome” mob in the industry if you say it too often.

  • Yes, it is moving forward slowly and is nowhere near competitive with a start up style company in that way.

    “The web is 20 years old. Investing in a website NOW has an incredibly low likelihood of long term success due to the fact that we are long past the saturation point on the web. Buyers are not racing to find a new website to find properties, I can assure you of that.”

    I think you are making some far reaching assumptions here. TV has been around for much longer than 20 years and still has plenty of new revenue generating networks and shows all the time. They change, a lot of it is shifting to the web, but it is still basically the same content platform with a different delivery mechanism.

    The web is nowhere near saturation. It is at the point where TV was when it switched over from black-and-white to color. The average homebuyer looks at a dozen different websites right now during their search. They have zero loyalty to anything but the tool that is working best for them at that exact moment. They will go where the current best product is, and if that is a new product, they will be happy to toss aside their old one.

    • “They have zero loyalty to anything but the tool that is working best for them at that exact moment.”

      100% agree. And this is the real reason BPP won’t likely work. I struggle to believe they will ever build the best tool out there.

      I think TV and web are both beyond saturation. There’s so much crap everywhere. Sure, it is possible to succeed and get massive audience…but those are few and far between. IMHO, this is a case where “yes, it’s obvious that a huge web portal with lots of traffic is valuable. just look at zillow and realtor.com”. But many great entrepreneurs have known that for a decade or more, and been fighting to win that opportunity. It’s an extremely costly endeavor given the massive massive headstart the leaders have in the space. What’s not so blatantly obvious is what’s coming next…but from the consumers perspective, that’s where the big opportunity is. And that’s where I would choose to invest my time and attention rather than re-create something that’s been around for a decade+.

    • Sam, Pew (http://www.pewinternet.org/data-trend/internet-use/latest-stats/) says that 93-97% of all Americans aged 18-49 are on the web. I think we’re saturated or very, very close.

      I agree on loyalty, but currently Zillow is making all the right moves, and doing so an order of magnitude faster than their competitors. They already own “Find a home” in the eyes of many consumers, and are working hard to consolidate that position. Even more interesting, they are expanding their position to include “Find an agent.” Establishing themselves as the de facto standard for those two questions will disintermediate the brokers in their two primary functions.

      • Malcolm, good points, but total adoption of a technology medium by a user base does not equal saturation of a product space. There is plenty of room for new products to sell the same consumers, they just replace one another.

        Don’t take this to mean that I think that the broker portal will definitely be successful. All current evidence says that the hurdles are monumental and it is unlikely they could overcome the other successful current portals without some amazing innovation. I just think that we lean on overreaching platitudes that sound defeatist in light of the history of the web. Nothing is definite or assured for any period of time online.

        • I hate to be a downer on this topic, because you’re right: anything is possible.

          The two primary questions investors want to know when making investments:
          Team –> can the team pull this off? why? What’s their unique advantage?
          Distribution –> how will app/website/product get distribution?

          I’m not convinced on either front. Where is the product team that is going to make this happen? Why do they care about succeeding? Are they more talented than the team at zillow/trulia/realtor.com? How are they going to recruit great talent? I still have yet to hear a single compelling reason any buyer would ever use this…unless brokers/MLSs chose to remove their listings entirely from all other portals. Which I doubt they will do because it doesn’t exactly help their clients sell their home faster or for more money.

          • I agree on all of these points you’ve just made. That’s why it will be so difficult. But, the brokers to have a unique asset in data which not all of it is being given to public portals right now. And, look at Malcolm’s comments about Zillow becoming a broker. As much as we want to deny that possibility, that’s exactly the threat that might cause brokers to stop syndicating.

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