Redfin – a case study in the value of openness

In my last post I talked about how the Internet can be your online PR friend if you understand how it works and let go of the fallacious idea that you can control it. Now Shelley Jack at Ripple Effects Interactive in Pittsburgh forwards along a Wired story I had missed about how one company turned near-catastrophe into what looks like a major success.

Last year, [Glenn] Kelman was the newly hired CEO of Redfin, an online brokerage firm that was, as he puts it, “the ugly red-haired child” in the real estate world. Redfin was trying to turn the industry upside down by refunding people two-thirds of the commission that real estate agents normally charge. Customers loved the idea – why the heck did you need to hand over 6 percent of the price of your house, anyway? But agents hated it for destroying their fat margins, so they began blacklisting Redfin, refusing to sell houses to anyone who used the service. Kelman was struggling to close deals for his clients.

Kelman set up a Redfin blog and began posting witty screeds about the nasty underbelly of the real estate business. He denounced traditional brokers, accusing them of screwing customers with clubby, closed-door practices. (“If we don’t reform ourselves, and take out all the sales baloney, too, people will come to hate real estate agents the way they hate tobacco companies or Big Oil,” he wrote.) He publicized Redfin’s internal debates, even arguments about the design of its Web site. He mocked himself: One post described how he had sat at a college job fair for hours, waiting in vain for a single student to approach him. (“This was particularly sobering because it meant we had outlosered our neighbor to the right, Ford Motor Company,” he wrote.) Meanwhile, in the blog’s comments, old-school agents were unleashing hissing attacks on Redfin. Kelman left the critiques in and lashed right back, in full view of his customers.

But customers loved it. More and more signed on to use Redfin, and by the beginning of this year, Kelman and his crew were closing several deals a day. “Instead of discouraging customers, being open about our problems radicalized them,” Kelman says. “They rallied and started pulling for us.”

The story assures me that the rest of the corporate world is catching on. Gonna have to see a bit more evidence on that claim. But for the moment, props to Redfin for getting it.

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One response to “Redfin – a case study in the value of openness

  1. Pingback: Pimping a new biz blog « Scholars and Rogues·

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