In Which Keller Williams Completely Confuses Me

[NOTE: Some of the early comments focused on Inman’s reporting, and my reliance on that as some kind of a flaw. I have now watched the entire speech on video. I stand by my analysis in this post. If there is a flaw, please feel free to point it out, but don’t have it be because I wasn’t present at the speech. It’s all on video, and I’ve heard everything Josh and Gary have said. If anything, Inman was bland and downplayed the coverage.]

It’s been a busy few days, and not likely to get any less busy for the foreseeable future, but… I have to talk about this:

Real estate franchisor Keller Williams debuted an artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant and referrals platform today, announcing to the world it has every intention of thriving in a changing industry.

“We are a technology company. No. 1 that means we build the technology. No. 2 that means we hire the technologists …. We are not a real estate company anymore,” Keller Williams co-founder Gary Keller declared today at Keller Williams Family Reunion in Anaheim, California.

Obviously, Gary Keller is a freakin’ genius with a track record of success longer than my leg. Actually, since I’m not that tall, longer than James Dwiggins’s leg. Not everything he’s tried has turned to gold, but he’s succeeded more often than not. I have long admired Keller Williams on a lot of different levels, and I’m willing to concede that Gary and Co. are brilliant businesspeople.

So this announcement, and some of the language that came out of Anaheim during KW Family Reunion, is… well… confounding. I’m completely confused. What the hell is KW doing?

Either KW has decided that a fast glorious suicide is preferable to slow decline and irrelevance, or KW has decided that staking its reputation on a giant lie is good for its brand, or there’s something else going on that I just can’t figure out.

Let me explain.

Buzzwords Do Not a Product Make

First of all, I’m relying heavily on Inman’s reporting from the event here. So if I get something wrong, or missed something, well, blame me for not being at the speech and then blame Inman for being there and misreporting something.

[EDIT: I have the BEST readers. See below at end of article for links to the speech.]

But immediately after the “we’re not a real estate company anymore” the Inman article goes into a long deal about Kelle, KW’s now “Artificial Intelligence” app. Here’s the promo video on Kelle:

That’s not Artificial Intelligence. That’s a voice interface to dumb search, much like Apple’s Siri, which is about as “intelligent” as belly navel fuzz, or Alexa which is scary in that it collects everything you’re saying in your house but funny as hell in how idiotic she is.

We’re a pretty long way from actual AI, even rudimentary ones. And buzzwords do not a product make.

But that’s not that important, since everybody does it. Remember that we work in an industry where lighted yard signs are billed as game changers.

What is important is….

What the Hell?

From the Inman article, it looks as if there are two people talking here. One is Josh Team, the Chief Innovation Officer, and the other is Gary Keller. But here’s the extended excerpt:

For KW, that means no longer dealing with what it called “bolt-on” technology. “Bolt-on technology is anytime you use another company’s technology product that you didn’t build and own,” Team said onstage.

Bolt-on tech means being vulnerable to another company’s priorities and updates, according to Keller. Those companies also get to keep the valuable data agents generate, he noted. He pointed to the largest tech companies in the country: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon. “These are data insight companies built on your data, which you give to them willingly. That’s the crazy part,” Keller said.

“You have singlehandedly created the most valuable real estate company in the country called Zillow. They don’t create their own content,” Keller added. “It’s your data. [Real estate portals are] just using money and technology to enhance the experience so everyone wants to go there.” [Emphasis mine]

I know Gary threw out the “Z-word” as red meat to the crowd, but did he really mean to bring Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon into the mix?

What exactly happens if someone from Google were paying attention to this, and decides, “You know what? KW is a competitor of ours now. We should treat them accordingly.” How fast does KW go kaput if Google decides to delist all KW-related websites and links? I mean, sure, KW will go out in a blaze of glory as the little company that defied the giants, but go out it will and that right quick.

Apple? Microsoft? Is Keller Williams launching a laptop division I didn’t know about? A productivity suite? An operating system? Does KW make cellphones?

Are KW agents going to stop using Facebook going forward, since God only knows the amount of data that Facebook collects on “their data” which they give them willingly?

Oh, no, no, Team and Gary didn’t mean those tech companies. Surely not. True, they all make technology that KW did not build and does not own, but they didn’t mean laptops, the iPhone, the Pixel2, Amazon, Amazon Web Services, Gmail, Google Apps, Dropbox, or copy machines. That would be ridiculous, even though Gary Keller mentioned several of them by name.

Surely KW meant only Zillow and the other “bolt-on” real estate tech companies.

Uh, I Guess That Makes Sense? No, Not Really

I don’t understand that move either, though.

For example, Josh Team picks on Commissions, Inc. because it’s now owned by Fidelity National, which partially owns Pacific Union, and says:

“That basically means any Realtor that is using Commissions Inc. is giving their data to a company that’s competing with them if you’re on the West Coast,” Team said.

So… again, what happens if Fidelity National takes them at their word and decides that they ought not to work with KW agents, because you know, KW is a technology company that is competing with them? There are parts of the country where not having access to FNF companies could be disastrous for one’s real estate business, you know.

Or even the hated and feared Zillow, usually the unspoken subtext of the “it’s your data!” talk, but in this case, spoken out loud and lumped in with Google and Apple and Amazon. (If that’s talking down your competitors, maybe KW execs need a refresher course on what “talking down” means… but I digress.)

Quite a few KW agents, particularly those who have large profitable teams, leverage Zillow Premier Agent leads for 5X, 8X, 10X ROI and then some. Sure they bitch about Zillow “selling their leads back to them” but they’re happily buying leads on other agent listings on a wide variety of zip codes and making a fortune off those leads.

Is KW begging Zillow to cut off those leads to KW agents and agent teams? To what end? How in the world does that benefit their agents and teams currently cashing checks that Zillow leads brought in the door?

I’m reminded of Don Michael Corleone telling Tom Hagen, “You see, all our people are businessmen. Their loyalty is based on that.” Maybe KW wants to force a showdown to see where their people’s loyalties lie. To what end, I’m not sure, but I’m having trouble explaining this move otherwise.

Even the little guys who KW feels like it can push around and bully, the Boomtowns of the world, the Market Leaders of the world (who is a big part of the KW eEdge platform), the Imprevs, the various other CRM vendors like Contactually, the transaction management vendors, agent website vendors like Real Estate Webmasters or Placester or whoever, even email marketing vendors… all of those guys now have to wake up to the reality that their relationship with KW has a definite time limit and it isn’t a friendly partnership.

No, they have now been told that KW considers them parasites who are dangerous to the agent:

And so, Josh Team wants to make sure that KW is the winner in the upcoming battle over technology:

“And so everything we’re doing, from all of our initiatives, Labs, everyone pooling their money together and creating that fund, growing our own tech budget by … tens of millions of dollars annually. All of that is around a singular purpose, which is to make sure we are the winner and that Keller Williams creates the solution that allows the tech-enabled agent to win and outperform the technology platforms that want to disintermediate the agent.”

If you are a technology vendor today, and you read that, here’s what crosses your mind (or ought to, immediately): “Hmm, maybe I need to work with my other clients like Re/Max and Realogy and HomeServices to make sure that they are the winner, because if KW is the winner, I don’t have a business anymore. Those guys know they’re real estate brokerages and not technology companies.”

How exactly is it good for business to create a whole legion of competitors overnight, all of whom are now incentivized to make sure you are the loser in whatever upcoming war by helping your actual brokerage competitors kick your ass as much as possible?

Finally… Aren’t Agents 1099 Independent Contractors in KW World?

And then, the article ends with this bizarre passage:

Keller vowed to adhere to a data pledge that would differentiate KW from other companies’ data practices:

“We will always respect your data as your business and we will always allow you to take your database with you.”

This means: “Your data is your business, and we will never hold your data or your business hostage. If you leave, you can take your data with you and we will not keep a copy,” Team told Inman.

Uh, that’s good, but given that Keller Williams just spent a bunch of time talking about how it isn’t safe to give your data to a bolt-on technology company who will use that data to create wealth for itself… why wouldn’t a real estate agent apply that same logic to his relationship with Keller Williams itself?

After all, Keller Williams is no longer a real estate company but a technology company, which wants you to use technology that you have not built and do not own… like Kelle and KW Connect and KW eEdge and Keller Cloud and whatever else it will be building and owning with the tens of millions in additional tech funding?

It isn’t as if KW agents are employees of Keller Williams, who receive a paycheck from the company. In fact, they pay Keller Williams out of their commission checks, don’t they? Aren’t they 1099 independent contractors, all of whom are supposed to be running their own businesses?

“We will always allow you to take your database with you” sounds good, until you think about why you should give them your database in the first place unless your last name is Keller or Williams, and you own equity stakes in KW. After all, isn’t KW going to use your data to create insights that your competitors — who are literally sitting in the same office as you are — will use to compete for listings, compete for buyers, compete for business?

Goose, Gander… you know the deal.

None of this makes any sense.

And Then, There’s This…

That’s just tech vendors. You know what else Keller Williams did not build and does not own where KW agents constantly input their data to be compiled and used to create insight that benefits competitors?

The Multiple Listing Service.

The single biggest “bolt-on” technology that the agent uses day in and day out is the MLS. KW just told all of its 175K or so agents that it isn’t safe to put their data into a third party bolt-on technology that they didn’t build and do not own.

I mean, if they’re going to be dissing Commissions, Inc. because Fidelity National is the corporate parent, which means using CINC = giving your data to Pacific Union, what the hell do they think of the MLS, which is designed to give your data to your competitors?

And if I’m one of KW’s partners in Project Upstream, I now have reason to question what KW’s endgame is in our little partnership, so it isn’t as if the Upstream folks ought to be cheering Gary on here.

I mean, look at this passage here, quoting Josh Team:

“We see every contract that’s written. We see every one that’s accepted. We see every one that goes back and forth negotiated. We’re seeing all of this information, so we want the ability to go back and say, ‘Hey agent, on this contract that you’re writing, did you know that contracts that have escrow of $3,400 or more in this area right now in this moment in time in the last 30 days, have a 17 percent greater chance of being accepted?’” Team said.

Every contract that’s written? Or every KW contract that’s written? Because if it’s the former, the MLS and the other brokers who contribute to it have to start wondering just how KW got the data on every contract written in a marketplace. Is that covered under the MLS rules?

If it’s the latter, then just how accurate could the KW One Database to Rule Them All be? KW doesn’t have even 50% market share in any market in the United States as far as I know.

So if I’m a broker, I know I’m making a phone call to my MLS asking if KW gets contract and offer data from the MLS. Then I’m making phone calls to all of my transaction management vendors to see if KW is getting that data from them. Keller Williams, whose agents compete with mine for listings and buyers every single day, wants the Keller Cloud to be this one source platform with all of the data to give their people an advantage over mine? Fine, but KW can do that without my data.

Plus… yes, the MLS as a whole tends to be go-along-to-get-along everybody-cooperate type of an organization who would rather keep their competitors afloat instead of going after their customers… but even the MLS community has started to think about competition and consolidation over My Little Pony Data Sharing. What motivates the MLS to keep thinking of KW — no longer a real estate company, but a technology company — as a part of the family instead of a real threat on the horizon… and treat KW accordingly?

Of course, maybe Team and Keller didn’t mean the MLS by “bolt-on” technology. Just like they didn’t mean Google and Facebook and Apple. And they didn’t mean Dotloop, which is the transaction management platform in eEdge. And they didn’t mean Market Leader, which is the CRM in eEdge. And they didn’t mean your company, Mr. Tech Company CEO currently providing products and services to KW agents; they meant those other guys who aren’t safe for agents to use.

I’m sure that will be reassuring and compelling to tech company entrepreneurs everywhere. Or not!

Relax, We Didn’t Mean That; It Was Just a Pep Rally

Speaking of “that’s not what we really meant….”

Maybe the whole thing was just an elaborate fire-up-the-crowd pep rally kind of a deal. I mean, social media afterwards was full of KW agents talking about how great they are, how wonderful their company is, etc.

Maybe behind the scenes, all of KW’s technology partners (which includes Zillow, by the way, whose Dotloop platform is a big piece of KW’s tech puzzle) have been privately reassured.

“Hey, so Josh and Gary are going to get up and do this big fiery speech but don’t worry! Nothing changes between us. You understand it’s just a… whatchamacallit… a rhetorical device to fire up the crowd, okay? We don’t really mean what it sounds like we mean, so relax.”

That reminds me a lot of politicians who run campaigns railing against corporate greed while taking a trainload of cash from Wall Street. Or politicians doing the fire and brimstone speech talking about REPEAL OBAMACARE OMG!!!! until they win and get into power and do precisely zilch. It’s a lot of knowing winks and nods and “You know, we have to play to our base!” game that goes on.

Except this was billed as a three-hour long “vision” speech, the centerpiece of the convention. If that’s based on a wink and a nod… sheesh… you have to wonder what else could be based on a wink and a nod, don’t you? Trust is a strong bond, but it’s a fragile thing easily lost.

And why in the world would you want to emulate a politician, of all things?

So either KW meant it, or they were pulling the wool over their people’s eyes. Neither one makes much sense at all. Down one path, KW alienates just about every company in real estate, including all of their most important current technology partners. Down the other path, KW risks its credibility… for what? What’s the benefit here? What is the gain that justifies taking that risk?

I don’t understand it. I really don’t.

Do You Understand This?

To be fair, it’s not important that I don’t understand it. Who the hell am I, after all?

It is important that KW brokers and agents understand it. So if you’re one of those, please enlighten me in the comments. What’s that all about?

Because from where I stand right now, the strategy makes very little sense. Not when KW could have just as easily said, “We’re going to work with our friends and partners to create the best agent-centered technology there is to make sure tech is adding value to you, not the other way around.” Then bring Spencer out on stage to talk about how wonderful KW is, how Zillow and Dotloop are committed to making sure that technology aids the agent and not the other way around, and making the pledge about “your database” and all that jazz.

Hugs all around, kum-bah-ya moment, everybody wins.

Instead, KW chooses to alienate everybody, or in the alternative, risk its word on a false promise with compromises worked out in advance behind the scenes. Neither makes any sense to me as a strategist. But hey, Gary’s net worth dwarfs mine, so I’ll concede that maybe I just don’t get it.

If you do, kindly explain it to me. With small words. Thanks.

-rsh

UPDATE: A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent along these links to the actual speech/presentation by Gary Keller, Josh Team, and others at Family Reunion 2018. It looks like Lori Ballen took the video on a cellphone, and then posted to YouTube in five parts. I will commence watching them now. I urge you to do the same, so we’re not relying on Inman’s reporting alone.

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g4UXPAEXPQ
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upvbiI5I3_4
Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QXXaFIQuGw
Part 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhsf75nHD5g
Part 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOyVMuAP0do

[UPDATE, part 2: Well, within 30 minutes of my posting these links, the videos have been pulled off of YouTube. Interesting.]

[UPDATE, part 3: Lori Ballen’s videos have been removed by the user. I do not know what happened, and whether pressure was brought to bear. If so, then I’d like to experience some of that pressure myself so I can see what that looks like. So, you can find the videos on my channel.]

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77 Comments

Join the discussion and state your opinion. Some comments may be held in moderation. I try to get to them as soon as possible, but may be traveling or unable to approve comments immediately. I do not censor comments, but reserve the right to remove anything that looks like spam, trolling, or just outright inappropriate.

  1. Oh Rob, like usual you missed half the speech and picked on a few talking points. You missed the whole premiss on why it was needed and what the real threat was. You also missed the horizontal integration into other real estate related industries (mortgage, property management, insurance). Review the part about the 4th industrial revolution and the evolution of the agent (which was described as the reason for kw’s need to do this). Disclosure: I am a kw agent and attended his speech.

    1. OK, like I said, I wasn’t there, and I relied on Inman’s reporting of the event and the speech.

      So with the whole premise you heard, the 4th industrial revolution and the like, how does that change things?

      1. He said that in the next 12-18 months, the speed of invoation was going to change the real estate industry (and compress commissions). If KW did not have the tools to compete (or out compete other non real estate brokerage entities) the agent is in serious danager. It is also worth noting he said if he doesn’t get this right he should sell the company & that he is personally working harder than ever at 60 to make sure kw gets it right.

      2. You shouldn’t rely on Inman because Inman isn’t fair and objective anymore. I guess now if you pay them they will write positive about your company but if you challenge them they will write negative . At the last Inman conference all they wrote about was compass and it’s probably because compass spends money on PR . It’s sad that you take what others write and make half educated guesses . Really sad .

      3. What’s really sad, actually, is that you throw out a bunch of accusations but didn’t actually tell us what Inman got wrong or what Gary said or whatever.

        I freely admitted right up front that I am confused, and that I am relying on Inman’s reporting. If Inman got something wrong, and you were there, then you have the ability to put the facts straight. That would be a positive contribution.

        Just throwing shade at me and Inman does… what exactly?

        I’m happy to be wrong here! I’m not afraid to change my mind if the FACTS change. So what did Inman get wrong? What did they fail to report?

  2. Ouch Rob. Just a point of clarification, Pacific Union has nothing to do with Commissions, Inc – and there is no data collection that Pacific Union has on Keller Williams other than the data in the MLS. Not sure what the KW folks were talking about here – but it was totally misguided.

    1. He also pretty much killed Upstream in his speech.

  3. OK, so it is worth saying one more time. The silent minority of those who do the majority of the business are getting more and more frustrated contributing data or anything for that matter for the purpose of benefiting those that do little or nothing or have as their objective to eliminate you as a seasoned competitor. In every other business, size matters. But in residential real estate it simply is not allowed to do so. In fact, size isn’t even a consideration once organized real estate takes over and does what it does best – to level the competitive playing field. I totally get Gary’s frustration. And I believe that he has a right to be focused on becoming more competitive, but I do not think the “it” has that much to do with tech. It has more to do with being able to competitively leverage the “presence” KW currently enjoys in generating over 1 million transactions in the market and assuring that whatever systems outside of the KW environment are being used to facilitate this business are not going to “leverage your presence against you” and then turn around and take a big “bite” out of your hard-earned market advantage. And in closing, there’s this fact. In my opinion, this business has been way too “uncompetitively charitable” for way too many years.

    1. So what you sayin’ Ken?

      That KW does envision a future in which they do not share data with other brokers, and in return, expect no data from those other brokers? So the Keller Cloud will be populated only with KW data and the data from brokers/companies KW has done a deal with?

      I mean, that is pretty much the end of the MLS system (which you’ve been preaching for a while now, but most of us haven’t agreed to… and I didn’t think KW had that in mind as a vision) isn’t it?

      Is that what Gary and Team were saying here?

  4. I am wrong half the time, but I suspect Bill Foley, unsung numero uno real estate genuis, will combine his brokerage operations (PU) with Commissions, Inc. et. al at some point and create a copy cat of Redfin & Compass. Wall St. loves Foley and it would make a powerful story. How you make it an integrated company is another matter, but that never deferred Foley. My three cents.

    1. Which if it works then also combines title insurance, home warranty and I’m sure there is a mortgage component in there.

    2. Bill Foley doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that does “copy cat” strategies. Why don’t we ask him directly instead of just gossiping about him?

  5. Call me silly, but I would way rather spread my risk around a bunch of bolt on companies than put it all in my broker’s basket because yes, I am a 1099 businesswoman. Signed, a KW agent who didn’t hear the speech.

    On a happier note, I’m very impressed with the new referral platform and consider that a value add for agents and a brilliant move for a company that wants to keep commission dollars in-house.

    1. You’re free to do whatever you want but I suggest you really seek to understand his speech not just what you read online.

  6. I’d love to see the agent reaction when Bill Foley announces he is combining his brands under one roof and the agents now have to work for 1% ala Redfin. He’ll lose 75% of them.

  7. 1. KW is too big – the outsiders will tip-toe around for now until somebody throws down the gauntlet – if that ever happens.

    2. They may give back a client database to an agent who leaves, but what are they doing with it in the meantime? Probably reinforcing the KW brand, and the impact/damage will be done.

    3. We will keep getting these mixed messages because nobody wants to tell the exact truth. There are way too many agents and brokerages, so we are circling the wagons to protect our own. If it means that we round-trip all of our plum listings between KW agents, and throw the inferior chum onto the MLS for the appearance of cooperating with outside agents, then so be it.

    You will know it’s happening as we see more public admissions like this one in the lat:

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pacific-union-20180103-story.html

    Pacific Union L.A. has about 625 active listings of homes, condominiums and commercial properties for sale, Segal said, and plans to post new listings on its website before they hit the Multiple Listing Service.

    “These are going to be vetted properties,” he said.

  8. Rob, loved this post. All else aside, I think the trade off between trying to build and own all your tech is a very bad one for KW. Since I am not with them, I wish them Godspeed down that path.
    With the exception of Amazon, I see this as Being an almost impossible task to succeed, for KW, certainly impossible. They cannot be both cutting edge in the tech world and brokerage at the same time, not with a workforce and revenue base tied to them by the thread of 1099 self employed brokers. Someone will build better tech, more nimble tech. ME teams will find themselves invested in systems that suddenly are not top tier, embedded in their offices and culture. This is the open source vs closed source battle that so many companies have waged, and the survivors are the one that can step away and into the new best thing. All ME is doing is increasing their risk and all for a mistaken sense of freedom from other vendors. Gary Keller is a very smart guy, but his ego is going to take his company down a very uncomfortable and expensive road.

    1. ….or his ego is writing checks his company can’t cash.

    2. “I see this as Being an almost impossible task to succeed”

      Me too. Even for Amazon. Business owners don’t like playing in others’ sandboxes that they can’t get out of (and which benefit their competitors).

      How would the industry view a completely open source lead to close broker/agent platform? A wordpress model which doesn’t hold people hostage to monthly fees and allows full data portability, with a for profit company like Automatic behind it. It could certainly work, but it’s a long, long road. If I was KW, I’d be seriously thinking about an approach like that.

  9. Inman wasn’t at the event. In fact, it’s been pretty public lately that Gary isn’t a fan of Inman’s sellout to a few of KW’s competitors, and now they’re not friends. I would respect this article a lot more if you were actually there (for all of the segments; not JUST the Vision Speech.)

    1. Not looking for respect; looking for answers, as I’m puzzled.

      If you were there, what did we miss? What did Inman miss in its reporting that would help us understand what KW is doing here?

      1. Gary called out Inman saying there review and reporting of tech in Real Estate is like Car and Driver writing a review of a new BMW and never setting a hand on it, let alone driving it. Their article more than proved his point. And you here you are writing a click bait piece based on bits and pieces gleaned from bits and pieces. Case in point. For anyone that was at the Vision Speech, read the Inman piece and now reads this, gets the jist of this. You are coming off as 7th grader who read the Car & Driver review of the car they never drove. Having never driven at all, the 7th grader is just spouting bits.

        What you fail to recognize in your piece is that the other brokers are not our competition anymore. Saying Re-Max will just partner with the vendors instead of KW, is likening the telegraph operators will just use a telex machine instead of a traditional tapper. Both dead in the water. We (all agents) are failing so slowly we think we are winning. If all you take from this is that Gary is circling the wagons to take on the competition, you again, missed the point.

      2. It must be something about KW that so many of you go immediately to name-calling and insults, instead of citing facts and showing how something is misreported or someone is wrong.

        You posted this so-called response AFTER I’ve posted the links to the video of the speech, and after I’ve already said that the speech is far more radical, far more confrontational, and far more combative than Inman’s story suggested. I stand by that, because I have now heard Gary’s own words and seen the actual speech itself with the slides he showed those in attendance.

        Other brokers aren’t your competition anymore? I assume that means you won’t be showing up for any more listing appointments? Because they sure as hell think you’re competition when you do.

        KW has drawn a “line in the sand”. Those aren’t my words; they are Gary and Josh’s words. What did I miss?

        Gary literally told 175K KW agents that they should BOYCOTT THE MLS to prevent their data from being “sold out from under them.” His words, not mine. What did I miss?

        Speaking of 7th graders, I don’t know about you, but my father always told me to argue ideas, not call people names… because only juvenile 7th graders do that shit, not grown men.

  10. They are scrambling. And I say that indifferently.
    I know $100M agents & brokers that use Top Producer and then CINC, Kunversion etc… Large teams the whole 9.
    I don’t think they are too worried about watching for a shoe to drop. They are making it happen. Regardless of the “brand” that is taking 6%+ and or a ton of fees for not much in return. Maybe now, they will create more for the agents?
    Personally, I would rather a company take those “ten’s of millions of dollars” and redirect that to the agents directly. And maybe give equity as well. I’m glad I found such a company. I know what ever I do, that effort will come 2 to 3 fold in long term revenue. Not to mention more NET as I make it. Not missing a step in technology as the “ten’s of millions” IS in fact directed to expensive software that I don’t have to spend my money on. In house, or not.
    It is not even comparable.
    These guys are right. A shift is happening. And they know EXACTLY what it is and by whom. And it is none of the companies mentioned in this article. However, he did drop it. But in a very melancholy type comment. It’s hard to turn a freight train like KW on a dime. It’s understandable.
    Much respect for what they have accomplished. No one can deny that they crushed the model, 20+ years ago up until recently. We would not have what we have today if it was not for that.
    Nothing wrong with giving credit to the shoulders you stood on to take you to a completely different level!

    1. We are failing so slowly that we think we are winning! Careful

  11. Nobody’s mentioned Compass aren’t they doing the same thing just quieter or less in your face?

    1. Less in your face? Quieter? Compass? Are we talking about the same Compass?

  12. “Cogito Ergo Sum” ~ René Descartes

  13. One additional question. Buyers and Sellers own the data, especially financial, associated with their transaction. Based on current CFPB privacy rules, KW is going to need permission to mine that data even if it’s done anonymously to create statistics. I’m all-in on your comments about the speech. As a 9 year Keller guy just recently gone independent I just don’t get it but I wish them luck.

  14. I totally agree with Dave Hanna. Real estate companies make terrible tech. I live/work in Silicon Valley and the tech generated from our own companies is a joke. Every time MLS does an upgrade the agents spends weeks trying to get the bugs fixed and out clients calmed down. What happens when KW agents are tied to KW tech and something much better comes along for CRM or transaction management. If they can not use it how long will they stay with KW? What is best for the agents is to have the ability for a company to make great deals with great tech companies to get discounts and training on the best tech, not the company tech. And heaven forbid the company I worked for showed my data to another agent from my company to give them an advantage. I would scream bloody hell before leaving and taking everyone I cared about with me.

  15. What we really need is “real estate data” that is more easy to control and a secure way to protect every agents “database.”

    Therefore I am rolling out printed MLS Books to solve the first problem. They look a lot like phone books but all the data inside is instantly outdated. That way the super internet highway of big data can not leverage listing data.

    In order to be profitable I am I am going to sell the covers to fidelity and Zillow so that I get some of their cash but they don’t actually have any access to the data because they aren’t actually inside the book simply on the outside covers.

    Next protecting the agent’s database – I am rolling out what I am going to call a roll-a-dex. The agent can take their database anywhere – in the car, the restroom, to their home, and if they switch brokerages they can just grab it on the way out.

    I mean somebody stop me if I am way off and you think that this might not work?

    If I am successful behind the scenes I am going to leverage the data inside those books and the lists of agents who have purchased roll-a-dex’s to sell them advertisements on bus benches and shopping carts.

    Strategy people – Strategy.

    On a more serious note I was at the presentation and Gary’s vision was clear and made sense. The vast majority agents left the room like Mel Gibson had just gave the famous brave heart speech with a feeling of KW has their back and is preparing them to be more competitive. As you said Rob – Gary is a business genius and has surrounded himself with equally talented and driven people.

    I think Redfin, compass, open door, zillow, etc all have the same vision with one major exception Gary wakes up every single day with a desire and passion to protect the real estate agent and their families.

    Fun to read a post with comments from great minds and personal friends like Ken, victor, Brad, Drew, John etc

    1. Hey Ben, good to hear from you, cuz I have a question.

      Isn’t Brivity one of your companies? (https://www.brivity.com/)

      Does that make you one of these “bolt-on” technologies that KW agents should avoid using, since they didn’t build it or own it? Or is it all OK because you took the “data pledge” that Gary talks about?

      I’m confused as to which technology KW agents should and should not be using because it isn’t safe.

      1. Hey 🙂 Yes Brivity is mine but we are just a small real estate tool built in Bellingham Wa that no one cares about because we aren’t owned by VC, PE, WallStreet, or a title company. We are so small and insignificant that no one talks, mentions, or worry’s about us!

        Ben’s answer: Keller Williams is going to choose to build, partner, and integrate with people who share the same values and commitments to data ownership and who focus on keeping the agent relevant

        Which btw was Brivity mission statement from the beginning “Keeping the real estate agent relevant in every transaction…”

      2. Ben, I’d still love to take a look at little ol’ Brivity 🙂
        My request the other day had nothing to do with this post. I’m genuinely curious as I help clients utilize the best tools available. And I’m partial to platforms that were built by and for agents. The other ones get so close … but so far.

        Hope you’re recovering from KWFR – sounds like it was a hell of a few days!

  16. Inman didn’t show up, Gary roasted the guy on stage,
    Gary has been roasting Zillow on stage for years while Zillow does sit in the vendor hall paying for a booth, which we’ve always llaughed at. I would recommend watching the speech and then making judgments

    1. Is the speech available anywhere online?

      1. Isnt MAPS coaching one of his biggest bold on companies.

    2. AS a former KW agent, we never said No to OPM. Thats in the MREA

  17. The opportunity KW had was to build real estate’s largest public cloud offering – that’s what I heard at FR2017. In 2018, it now seems like they’ve decided they’re not strong enough to build real estate’s public cloud, so they’re going to lock everything down and break agents’ ability to grow their businesses using the best tooling available. This is a very poor technology vision. KW lost the mojo it generated last year in Vegas.

  18. Rob,

    Couple of points:

    In terms of Kelle, there is no way for you (or anyone looking outside in) to assess the amount of AI infrastructure that is embedded in the system.

    How many of the “vendors” that were mentioned are used by Redfin agents? What is Redfin’s strategy on tech dev? Seems like Gary and team (no pun intended) are trying to emulate Redfin sans employed agents. Not sure they can do it but as I mentioned in my comments on the Inman article, game changer if they can…

    -Russ

    1. “Seems like Gary and team (no pun intended) are trying to emulate Redfin sans employed agents.”

      That “employed” agents pice is a huge, huge difference. I don’t see how Redfin’s tech model works without that…and hence, I don’t see how KW plans to implement a control all tech strategy with 1099 contractors.

      1. Best-in-class tech appeals to a small subset of top agents, but the average agent will use whatever tech the franchise provides for free.

        Reading this thread reminds me of the 2016 vote: coastal elites vs. middle America. While this thread is talking about big data and alternative market models to to compete for million dollar listings, in mid-Michigan I see brokers struggling to get decent head shots from all their agents for the company website.

    2. In terms of Kelle, I guess I don’t care. 🙂 Until I see Josh Team presenting at TED or at some heavy duty CompSci/AI conference about how Kelle can beat humans at Starcraft, none of it really matters to me except as marketing hype.

      As for Redfin agents, I don’t know — guess we can ask Glenn Kelman or somebody from Redfin. My guess is that they don’t use any third party software, but who knows? Why rebuild the wheel if (for example) Docusign has perfected the e-Signature?

      The difference is that when Redfin says “we”, that includes all of the agents who get a paycheck from Redfin, since their fates are closely tied to each other. When KW says “we”, I’m not sure I understand who that “we” is.

      1. Getting most/all of KW’s franchised brokers 1099 IC agents to all fall in line with the new “tech company vision” is a longshot BUT, in terms of cultural alignment, there is no other franchise that has a better shot. The key will be if they can unequivocally demonstrate that agents that buy in make more money.

  19. There is a growing joke amongst tech entrepreneurs that Josh Team thinks he can build everyone’s tech and threatens to steal ideas and put start ups out of business. The issue is he has yet to actually build a single product in his career. It seems due to being out of the game for a bit Gary became vulnerable and fell for the salesmanship of his chief “innovation” officer. 12 months will go by with no viable tech solutions, Gary will fire And blame Josh Team, and the vision speech will say “we are going back to what we were great at”.

    1. Seems like you might be a little jaded? Is there something you would like to get off your chest?

      Few comments.

      Josh thus far has been doing great things for the company. I have yet to hear him make a comment even close to those you addressed above. I would reserve judgement unless you know intimate details of the company and their initiatives. Also making comments anonymously is chicken shit.

      It takes time to move a company through its existing infrastructure, tech contracts, and to provide solution to 180k agents.

      Finally I have yet to see Gary blame someone when things don’t go the intended way. He has always been accountable. He is also like a dog on bone meaning he isn’t going to stop until he gets this right.

  20. Now that I’m watching the actual video footage, I have to say… Inman soft-pedaled the coverage. What Gary and Josh say on stage is FAR more dramatic and FAR more radical than Inman had described.

    I have to digest this further. This may go down in history as a major tipping point event in the real estate industry.

  21. I do hope that you watched the whole video yourself, Rob. I certainly don’t need any credit for the posting as many served it up in live feed as well.

    After watching the whole thing do you feel his article needs any alteration? Is your opinion still the same?

    1. Hi Lori,

      I just finished watching all 5 parts. I think if I had to alter my post, it would be that Gary and Josh were FAR more defiant, confrontational, and really did end up declaring war on the rest of the real estate industry. I’m still absorbing all of it, but OMG! How is this not a far bigger story?

      Also, a number of people can’t seem to watch the videos now? Did you take them down?

  22. Wow ?, 30 minutes of my life I may never get back (reading Rob’s article), and I’m glad I did it!

    Disclaimer: Known and been a fan of Rob’s writing for a decade. That said …

    Can Rob “rub people the wrong way”? Yes
    Can Rob come across as “a know it all”? Yes
    Is Rob highly intelligent? Yes
    Does Rob BS you or Hold Back his opinion? Hell No!

    I believe, even Gary Keller if asked in private, would say “Maybe saying {We are no longer a RE Co.} may have been the wrong way to phrase it” and “Maybe upsetting so many people in the Industry was not the best way to go about this”, but IMHO, that was not his intention.

    Having said that, this “undertaking” though bold and admirable, may be the biggest gamble this RE Giant has ever attempted. The stakes are very high and the risk/reward is out of balance.

    I was at KWFR, but missed the speech, to attend my grand daughter’s birth ? I did, however get a tertiary view at Kelle, and not knowing what’s in the future for her I’m concerned by her apparent rudimentary functionality? Maybe it was too early? Maybe there is some special functionality being held back?

    I did not see in-depth AI being used within her core functions.

    I don’t think it helps that many of the men and women tasked with explaining her to visitors were not technical in nature ? And the video made to Market her was nebulous at best, but .. AND THIS IS A BIG BUT …

    I can’t wait to see this play out!

    I’m concerned for KW, and at the same time, excited that someone has taken this enormous risk.

    Someone was bound to. Why not now? Why not them?

    1. I responded on FB as well, but like I said, I have now watched the speech thanks to Lori Ballen’s videos. I will have a followup. Watch for it 🙂

  23. OK here’s the bottom line when an agent puts up their listing on the multiple listing system that gets fed through list hub and all the other websites pick it up like Zillow, Trulia etc. Keller Williams has 25% of the market share so we can become our own MLS and not have to share all these listings with everybody else .The bottom line is all of our listings get put out into space and everybody out there sells the leads. (Fyi over 5million listings to be preciae)
    So the very fact that we do occupy 25% of the space when it comes to listings why not create our own world. Agents work very hard to get their listings, shouldnt they have some kind of control as to where in cyber space they go to? Everytime you an a layman clicks on something on the internet you are feeding more and more information out to cyberspace. For Christs sake the internet knows my bra size….
    So Gary is saying enough….we are going to stop feeding the beast and take control of the data that is being captured by the internet.
    It is that simple. We will pick and choose who we will have relationships with. The speech will come out shortly and you can see for yourself. KW shares everyrhing we have nothing to hide. The speech is not even out on kw connect yet. Also surprised nothing was mentioned that we are privately held, have zero debt and profit shared back to our agents over 174 million….this past 2017 alone and over 1 billion since the company started…or how about KW Cares that takes care of people when disaster strikes. Never mention the good stuff because that does not stir the shit pot. Just saying…

    1. “we do occupy 25% of the space when it comes to listings why not create our own world. Agents work very hard to get their listings, shouldnt they have some kind of control as to where in cyber space they go to?”

      I’d like to see sellers faces’ when KW agents go to listing presentations and tell sellers they hide their home/listing from 75% of the industry. Good luck with that conversation.

  24. I did watch the whole speech BEFORE it was pulled off the internet. And as a previous, realtor, Team Leader, Productivity Coach at KW I was really disturbed by the comments of Gary Keller. Last year I was at the FR in Vegas and they announced the Keller Cloud… this year he admitted it didn’t happen and they killed that idea/plan. In my experience KW is good about continuing to make promises and it typically takes 12 to 18 months to actually see any progress AND that’s when they do follow through. About 50% of the NEW ideas out of the last 16 years did not happen. Good luck with the New stuff. To me when he started trashing eXp Realty I knew he was running scared. Why would a savy business man completely run down a newer brokerage model? He is misinformed and spread the incorrect information to his agents. While he was in Anaheim trashing eXp Realty the #1 KW agent in Las Vegas, Eric Mendoza, with KW for 20 years decided to move to eXp. He said if Gary Keller is worried about a brokerage that’s 8000 strong then he knew he needed to make the move. Just like Eric, I was with KW when all the other brokerages were trashing KW. So here we are at eXp Realty and Here we GROW!!

    1. How long have you been with eXp?

  25. All five video segments of the speech are playing perfectly fine for me. (At least that’s true as of Monday Feb 26 at 10:30am Pacific)

  26. One thing at the forefront of Gary’s mind (I watched the speech live) is the protection of the KW agent and their commissions – their livelihood and ability to provide for their family. Considering what technology companies have done to other sectors (retail, cars, mortgage, etc.) technology can make a commodity out of almost anything. Gary is determined to keep the (KW) agent as an integral part of the real estate transaction. If he fails, we will be buying and selling homes through Amazon, Zillow, or Google (or Fidelity!), and the much lower commissions/costs will go to those companies. And, it will be the end of the traditional Realtor.

    Protecting their valuable (and enormous) data is Gary’s way of keeping the agent educated and relevant in the transaction while keeping that data from technology competitors, which he believes are trying to eventually remove the agent from the transaction. What he is trying to do makes sense. He seeks survival of traditional real estate.

  27. Great post Rob. I just finished watching the keynote and I agree that the Inman article didn’t go FAR enough. You don’t trash that many people and companies on stage without being scared of something. The FUD factor was set to 11.

  28. You guys are missing the point. KW didn’t trash other tech companies. Please quote one derogatory comment about another company or their products. KW did call out what happens or could happen to an agent’s (or collectively agents’) activity/derivative data with other RE tech companies. There should be FUD around whether this derivative/aggregate data is used to strengthen _any_ agent with insights on the same platform. KW rightly states that within Keller Cloud the derivate data insights will be used only to strengthen KW agents. The references to Google, MS, and Facebook only serve as examples of data collection and insight generation for masses of users. Those companies were not trashed.

    1. Is “not safe” a compliment?

      1. If a RE tech company is collecting usage data and sharing derivative insights with agents across franchise or company boundaries or is otherwise profiting from the insights independent of the agents, then it is not safe.

      2. Okay, “KW Guy”, you can justify all you want. You asked for a quote, but turns Gary has a whole slide listing vendors and calling them “not safe”. And that is derogatory.

        Again, are you saying it’s not derogatory? Here, maybe if I use his phrase in a few sentences you will be able to tell me if it’s complimentary, or derogatory.

        “Don’t do business with KW Guy because he is not safe to deal with”
        “Doing business with the KW Guy is not safe.”
        “I believe that doing business with the KW Guy is not safe.”
        “I wouldn’t trust KW Guy with my business because he is not safe.”
        “I heard that the KW Guy is not safe.”

      3. Mr. Robertson,

        My bias is on my handle, however, I’ll concede your point on the term “unsafe” being derogatory. Would you comment further on my point as to why these companies are unsafe for an agent? Specifically, if these companies use an agent’s usage data to create insights for other potentially competitive agents then are they not unsafe for any agent’s business?

      4. I guess it depends on what data is being shared. Many software companies compile user behavior to help them improve the UI/UX of the application. The insights gained from that data can make the application better for everyone, regardless of what brokerage they are with. It can be a good thing. From my own experience we sign data access agreements with MLS providers that prohibits us from deriving any derivative data from the MLS system. That’s not to say other vendors may have negotiated different terms.

        But here’s the deal. The saying goes “If the the product is free, that means you’re the product”. Many products use this model. Sometimes the product is not totally free, but offered at a significant discount. As a consumer you make the decision to either use it or not. You make the choice. That doesn’t mean the vendor is evil, or unethical or should be disparaged for their business model.

        Mr. Keller could have simply said, “we think data is important. but we realize many companies supplement their costs by using our data for other means. There is nothing wrong with that but we are choosing not to work with companies that engage in that practice.”

      5. I hear you on softening the rhetoric. It could have been a strategic choice to create FUD at an _internal_ KW conference as a call to action. I doubt the messaging would have been as direct had Gary been speaking at a public conference. To your comment above, there is a big difference between using an agent’s usage data to improve a UI for all versus [for example] creating an agent negotiating profile and providing that other agents as an insight to make them more effective against the profiled agent.

    2. Didn’t I hear, “if you go to exp, god help you”?

  29. I’m a Keller Williams agent and most of my peers who attended Garys Vision presentation returned to the office hopeful that KW was on to something spectacular. I didn’t attend the conference, and like Rob, I may be missing something here, but I had a completely different reaction than my peers. I joined KW 15 years ago when KW called themselves a training and coaching company that happened to be in real estate. The values of continuous business and personal development resonate with me and have allowed me to sustain and even thrive during good and bad economies. And those values gave me the courage to develop my own real estate technology solutions which my company (RocketUrBiz) plans to bring to market later in 2018. To hear Gary Keller say that KW is not a real estate company anymore broke my heart. Had he said that we were going to be a teaching, coaching and technology company that still sells real estate that would have been OK. I agree and completely understand that real estate companies must get the right technology in place and better manage their data to survive, but my beloved company seems to want to change our business model, and to do this in a vacuum. If scientists can do collaborative research on projects as significant as the Humane Genome Project, it is beyond me to understand why my company and our industry cannot join forces to achieve technical and data driven solutions that support the longevity of our entire industry. If KW really is gearing up to be a technology company with its own unique solutions, could they be positioning themselves to go public or for a future sale? Not trying to start any rumors here that aren’t true. It just makes me wonder.

  30. What the future of our profession is up to who has the data. Bottom line. Gary is working to protect the agent and our profession. If we are the experts that can utilize the data and the technology to enhance our consumer experience, then we will be valuable. If we are not valuable, we will no longer be in business. Professional Realtors that combine human interaction and technology to provide the desired result for their client are valuable. That includes the basics of customer service, marketing their listings, generating leads, connecting the buyer with the seller and negotiating on behalf of their client. That’s the basics – and technology can do those things. The valuable agents are the ones who can overcome obstacles throughout the transaction by being the human connection to the solutions.

  31. I think we all understand that what is happening in real estate is a minefield right now. A complicated, non-mapped minefield of life threatening and injurious mines.

    Gary and his team have one thing – true grit and determination. What’s more, he has something else. He is not afraid to fail. Gary will openly share failures with you, and has the leadership wisdom that failure does not = non-growth = death.

    Only non-growth = death.

    In fact, non-failure = death.

    What he is doing with the awesome Josh, is failing faster – the key to the speed of our business model transition, which we all know is happening.

    Watching and participating in this space with anticipation that being part of the solution will help all of our futures.

  32. Well, there is a first time for everything. Rob I read your entire long post on the KWFR and also your follow up post, and I agree with everything you wrote and every point you made. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, good job Rob!

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