The Fool is exploring Seattle. Today, CEO Spencer Rascoff introduces us to Zillow (NASDAQ: Z ) , telling us how the online home and real estate marketplace works, what he considers its greatest strengths, and what investors should know about it.
Spencer recounts how the idea for Zillow was born of his time at Expedia, and how far the company has come since then. He also offers some insight on what investors should look for when evaluating any tech company.
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Austin Smith: Hey Fools Austin Smith here, joined by Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow.com. Thanks again for sitting down with us today.
Spencer Rascoff: Thank you.
Austin: Let's just jump right into it. Tell us a little bit about Zillow, maybe how it got started and the background, for those who aren't familiar.
Spencer: Sure. Zillow is the largest real estate website. We have about 50 million people that use Zillow every month, on desktop and on mobile. We started the company about seven years ago with the vision of empowering people with access to information so they could make smarter decisions.
We started with home valuations, telling people the "Zestimate" on their home -- what every house in the country is worth. We then expanded into real estate listings, rental listings, mortgage information and, more recently, home improvement.
We're about 700 employees. We're based here in Seattle, and we're the largest real estate site, nationwide.
Austin: Obviously you're leading Zillow today, but you've had other tech roles prior to this, notably Expedia.com. What do you see as the central qualities that investors should be looking for in tech leaders today?
Spencer: I think the most important thing, when an investor looks at investing in a company, and backing that leadership team, that management team, is passion for the product. Does the executive, and does the whole management team -- ideally, does the whole company -- care deeply about their own product and the way their users interact with it, and the way their advertisers benefit from it?
In my case, I live and breathe this product. I'm constantly talking to users through social media or through email or at conferences or trade shows or elsewhere, talking to the agents that use Zillow, talking to the lenders and rental professionals that use Zillow and talking to our consumers, and taking back what I learn about how people use the product, into how we develop software here.
Austin: Why make the leap to Zillow from Expedia? Why the transition?
Spencer: I started a company called Hotwire in 1999, which I sold to Expedia, and then at Expedia I helped run the hotel business for Expedia and Hotels.com. In 2005-2006 we were at Expedia and we were looking at other verticals that hadn't yet been "Internetted," hadn't been empowered by the Internet, where there was still a lot of customer frustration about lack of information.
To our surprise, the real estate industry still felt very anachronistic in terms of consumer empowerment. There was all this great data and information locked up in secret industry-only databases or in county courthouses.
We said, "Why don't we liberate that information and empower consumers with information?" There's still a critical role for the real estate professional, though. The real estate professional is there to help the consumer interpret all of this information.
In that regard, Zillow has partnered with tens of thousands of agents in most every major brokerage in the country and most MLSs in the country, so that the real estate industry views us as a participant and a helper to their business goals.