Exhibit one: real estate
We are living in an exciting era where products, services and industries are being innovated at warp speed. The next generation of “it” comes faster and faster. With improved speed, function, and experience comes with it some seriously increased customer expectations, and there are some verticals that can’t seem to keep up. Exhibit one: real estate.
For the last decade, dozens (if not hundreds) of start-ups have announced big plans to revolutionize the inefficiencies in real estate. Their promises have been to clean up the data, improve the agent-client relationship, open up the information and democratize the industry, save money on commissions, and more.
Looking back over the last ten years, can anyone honestly say that the process of buying or renting a home has dramatically improved? For perspective, take a moment to think back to ten years ago in other areas. What where mobile devices like in 2004? Video game graphics? The TV viewing experience? Mapping/GPS? Bank ATM machines? Even the experience at your dentist? Internet connections? Most people would freak out if they had to go back to products and services of a decade ago. When will real estate finally break through and see this kind of innovation and improvement? Will it ever?
Exhibit two: Blocksy
Will they provide the breakthrough that we haven’t seen in almost a decade (when Zillow was born)? Blocksy is a New York City start-up that promises better content, a cleaner website, more accurate information, and exclusive listings to help people have a much better experience buying or renting a home in NYC.
Have you heard this mission statement before? Me too.
So how is this effort different from its predecessors? For starters, they charge users $15 per month for a premium level of service and content. But let’s dig deeper…
Blocksy is currently focusing only on New York City. NYC is a totally different real estate market versus all other cities and towns across America. It’s part wild west (example: no formal MLS) and part oligarchy (example: a few huge RE brands control the market and seem to make their own rules). So the specific market definitely needs to be factored in any evaluation. Moving on, let’s look at Blocksy’s promises:
- Better Website. I agree. The site is clean, easy to use and makes it easy to digest data and information. It is easy to search for listings and content.
- Saving money. A testimonial on their front-page quotes a buyer who says she saved $200k by finding a unit in her desired building that only Blocksy had listed. I’m fairly certain that a halfway decent buyers agent would have done the same. I don’t believe you can count this as “Blocksy saving me $200k.”
- Exclusive listings. Right in the same testimonial from above, Blocksy is implying they have exclusive listings. Hmm. I have no idea how this can be true. If they do – maybe this is valuable in some rare situations. If they have exclusives on truly great buildings and/or properties, this would have some value. I just don’t believe they do or that they will in the future. If they some how accomplish this, I don’t believe it makes much of a difference for most all users anyway.
- Better content. They have some good data, especially for the sales market. They could use more information and detail, especially for the rental market (note that NYC is one of the few cities where the rental business can be very lucrative for agents/brokers). The information and charts are modestly better than I am used to for NYC, but it isn’t a dramatic leap forward.
- More frequent updates (hourly). I’m not sure that hourly updates make a big difference given the reality of the real estate market, but it certainly can’t hurt. This is more of a PR win versus a customer experience improvement, though.
- Better and more accurate listings and information. When I search the website, I see the same fuzzy, misaligned, and non-standard pictures, and I see the usual occasional typos, missing info, and bad data. If Blocksy can fix these issues it would be enormously valuable. They haven’t yet, though, and doing so will require a monumental paradigm shift. I don’t know how they can do it but I hope they prove me wrong.
- And finally, the pay-for-service model. Blocksy does offer free use of the site. The premium fee is apparently for faster service and exclusive content. I did not sign up for the premium service, so I cannot evaluate it. I can comment on the model itself, though. When people pay for something, it creates an implied value of that thing (be it a product or service). Perhaps, like a placebo, this will create a user base that values Blocksy more than other RE sites. When one gets past this nuance, though, this start-up is asking users to pay for something that they can get for free in lots of others places. This is a tough sell and I don’t like it.
My (early) verdicts
Consumer perspective: I will give the free version of Blocksy a try, along with a few other leading sites, if/when I need a new NYC home. I would even give the 1-day free trial for the premium service a test drive. I hope these guys are better at this stuff than others, but I’m skeptical.
Real estate agent perspective: If I were an agent, I would focus on already proven websites and strategies for lead generation and client servicing. If Blocksy gets traction and starts to prove itself, I would jump on board.
Investor perspective: If approached I will stay far, far away from Blocksy.
Good luck, Blocksy. I hope that you finally create breakthrough innovation for the real estate industry. But I bet you fall well short. As so does the next one of your kind.
Hustle culture glorification needs to stop
(EDITORIAL) Our culture stopped considering running on 4 hours of sleep as a badge of honor, so how the hell is the “hustle” culture any different?
We all see on social media the people that tout the “hustle.” You’ve seen it. “Rise and grind,” we’re told. The intention behind these cliches is to inspire people around them to take action (or secretly to brag that they’re people of action, accomplishments).
But isn’t it really just an alternative to the glorification of being “busy” that we have also rejected? Our culture stopped considering running on four hours of sleep as a badge of honor, so how the hell is the “hustle” culture any different? Guys. It’s not.
That gig economy, baby
Being bombarded with the “inspiration” to “hustle” is giving rise to unnecessary stress. “I took an hour and a half off for lunch, I didn’t hustle, I need to hustle, I have to work until 10 tonight if I’m really someone who hustles,” many people think to themselves now.
Further, the rise of the gig economy (which we’ve written about in depth over the years) has people snagging endless “gigs” leading to a new culture of poorly trained workers that feel like they’re on top because they’re “hustling.”
A friend of mine recently Facebooked that she’s “On the hustle,” and bragged that not only is she an Uber driver, she takes gigs on Fiverr, sells Rodan+Fields, and so forth.
All I hear is that she’s banging her head against the wall with maximum effort and minimal return. No skills are being refined and tweaked when people feel like they have to pick up scraps in order to hustle, and very little money is coming their way. Every penny counts, but if you spend three pennies of effort to make one penny come to your bank account, it’s simply not worth it.
The problem is that my friend IS hustling. Hustling her little ass off. But it’s that “hustle harder” mentality (glorified with inspirational quotes on Instagram) that has people feeling like they come up short.
A peek behind the curtain
I’d like to officially reject the idea of “the hustle.” The intention behind the movement is good – work hard, then work harder. It’s much better than the alternative, but it’s time to be more honest about what “hustle” actually means.
I have a challenge for you. Next time you see someone on social media bragging about their hustle (because that’s what it’s become, a means to “play” successful online), consider if the hustle is real. Are they glorifying a fast buck, glorifying being busy, or desperate back patting? Don’t “like” it or chastise them, just move on. Don’t play into it.
You know who hustles?
- My grandma who wakes up early every day in Kenya to take care of orphans all day, sometimes being the only adult left behind when al-Shabaab storms the village (and the local workers flee), living on spotty electricity and food, all before retiring in a less-than-luxurious bed at night, exhausted but happy.
- My mechanic who hustles all day, obsessing over the quality of his work, who won’t even let me see my car until he’s pulled all of the protective linings out and he’s washed his hands and straightened his tucked-in shirt.
- My gal pal who wakes up with a newborn every day, yet juggles social media and recruiting, offering endless free help to people who can’t/don’t pay her to review their resume so they can get a job.
- My single dad when we were growing up – worked as a designer for a shitty boss (but didn’t quit because he had to feed us), skipped meals when there was only enough to feed us two kids, still sneaks out during lunch to go take lunch to (and eat with) his homeless buds up the street, still volunteers for the tasks at church no one else will do (like weed duty), always took side jobs he hated (illustrations for textbooks, art for the local paper), all for his family.
What real hustle looks like
And what do these people all have in common? They would all cringe at the idea of a selfie with glitter letters proclaiming they’re on the hustle. People that are focused on work, on advancing their life (and the lives of those around them) would be embarrassed to be lumped in with the Instagram selfie people that pat themselves on the back because today, they managed to shower, drive two people up the street for their Uber hustle, write a fake review on Yelp for their Fiverrr hustle, and sent out two aggressive sales emails to cousins to pressure them to buy their Rodan+Fields products in their trunk.
That’s not hustling, that’s what people are being told is hustling. It’s an unfortunate scrapping together of gigs that so many are being tricked into thinking is the only way to live, the only way to survive. The pressure is on to bring on more ways to hustle, and people are being screwed by the gig economy. It’s unfortunate.
And for that, I reject the glorification and glitterification of “hustle.”
This editorial was first published on July 5, 2016.
The building blocks of creating a company culture when working remotely
(OPINION EDITORIAL) It seems that even a post COVID-19 world will involve remote work, so how can you build and maintain a strong work culture that ensures growth and satisfaction?
New startups and existing companies are starting to transition to a fully remote (or nearly fully remote) model, but what does this mean for work culture? If you’re not careful, your work culture could easily become diminished as you transition to a remote environment, and if you’re building a company from the ground up, you may not have a strong culture to begin with.
Culture isn’t something you can afford to give up, so how can you build and maintain your company culture while working remotely?
The importance of a strong work culture
Maintaining a strong, consistent company culture is vital, even if your company is operating remotely. With a strong work culture, you’ll enjoy benefits like:
- Better recruiting potential. A company with strong work culture will seem more attractive to talented candidates. The best people in the industry will want to work at a place with a great team and a great set of values.
- Like-minded teammates. Establishing a consistent work culture allows you to selectively hire, then maintain employees who are like-minded. Employees with similar goals and mentalities, even if they come from different backgrounds, will be able to collaborate more efficiently.
- Smoother communication. A strong foundational work culture that establishes goals, values, and beliefs within an organization can enable smoother, more efficient communication. Staff members will be on the same page with regard to high-level priorities, and will be able to exchange information in similar patterns.
- Lower stress and less turnover. Better work cultures generally mean lower stress for employees, and accordingly, less employee turnover. Of course, this assumes you’re hiring good fits for the organization in the first place.
- A better public reputation. Your work culture can also boost your public reputation—especially if you emphasize core values that are important to your target audience.
How to build company culture remotely
Traditionally, you can use in-person team-building sessions, regular meetings, and workplace rules to establish and maintain your company culture, but while working remotely, you’ll need to employ a different set of tactics, like:
- Hiring the right candidates. Building a great culture starts with hiring. You have to find candidates who fit with your organization, and already share your core values. If someone doesn’t agree with your high-level approach, or if they don’t like your rules or workflows, they aren’t going to do their best work. These same considerations should be applied to your third party hires as well; agencies and freelancers should also fit into your values.
- Hosting virtual team-building events. You can’t host in-person team-building events, but that doesn’t mean that team-building is inaccessible to you. Consider hosting a video conference to introduce your team members to each other, or bond over a shared event. You could also host virtual game nights, or provide team lunches to celebrate wins. Any excuse to engage with each other in a non-work context can help employees feel more connected and part of the team, and there are plenty of options to make it work virtually.
- Streamlining communication. Good communication is both a constituent factor and a byproduct of effective company culture. If you want your culture to thrive, you have to set good standards for communication, and encourage your employees to communicate with each other consistently and openly. People need to feel heard when they speak, and feel comfortable voicing their opinions—even if they don’t agree with their superiors. There should also be easily accessible channels for communication at all levels. Over time, this foundation will help your employee communication improve.
- Improving transparency. Workplace transparency is important for any employer, but it’s especially important for remote businesses trying to build or maintain a strong culture—and it’s challenging if you’re operating remotely. If you’re open and honest about your goals and how you operate, employees will feel more trusted and more engaged with their work. Strive to answer questions honestly and disclose your motivations.
- Publishing and reiterating company core values. One of the biggest factors responsible for making a company culture unique is its set of core values. Spend some time developing and refining your list of core values. Once finished, publish them for all employees to read, and make time to reiterate them regularly so employees remember them.
- Making employees feel valued. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make your employees feel valued. Take the time to show your appreciation however you can, whether it’s through a simple thank-you message or an occasional cash bonus, and be sure to listen to employee feedback when you get it.
Building a work culture in a remote environment is more challenging, and requires consideration of more variables, but it’s certainly possible with the right mentality. Spend time setting your priorities, and make sure you’re consistent in your execution.
This editorial was first published in July of 2020.
Job listings are popping up left and right, so what exactly *is* UX writing?
(EDITORIAL) While UX writing is not technically new, it is seemingly becoming more and more prevalent. The job titles are everywhere, so what is it?
The work of a UX writer is something you come across every day. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.
A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.
Some of the most common touchpoints these writers work on are interface copy, emails, and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”
Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.
Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.
Regardless of where you find these writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must-have. Excellent communication skills are a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post. But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.
UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater user experience design team. In larger companies, some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?
I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.
Now that the UX in front of the writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User-centric design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.
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