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Here's the Advice Redfin's CEO has For Entrepreneurs

August 31, 2017 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated September 02, 2020 11:32 AM UTC

It’s not all about the bucks once you become public.

Glenn, until just recently, Redfin was a entrepreneurial private company. Now you're the CEO of a public company. How is this going to change the way that you lead Redfin? I don't think it's going to change a thing. I think companies psych themselves out, and they say, well, now that we're public, we've got to get all stuffy and we've got to be a certain way. And the entrepreneurial spirit dies. What you've got to keep alive is the intimacy, the energy, this crazed sense of purpose. If it becomes all about the bucks, now that you're public, all the true believers aren't going to work for you anymore. So what are you saying to your employees and your real estate agents about how they have to adapt to this public business model? I'm saying they don't have to adapt at all. We've just got to keep focused on the customer, and building great software, and doing all the stuff that got us here in the first place. The only thing I'm worried about is that we're going to lose sight of that. So Redfin stands out for having a very innovative business approach. You're a real estate brokerage, but you're online. You're using a lot of technology. So what's your process for coming up with all of these new innovations, and how do you get the-- your employees onboard about being inventive and trying new things? Well, I think what's different about Redfin is that engineers and real estate agents work together. The software engineers have no idea how a real estate agent really does his job, and the real estate folks have no idea how to write software. So somehow, we've got to bring these two cultures together, and that's where the great ideas come from. And that's how you make the real world better, rather than just shipping some weird app. You must collect so much data from your customers and also from your employees. To what extent do you use these data analytics to come up with the next new thing? Well, we use data to figure out whether it's working, but the new thing itself-- that comes from here. That comes from here. And it's not just me-- it's everybody at the company. There are so many people have better ideas than I do, and when I used to try to be Steve Jobs, I just quashed that. So you got to let 1,000 flowers bloom. That's the key. So are you saying that, even though you have all this data and data analytics to work from, that you basically ignore it and go with your gut? No. You have an idea, and then you use data to figure out if it's working. And the more data you have, the faster you can figure it out. Some of my favorite ideas, the data has disproven. I hate it when that happens, but that's how we make more money. You know, Glenn, you sound like a little bit of a risk taker yourself. You were going to go to medical school. You switched gears. You became an entrepreneur. You founded a company. You sold the company. Then you came to Redfin, and you knew nothing about real estate. What do you say to would-be entrepreneurs about what it takes to succeed and take a chance? Well, I think, first of all, you've really got to believe that it's a problem worth solving. And then, even though you can't be data-driven in generating the idea, you've got to talk to a lot of customers. I feel like I'm the chief demand officer at Redfin, which means I know what people who are buying and selling homes want better than anybody else. Once you've got that level of conviction and you've corroborated with other people, it's easy to run through walls. But before you have that, you're just smoking your own dope. So Glenn, if you look back on your career and your personal life, what's the best advice you ever received, when it comes to leadership? Number one, Kirill Sheynkman, my co-founder-- one of my co-founders at Plumtree Software-- we were going to do some little dipstick piece of garbage software project, and he just came downstairs and he said, why not do the big thing? And I think it can be audacious and scary, but if you do the big thing, everybody's going to want to join you, and it's going to be something that's worth your time. And then John Koontz, my old boss, he said something that sounds so trite, but he said, do the right thing. And I feel, in business, you want to be tough, and a money maker, and all that other stuff, but we are moral human beings first. And just liberating me always do that first has been awesome for me.