The Compass story

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Compass is almost enigmatic outside of the US but in the US it has become so important so quickly. Kieran asks Bill Fowler about its inception and why it’s a little bit different from your regular brokerage.

Topic – The US tech real estate brand

Mentor – Bill Fowler and Kieran Clair

Transcript:

Kevin:   You’re going to learn a lot this morning about an absolute super brand. A brand in the states that’s taking that country by storm. Bill Fowler from Compass talks to Kieran Clair.

Kieran:   I am just thrilled to have our next guest come along today because Compass is a big brand over here in the U.S. but of course we’re an international audience and there’s a lot to learn. Bill Fowler is the senior director of industry relations at Compass. He’s a strategic marketer, and an analyst, and he’s here with us now. Bill, thanks for-

Bill:   Hey.

Kieran:   Joining us.

Bill:   Of course, no thank you for having me.

Kieran:   We’re really thrilled to have you here. Bill, look, Compass is almost enigmatic outside of the U.S. but it’s so, it’s become so important so quickly here. Tell me a little bit about its inception and why it’s a little bit different from your regular brokerage?

Bill:   Yeah. That’s an interesting question.

Kieran:   Take your time with it too.

Bill:   Yeah. Yeah. So the inception really was built around a really easy and simple idea, which is the real estate agent has been a sole proprietor of their own business. Every real estate agent in the U.S. is kind of seen as their own business, their own brand. So they’re responsible for a range of business skills. It takes a lot to maintain a real estate business, mainly because the agent is really on their own. They work for a broker, but that broker traditionally has treated them as an independent contractor so they’ve got to be an expert marketer and be very good with communication. They have to be a deal maker, a negotiator, you know all … a financial analyst, a data analyst, and very few agents are good at all of those things.

Bill:   So there’s a struggle with the average agent in any of those areas. So what Compass has done and wants to continue to do, is treat the agent not only as a business and to hold them up as an entrepreneur, but give them all those tools. So that if they’re not a marketing expert, they have this platform, this thing they can call on to create that, the skill they may not have naturally.

Kieran:   Its got a little bit of a punk rock ethic to me, I think.

Bill:   Yeah.

Kieran:   So you give people the tools and let them create.

Bill:   Well, and the interesting thing about this industry, there’s a room full of tools here-

Kieran:   Yeah.

Bill:   And most of them I’m sure are great, but Compass has taken the approach that we can build it all in-house and custom build it to the person that fits us culturally and from a business model standpoint, we only recruit and maintain really certain kinds of agents. The full-time, the ultra-professional, we call them rockstars. So these tools are going to be great for a wide range of people. What Compass has done, and wants to continue doing is creating the sharpest tools in the toolbox. Just the most expert level kinds of applications and for their agents. Yeah.

Kieran:   Great imagery there, and Compass as a brand itself is just synonymous with tech. It seems to have been born of that sort of environment. How are you adapting technology in a really interesting and new ways to help these people?

Bill:   Yeah, well it’s not easy. I come from a background, a software company background that built tools just like here, MLS software. And it, you really do, as I mentioned before, you have to be all things to all people. A real estate agent really needs that marketing platform. They need an analysis platform, and to do all that, even five years ago, was nearly impossible given the amount of talent you had to recruit, given just the raw cost.

Bill:   Data platforms themselves didn’t speak to each other and that’s a whole different subject. MLS data and real estate data from all over the country, having to put it into one box, so it’s valuable to … at a market level. There’s so many different languages that you have to speak, per se, to get all that in one place.

Bill:   In 2018, 19, it’s gotten a lot simpler, and Compass has been able to recruit some really incredible talent, that I think probably wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with real estate not too long ago. You know, the Ubers, the Twitters, the Amazons, those kinds of companies, Google and the like, were recruiting the top technical talent in the country, and now real estate suddenly has opened up.

Bill:   Zillow is a good example, Redfin is a good example, Compass obviously is a good example of companies that have really been able to pull in that level of talent. And I tell you, that’s probably the most important aspect. It wasn’t that the technical difficulties aren’t important. Just getting the people, that young talent that want to do that work in real estate, has been quite a victory.

Kieran:   It’s making real estate real exciting again, in many ways. You know, the old image back in Australia was of the old fellow in the short sleeved shirt and tie-

Bill:   Sure, yeah.

Kieran:   You know, but real estate has become almost one of those dynamic industries.

Bill:   Well the fact that there’s tonnes and tonnes of money to be made, I’m sure has a lot to do with that.

Kieran:   Yeah probably.

Bill:   But the average real estate agent, I think you’re exactly right. There’s surveys that go around these magazines and so on that do surveys about the least respected and most respected professions in the country. And the real estate agent has always been toward the bottom, next to like used car salesman and attorney and it’s an old joke. But now, you can just look around this room, the average age of the agent may still be hovering close to retirement age, but the new agent is going to be in their late 20s early 30s, it’s a real profession now, and a start off profession.

Bill:   I think traditionally, real estate has been one of those secondary professions. Once your finished with your primary career, you can still make money doing this on the side, with real estate. I honestly think that’s going away. I think real estates becoming … HGTV and these TV shows that are showing these rockstar agents that are making lots and lots of money because they’re very good, that’s becoming, I guess the tip of the spear in the industry for young talent.

Kieran:   I also want to touch on Compass as a brand because what you’ve done here in the U.S. is very impressive. It’s really elevated itself very quickly to become one of the iconic real estate brands-

Bill:   Right.

Kieran:   So how have you managed to do that? It feels quite quick to me. Mind you, I live outside the country, but how have you been able to raise its profile and its brand so well?

Bill:   You know, without sounding like a complete sycophant here-

Kieran:   You can though, if you want to.

Bill:   Well, our CEO Robert Reffkin, I think that in a very, everyone compares themselves to Apple. I think that’s, you like to do that, but Steve Jobs was the Apple brand. The Apple brand was Steve Jobs. We don’t have a lot of spokespeople in our company. There are not marketing voices and PR people that are hired to tell the Compass story. It’s very rare that I’m here doing this, because I’m usually B to B kind of conversations.

Bill:   Robert is the voice of the company, and his personality really shines through because he’s young, he’s dynamic, he’s come from a background that makes him really an expert in finance and an expert and very respected within the real estate community. His personality just shines through, I mean I wish I could put it in a more succinct way. But really it’s the personality of this company. Much like Steve Jobs with Apple. Much like the Tesla guy that I’ve blanked on-

Kieran:   Elon Musk.

Bill:   Elon Musk.

Kieran:   Yeah.

Bill:   A little bit more than that lately, Elon’s you know-

Kieran:   Yeah.

Bill:   Gone off the rails somewhat.

Kieran:   I know where you’re going.

Bill:   Right. Robert’s at these conferences, he’s always at at the front of our brand, and I think that’s been a very important thing. To consolidate that into his personality, and his personality really trickles down through the whole team.

Kieran:   That’s it. I was chatting with my producer Joel earlier-

Bill:   Yeah.

Kieran:   And he was saying, even when you talk about those things like the parallels to Apple, he was even talking about the way that you do signage on properties with Bluetooth signage.

Bill:   Right.

Kieran:   And those sorts of interesting tools, I mean is there a department that is looking at creating new and exciting ways of marketing and selling property?

Bill:   Well, yeah. You have, Apple has their like skunk works department, you know, where no one can come in and out without a retina reader whatever. But I would say that there is a technological aspect of that at Compass. That we’re always trying to think differently about what we can do to change the market. But even someone like myself, I’m always, I’m trying to think of different ways to do what has been done, more efficiently, better, and I think that’s a company wide kind of approach.

Bill:   I hate to, I’m not going to paint this as a utopian corporate experience because you know, we have our problems just like everyone else.

Kieran:   Is there ping-pong tables and bean bag rooms?

Bill:   Of course, yeah. We got all that millennial, you know, snack walls and so on. But in general I think Compass carries this attitude of, yes we’re a broker, yes the business model is very similar, if not identical, to the way it’s been done for the most of the history of real estate. But it’s just the style in which it’s done and just a different attitude. A different way of looking at the way things have always been done. And the sign is a great example. Like, how do you revolutionise a sign?

Kieran:   Yeah.

Bill:   If you could do anything to it to make it better, a better consumer experience, what would you do? And so, a year ago, someone on a white board just filled it up with, how can we improve on that one thing? And I would say as a company we do that with a lot of things. How can we improve on what has been seen as a given for years.

Kieran:   Well, I could talk to you all afternoon, but I’m not allowed to. I’ve been given-

Bill:   Right.

Kieran:   A wind up. It’s been fascinating. I’m really thrilled that Compass is a company that’s at the forefront of this and there’s great-

Bill:   Yeah.

Kieran:   Minds working on it. And the championing up, a big part of that.

Bill:   Well, I hope so.

Kieran:   I appreciate it.

Bill:   Hey, thank you so much.

Kevin:   A reminder once again that all of these interviews are videos that you can see right now at propertytv.io and we recorded them at Inman Connect in New York, just last month. Thanks to Bepo outsourcing, Rock End, and Raine and Horne, as well as Cosio.

Kevin:   Tomorrow on the show, to round out the week, I’m going to be talking to Bernice Ross, one of my most favourite people. That’s coming up tomorrow, see you then.

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