Keller Williams has famously declared itself a “technology company” and is investing heavily in software, but it turns out that the firm has an even more specific goal in mind: It wants to be Redfin.

Keller Williams has famously declared itself a “technology company” and is investing heavily in software, but it turns out the firm has an even more specific goal in mind: It wants to explicitly copy Redfin in order to beat the consumer tech brokerage at its own game.

Josh Team, chief innovation officer, Keller Williams

Josh Team, Keller Williams’ president, explained the strategy Tuesday in Palm Springs while speaking at Inman Disconnect. In his view, the real estate industry is currently experiencing an “arms race” in which different companies vie to build the best technology, consumer experiences and market share. In that race, Keller Williams is looking at Redfin because “we think they’re doing some really great things.”

As a result, Team explained that the question for Keller Williams is if his company can “copy the technology of Redfin before Redfin can take the market share.”

When the moderator of the Disconnect session followed up, Team reiterated that he was speaking about mimicking the consumer experience that Redfin has created. He compared the strategy to what happened to Google Plus, the social network that was originally hailed as a Facebook killer. Team said the search giant had a solid concept, but Facebook quickly realized that “all we have to do is copy Google Plus’ features.”

It worked, and today Google Plus is gone while some of its features live on as parts of Facebook. Team sees that story as a pattern for what his company hopes to accomplish as it builds out a stronger consumer technology presence — with Keller Williams presumably playing the role of Facebook in this scenario.

Of course, the fact that Keller Williams sees Redfin and other tech-enabled companies like Zillow as rivals is nothing new; last year for example, the company acquired a startup specifically to help build a consumer strategy that could challenge the online aggregator-portals. And in February, company founder Gary Keller declared victory in the tech platform race.

More importantly still, Keller Williams is getting close to releasing a consumer-facing app, which is meant to take on — and defeat — companies like Zillow and Redfin.

But it’s one thing for a company to challenge a rival, and another altogether to explicitly say (or, admit) that it wants to directly imitate that rival.

Robert Reffkin, center, and Josh Team, right, at Inman Connect Tuesday | Credit: Inman, Melissa Gayle

Keller Williams isn’t the only real estate firm that is apparently looking to Redfin for inspiration; also during Tuesday’s Disconnect event, Compass CEO Robert Reffkin said his company’s “coming soon” feature — which launched last September — also “came from Redfin.”

Like Team, Reffkin praised Redfin for the technology it has created, saying the tech brokerage and portal has more inventory and faster alerts than most multiple listing services (MLSs). But he was also critical of what he described as an industry landscape fragmented by hundreds of different companies and MLSs — a situation that has allowed Redfin to thrive.

“I think companies like Redfin benefit from the fragmented nature of this industry,” Reffkin said.

For the time being both Compass and Keller Williams continue to build out their own technology. Team in particular talked Tuesday about his company’s investment in Kelle, an artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant, which he compared to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Both of those technologies had to start out “going wide,” or more general, Team explained because they “didn’t have anywhere to start.”

With Kelle, however, Keller Williams was able to “go deep” because it was working in a specific niche.

“We started going deep in real estate,” Team said. “You can ask business questions to Kelle.”

Team also said Keller Williams’ technology investments have been well-received and the company “hasn’t seen an adoption problem yet.”

“We have a wait list for every feature we have,” Team added. “We’ve seen wait lists on almost every product.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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