In a scene from the new hit movie Avengers: Endgame, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) asks Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), “Do you trust me?” After a pause, Steve responds with “I do,” before they link hands to do battle.
In the past year, that’s what Gary Keller has asked of his agents, as he embarks on the risky journey of reshaping Keller Williams around his technology vision. The fate of the universe is not at stake, but KW is confronting real life business challenges — including the durability of the Keller legacy.
Can this determined industry superhero win one more time? And what will it take for him to conquer the future real estate galaxy?
First, he must figure out which technology trend to focus on and what opportunities to seize. Is it an end-to-end search and transaction platform like Zillow? Is it agent tools with a powerful CRM that helps agents cut more deals? Or, is it more transformative with an iBuying offer that truly competes with Opendoor, et.al.?
Keller Williams has promised to deliver on all of these products and services.
Without a clear focus, KW runs the risk of trying everything and doing nothing well. End-to-end technology platforms that promise too much often fail. Earnestness is not enough when developing complicated technology.
Amazon didn’t start by promising a platform, it sold books online. Google started with search and Zillow began with its Zestimate. Uber offered an app for ordering a town car in the Upper East Side of New York.
Keller has framed the threats clearly enough, calling out Redfin, Compass and Zillow as his intergalactic foes. What is less obvious is his breakaway product, his single benefit or killer feature.
His assets are unmistakable, an army of agents who seem prepared to follow him wherever he goes. And his wingman, Josh Team is a convincing tech evangelist.
Buying and selling houses is a complicated problem of the physical universe that cannot be solved by robots alone. Real estate is not e-commerce; it is some combination of humans and bots. And it is solved locally.
That is Gary Keller’s promise.
“We have a waitlist for every [product] feature we [release],” Team said. He also said KW is copying the Redfin online consumer experience because it is considered best of breed by many in the industry today.
Charles Schwab is another company that Keller might emulate. The stock brokerage firm mixes robotics with professional advice when consumers buy stocks and bonds. A recent Wall Street Journal report described its success in creating a “personal finance supermarket.”
But the Schwab vision was built around a single proposition — cost savings to the customer. Discounting services is not a speech one should expect from Gary Keller.
Another model might be the Domino’s Pizza turnaround story. The legacy company reinvented its consumer offer — the quality of its pizza — and built simple and single-purpose technology. Its pizza order and delivery tracking app is credited with separating the company from the pack by promising consumers more certainty and convenience.
Keller has hailed his Keller app as the centerpiece of his tech vision. That’s a good start, but what will be the salient feature that distinguishes it in the marketplace?
Keller’s history of success was always centered around a single and clear strategy or benefit.
In the beginning, it was a foolproof system for agents to make money in real estate. Follow it religiously and listings, leads and closings will follow. This vision was embodied in Keller’s popular industry book The Millionaire Real Estate Agent.
Phase two of the KW conquest was a recruiting machine, delivering longer-term financial well being by agents recruiting other agents. Post recession, this strategy rocketed the company to the top.
In both cases, Keller led his agents down a specific path.
What exactly is his third act? He has boldly promised to reorient the KW future around his comprehensive technology platform. And he is rallying his troops by pointing out the dangers of competitive threats.
Some argue that the prop tech companies are a far-off existential threat compared to fast growing eXp Realty, which is a knock-off of the KW model but with virtual offices. And it’s growing faster than Keller Williams.
But Keller has his sights on a different menace, where agent count does not matter as much as saving his franchise from a more daunting tech future. Silicon Valley/Seattle technology companies are reconfiguring the way we buy and sell houses.
KW could be a force in that change, once Gary Keller tells his ardent followers exactly where they should go.
They are the particle beam weapon of this Ironman.