About one month ago, Zillow founder Richard Barton took a helicopter 12,000 feet to the top of a mountain in British Columbia and snowboarded down untracked powder with a group of friends.
Today, Barton and his team have set out in similar circumstances, launching their new service Zillow, which offers consumers a look at their home’s value history.
“It’s called heli-skiing,” said Gordon Stephenson, a Seattle real estate broker who serves on Zillow’s board of directors, of Barton’s sport. “You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what weather conditions are like. You need to have a good team around you that knows how to dig you out and you have to have some money, because it’s not cheap.”
At Zillow, Barton also has surrounded himself with a solid team – five of the six top executives worked at Barton’s first venture, online travel giant Expedia. The sixth comes from Amazon.com.
Zillow has received $32 million in financing with investors Benchmark Capital and Technology Crossover Ventures, according to Stephenson, and has also gotten funding from employees, directors and private investors.
Barton’s love of heli-skiing is an example of what Stephenson describes as one of his dominant personality traits: “When he does something, he gives it full focus and full attention,” Stephenson said.
“He jumps in deep in whatever activity he is into. That might mean coaching his 6-year-old son’s basketball team or playing a board game with him, but whatever he is doing, he is focusing on it,” Stephenson said. Zillow’s founder has a wife, Sarah, and three children.
“Rather than being just a weekend jogger, he ran the New York Marathon three or four months ago,” the broker said.
Barton worked on Wall Street as a junior analyst after graduating from Stanford. When he moved to Microsoft in 1993, he was designated as an idea person. He came up with three ideas: one for a digital stock brokerage, “a Charles Schwab type of brokerage,” Stephenson said; one for a real estate service; and one for a travel service.
Expedia, which Barton ended up captaining, became an Internet legend, one of the companies that revolutionized the way people buy airline tickets, hotel rooms and rental cars.
Barton’s stock-related idea was nixed because Microsoft had a related product. HomeAdvisor, which Barton also helped form, became a Microsoft Web site that launched in 1998. The site has since been replaced by MSN Lifestyle and MSN Real Estate, but serves as an example of Barton’s early interest in the area.
Barton has explained that his interest in real estate came about when his mother became a Realtor and he first saw the multiple listing service, which compiles a local or regional database of homes for sale.
“I was a geek in high school. And I remember playing with the MLS system thinking, ‘Wow, everybody ought be able to use this, this is a really cool information system.’ So I began dreaming about it then,” Barton said in an Inman News interview in January.
“Then at Microsoft about 10 years ago, when I started Expedia, I also helped start what became HomeAdvisor,” Barton said.
Barton is currently a venture partner at Benchmark Capital, and he serves on the board of directors for NetFlix and AtomShockwave. He resigned from IAC InterActive Corp.’s board in February 2005. IAC is the parent company of LendingTree and RealEstate.com. IAC bought Expedia in 2003, then spun it off last year.
Some in the real estate industry have said Barton’s past success in online travel and his overall passion are a force to be reckoned with.
The Zillow CEO received words of praise from Pat Lashinsky, senior vice president of product strategy at ZipRealty, a real estate brokerage company.
“I think Rich Barton’s a great guy who has put together a really good team. He’s been very successful in the past. I don’t think there are too many people who want to bet against him doing it again. He brings a nice outsider approach,” Lashinsky said.
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