A Redfin Summer

When I told friends I had accepted an offer at Redfin, I got some interesting reactions:

Redfin…Real Estate? Why would you want to work for a company that has a real estate website? You’re a developer. A software guy. Psh.
Hah, you sold out to the big bucks, did you? I mean, you’re not going to be changing the world at a real estate company. I wonder what developers do there…

I’d be lying if that didn’t stir some doubt in my decision to intern. I could have been working at a “real” tech company. I looked back at what the offer letter had said:

Search Team Software Developer Intern

Well, that didn’t help. Software. Software couldn’t have a huge impact in a company that’s focused on real estate. They’re probably more interested in their agents — what would they know about technology?

Walking in on the first day, I half expected to see retro technology. Antiquated machines. Everything you’d expect from an industry as old as Real Estate.

It didn’t turn out that way. Not at all. To be frank, it was rather confusing, and there were a few things that kind of blew my mind about Redfin.

1: It’s a tech company.

I was greeted by an SF office full of amazing engineers. People hacking away at building new features on Redfin’s iOS app. People dedicated to pushing out Redfin’s new Android tablet app. Hackers. In real estate. What?

But that’s where I was wrong. Redfin wasn’t a real-estate company. At its very core, Redfin is a technology company that happens to think there’s a huge problem with home-buying. It’s founded on the principle that technology drives innovation— innovation that is much needed when people hate buying homes because it’s such a hassle.

You see, these guys weren’t just building something that people used to communicate with one another. They weren’t building something that just made people’s lives easier. It was much more. They are building something that they believe is going to turn around how people view home-buying and selling— a huge milestone in anyone’s life.

2: Redfin cares about being different

Like every company that seems to really succeed, Redfin’s goal is to control the entire home buying ecosystem rather than a part of it. Redfin is a a website and a brokerage. You buy homes with Redfin agents. The company employs their own agents!

What happens when you control both sides— real estate and technology?

The company analyzes everything you do as a logged-in user on Redfin. Agents can tell what you’re most interested in and which neighborhoods you seem to care about. We have algorithms that smartly determine which features of a house you care about, which ones you’d tour, which days of the week you seem to be most active, etc. We can give all of that information to the agents we actually employ. You get an experience that reflects every step you take with the technology we put in your hands.

3. Redfin struggles for its values

Now, as soon as I heard this, I took a step back and figured that it wasn’t easy to scale that model. My instinct was that it was foolish:

  • You have to hire tons of new agents in every market you expand to. That slows you down. If other people are nationwide, you can’t compete immediately. A huge risk in real-estate. Coverage matters.
  • You lose money when you pay agents a salary and people don’t buy homes. The commission model doesn’t have this risk.
  • When you publish every review someone gives about an agent, you risk discrediting agents because of the occasional unhappy or disagreeable customer. Transparency comes at a cost.

Yet, I’ve come to realize that these sacrifices are not only accepted, they’re purposely established with Redfin. The company is willing to slow growth, lose a little bit of money, and to risk being ‘overly’ transparent if it means doing things right, and putting the customer first.

Back to my internship…

This summer I worked on their iOS app extensively. I built some (yet unreleased) features that I’m confident are going to get people excited about buying or selling their home.

Like any tech company, they treat interns well— the travel perks, food, parties, hackathons, you name it. But to me, as my summer goes on, I’m convinced that I’m helping Redfin grow and make a statement. That matters to me.

So I sound like an advertisement?

Good. If you’re doing it right, every employee of your company should be a walking evangelist. I’m incredibly excited about Redfin. I’m sold.