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Inman Connect has drastically changed from the first conference — a small gathering in Sonoma’s famous redwood forest of 50 enterprising industry members who wanted to discuss and plan the future of the real estate industry over a lamb roast. Ahead of Inman Connect New York, Inman founder Brad Inman revisited those forests to reconnect with the conference’s humble beginnings and reflect on the growth of the Inman community.
“You are the best and brightest of the real estate industry [and] you have helped to make so many changes over the last 25 years,” he said to a crowd of eager attendees. “There’s a lot of work yet to do, but the progress is remarkable.”
Inman said the industry is unrecognizable from where it was in 1997 when the internet was finally picking up steam with the greater public and the idea of online listings was heresy. Since then, he said, Inman Connect has become the incubator for countless innovations in the industry with speakers and attendees chatting about blockchain, artificial intelligence and the metaverse well before it became a trending topic on social media.
“The things that were introduced here are really remarkable,” he said. “I remember in a hotel here in New York City, [we talked about] TikTok, robots, artificial intelligence, Twitter and the metaverse. We even had speakers 10 years ago about life on Mars and buying real estate virtually and you all — many of you thought we were crazy — and these things came true.”
“You know, way back we introduced you to online search the first Connect [and] we made a declaration that all listing should be on the internet. Heresy! NAR had cardiac arrest” he said while chuckling. “These crazies in Sonoma are talking about putting all listings on the internet, but we said do it. Video — we introduced that. We introduced social media, power buyers, and blockchain. I have a list here I could go on and on.”
Inman said the level of innovation at Inman Connect is a direct result of the diversity of his namesake’s readers, who live in different markets, have various social and racial backgrounds, practice different religions and have different political leanings. Although those differences can cause a ruckus, they more often result in greater kindness, understanding and growth.
“You’re a diverse, colorful portrait of the real estate industry, which I love,” he said. “We have young and old, we have gay and straight. We have [transgender people], we have politically left, politically right. You can’t even believe the comments on Inman News stories from all parts of our culture. You are Black and white, Latin, Asian — everything.”
He added, “It’s that very diversity that gives us strength and what I think is excellence.”
Those attributes have only been strengthened over the past two years, Inman said, as real estate agents, brokers, tech wonks and entrepreneurs stood up to the occasion and helped millions of consumers navigate the most important transaction of their lives in the midst of a pandemic and other uncertainties.
“Now, what about the last two years, you’ve been way too busy, I can see it in your face. Some of you are exhausted, right? But you’re tougher and you’re more prepared for the unexpected,” he said. “You’re also braver, I think you’re less in fear because we as a world faced something beyond anyone’s imagination and you’re ready for whatever comes your way.”
“And also remember that debate two years ago, are you essential or not? You proved that you are essential,” he added. “You are that essential bridge to so many people achieving their aspirations. And yes, we can still have aspirations.”
As we head into another market shift, Inman said it will take diversity, a commitment to kindness and dedication to collaboration to help consumers and colleagues navigate “tough waters” created by low inventory, rising mortgage rates and other sources of uncertainty.
“One thing I know for sure, this community will come together and support one another, and make sure that we understand the best way to deal with maybe a new market,” he said. “And we all know from experience, that there are opportunities in a new market.”
Inman highlighted one of those uncertain moments for the Inman crew when a massive snowstorm threatened to shutter an Inman Connect New York City conference. When he was on the brink of canceling the event, hundreds of attendees encouraged him to keep the show going — a decision that created one of the most popular and memorable Connect events yet.
“I couldn’t believe we almost canceled the event, and then a group of the people that were here said you can’t cancel it. And so we didn’t. And boy did you show up,” he said to a few hoots and whistles from the crowd. “That was turned out to be a spectacular event. Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul was here and he said the firm famous words something to the effect of ‘What is a Zillow?’ And Barbara Corcoran, not knowing she was on a hot mic, said that she heard in the green room that I was bad in bed. She never gets her facts straight.”
The founder also highlighted other pivotal moments in Inman Connect’s history, such as reuniting industry veteran Billy Ekofo with his family after years of separation due to war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his infamous row with Keller Williams founder Gary Keller, or ’60 Minutes’ coming to film Redfin founder Glenn Kelman and Andy Dalton’s one-hour debate.
All of these moments, he said, are a testament to Inman’s growth and a roadmap for where Inman can go next.
“I’m counting on you gang to carry this out. Our work is not done,” he said. “We must get more women in the executive suites, we must break down these barriers that prevent us from having a great consumer experience. We need to attack the bureaucrats. We need to not listen to the big shots. We need to give it to you all because you, together, will make it happen.”
“We’re a supporting act,” he added while his voice started to gently crack. “We are all a supporting act for you — the Realtor and the entrepreneur.”
Finally, Inman delivered the final sentences of his keynote while attempting to push back the tears.
“I believe in this community. You’ve challenged me for 25 years. You listen, you learn in your network,” he said while noting he almost made it through without crying. “There’s an old corny slang which I really like, ‘We will forget some of the things we said, we’ll forget some of the things we did, but we’ll never forget how we made each other feel.'”
“I want you now to go out and experience this conference with the curiosity that brought you here, and as Walt Whitman wrote, ‘All these face the sun, let the shadows be behind you.’ There’s no other experience than the Inman adventure.”