In a short time, Rich Barton and his team took a no-name Web site and made it one of the most highly trafficked real estate destinations on the Internet. The co-founder and CEO of Zillow shook up the real estate industry in early 2006 by creating a huge database of property records information and home-value estimates, which they dubbed “Zestimates.”
Zillow currently has information on more than 70 million homes across the country and now allows homeowners and real estate agents to participate by updating details, answering questions and flagging homes that are for sale.
Barton’s previous fame and e-commerce savvy may have helped along the way. Before creating Zillow, he founded and led online travel site Expedia, which quickly grew to become one of the largest travel sellers on the Internet.
Barton will speak during Real Estate Connect in San Francisco, Aug. 1-3, 2007.
Here are his answers to a set of questions posed by Inman News:
What was your first job?
I drove the ice cream truck in my hometown in Connecticut. If I were to go back and overlay Zestimates onto my “hot places to sell ice cream” map, I think I’d find an inverse correlation between Zestimate value and ice cream value.
What sparked the idea to start Zillow?
In early 2005, my partner Lloyd Frink and I had recently sold Expedia and were brainstorming our next business venture. Separately, we also happened to be shopping for homes. We found ourselves frustrated with the lack of information available online and figured there must be millions of people experiencing the same frustrations. We had one of those “Ah-ha” experiences, and wondered why this hadn’t been done before. Thus, the idea for Zillow was born, with the goal of helping consumers make smarter decisions about real estate.
What’s been your biggest challenge in running the business?
Deciding what not to do. There is so much opportunity for Zillow to make home buying, home selling and home owning more profitable, interesting and entertaining. Our biggest challenge is focusing on just a few things.
If you had one thing to do over again, what would it be?
The year I spent living in Italy with my wife and kids was one of the most phenomenal times of our lives — I’d love to revisit this experience again.
What style of home do you live in and when did you buy it?
In the summer, my family and I live in a contemporary beach house in Long Island. We bought it five or six years ago and then rebuilt it from scratch. I love that I can see the waves right from my bed and decide if it’s a surfing day, a fishing day or an e-mail day.
What worries keep you awake at night?
I worry about competitors maybe executing faster or better against our ideas.
Describe your dream home:
I don’t have just one dream home. I have dreams for many different homes that fit seasons, moods, activities and family needs. I already own too much real estate, but I would like to own more. I’ve always wanted an apartment in New York City, but my wife and I could never decide between uptown and downtown. Too bad for us, because in the five years or so that we’ve been shopping, Zestimates in New York City have doubled or tripled.
What lesson did you learn in the last year?
That government affairs is going to be very important for Zillow.
What’s the strangest thing you ever packed in a suitcase?
A flash frozen King Salmon. I suppose it’s a primal male urge to bring the kill back from the hunt, but I was fishing in Alaska a few years ago and caught a 40-pound King Salmon on Kodiak Island. I guess I needed to show it to my wife. Oh, yes, and we ate it.
What would your second career choice be?
High-school physics teacher. I’ve always fantasized about going back and teaching high school. I know lots of high-school teachers now, though, and I’m not sure the reality fits my fantasy.
What kind of music do you listen to?
After I had children I found my music tastes stagnated, which means I listen to the same stuff I listened to in high school and college: REM, Grateful Dead, David Bowie, English Beat, Jethro Tull, and The Kinks.
Who is your hero?
I’m not a real hero-worship kind of guy. I look up to many people, but most important are my wife and my parents.
Hear Barton speak at Real Estate Connect in San Francisco, Aug. 1-3. The conference program and registration are available online via the Connect Web site.