The company spent most of 2018 focused on growing its footprint. In 2019, it shifted the focus to technology.
Compass, which has long billed itself as not merely a brokerage, but a forward-thinking tech company, allowed Inman a peek behind the curtain. It’s a brokerage that has raised money like a tech company, but only this year has it really begun to publicly appear to be a company with sophisticated technology.
“Obviously last year we really focused on expanding and opening a lot of new markets,” Matt Spangler, Compass’ chief brand and communications officer, told Inman.
“The same energy we put behind expansion last year, we’ve put behind technology and building out our team,” Spangler added. “To go from having 100 product and engineering folks last year, to basically quadrupling that – at the end of the year we’re over 500 people in that team – I feel incredibly proud about that push, that accomplishment.”
Compass now has four technology development hubs – New York City, Washington D.C., Seattle and Hyderabad, India. The latter three were all opened in 2019, with Washington D.C. opening following the company’s acquisition of Contactually.
Spangler also touted the growth of Compass’ artificial intelligence team, which didn’t exist last year but now boasts more than 24 members.
“We will definitely continue to be laser-focused on building the best experience for our agents,” Spangler said, before adding that the technology developments in 2019 show that focus.
As Spangler explains it, however, the 2018 and prior focus of rapid growth actually laid the groundwork for 2019’s focus on technology.
“The time we spent in 2018 to have a really great infrastructure in place across all these different markets, then have the technology in place [allowed us to be] where we can launch something and talk to all those agents relatively almost immediately on a daily basis,” Spangler said. “It gave us the ability to roll our programs, promote those programs and get adoption in a very fast way.”
What tech does Compass have to show for itself?
During Compass’ most recent fundraising round, the company said it planned to use the fresh capital raised for platform development. Quietly, the company has an extensive platform with proprietary marketing, search and customer relationship management tools all connected, as well as a popular feedback page where agents can upvote or downvote suggestions.
“It’s really an enterprise product,” Rory Golod, the New York regional president at Compass said, while giving Inman a demo of the company’s platform. “[The agent] is our customer. The vast majority of the software that we’re building is agent-facing.”
“I think a lot of brokerages lose sight of who their customer is,” Golod added. “For us, we’re really clear on the fact that it’s the agent.”
Within Compass’ system, on the buy-side, agents can draw multiple areas to search and even include properties within a certain radius of an address or landmark. Golod said when they started building the multi-polygon search, he wasn’t aware of other agent platforms that allowed it.
“Agents in the industry have been underserved by a lack of great technology, relative to other industries,” Golod said. “The clients in most cases have more technology at their fingertips than their agents, their advisors. Imagine if you were a wealth manager and the client had a Bloomberg terminal and you had Google Finance. There’s a massive mismatch.
From there, agents can share the listings with their clients in something that resembles a Pinterest board, called Collections, as opposed to just sending links. It’s both consumer and agent-facing, and both sides can communicate on each individual listing.
After agreeing on a number of listings to see, agents can use a tool built into the tech platform to automatically create home tours. With two clicks, agents can send auto-filled emails asking the seller’s agent for a specific time to tour the home and the route can be pre-calculated for the agent. The tour is also adjustable, depending on the time the agent needs to be at each listing.
Like many other platforms being unveiled in the industry, the systems are all connected. The tour comes from the selected listing and when an agent creates a tour, their calendar is auto-populated. Golod said the average agent is logging into 12 systems and the platform is trying to address that.
Other brokerages don’t have the engineering talent or capital required to integrate all of the tools an agent needs together, Golod insisted.
“What platforms look like is really integration,” Golod said. “Integration is the innovation. We went from custom search, identifying properties, sharing them in a collection, communicating with a client in a collecting and creating a tour. We did it in one system.”
Compass also has a proprietary marketing center for sellers’ agents, where print, email and even social media collateral can be created and customized with just a few clicks. Agents can look at analytics from their advertising and how consumers are getting to their listings.
There’s a spot within the Compass platform – which also includes the company’s proprietary customer relationship management tool, powered by the acquisition of Contactually – where agents can be heard. If you ask any leader at Compass – Golod and CEO Robert Reffkin have both said this in the past – technology and services are built and unveiled at the request of the agent.
In Compass’ agent feedback center, agents can make suggestions, upvote the suggestions of the peers and see exactly what suggestions are currently being worked on and what suggestions have already been addressed.
“We get a real-time sense of what actually matters to our agents and what we should be building,” Golod said.
Unveiled last year, one of Compass’ biggest innovations was the tech-enabled real estate sign. It was one of the first tangible pieces of technology the company unveiled and was a project it learned from, Spangler said.
Compass rolled out a beta phase at the end of last year that ran through the summer. The company identified a number of challenges to address and recently rolled out the next batch for sale. That batch is almost sold out.
“We’re excited to continue to test and learn with that,” Spangler said.
One of the things the company learned was that ordering, fulfilling those orders and tracking those orders was complicated, so they created a centralized sign center for agents.
A heavy investment in artificial intelligence
It became all the rage in 2019 to focus on powering technology platforms with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Keller Williams spent the year touting its AI-powered platform and Realogy is using AI in a number of different ways.
Compass closed the year in 2018 by bringing in Microsoft veteran Joseph Sirosh, who was the company’s chief technology officer of AI. The first look into Compass’ AI-powered technology came in the form of the company’s consumer-facing experience, which uses machine learning to make listing recommendations for consumers.
Now, in the wake of acquiring AI startup Detectica, Compass is diving further into AI technology.
“In real estate, what I saw, was a business where there was a tremendous amount of opportunity to do things like make agents more efficient and do a better job through AI,” Foster Provost, a co-founder of Detectica, told Inman. “It seems like there are so many opportunities across the entire industry of residential real estate.”
Provost said Compass is progressing quickly in a variety of different areas, from internal operations, to the CRM, to competitive market analysis and the website.
“We help the buyers to find the best properties for them, we help the sellers find the best buyers for them,” Provost said.
Plans for the future are still somewhat vague, but Provost and his fellow co-founder Panos Ipeirotis imagine better, more targeted recommendations and being able to use augmented reality to stage rooms to give consumers a preview of the power of Compass Concierge.
Golod, too, imagined a future in which Compass’ platform can make market-specific, town-specific, recommendations to agents, on behalf of their clients. The platform will know that 70 percent of the time a listing at a certain address is shared, the client will ask if dogs are allowed. With that sort of insight, the agent can preemptively let the client know the answer beforehand.
“That level of insight is going to be very hard for agents who don’t have that to compete against,” Golod said. “It’s this concept of mirroring technology with the human intellectual capital of the agent and putting them together.”
Ipeirotis said his fascination with what’s possible at Compass, comes from the combination of humans and machines when humans are experts at what they do and bring a lot of domain knowledge. There’s been some fear in the industry that automation is coming for agents, but Ipeirotis laughs when you ask him about agents disappearing thanks to AI-powered tech.
“I think many many people overstate the extent which things are automated,” Ipeirotis said, before noting that even Google has 50,000 people working to fix the outcomes of machine learning processes.
Provost is also clear that his team is building technology to make agents better at doing their job. The places where automation is replacing humans are places where the error costs are low, which is not the real estate industry.
“There’s things that they just don’t want to be spending a lot of [time on],” Provost said. “Should they be spending a whole day, or two days, making up a comparative market analysis presentation, or could they be spending two hours on it?
“Similarly, how do I deal with all these contacts I have in an efficient manner?” Provost said. “That’s what we have been focusing on.”