Talking with myself on the porch

A few days ago, I decided to experiment by using a room on friendfeed in much the same way that I used to use del.icio.us… Which is to say that I’ve began bookmarking (or in this case “sharing with a room”) articles that I find interesting.

In many ways, I’ve been treating the porch on friendfeed like my own tumblelog.

Here’s what I’ve learned… It works!

Sharing things into a room on friendfeed is an easy way to track articles, videos, podcasts, etc. and I’ve already used the room for reference a number of times in the past week or so to “re-share” articles with others.

But here’s what else I’ve learned… It could be better!

The real fun in friendfeed could come is a group of people all treated one room like a group microblog… The beauty of this system over others (like twitter or tumblr) is that

  1. The focus on “link” keeps out much of the noise
  2. It is extremely easy to filter through articles and
  3. It has threaded comments making it easy to follow conversations.

Anyway, I don’t mind being alone on the porch, but I also wouldn’t mind some company. If you’re interested, here’s how you can take part:

  1. Sign up for a (free) friendfeed account
  2. Add a “share on friendfeed” bookmarketlet to your browser.
  3. Share anything and everything you find interesting with the room called the “porch”. But note that the porch is a place for discovery, not self-promotion, so it’s not a great place to link back to your own articles.

It is also worth noting that I purposely made sure the room did not have a “real estate” theme because much of the stuff I find interesting on the web is not real estate related! Go figure! If you’re up for a bit of painless adventure, then feel free to join me by sharing a story or two (or three or more) on the porch.

My Speaking Tour Goes International!

Realtor Quest

Canada counts as international, right?   🙂

I really do enjoy speaking to real estate audiences about online marketing and technologies…  And my talk last fall at NAR was a wonderful event where I felt like I hit a great groove with the audience.

Thanks to the alignment of a few stars (including the fact that a Director from the Toronto Real Estate Board was in the audience for that presentation) I just received confirmation today that I’ll be the featured technical speaker at the largest real estate conference and tradeshow in Canada: Realtor Quest!

For all my Canadian readers (yeah, Brendan, I’m talking to you), the event is in Toronto on May 12 and 13… and I’ll be speaking on both days.    My two topics are:

  1. Understanding Your Online Competition and
  2. Using Blogs to Build Communities

And as a special bonus, it looks like all attendees will get 2 hours of continuing education credit for each presentation.

Hope to see you in Toronto!

(Coincidentally, I also found out today that people are still listening to my NAR presentation and you can even buy it online!)

Learning, learning, learning…

After last Thursday’s event, Jim and I took the weekend to relax and digest what we learned. The break was nice, but now we’re ready to hit the next event up harder than ever!   😉

Here are some of the things that I learned from our first event:

  • The people in the audience seemed to respond really well to the entire program, with almost everyone telling me the course was a great value (including agents who I’d consider to be quite internet savvy!). However, in marketing it to brokers and agents, many felt that the price ($149) and the time (8 hours) were too much.
  • The enthusiasm of the sponsors and the ability for us to get exactly the sponsors we wanted was a pleasant surprise.
  • The audience really responded well to Jim’s presentation on measuring and tracking ROI.   There’s obviously a lot of pent-up demand for this kind of extremely practical, nuts-and-bolts, education.
  • The most effective marketing was when brokerages/sponsors recommended that their agents/clients take part.

Based on what we learned, here are the changes we’re making to our next event in Orange County:

  1. We’re dropping the price to $49 per person!
    • This can only be done because of the awesome sponsorships we’ve been able to get from companies like Altos Research, Inman News, Zillow, Top Producer and Diverse Solutions. The willingness of the sponsors to support our effort to spread quality internet marketing education to agents is the ONLY reason we can drop this price so darn low!
  2. We’re going to squeeze all of our content into 4 hours
    • This will let us start at 9am and end at 1pm. To make this work, here is our new schedule:
      • 9am to 9:15: Intro (by Dustin)
      • 9:15 to 10:15: Creating a performance based website (by Jim)
      • 10:15: 10:30: 1st break
      • 10:30 to 10:45: Effectively engaging in social networks (see change #3)
      • 10:45 to 11:45: Creating local communities with blogs
      • 11:45 to noon: 2nd break
      • Noon to 1pm: Measuring and tracking your marketing ROI
    • The things we have to cut to make this work are lunch (1 hour), my discussion on social networking (from 1.5 hours to only 15 minutes), one break (15 min) and each presentation by 15 minutes.
  3. We will offer all attendees a free, 90-day, follow up course tentatively called Get 4RealzEd with 15 minutes a day
    • I’m more convinced than ever that the best way to get people knowledgeable on how to be effective within the various social networks is NOT to lecture on them, but to simply walk agents through a variety of social networks in simple steps.
    • At least for the first round, I’m going to keep this simple and send out a daily email with a simple (~15 min) social networking, blogging and/or ROI activity.
    • Attendees seemed to really respond well to this idea, so I’m quite excited about it going forward!
  4. Our next event will be in Orange County on April 17th
    • We’ve pushed back the dates on both the Orange County and San Diego events. We’re quite fortunate that some of our sponsors we’ve brought on in the past few weeks have shown an interest in helping us promote these events, so rather than rush things, we want to give them enough time to work their magic!

I really want to thank everyone for helping make the 4RealzEd event in LA such a success.   I learned a tremendous amount from the first event and feel more confident than ever that I’m on to something really big!  Because we’re still in the early stages of this roadshow (we haven’t even announced any events outside of southern California yet!), I expect we’ll continue to tweak things based on feedback we get from attendees and non-attendees alike, so please feel free to fire away with ideas, tips, critiques, and/or feedback… We’re listening!

The 1st 4RealzEd event was yesterday and…

4ealzEdI think I’ve recovered enough now to actually post about it! 🙂

Despite our best efforts to be prepared, the day started off a bit rough with a nearby mudslide taking out power in our building in the morning (meaning no hot coffee and no projector) and a 9-car pileup on a nearby freeway slowed me down tremendously. AHHH

So, to say it started rough would be an understatement… But once it started, things seem to get on a roll quickly.

I started with an overview of consumers expectations in a web2.0 world to set expectations for the day… Jim followed up with presentation on optimal features and design for a real estate website. Then it turned back to me for a presentation on social networking… lunch… then another presentation by me on creating value through blogging about communities. And we returned for the day’s finally with Jim giving a engaging presentation on measuring and tracking marketing results to ensure a positive ROI.

All around, it was a wonderful day! And, maybe they were just being nice, but the attendees who talked with me said only good things about the education.

Because I promised attendees I would give them a list of all the sites I mentioned in my presentations (so that they wouldn’t have to ask me to spell out each URL), here is the list for everyone’s benefit.

Consumer Expectations in a Web2.0 World:

Engaging in Social Networking to Earn Clients

Using Blogs to Build Communities

I wasn’t tracking the sites that Jim mentioned, but there were not nearly as many of them in his presentations…

And thanks again to all the bloggers who have helped spread the word about the event, the sponsors who helped us keep the price low and all the attendees who made the day possible!

I received some incredible feedback from all three groups, which is going to lead me to make some changes to the upcoming events (I’ll announce those early next week!). Great stuff all around. Thanks again to everyone!

My first real internet spat was when…

…I convinced Anna to hit publish on this article about Redfin.

I’m reminded of this today because Marlow just picked up on the fact that the founder of Redfin just started a new site with information/resources for people with mental health problemsMindSite.

The connection between these stories is that despite the fact that David Eraker left Redfin two years ago, that original spat is still the #1 result on a Google search on his name. I would feel guilty over that fact (I’ve met him a few times and he’s not a bad guy), but the reality is that unless we’re active using the internet to build up our own brand online, there’s always a danger that other people will define our brand for us.

The 4realz Interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.com

As I said to when I started the 4realz interviews, I reached out to four players in the real estate technology space and asked them a similar set of 9 questions.   I purposefully picked four people representing four different companies at different stages of development and different types/levels of funding.   First was Marty Frame of CyberHomes, then Alex Chang of Roost, and, today, I’m fortunate to publish this interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.

I first met Pete thanks to an introduction from Paul Rademacher before Trulia had launched (and they were going by the name RealWide!).    Thanks to my experiment with gHomes, I had started up a conversation with Paul and he knew I was looking to get out of  transportation engineering and into the wild world of online real estate.

During this initial conversation with Pete I was immediately impressed because he was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing:  starting up a consumer-oriented real estate search site.   However, he was way ahead of me…   Whereas I was still in idea-mode, Pete had teamed up with a fellow Standford MBA grad, Sami Inkinen, to get the funding and team in place necessary to build a top-notch website.

During that first conversation with Pete, we chatted about all kinds of opportunities in the industry and I developed a tremendous respect for him because I could tell that he “got it.”  I’ve always, always enjoyed my encounters with him since. He’s a true professional and after only a few years in the real estate space, he’s proven that he has all the necessarily executive skills to create a product that has already had an undeniably huge impact on our industry.

Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?

Pete: At Trulia we have a great selection of free and premium tools for real estate professionals to drive more online traffic to their listings and to expand their online audience. With approximately 4 million monthly unique users, Trulia.com is second to Realtor.com as a leading residential sites site for agents to get in front of an active audience of home buyers and sellers.
Free products:
Trulia Voices: Join the Conversation. Answer questions. Engage directly with active home buyers and sellers and share insights. Learn from other real estate professionals. How? Set up your profile for free, upload your picture and contact information, and sign-up for email alerts to find out when consumers ask questions in your area!
Listings submission: Get free exposure to your listings and significant traffic back to your own Web site. How? Build your feed, submit your site to be indexed, work with our listing feed partners or get your brokerage to send a feed to Trulia.
Trulia Tools: Add value. Get free, easy to install maps or charts for your Web site.

Premium products:
Agent Featured Listings: Get around 3x the traffic and exposure for up to 10 listings for $50 a month, email traffic reports and your photos on listings.
Banner Advertising: Buy banners in your neighborhoods or ZIP codes to enhance your personal brand.

Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?

Other real estate sites that are supported by advertising dollars are our most obvious competition. Ultimately we think there will be a couple of big sites with a comprehensive set of tools that compete for traffic and advertising dollars. Competition is healthy which is spurring innovation that in the end will help both consumers and home buyers and sellers.

At Trulia, we think that to be successful you have to both attract a large audience of consumers by providing useful tools delivered in a great user experience and be a trusted and cost effective marketing partner for the real estate industry.  Our strategy from the start was to do both. Other sites have either alienated the consumers by not delivering a great online experience, or they have alienated the real estate industry by attempting to marginalize their role. Establishing personal relationships on a broker and agent level helps us understand their needs. We are always listening. You’re seeing the big sites wake up now and change their strategies.

Between Move getting $100M, Zillow getting $87M, Redfin at $20M, Trulia at $18M, Terabitz at $10M, and NAR looking to invest approximately $30M through their 2nd Century Fund, there’s a lot of investment money floating around the real estate space at the moment. Do you see this as a good thing for the industry?

The VC and private equity money is a great thing for both consumers and the real estate industry. All these dollars flowing into the industry will ultimately lower the marketing costs for agents and also drive competition for consumers by delivering a great online experience. The online real estate industry is still in its infancy and may seem a little confusing right now, but the combination of capital, advertising dollars and ambition is a powerful combination and will move the industry forward for the better.

That said, I’m a little bit skeptical about the NAR fund, seems like given the current climate and their history of technology investments the NAR members might prefer those dollars to stay in their wallets.

Besides the venture capital money mentioned in the first question, there are also a few big players from related industries who are jumping into the listings game… Such as Fidelity with CyberHomes and HGTV with FrontDoor. Why do you think there are so many companies chasing the listing side of this industry?

Homes for sale are the number one thing that consumers search for in the real estate industry. Hence it’s natural that these companies with some existing real estate assets are moving into this space. They see the innovation and opportunity and are working to catch up. We all know that the online advertising dollars in the real estate industry are significant and so we’re all chasing a piece of that.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with REALTOR.com. Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?

Building a great site is REALLY tough and it is hard for large brokerage to attract the engineering and design talent to do all this effectively. Brokers should be building strong online experiences, but they shouldn’t be distracted from their strengths and core competency— selling homes!

ActiveRain, Trulia, Zolve, Realtor.com and others have created social networks that use real estate professional content in order to better inform consumers and (theoretically) drive more business to these online professionals. Does your company have any plans to either create your own social network or engage in these existing networks? If so, how?

At Trulia, we believe that the real estate transaction is the ultimate social transaction, in that you speak to more people before during and after the process for longer than any other purchase I can think of. As consumers and professionals have become more comfortable with sharing and socializing on the web, it is natural for social networks in the real estate industry to pop-up which take some of the normal offline conversations and activity online. We think that Trulia Voices is the best example out there of a consumer real estate site delivering a compelling user community for consumers and agents. And having an active dialogue with the community helps us understand our users’ unique needs. The Q and A format is just the beginning.

To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?

Reading and watching are two of the best things someone new to the scene can do. This will help them understand the culture of social networks and blogs. Then start with the free stuff to learn how the online tools work. Participate in Trulia Voices and other online social sites or blog networks. Make sure you work with sites that are near the top of search results in google, as they will get the most traffic to you. I would hold off on launching your own blog due to the technical complexities and time involved. As you get more comfortable you can decide whether or not a blog is for you, sign-up for premium services, buy advertising on Trulia, Google and others.

Would it be different for an agent who is just starting out in the business? If so, where do you recommend they begin with their online marketing?

I would recommend pretty much just the same, but clearly new agents will have to work harder as they don’t have the existing contacts and reputation. Read and watch first. Then participate.

What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?

Social networking will start to deliver an increasing portion of business for agents, it will take time, but these efforts will really pay off as consumers will increasingly use these services.

It is natural there will be some consolidation of the consumer audience and probably 2-4 major large online sites will exist, plus another 2-4 specialized sites serving specific, but large niches and then some large national franchise/broker sites. Competition among these sites will be fierce and innovation will continue to accelerate.

We don’t see the real estate transaction changing that much, but the consumer research and agent marketing will be permanently changed.

Thanks, Pete, for the fascinating interview!  

theFrontSteps launches a San Francisco real estate…

sf-neighborhoods.pngcommunity using ning for the backend.

The real hurdle for a project like this is getting enough people in order to make it a viable community. The 44 members so far is a great start, although it appears to be heavily skewed toward real estate professionals and not too many consumers (at least not yet). Nonetheless, it is worth checking out if for no other reason that it would be trivial to replicate elsewhere if it works.

I like that they pre-filled in a bunch of condos (and neighborhood) groups, but it does beg the question… Why not just use an existing social network like Facebook where there is already a community of people and tools that can help you encourage them to participate (like news feeds)?

Inman launches a new site with a new…

look and lots of new features. Congrats to everyone involved.

I know having talked with the team that they’ve put a lot of effort into this endeavor, so a huge congratulations to making it happen! Out of all the changes, I’ll be most interested to see how real estate professionals adopt some of their new adding social networking features. And based on the bloggers they were able to recruit to their new blog network (personal bias alert: they included 4realz), they are off to a great start!

But wait, there’s more news from Inman News!

I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that the extremely busy team at Inman News has also agreed to be a sponsor of the 4Realz Internet Marketing seminars.

The genesis of the sponsorship started a few months ago when I had a conversation with Joel where we marveled at how responsive real estate professionals have been to our various presentations on social media marketing.

When I left Move and decided to start the 4Realz seminars, it was a no-brainer for me to reach out to the Inman News team as they obviously know how to put on a real estate event.

However, our conversations quickly went deeper than just sharing information as the Inman team seemed to genuinely share my vision for creating a platform that educates real estate professionals on how they could use internet marketing tools to improve their business.

Between their massive new design, new professional social network, new blog network, new consumer angle, etc., the Inman News team is clearly firing on all cylinders at the moment, so I want to give a special thanks to them for taking the time to make this sponsorship happen!

I’ve been so incredibly busy lately that I neglected to announce some really big news!

Both Zillow AND Top Producer have come on as sponsors!

As you can imagine, the more sponsors that we can bring on board, the better for everyone involved because (1) it helps to drive the cost of the event down for real estate professionals and (2) it gives attendees who’ve earned “REALZ” more ways to spend their marketing dollars!

As always, Jim and I are being very selective in who I reach out to for sponsorship. I really want to make sure that we’re only inviting companies that can demonstrate that they add real value to real estate professionals.

So why are we seeking out sponsorship from Top Producer and Zillow?

In many ways, my real estate blogging experience really took off at the same time as Zillow. I learned a ton from meeting up with that team while I was living in Seattle, as well as covering them in their early days! In many ways, RCG really started to hit it stride around the early days of Zillow (Our traffic more than doubled the month they came launched!). However, beyond just a great relationship, I’ve always watched Zillow grow into a company that has added real value to real estate agents all over the country! At a recent event where I spoke alongside Sara, I was impressed with the examples she’s able to show of agents quickly being able to generate a great ROI with their product.

The Top Producer team has done some wonderful things for me in the past including sponsoring my round of educational seminars (when a virtual who’s who of the RE.net showed up!). But beyond the seminars, the TP team showed a real interest in reaching out to me while I was at Move in order to get my ideas on how they could improve their product. The organization is filled with wonderful people doing a great job meeting the needs of existing clients as well as making commitments to continuously integrate and improve their product to meet the changing needs of real estate agents.

I honestly couldn’t be happier that so many wonderful real estate companies are willing to take a chance on sponsoring the 4Realz Education seminars!