It took 10 years for Spencer Rascoff and crew to build Zillow from a germ of an idea into a 1,000 person online real estate powerhouse. And, then, essentially overnight, the Seattle-based company doubled in size when Zillow bought Trulia for $2.5 billion.
The company — which attracts about 90 million monthly visitors — now has employees scattered between locations in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Colorado and Nebraska. How does the 39-year-old former investment banker keep things moving forward at Zillow and make sure all of those employees know what’s going on?
“It’s a lot of people stuff,” said Rascoff, speaking Tuesday night at the Startup Grind event in Seattle. “I am sort of a glorified head of HR.” Rascoff said he’s no longer involved in the product development as he was when Zillow was in the startup phase, and while that can be hard for a founding executive he added that it is “inappropriate” for a CEO to stick his nose into the system of how new features get rolled out.
Managing both small and big teams is no easy task, but for Rascoff the challenge is pretty much the same no matter the size. And the best way for a tech executive to manage the growth and keep people motivated is through what Rascoff says is the power of “repetitive communication.”
Staying on message and sharing the mission is perhaps Rascoff’s most important job.
“Leadership is all about repetitive communication,” said Rascoff, who spent a short spell on Wall Street after graduating from Harvard. In that regard, he said it is similar to the messaging from politicians.
“What I get now that I am a much better leader and communicator is that I just say the same thing over and over again to employees, not because they are dumb or not listening,” said Rascoff. “It’s just because they are busy and have other shit going on.”
Key messages that Rascoff routinely touches on about Zillow include the importance of risk taking, staying entrepreneurial, shining the light on data and creating a fun and entrepreneurial place to work.
“I have to try to convey those messages through all of these different channels, whether it is an all-company email or all-company speech or individual one-one-ones with an employee or chit-chat in the elevator or talking in a room on HipChat, or whatever,” he said.
Not every CEO is good at that sort of messaging, with Rascoff saying that some leaders assume employees are listening to their every word. They are not.
“That is what I have learned. If you want anything to sink in with employees or the media or whatever else, it is to be repetitive over and over through all of these different mediums,” he said. “I think that is why hard-core super high IQ people usually make pretty crappy CEOs or executives, because they view that form of repetitive communication as being beneath them. Because they got their 10 minutes ago.”