Never on the defensive for too long, Zillow’s strategy, Brad Inman writes, is to secure its position as the leading listing service and digitize everything — as the rest of the industry sputters.

Never underestimate Zillow. 

Founders Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink are calculating, bold, cunning and opportunistic. They also play the long game well.

They are at it again. But first. 

Their failed iBuying experiment shows off their entrepreneurial superpowers. They were all in and then suddenly all out, before the risky pivot severely wounded their company.

The mark of gifted entrepreneurs is their ability to cut products — not just build them. Normie founders are too attached to their creations, and reluctant to confess their failings.

Never on the defensive for too long, Zillow is on the offense again with its acquisition this week of real estate marketing company VRX Media — giving further lift to its booming ShowingTime product.

We’ve watched this movie before.

During the last real estate downturn, Zillow was positioned to make some super savvy acquisitions.  While the industry languished, the mega portal swooped up the listing inventory, and set itself up to be the unmatched consumer real estate habit of choice. 

Stuck in “goblin mode,” the traditional industry muttered years later, “What just happened?” 

Big real estate companies saw their once powerful consumer brands weakened beyond recovery.

Zillow successfully went public in 2011, in the worst of the housing meltdown. So it was capitalized to go on a buying spree, while others were on their back.

in 2011, Zillow acquired listings technology product Diverse Solutions for $7.8 million. It took over StreetEasy for $50 million in 2013 as a play for a listings and consumer audience — brilliant.

Zillow acquired Retsly in 2014, as a listings onramp. And later that year, it capped its acquisitions spree when it acquired Trulia in a $3.5 billion deal.  Sealing its huge audience.

This time, the strategy is to secure its position as the leading real estate listing service company and finish off its work digitizing the whole mess, as the rest of the industry begins to sputter.

The software pieces are falling into place: beginning with the Dotloop acquisition in 2015, Bridge Interactive the following year, and ShowingTime three years ago.

Then, Zillow added 3D home tours and now VRX Media.

The transactional phase of a real estate transformation is unfolding before our eyes.

Once again, Zillow is leading the way, as most of the big old boys and many of the proptech companies struggle to make ends meet.

Email Brad Inman

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