The much-hyped Upstream project has “pivoted,” according to its CEO Alex Lange who shared details of the shift at a private lunch today at the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) legislative meetings in Washington, D.C.
Initially to the chagrin of some of its own board members and the leadership of its sugar daddy (NAR), the big broker group has dramatically shrunk its scope in which just two years ago it promised to be a “single source of truth” for broker information.
Pivots are common with tech startups. Often founders are overly ambitious with their plans and promises or find their original business model does not work and they must change course.
The original Upstream plan was to insert itself before the multiple listing service (MLS). But this tack has proven more difficult than envisioned.
After getting a cool response from many MLS organizations, the big broker group shifted its strategy and now brokers will enter their listings into their MLSs instead of Upstream first. And a dashboard will be built to manage distribution of listings if and when brokers choose to push their listings to Upstream from the MLS, according to sources at the lunch.
“[This change] allows listings to flow from the MLS the traditional way,” said NAR CEO Dale Stinton at NAR 360, a conference session where the NAR leadership team addresses attendees. “You might … call that a pivot. What we think it does is puts in place a spirit of collaboration with our MLSs who are part of the family and always should be part of the family.”
Stinton said “politics” had held Upstream back and that the change is an effort to “ramp up” the project faster. Upstream will still implement its original idea over time, he added.
This move raises questions about the entire purpose of the initiative since part of the plan was to reduce the clout of local MLSs to do what they wanted with broker data.
While some members of the Upstream board and NAR leadership winced at the shift, they went along with the changes recommended by management, according to sources at the lunch.
Upstream is officially calling its pivot a “two-way” method of integration in which brokerages have a “broker input of choice.”
Just like now, brokers input listings into their MLS. Upstream will then receive those listings from the MLS at broker discretion. Brokers can “continue to enhance their listings (add additional high-res photos, etc.) in Upstream and manage distribution deliberately,” according to an Upstream press release.
“These guys were trying to boil the ocean so I think a ‘pivot’ is a good thing,” said Bright MLS Chief Strategy Officer David Charron. “Their intentions are good, but we have not seen anything in two years, so maybe they will make more progress if they are attempting to do far less.”
Another observer said “this was a gargantuan effort that needed slimming down.”
The idea that Upstream would be command and control and the warehouse for all broker data is unfolding as an overly ambitious project that the burgeoning group could not pull off.
“Brokers can continue to leverage their current workflow while gaining all the enhancement and management features,” said the press release.
Showing a united front, Stinton said in a statement, “Upstream has harnessed the technology necessary to make this a reality as we shape the future of real estate. This next inclusive step ensures that our Realtor members remain at the center of the real estate transaction.”
In 2015, NAR’s board of directors approved up to $12 million in funding divided between the Upstream project and a Realtors Property Resource (RPR) initiative called Advanced Multilist Platform. The trade group will continue to provide Upstream with resources through 2018 via its RPR subsidiary, including additional funding, according to Upstream’s press release.
The Upstream’s board of managers includes representatives of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Century 21, Coldwell Banker, ERA, Keller Williams, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, The Realty Alliance, Re/Max, and non-affiliated brokerages, the release said.
Inman Deputy Editor Andrea V. Brambila contributed reporting for this article.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that NAR’s $12 million in funding in 2015 was divided between Upstream and RPR’s AMP project.