There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with going public, as tech-powered real estate brokerage Redfin did last year. But CEO Glenn Kelman feels like he, and the company, haven’t quite achieved real success, at least not yet.
“Redfin has 13 years of losing money, so I’d like to make at least a nickel for our shareholders,” Kelman said, speaking at the Technology Alliance annual luncheon. “When people say congratulations, I just say we still haven’t made money. There are companies in real estate that are 10 times bigger than we are that are trying to squash us every day. I don’t feel like it’s mission accomplished; I’m not wearing a jumpsuit on an aircraft carrier here. I feel like there is so much left to do.”
In its most recent quarter, Redfin posted $36.4 million in losses, compared to $28.1 million in the first quarter of 2017. Redfin has been investing in a lot of new programs, such as the expansion of its Redfin Now initiative to buy homes directly from the consumer, contributing to the accelerated losses this year.
Kelman says not much has changed since the company went public a year ago, though it has become a lot easier to hire agents. He says he’s never checked the company’s stock price because he knows he’d get addicted to following it.
“Once you start tracking the ups and downs it ruins your life,” Kelman said. “It’s enough of a rollercoaster with me without that.”
One thing Kelman does follow pretty closely are diversity statistics. He is quick to point out that a third of its engineers are women. Kelman says the company strives for an “infrastructure of fairness” for its engineers in terms of career advancement opportunities, reviews and job postings.
Creating a friendly environment for woman is not something the company does just out of basic human decency, it also creates a competitive advantage. Since Redfin is not able to pay engineers as much as Google or Facebook, having what Kelman calls the “most fair place” for engineers is a major recruiting tool.
Kelman is quick to tout the company’s success in attracting and retaining female engineers, but he also acknowledges that Redfin isn’t doing as well as it would like with people of color. He didn’t elaborate deeply on this, but he said it is something Redfin is working hard to improve.
“Eventually you have to give up your liberal baloney about how you care about racial diversity if you don’t act on it,” Kelman said. “It becomes hollow. It’s become a serious cultural issue for us.”
Kelman doesn’t sound like someone who’s going anywhere anytime soon. In his previous jobs, he’s worked on issues that were essentially solved already, and it was depressing to not be able to make a major difference.
Real estate, however, is an issue that’s far from solved. The company’s mission is to make it easier to buy and sell homes, and Kelman says Redfin is nowhere near accomplishing that yet.
“I have finally found a problem I could spend the rest of my life working on,” he said. “It’s so big, so emotionally important, and it’s such a great mission.”