DFJ is thrilled to congratulate Glenn and the entire Redfin team on today’s IPO, and their path to transform the real estate industry.
Redfin — A Story of Resilience
by Emily Melton, Partner
Resilience is a word that is currently in vogue in business circles. Resilience is the focus of Angela Duckworth’s New York Times bestselling book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. And resilience is what CEO Glenn Kelman has demonstrated over the past decade in successfully building Redfin. Yes, Glenn is ahead of the curve for knowing what many are learning today about resilience. Glenn led Redfin through some very dark days, but his passion and drive not only enabled the company to persevere but also to thrive.
I met Glenn in 2006, around the same time my husband and I purchased our first home. I immediately identified with Redfin’s vision in large part because we found the process of working with our realtor infuriating. At one point, we simply asked our agent if we could sit and look through the MLS with her, as we had a much better sense of what we wanted. Along with the company’s vision, I also fell in love with the team. They were honest to a fault, self-deprecating and modest, with high intellectual horsepower and an intense competitive nature.
Back in the early days, the service was only available in the Seattle region and we wanted to see the company scale beyond its home turf. I followed the company over the next eighteen months and each data point reinforced my desire to back Redfin. Over that time period, the company opened three additional markets, substantially increased revenue, and Glenn survived a tough interview with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes.
Along with success, there were setbacks, but Glenn was radically transparent and every challenge was faced head on with a unique and endearing mixture of aggression and humility. In the summer of 2007, DFJ led a $12 million investment in Redfin.
As with many great companies, this was a contrarian bet (“they are actually hiring agents?”), but I was confident that by brokering transactions online, Redfin would be positioned to deliver the most value to the consumer, and ultimately drive the most profound change in the real estate industry. While some of my partners may have struggled with components of the vision, we could all agree on the team. It was clear that Glenn and the people around him would walk through fire… something we saw first-hand sooner than we had expected.
A housing market correction was forecast, yet the extent of the 2008 financial crisis caught us all by surprise. This was a challenging time for many startups, but as a startup real estate brokerage it was terrifying. Glenn often says, “Redfin was born in the dark,” but in reality, this is when Redfin shined brightest. Each obstacle was viewed by the team as an opportunity and every challenge was something to overcome. It was a difficult year, but failure was not an option. I saw passion, resilience, and a competitive drive that proved Redfin wasn’t simply a technology product. Glenn was building a company for the long term. The company emerged stronger, raised capital from the esteemed team at Greylock, and has thrived while staying true to the original vision.
Every time I assess a new investment, I find myself doing the “Glenn assessment.” How will this particular founder deal with adversity? Is he/she driven by an internal passion? Do they have the courage and tenacity to relentlessly pursue their vision to create a better world?
Some startups are lucky and ride a wave, but every enduring company I have seen has had to bounce back from defeat. Glenn doesn’t simply bounce back. Glenn springs forward to greater heights. Today marks an amazing accomplishment for Redfin, but I also believe the best is yet to come.
On a personal note, Redfin was one of my early investments. I was thrilled to be a part of the syndicate and humbled that the team chose me as their partner. However, on the day of the funding announcement, I received several “I am so sorry” emails. A Silicon Valley gossip site posted an article that essentially said, “Redfin gets money, but from this blond girl who is a nobody”, accompanied by a big picture of me. First, I was furious and then came the tears. I openly admit that at the time I did not have any successful investments to my name (I was 29 years old). Second, I could not shake the subtle sexism of the article. My male colleagues with less experience were making investments every day without criticism. But my biggest concern was for Glenn and the Redfin team. Instead of celebrating their investment, they were put on the defensive. Glenn went to battle for me, and he supported my unique value and perspective.
A decade ago, being a female partner in venture was a lonely journey. Again, ahead of the curve, Glenn recognized there was value in diversity on his team and in the board room. Earlier this month, DFJ along with other leading venture firms pledged to work with Glenn and Bridget Frey of Redfin to actively seek to diversify boards at the earliest stages. In addition to transforming the real estate industry, Glenn, Bridget, and the rest of the talented Redfin team are also redefining how to build a successful company. I am so proud that their accomplishments will now be seen on a more public stage.
Emily Melton is a partner at DFJ
Follow Emily @emelton