A couple months ago, I wrote a few thoughts about the National Broker Public Portal project. As a result of seeing Rob’s recent post, I noticed there are a few updates to share, such as the new website (brokerpublicportal.com) and they are in fact moving forward with raising $250,000 in funds to start. There’s a summary of the timeline and rough allocation of funds here.

One slide I want to call attention to:

Raise $250,000 from Brokers and MLS’ to form corporation and build business plan and RFP

That sounds like an awful expensive business plan. I’m not sure what would be so expensive about a RFP. Isn’t it just be putting together a document with high level specifications that a development firm needs to bid against? Isn’t a business plan just spending a day or two writing up details of how the business will operate, and make money? Sure, there will be some legal fees, but it sounds excessive.

Look, I completely understand the strategy of wanting money from interested parties to show they care about this existing in a big way. But call it for what it is. A down payment / intent to invest into the real entity once it exists. Not money to put together a business plan and RFP.

Competing head on with Zillow/Trulia and Realtor.com as a listings play, is suicide if you ask me. We all know that “build it and they will come” is a pipe dream. Maybe if local brokers shut down IDX and cancelled all their syndication agreements with Zillow at the same time – a portal with focus on up-to-date listing would have a chance. But is the industry ready to do that? I highly doubt it.

If the brokerage industry wants a portal to work, you NEED to win the consumer. If you don’t win consumer mindshare, this will flop — and every penny thrown in will be a waste. There needs to be a core product differentiator to capture attention, and I’ve yet to hear one. If this is going to be built from scratch (rather than acquire an existing site) and development is going to be outsourced, I would recommend having someone like Cloudspace with proven consumer tech experience — and specifically mobile — take the reigns. Or, you can go spend $15 million (and probably more) with some entity that has never built a successful consumer application, and pay them millions of dollars to have them learn the exact things Cloudspace has learned over the past 15+ years. It’s your choice.

Is this a web portal only? Good luck with that, given we live in a mobile world now.

At the end of the day, my biggest question is whether this project will have the right product team to build a consumer friendly version that will be used. Show me the product team that can compete with Zillow and other portals (with massive incentive to do so), and I may become a believer. Do it not, and there’s zero chance to convince me this portal will ever succeed in any meaningful way aside from maybe giving brokers leverage to negotiate better ad rates with existing portals (related side note: I’m with Rob when he asks what the metric of success is).

As you can tell, I’m a skeptic. Brian at 1000Watt penned some thoughts on the broker portal project today as well. His were not as bleak as the opinion of Rob’s and mine. If someone involved wants to hear my thoughts on how to actually make this work, send me an email.