Zillow’s ‘social CEO’ sounds off on Twitter, company’s future

Real Estate Connect speaker profile: Spencer Rascoff

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff has had quite a year.

Zillow signed agreements in 2012 to acquire four companies (RentJuice, Buyfolio, Mortech and Hotpads) and at the end of the third quarter had 508 full-time employees, up 54 percent from a year ago.

The nation’s most-visited real estate website also boosted the number of "Premier Agent" advertising subscribers by 80 percent (to 26,703 as of Sept. 30), unleashed a free online foreclosure database, and launched its first national TV ad campaign.

To help fuel this growth, last year Zillow pulled off a $75.7 million initial public offering — helping bring back the market for IPOs in the process. The company recently raised another $156.7 million in a follow-on offering that closed Sept. 24.

Rascoff, 36, was named to Fortune Magazine’s "40 hottest rising business stars under 40."

He’s been called a "social CEO." He writes a blog, contributes to LinkedIn’s "influencer" program, and Tweets frequently. 

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So more than a few industry leaders will be interested to hear what Rascoff has to say about the future, when he takes the stage as a featured speaker at Real Estate Connect New York City, which takes place Jan. 16-18 at the Grand Hyatt New York.

Rascoff says Twitter has become one of his everyday tools.

"It’s where the conversation is happening," he said. "I can reach tens of thousands of people with a few key strokes." Three monitors sit on his work desk, he said — one for "real work," another for email, and the third for Twitter.

"It’s time-consuming," Rascoff said of monitoring and being active on Twitter everyday, but it’s where he can see "what impressions people are promulgating about Zillow."


Spencer Rascoff

His social media activity also gives consumers a window into Rascoff and Zillow. For example, in a recent LinkedIn post titled "When Being Naïve is an Advantage," Rascoff shed light on Zillow’s hiring philosophy.

"Without our people, we are nothing," he wrote. "Hence we hire first and foremost for IQ, then for energy and passion, and then for culture fit." Subject matter expertise is a distant fourth, he said.

In other posts, he’s discussed ideas that guide his leadership at Zillow from motivating employees to delegating work to handling compensation negotiations.

Rascoff, who was one of the company’s founding execs in 2005 and became CEO in 2010, says Zillow’s on a mission to empower consumers.

That led to what he considers to be the company’s most innovative move in the past year — providing foreclosure and pre-foreclosure information, including addresses and the amount of debt owed by homeowners in foreclosure, at no cost to consumers.

Rascoff said he expects the new tool to "shake up" the industry like Zillow’s home value estimates or "Zestimates" did in 2006, when it was launched along with Zillow’s website.

Going forward, Rascoff said, Zillow will continue to expand its business model beyond lead generation into software tools for agents.

"It’s a huge focus for us," he said. Zillow’s "Premier Agent" subscribers spend an average of $270 each month, according to the company’s most recent quarterly report.

Providing more tools, like a customer relationship management system and Internet Data Exchange-enabled websites (both launched this year) to real estate brokers and agents will help them maximize the site as a business resource, Rascoff said, compelling them to spend more money with Zillow.

Relying on lead generation for revenue is tenuous for Zillow, Rascoff said, because many companies have come and gone who offered only that service. So to be a sustainable company, it’s important that Zillow build diverse tools for real estate professionals, he said.

Along with beefing up agent tools, Rascoff said, Zillow is focusing on refining its mobile technology and growing its consumer website traffic, which it claims measures over 36 million unique visitors each month when traffic to its partner Yahoo sites are included.

"Our brand is still relatively unknown," which provides a lot of opportunity for growth, Rascoff said.

Rascoff’s favorite current TV show is the Showtime spy thriller "Homeland" and he roots, avidly, for the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins, he said.

Six months ago, he and his wife and three kids purchased a foreclosed-upon home — another sign, he said, tongue-in-cheek, that the housing market has reached bottom and is on the upswing.

Spencer Rascoff will be a featured speaker at Real Estate Connect New York City, which takes place Jan. 16-18 at the Grand Hyatt New York.


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