Keller Williams is allegedly partnering with video animation startup MashMe for its virtual expansion brokerages, according to a source with knowledge of the situation and leaked audio of a two-hour talk on technology led by Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller on Friday.
Inman obtained a leaked video and audio of an hours-long Keller Williams company meeting that took place last Friday and was live-streamed online to agents in which Gary Keller slammed VirBELA, a virtual education company recently acquired by rival brokerage eXp Realty, comparing it to the popular but antiquated video games Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
Keller also referred to it as “eXp’s virtual animal farm,” and “old gaming technology.”
VirBELA creates eXp World, the video game-like online training and communications platform used by eXp agents and brokers.
In his talk last week, Keller acknowledged a 2018 Inman report that he evaluated VirBELA prior to eXp’s acquisition, saying despite ultimately passing on the opportunity to acquire it, that he drove up the price.
Keller also said that Keller Williams plans to partner with another startup called MashMe to create virtual, live-streaming education courses that will be made available to the franchise’s agents online.
Keller’s full comments, and admission that he posed as an interested buyer in VirBELA are below:
“People have liked to speculate that I tried to buy eXp’s virtual animal farm, whatever that is. I just want to set the record straight. Not in a million years. However, you would expect me to do this. I wanted to understand what it was. I know what we’re building here, and I wanted to try and understand what that was. So I said yeah, we just bought SmarterAgent, we’re interested in other things, we signed an NDA [non-disclosure agreement], [Keller Williams president] Josh [Team] signed an NDA. We go in, the technology, we look at it. We didn’t buy it, that’s all you need to know.”
“It’s old game technology. That’s their digital cloud-based platform. Old gaming technology. All you have to do is go look at your Sony PlayStation, or your Xbox, and then go look at that — it’s like you’re looking at Donkey Kong or Pac-Man technology. I’m not trying to make fun of it by the way, I’m just actually telling you a fact here. And I drove the price up.”
A spokesperson for eXp Realty responded to the comments by touting VirBELA’s platform and noting it has a client base that includes the U.S. Office of Naval Research and Stanford Graduate School.
“There’s nothing that comes close to VirBELA’s virtual world technology for always-available environments for collaboration and learning,” the eXp Realty spokesperson told Inman.
“We are excited about the new possibilities with VirBELA for eXp Realty agents, brokers and staff as well as VirBELA’s existing clients — some of the ones we can talk about are the U.S. Office of Naval Research (Navy SEALs) and Stanford Graduate School.”
Glenn Sanford, the CEO of eXp World Holdings and a former Keller Williams team leader, posted a tweet addressing the video as well.
You know you have got under a competitor’s CEO skin when they can’t help calling one of our underlying technologies an Animal Farm and has to resort to calling it Donkey Kong now that we own it. #VR #realestate
— Glenn Sanford (@ceoglenn) January 15, 2019
After the initial publication of this story, Sanford updated his Twitter profile picture to include his VirBELA virtual world avatar in front of a picture of Donkey Kong.
A source with direct knowledge of some of the inner-workings at Keller Williams told Inman that they heard Keller’s interest went beyond that, and he really did want to buy it, despite Keller’s insistence to the contrary.
“Someone in Keller Williams told me, although Gary won’t admit it, he absolutely tried to buy VirBELA,” the source told Inman. “It was not just checking out their technology. He tried to buy it because he thought he could drive a stake through the heart of eXp if he owned it.”
Inman also obtained an internal Keller Williams email promoting Keller’s meeting last week as a tech talk for any agents that might be considering leaving or any potential recruits, allowing them to learn about the company’s technology vision.
Part of that vision apparently includes partnering or working with MashMe, an international video conference and business-to-business communications platform headquartered in Spain.
“There’s a system that we have contracted with, and it actually came from Spain and its called MashMe,” Keller said during the talk, according to the longer, separate audio file Inman obtained. “It’s the coolest way to do live streaming.”
A source confirmed to Inman that the deal between the two companies has not officially closed and the two sides are still in talks about a potential partnership.
Throughout the course of the meeting, Keller also said that despite retaking the CEO role from John Davis per a Keller Williams announcement last week, he was never gone and therefore is not “coming back.” He also warned agents to be wary of Zillow, which he called “a dragon.”
“I don’t want to pick on them,” Keller said. “Many of us make money through that system, and people think that I’m over there telling you to get off of it. I’m actually saying be careful. Understand that you’re feeding the dragon.”
“And I also will say, being the author of the book on the subject, your database is your business,” Keller added. “It’s not only the base of your business, but it is your business. The second you give up lead generation to someone else, you work for them. Zillow thinks you are their agents.”
A spokesperson for Keller Williams confirmed the veracity of the video and talk, but insisted it was an internal conversation among agents and executives.
“We understand these things can get out,” the spokesperson told Inman in a phone call. “It was meant to keep our agents up to speed on our technology roadmap.”
Following this conversation, Keller Williams sent a letter to Inman warning against publishing information from Keller’s talk, saying it was copyrighted.
Zillow declined to comment on Keller’s remarks.
Correction: Inman incorrectly identified the wrong MashMe in the first version of this story. It has been updated to link to the correct platform along with additional information about the partnership.