Trulia CEO Pete Flint on Zillow: ‘Just a question of time before we overtake them’

Everyone loves a good rivalry. And in online real estate, there’s nothing better than San Francisco-based Trulia versus Seattle-based Zillow.com. I’ve followed the back-and-forth fireworks between the two heavily-funded companies since they were founded. Now, with both Trulia and Zillow expanding their operations and positioning for IPOs, I decided to check in with Trulia co-founder and CEO Pete Flint to chat about the company’s IPO plans, traffic growth and, of course, the heated competition with Zillow.

A 36-year-old University of Oxford grad, Flint still likes to think of Trulia as a scrappy startup even though the profitable company has grown to about 250 employees. Backed with $33 million from Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital, Trulia is currently on a hiring binge, with staffing more than doubling in the past 12 months and a new Denver sales facility expected to top 100 employees by the end of this year. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Zillow said Tuesday that it is expanding its office space in downtown Seattle by 38 percent. What do you make of that? “In comparison with our own growth, it is not that newsworthy, quite frankly. From our perspective, we’ve certainly doubled headcount in the last 12 months and I think we have expanded space even more than that.”

Pete Flint

Can you explain the rivalry with Zillow? “We both started at a similar time, and both have silly names. So, we are quite similar companies in some respects. But at the same time, there’s a huge number of differences between the way we think about the business and the way we are growing. We started as four guys in a student library, and they started with 150 employees and an army of vice presidents. So, we are quite different in how we think about business.”

How about the differences on the operations side? “Our audience is more transactional and the community is much bigger, and probably most importantly the engagement on our site in terms of page views as measured by comScore (and) Hitwise is significantly larger than they are. They are quite different businesses once you scratch the surface.”

Zillow is bigger in terms of unique visitors at 16.8 million last month, no? “You can slice and dice the data anyway, and I think certainly you have to take some of these metrics with a grain of salt. If you look at Hitwise and comScore, they publish page views and you know page views, at the end of the day is really what matters. It is not someone looking at some foreclosed celebrity’s property, it is individuals looking at properties and that is really the monetizable unit.”

So, Zillow has more unique visitors, but people spend more time on Trulia and view more pages. Is that fair? “That’s definitely fair, and the snapshot view today is very accurate, and obviously we are growing faster on the top level in terms of visits and uniques, so it is really just a question of time before we overtake them.”

[Editor's note: Amy Bohutinsky of Zillow responds to Flint's remarks: "The reason we report number of people who visit (UU's) and not pageviews is because we want to optimize the consumer experience on our site to be fewer clicks for people to get to the information they want. Thus, we want to have fewer pageviews."]

Source: comScore Media Metrix report looking at unique visitors for February

 


Trulia was perceived as the underdog in this industry. Do you look at yourself that way? “We are certainly bigger than Zillow on a lot of these important metrics. We don’t really think of ourselves as the underdog so to speak, but I would say that it is still incredibly early in the evolution of real estate and I think we are very much an agile, focused, scrappy startup, so the DNA that we infused in the beginning is absolutely continuing today. And we continue to augment that with super great talent, so we brought on a Y Combinator team a few months back when we acquired a group called Movity. We are still very much a scrappy culture, and a hacker culture.”

Could we see more acquisitions? “Potentially…. At this point, we are in a position to think about inorganic growth. But at the same time, we’ve looked at dozens of potential deals, and only pulled the trigger on one. We are very, very selective about how we think about these. But, absolutely, you could see some more acquisitions in the future.”

Source: HitwiseBoth you and Zillow have chatted about IPO plans in the future. Is it important for you to get out first? “There are a lot of S-1s flying around out there, and this is a fantastic time to both building and investing in technology companies. But we don’t have a great sense of urgency around being a publicly-traded company. That’s not a particular milestone that we are focused on. And we have no capital needs right now. We are really delighted with our business, and we want to avoid to many distractions. So, will we go public? I very much expect so. Is there a timeline for that? Not yet.”

What is the big difference between you and Zillow? “There are many, many differences in terms of community engagement — we have a much larger community than they do. And the type of users that we have are much more transactionally focused than they are checking out home values.”

On the evolution of the online real estate business: “Now, you are seeing a lot of companies either exiting the business, like Google for instance, or you are seeing this audience consolidation among the leading sites. It is quite staggering when you look at some of these third-party tracking services how much the audiences are collapsing into, realistically, a few sites at the top. And that’s just something that has really happened in the last six months.”

Is there enough room for both you and Zillow? “Oh, for sure. We are already profitable, and we are really early on in our evolution. I think there is a huge amount of room in the category for multiple players, and if you look at any other vertical category — and we spend a lot of time studying industries like automotive, recruitment and travel — and each of those you see multiple billion dollar businesses.”

Previously: “Zillow inks lease in Seattle skyscraper, plans expansion”

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews.

  • http://blog.findwell.com Kevin Lisota

    As a company who receives consumers from both Trulia and Zillow, I am not sure that I see the two audiences to be any different in their “transactional focus.” I’d also be curious how he quantifies the difference in community sizes for the two companies. Agents that work with one of these sites almost always participate in both.

    Flint also seems to underestimate the “stickiness” value of the Zestimate in terms of audience loyalty. I think Trulia has primarily driven traffic via boosts to their SEO that get them high in the SERPs. Zillow, on the other hand, has a large chunk of traffic that is not search engine reliant, as people come to them organically looking for home values. In a world where being ranked high in SERPs will gradually diminish (think Facebook social search) in terms of driving traffic, I’d prefer to be Zillow in the long term.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DavidKGibbons David Gibbons

    WOW, just WOW.

  • Adam

    What is the benefit in being so cocky? Pete Flint sounds like Kanye West. I don’t even care if he is right, he sounds like an insecure child.

  • Guest

    what is a trulia?

    • http://www.jrotech.com/ Jeff Rodenburg

      A miniature zillow?

  • Mike Mathieu

    Another difference between Trulia and Zillow is that Zillow has incorporated Walk Score and Transit Score and Trulia hasn’t.

  • James Grimm

    This guy is like the 5’5 basketball player trying to hang with the 6 and 7 footers. All Trulia is doing is riding the path that Zillow carved. We all know that website hits are based on popularity of the site and what information is provided to the customer. The reality here is that Zillow is the market leader and it’s little step-brother Trulia is trying to create the same buzz and success that Zillow has.

    If you want to be successful, create your own path Trulia or you will always be riding the wake that Zillow creates.