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Spencer Rascoff: business leader showcase

To improve your own leadership, it is often helpful to get inside the minds of other leaders, as we do today with Zillow’s CEO, Spencer Rascoff.

Zillow CEO, Spencer Rascoff

Zillow CEO, Spencer Rascoff

An ultra busy dad/CEO/husband in Seattle

Raised in Manhattan in a real estate family, Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow, spends his days writing hundreds of emails, juggling dad duty, husband duty, and CEO duty, but what interests us most is that Rascoff’s ambition dates back to his teen years, as revealed in his desired career as a kid.

We often revere leaders, but often for their current work, without knowing where they came from, but by knowing what makes people tick, we can not only better connect with one another, but we stand to gain by being able to identify with traits shared with various leaders as a means of inspiring our own leadership paths.

Below is an unedited interview with Rascoff, in his own words:

Tell us about yourself and your work.
I am the CEO of Zillow, the most visited real estate website and most used real estate mobile resource. I helped start Zillow in 2005 because I thought there was a need to bring better tools and technology to the real estate industry, to empower consumers and their real estate professionals with more resources and data. Outside of work, my pediatrician wife and I have 3 young children and a dog.

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Walk us through a typical day in your life.
We usually wake up at 5:30am to our 10 month old and from there it’s go go go. I’m focused on getting the kids going in the morning, so it’s all family until about 8am though I secretly check twitter and email while juggling cereal and baby food. I’m at work from 8 until 5 and it’s usually non-stop meetings. I spend most of my day in product meetings discussing what we should build next for Zillow’s customers (real estate agents) and for consumers.

On a typical day I also have at least one media interview and at least one call with a Zillow investor. During meetings and while speed-walking the halls of Zillow, I somehow bang out about 300 emails a day and a few dozen tweets. I also try to spend time on our sales floor where I can listen to our team interact directly with our real estate partners – this is the most interesting and gratifying part of my day.

At 5pm, I’m out the door and off to pick up one or two kids from school. I’m with the kids until 8pm, and then after some time with my wife I usually squeeze in another 2-3 hours of work before crashing around 1am.

Where were you raised? Where all have you lived?
I was raised in Manhattan until I was 12, where my mom was a Realtor with Douglas Elliman. We then moved to Los Angeles where I went to high school. I went to college in Cambridge, MA. I then lived in New York, San Francisco and Seattle. I now call Seattle home, and I’ve been here for 10 years.

How did you get into your current career?
In 1999, I co-founded a company called Hotwire, an online travel website. We sold Hotwire to Expedia in 2003 and I moved to Seattle to work for Expedia. One year later, most of the Expedia management team left together to start Zillow.

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What is something unique that you do to balance work and life?
I made a New Year’s Resolution this year not to check email between Saturday 8am and Sunday 8am. I’ve succeeded about half the time so far.

What keeps you up at night?
My baby!

What tools can you not live without?
iPhone. Email. My assistant.

Tell us something about yourself that most wouldn’t believe unless they knew you.
I get to “inbox zero” every week, and I never go to sleep unless my inbox has fewer than 20 emails in it.

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What inspirational quote has stuck with you the longest?
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

If you could spend one day in the life of another leader, who would it be? Why?
I’d like to be President of the US for a day. I think the pressures of that position must be so crushing, and the intellectual stimulation of the position so consuming, that everything else pales in comparison.

At age 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The President

President Rascoff

Above: a horrible, sloppy Photoshop job of Rascoff’s face on Clinton’s body. Sorry, Spencer, but we couldn’t resist!

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. spencerrascoff

    July 17, 2012 at 1:56 am

    Hey, who’s that handsome guy in between Bush and Obama? Oh wait, that’s me! 😉

  2. beachtowne

    July 17, 2012 at 9:01 am

    A question for Spencer- how far along would you say that you are in your quest to do the same for your “real estate professionals partners” as you did for travel agents with Hotwire and Expedia? 

  3. spencerrascoff

    July 17, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Hi beachtowne,
    Real estate and travel are extremely different industries. Real estate will always be a professionally-assisted transaction, where a real estate agent helps a consumer make this most infrequent, emotional and expensive transaction. The internet has changed how the consumer approaches that transaction by making them much more informed, but it will never radically change the transaction. In other words, real estate agents will never be disintermediated, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. Agents and brokers play a vital role in the real estate transaction, and Zillow believes strongly that this will always be the case. That’s why we’ve spent so much of our time developing tools to help real estate professionals. We’ve acquired 3 companies (rentjuice, postlets and diverse solutions) for more than $50 million which do just that, and we’ve invested millions more in product development to build tools like a CRM for real estate agents. 
    So while there are parallels between real estate and travel — notably, that consumers now have more information thanks to the internet — there are huge differences between the industries too. And nobody knows that better than I do. I’ve spent most of the last 7 years explaining to the real estate industry that Zillow is a friend to the real estate professional. But actions speak louder than words. And all you have to do is look at our actions to see that while we’ve embraced consumer empowerment in the real estate industry, we’ve also been steadfast in believing that the real estate professional always will be and always should be a critical part of the real estate transaction.
    Within Zillow, we talk a lot more about webMD than we do Expedia, actually. WebMD is the leading medical website and mobile app, and it has empowered patients with access to information. But it hasn’t put doctors out of business. True, it has changed the way doctors interact with patients. They’re no longer information gatekeepers. They’re not trusted consultants, partners to their patients on a  very emotional and challenging medical journey. I believe that the web has changed consumer health care in a similar way to how it has changed real estate. Agents are no longer information gatekeepers, but you’d better believe that they’re as important as ever. This has profound implications on which TYPES of agents will succeed in the internet era, but I firmly believe that agents (and doctors) are still critical.

  4. JonathanDalton

    July 17, 2012 at 11:15 am

    > I also try to spend time on our sales floor where I can listen to our team interact directly with our real estate partners
    My “partners” do not spend their time cold calling me to sell me advertising. Just sayin’.

    • spencerrascoff

      July 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

       @JonathanDalton Jonathan, we’re calling them to help them make more money. That’s usually something they are interested in talking about. There’s a reason that last quarter we had about 19,000 real estate agents who were Premier Agents — it works for them. They make more money when they are Premier Agents. I’m not going to make any apologies for that.

      • beachtowne

        July 17, 2012 at 11:43 am

         @spencerrascoff  @JonathanDalton  Hey Spence- I have a proposal that I feel certain will make YOU (and me) more money, please post your cell number so I can call you every couple weeks until you either acquiesce or change your number, Partner.

        • spencerrascoff

          July 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

           @beachtowne  Our sales team (like all good sales teams) uses a CRM tool so we don’t call agents who ask not to be called again. If you would like to identify yourself here, or email me at spencer at zillow dot com, I’m happy to make sure that we indicate in our CRM that you’d prefer not to be called. We’d both benefit from this, since I’d prefer our team spend their time speaking with agents who want to grow their business through Zillow rather than those who want to anonymously throw tomatoes. 

        • beachtowne

          July 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm

           @spencerrascoff  You may have misread my post. I want to be your partner.  I asked for YOUR cell number so I can call you.  I own a small brokerage with 20some agents, and trust me when I tell you, the days where Zillow, or Trulia, or, or any of the legion of Google PPC Arbitrage Scammers are dialing through my roster are hell. You see, it disrupts our busy day, like I’m disrupting yours now.

      • JonathanDalton

        July 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm

         @spencerrascoff No one is asking for apologies and I’m sure some of those 19,000 make more money. But under no definition are they partners. I’ve got an aversion to corporate euphemisms that try and obscure the reality of the situation – you aren’t “partnering”. You’re selling a marketing package. If it works for some, more power to them.

  5. DavidGibbons

    July 18, 2012 at 4:46 am

    Good interview. Totally accurate. I miss working for Spencer – he’s a truly great boss – I don’t miss the emails as much 😉 As you should pick up from this, Spencer is ultra-disciplined & mega-productive. Very few CEO’s lead by example to the extent that he does. 

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