Friday Flash: We’ve only just begun

A real estate startup backed by one of the founders of Uber launched this week. It’s called Haus.

Let’s not get carried away with this. What Haus does is pretty basic: it’s a tool for managing offers.

A listing agent puts their listing onto Haus, where buyers’ agents can then submit offers. Any and all offers are viewable to pretty much everyone. Sellers can see what they’re getting, those who have written offers can see how they stack up, and those thinking about writing an offer can see if it’s worth their time. The terms of each offer, minus the names, are compared side-by-side.

Nothing else changes. Same forms. Same legal rules. Same players, for now.

There are lots of nuances even this sort of transparency can’t illuminate, obviously. One offer may be “better” than another for all kinds of subtle reasons that are either legit or fall into that special cloudy area around the edges of real estate practice.

An offer can win, get countered, or become favored by the listing agent for reasons that aren’t squarely about terms.

Still, I think this is an interesting play. And one that any real estate company or brand could have, and perhaps should have, made years ago. Offers are one of those “third rail” areas Zillow probably can’t touch, so the door was left open.

Haus just walked through it.

I was with some very smart people this week, talking about ways to improve the real estate consumer experience through technology, design and data.

A well worn path.

In some ways, though, we’ve only just begun. Even when something like home search reaches a mature state, there’s always room for differentiation and, potentially, replacement.

Consider the approach Virgin America is taking with its new mobile app:

24 hours before your flight, the app changes into “serious” mode since it assumes the reason you’re opening it is to check in. The color scheme switches from a white background to a black background and gone are the whimsical colors and graphics users saw during the booking phase. It’s all text to help you check in as efficiently as possible.

Closer to your departure time, the app will tell you the gate location, keep you apprised of delays, let you know of any changes to your flight, and tell you when to board—just like having a personal concierge to tell you where to be and when.

Good idea: the app changes as you move through the customer journey. Could we do that for the long and varied real estate journey? If what I want and need to do evolves from the first time I perform a home search to the time I enter into contract, shouldn’t the home search app evolve too?

And this:

For a small carrier, like Virgin America, which is in the process of being acquired by Alaska Airlines, every detail counts. “Virgin doesn’t fly to 500 cities, but these big guys do,” Stewart says. “So if they want to compete, the biggest way is through experience.”

This is more or less what Marc wrote here the other day. Play to your strengths and there’s always a path forward.

Congratulations to Referral Exchange and Giveback Homes, two companies I admire, for coming up with a cool way to do good. Read the story about their partnership on Inman.

Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club, a 40-person startup that mails guys razor blades, for a billion dollars. There’s lots of reasons why Unilever may think this is a good idea, but I am interested in the trajectory of the Dollar Shave Club story.

This little company launched just five years ago with a blunt, confrontational narrative: the companies that sell razors are ripping you off. This was put into the world with a simple video that became a phenomenon.

Boom. I bought in. So did millions of other dudes. The story was so right. We felt the pain every time we had to wait ten minutes for someone at CVS to come unlock the case of exorbitantly priced, absurdly featurized blades.

The takeaway? Be bold, draw lines, pick fights and be everything but bland if you want to create a story that moves people.

We’ve seen this in real estate. Zillow launched with a “power to the people” story that connected with consumers yet did not lead to fundamental change in the way people buy and sell homes. Redfin hit the scene with a “good-guy/bad-guy” story they then backed away from. Solo Pro came out swinging last year but has a long road ahead of it.

This tells us one of two things: either people are more or less cool with the way things are in real estate, or the products and stories offered this far haven’t quite hit the mark like DSC did.

Sometimes I doubt myself. I wonder if I’m getting life wrong somehow. I feel, vaguely, that most other people have figured something out that I can’t seem to grasp.

Then I snap out of it. But it’s nice to know there are other options for dealing with matters of existence.

Consider The Man who Became a Goat.

Keep an open mind, people.

Enjoy the weekend.