Spencer Rascoff, who’s been part of the management team of property listings and valuation portal Zillow.com since its launch in 2005, was named the company’s CEO in September.

A co-founder of Hotwire.com and veteran of online travel site Expedia, Rascoff’s resume also includes a two-year stint as an investment banker at Goldman, Sachs & Co. following his graduation from Harvard University.

It’s been a momentous year for Zillow, which announced an advertising partnership with Yahoo Real Estate in July in which Zillow will also manage for-sale listings on both sites. As the year drew to a close, Zillow launched a ratings tool that allows consumers to evaluate real estate agents they’ve worked with in the past.

Rascoff, who was named to this year’s "Most Influential Real Estate Leaders" list, will participate in a panel with other online real estate CEOs at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in New York City. Rascoff will join executives from Realtor.com, Trulia, and Market Leader to discuss strategies for engaging consumers, servicing broker and agent partners and turning leads into profits. The conference, which will mark the 15-year anniversary of Real Estate Connect events, runs from Jan. 12-14, 2011.

He responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:

1. What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

The most important business lesson I’ve learned in the past year has been that employee communication is a critical key to a company’s success. In the technology industry, our most important asset is our employees. Keeping them excited, motivated and focused is the CEO’s primary job, and a company’s success or failure springs from the CEO’s ability or inability to do so.

2. What inspired you to pursue your current career path?

I’ve been entrepreneurial my whole life, starting with my early ventures selling cookies to friends as a 7-year-old. I also frequently sold tracings of comic book drawings to my parents, and employed my older brother as staff. My other great interest has been the real estate industry — inspired by my mom who was an agent when I was growing up — and I’ve relished going to open houses for fun for as long as I can remember. Zillow allows me to combine my two great interests in entrepreneurialism and real estate.

3. Share a personal experience or anecdote about buying, selling, owning or renting a home.

I recently rented my house out for a few years and started renting a new house. I chronicled this saga in a blog post, and I’ve been very happy with my decision. For me, it was important to realize that buying and renting are two sides of the same coin. After all, when you buy a home with a mortgage, you’re really just renting the house from the bank. Except that the bank lets you remodel and a rental landlord might not.

4. What’s the coolest technology you’ve discovered this year, and how are you using it?

I’d be lost without my iPhone.

5. What is your advice for real estate industry professionals to thrive in this market?

To be successful in the Internet era, agents need to be almost instantaneously responsive to customer inquiries. The Internet has trained us to be able to answer any question in the world within a few seconds, so agents need to adapt to this reality by responding to online leads immediately. The proliferation of mobile devices raises the stakes even further and requires agents to be even more accessible and responsive.

6. What is your favorite non-work-related hobby?

I love taking my 5-year-old daughter skiing. It’s so much fun seeing how brave she is racing down the mountain.

7. Who is your hero, and why?

I don’t know if I’d use the word "hero" because that’s a bit strong, but I deeply admire entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban and Richard Branson. Both of them have revolutionized different industries through their innovations, and they’ve had a grand old time while doing it. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and they realize that the act of making money is not the path to happiness; it’s the journey, not the destination.

8. What do you view as the biggest problem facing the real estate industry today, and how would you fix it?

The biggest problem facing the real estate industry is the glut of shadow inventory from both banks who will bring more foreclosures onto the market, and from owners who have been waiting out the downturn to list their home. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix for this problem, other than to batten down the hatches and accept that we’re likely in for a few years of flat home values (at best).

9. What do you hope to learn at the Real Estate Connect conference?

At Real Estate Connect, I hope to connect with Zillow’s many partners who will be in attendance. It’s a bit of a cliché, but the conference is very appropriately named because "connecting" is what it’s all about.

10. Tell us something we don’t already know about you.

I have a dog named Fido.

Hear Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff speak on the "Data, traffic and profits" panel at 9:25 a.m. Friday, Jan. 14 at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City. Rascoff will be joined on stage by Pete Flint, co-founder and CEO, Trulia; Ian Morris, CEO of Market Leader; and Errol Samuelson, president of Realtor.com.

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