An eccentric fellow from Iowa gets credit for naming the Inman Connect conference 20 years ago.

An early real estate data wizard, W.B. Freeman, said something like, “Brad, you can connect these two worlds and make lots of stuff happen.”

Freeman nailed the active verb that has not only defined our conference but our vision for Inman. Bring the tried and tested practices of the traditional industry together with the entrepreneurs who are bent on changing it.

We take our role very seriously. And it did not come without tensions, fights and posturing by all sides.

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It explains why we openly welcomed and protected the entrepreneurs from the old guard who wanted to snuff out the upstart kids out faster than they could raise an angel round of funding.

Once the 20-something founders of Zip Realty said proudly from the stage that they had closed their first transaction. When a real estate veteran let out a snicker, a few of us stood and applauded Zip.

It is why 14 years later we gave the stage to Realogy CEO Alex Perriello to announce he had acquired Zip Realty. And in 2008, Realogy franchise Better Homes & Gardens CEO Sherry Chris had the courage to launch her new brand at ICSF, showing her more traditional peers and the world that she was eager to innovate as well.

From the dais in 1999, LendingTree founder Doug Lebda answered a snarky question about how many loans he had closed. Doug proudly said “four.” Seven years later, he sold his company for $700 million.

It is why we gave an audience to Russ Capper, who went to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to blow the whistle on industry leaders who were curtailing what could be put on the MLS, constraining trade in the process, said the Feds.

It is why we invited representatives from the DOJ to participate at Connect, and we protected them from a wrath of disgruntled attendees.

It is why we allowed “60 Minutes” to film a classic and raucous debate between Redfin’s Glenn Kelman and then-president of, Allan Dalton, over commission rates.

It is why we gave Re/Max founder Dave Liniger the stage to tell the audience that the internet was ridiculous. Years later, Liniger quipped “Zillow and Trulia are invited to a potluck, and all they need to bring is a knife and fork.”

It is why we invited Gary Keller to the stage in the early 2000s to predict that the housing market would fall off the cliff in a few years.

It is why we set up a debate between National Association of Realtors (NAR) CEO Dale Stinton and Zillow founder Rich Barton, where the future of the industry was laid out before us in living color.

We gave Rupert Murdoch the opportunity to opine in 2015, “What is a Zillow, anyway?”

In the heat of some big-league tension between the banks and the real estate industry in the early 2000s, we had the president of the American Bankers Association speak. NAR had some shills in the audience peppering him with antagonistic questions.

The former CEO of, Stuart Wolff, spoke at Connect and demanded he bring in his big throne-like red chair for his seat on the stage. He positioned himself as a documentary film producer along with his duties as online real estate executive — a picture of confidence that turned into hubris.

A year or so later, he was arrested for insider trading and other white-collar crimes and ultimately served time in a federal penitentiary.

In 2009, we brought a young entrepreneur who helped his family’s wine business grow from $4 million to $45 million leveraging YouTube. He brought a message saying that social media was coming as a real business-driver and people needed to get onboard. That entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk, is our keynote speaker this year.

Connect has led to many company mergers, many startup launches, many new boyfriends and girlfriends, marriages, lifelong friendships and many company transformations.

This was an industry that secretly desired to innovate. It just needed to be supported, validated and encouraged. That has been our job for 20 years.

In two weeks, 4,000 people from around the world will convene on Connect in San Francisco to merge, marry, meet up, match up and make shit happen.

Over the years, a few older real estate executives have boycotted Inman Connect because our vision scared them. Some still do, so our work is not done.


Email Brad Inman

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