Friday Flash: The Moonshot

It’s 6:05 a.m. – still dark – and I’m on a flight to Phoenix for a 2-hour meeting with a client.

In other words, not a great time for expansive thinking.

But I wanted to quickly take note of something I think is significant.

Last week, Keller Williams announced that it was becoming a technology company.

I have heard real estate franchisors describe themselves as “marketing companies” or “training companies” (this was KW’s mantra for years, in fact), but “technology company” is a new one.

What does it mean?

Well, at this point, it means this:

Keller Williams announced something called Keller Cloud last week at the company’s annual Family Reunion event. Keller Cloud is billed as “… the key to simplifying an agent’s life. It is the unified platform where agents will log in to both learn and earn.”

You might recall that KW released something that sounded very similar – eEdge – just six years ago. You get the feeling that didn’t play out as well as planned. But while eEdge was an unevenly-cooked casserole of real estate tech with ingredients such as MarketLeader, Keller Cloud is proprietary. KW owns the vision and the code.

Ergo, “technology company.”

This is a big deal, and the announcement has a moonshot quality to it. Last week, two new KW executives, Chief Innovation Officer Josh Team and Chief Product and Strategy Officer Jonathan Berkowitz – people with impressive non-real estate pedigrees – described some of Keller Cloud’s components:

KW Command, a data-fueled dashboard that “knows your (the agent’s) goals, knows your market, collects data on your customers and helps run every aspect of your business from one location.” KW Command will also include a custom integration with the Facebook ad platform that promises to “provide agents with the simplest and most effective toolset to create and place ads on Facebook.” (side note: this comes on the heels of Zillow’s deal with Facebook; it will be interesting to see how FB ad cost and ROI is impacted with the impending surge of agent activity here).

KW Connect, an expanded community and training center that will become “deeply integrated” with the Keller Cloud.

Kelle, a Siri or Alexa-style AI assistant that will enable agents to interact with the Keller Cloud via voice. Think “Kelle, text me the contacts I need to follow up with today”, etc.

Partners will be able to integrate with the Keller Cloud, but on KW’s terms. The franchisor owns the platform; the tech partners are just invited to dance on it.

All of this was promised later this year.

It sounds impressive. The ambition alone is impressive. But a lot remains to be seen.

This sort of thing is hard to execute, but the larger risk is the intrinsic diversity of the agent world. Integration, breaking down silos, and clearing away the fog of confusion surrounding agent technology decisions is a worthy goal. But however marvelous and well-planned a “seamless” tech platform may be, a significant number of agents are going to want to mix their own technology blend. This can be a deeply irrational dynamic. I’ve seen some pretty idiosyncratic agent tech stacks that make sense only in the world and workflow of a single agent.

It will be fun to watch this unfold, and to see how it tracks with Realogy’s Zap Labs initiative, another big, bold bet by a real estate franchisor to drive their own technology destiny.

The stakes are very, very high.

Alex Perriello, CEO of Realogy Franchise Group, announced he was stepping down this week after a 34-year career at the company and its corporate predecessors.

I always thought Alex to be the best kind of real estate leader. We had the opportunity to work with him on a number of projects, including his brainchild, the FWD Innovation Summit. I was impressed with Alex’s conspicuous intelligence, but also the manner with which he treated people around him. 100% class.

The coolest thing about Alex, though, is that he started as an agent. Even at the pinnacle of the industry, that came through. He understood the people of real estate in a way those of us who have never practiced simply can’t.

1000WATT wishes him all the best.

Alex’s successor is John Peyton, who comes from Starwood, one of the best-regarded brand curators in the world. A different kind of cat, but one sure to bring an interesting perspective to our industry.

That’s it. Time to land!

Enjoy the weekend.