Mike DelPrete dug into Compass’ recent job cuts and cost-cutting measures, calling the well-funded brokerage “the world’s most unprofitable brokerage ever” in a new interview with Motherboard, VICE News’ tech vertical on Wednesday.
“[Compass has] a cash burn problem. Fundamentally, Compass is a business that spends more money than it makes. And it’s been spending more money than it makes for years now, since inception, so perhaps a decade, and it’s doing it at a scale unprecedented in the real estate space. Compass is the world’s most unprofitable brokerage ever.”
Describing the “critical” cash burn problem the brokerage has faced throughout its history, the industry analyst compared Compass’ strategy to The New York Yankees or Real Madrid, sports teams whose competitive advantage has been historically based primarily on their ability to spend the most money adding high-performance players to their rosters.
According to DelPrete, Compass initially targeted the most productive agents in a given market, wooing them with money and incentives. “So their strategy was to effectively try to build an all-star team. And when it got too cumbersome to pick up the phone and call them one at a time, they would go out and just acquire the brokerages.”
While many firms trade short-term profitability for growth, DelPrete said in his VICE interview that a “viable path” to profitability was always an uncertain one for Compass.
“Everybody knew this couldn’t last forever,” DelPrete told VICE. “And there were vague notions of what would need to happen to reach profitability — either it would have to get to enormous scale in the U.S. or they would have to deliver on the promise of technology reducing costs and making people more efficient.”
Another idea was that the company would get into title and mortgage and make money in those sectors to offset other costs.
“But that’s where things got really hazy,” DelPrete added. “It’s like a magician waving their hands and the misdirection [that comes with that]. There was no real set in stone path of: This is how we’re going to be profitable one day.”
According to DelPrete, the risk for Compass now is that it’s cash flow negative and still needs to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in operational expenses while competing against brands that are cash flow positive and continuing to expand.
“So I think that’s an existential risk here for Compass,” DelPrete concluded. “They’re taking a much-needed pause. But what’s the long-term implication of that going to be relative to who they’re competing with in the market?”