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.
Art meets business: Entrepreneurship tips for creative people
(EDITORIAL) Making your creative hobby into a business is an uphill battle, but hey, many other people have done it. This is how they crested that hill.
If the success of platforms like Etsy has proven anything, it’s that creative people can launch successful businesses, even with relatively few tools at their disposal – and for many hobbyists, this is the dream. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though, and what pushes someone from creator to businessperson can be hard to pin down. In one study, the determining factor was encouragement by family and friends. Others make a slower transition from hobby to side hustle to full-time employment in the arts. Whatever the motivating factors, though, artists interested in becoming entrepreneurs need to hone an additional set of skills.
It’s All In The Plan
From one perspective, artists know how to follow a plan. Whether we’re talking about a knitter who can work through a pattern or a novelist outlining a chapter and building characters, creative thinkers also tend to be very methodical. Just because someone can create or follow a plan, that doesn’t mean they know how to develop a business plan. Luckily, there are plenty of guides to starting a business out there that contain all the basic information you’ll need to get started.
Business development guides are full of valuable technical information – what paperwork you’ll need to file, the cost of licenses, and other similar details – but they can also help you answer questions about your goals. Before you can even start writing a business plan, you’ll need to consider what service or product you want to offer, who your clients will be, and what differentiates your product from others out there. This last question is more important than ever before as more people try to break into creative fields.
Assess Your System
Once you know what your business goals are and what products you’ll be offering, you need to consider whether you have the ability to scale up that operation to fulfill market demand. There aren’t very many art forms that you can pay the bills with fulfilling commissions one at a time. The ability to scale up the artistic process is what made the famous painter Thomas Kinkade so successful during his lifetime when many others have failed. For the modern artist, this might mean asking whether you can mechanize or outsource any of your activities, or if you’ll be doing only exclusive work for high-paying clients.
Find The Right Supports
Every business needs support to thrive, whether in the form of a startup accelerator, a bank loan, a community of fellow professionals, or some other organization or resource. Artists are no different. If you’re going to develop a successful creative business, you need to research and connect with supports for working artists. They may be able to help you access tools or studio space, get loans, market your business, or connect you with a receptive audience. These groups are expert repositories of information and you don’t have to be in a major city to connect with them.
Find Professional Partners
You’re a talented artist. You have a vision and a plan. That doesn’t mean you have to go it alone – or even that you should. To build a successful creative business, you’ll want to partner with people who have different strengths. Not only will these people be able to lend their expertise to your operation, but they’ll make you a better artist and entrepreneur by lending a critical eye to your approach. Just like a major corporation won’t thrive if it’s composed of yes-men who are just along for the ride, your creative undertaking needs internal critics whose ultimate aim is to support you.
It’s easy to get bogged down in business logistics and lose your creative spark. In fact, that’s why many artists are reticent to monetize their work, but you shouldn’t let that fear hold you back. Instead, put in the effort to stay inspired. Read books about art and creativity, keep a journal, or go to museums. Experiment with new forms. Be willing to push your own limits and know that it’s okay to fail. Many businesses that aren’t tied to creative output flounder and struggle to find their way, and there’s no reason your business should be any different. Still, the surest path to failure is stagnation and losing your spark. That’s worse for any artist than a sloppy business plan.
Artists are often told that they aren’t meant to be entrepreneurs – but the most successful businesspeople are creative types, even if they aren’t typical artists. Use that outside-the-box thinking to your advantage and make a splash. If you want to do more with your art, you owe it to yourself to try.
Minimalism doesn’t have to happen overnight
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Minimalism doesn’t have to mean throwing out everything this instant – you can get similar benefits from starting on smaller spaces.
Minimalism. This trend has reared its head in many forms, from Instagram-worthy shots of near empty homes to Marie Kondo making a splash on Netflix with Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in 2019. If you’re anything like me, the concept of minimalism is tempting, but the execution seems out of reach. Paring down a closet to fit into a single basket or getting rid of beloved objects can sometimes seem too difficult, and I get it! Luckily, minimalism doesn’t have to be quite so extreme.
Not ready to purge your home yet? That’s fine! Start on your digital devices. Chances are, there are plenty of easy ways to clean up the storage space on your computer or phone. When it comes to low stakes minimalism, try clearing out your email inbox or deleting apps you no longer use. It’ll increase your storage space and make upkeep much more manageable on a daily basis.
It’s also worth taking a look through your photos. With our phones so readily available, plenty of us have pictures that we don’t really need. Clearing out the excess and subpar pictures will also have the added bonus of making your good pictures easily accessible!
Now, if this task seems more daunting, consider starting by simply deleting duplicate photos. You know the ones, where someone snaps a dozen pics of the same group pose? Pick your favorite (whittle it down if you have to) and delete the rest! It’s an easy way to get started with minimizing your digital photo collection.
Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once. If you’re hesitant about taking the plunge, try dipping your toe in the water first. There’s no shame in taking your time with this process. For instance, rather than immediately emptying your wardrobe, start small by just removing articles of clothing that are not wearable anymore. Things that are damaged, for instance, or just don’t fit.
Another way to start slow is to set a number. Take a look at your bookshelf and resolve to get rid of just two books. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for minimizing while not pushing too far. Besides, chances are, you do have two books on your shelf that are just collecting dust.
Finally, it’s also possible to take things slow by doing them over time. Observe your closet over the course of six months, for instance, to see if there are articles of clothing that remain unworn. Keep an eye on your kitchen supplies to get a feel for what you’re using and what you’re not. Sure, that egg separator you got for your wedding looks useful, but if you haven’t picked it up, it probably has to go.
Sometimes, minimalism is pitched as all or nothing (pun intended), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because I want to purge my closet doesn’t mean I’m beholden to purging my kitchen too. And that’s okay!
Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be reduced, just pick one aspect of your life to declutter. Clear out your wardrobe and hang onto your books. Cut down on decorations but keep your clothes. Maybe even minimize a few aspects of your life while holding onto one or two.
Or, don’t go too extreme in any direction and work to cut down on the stuff in your life in general. Minimizing doesn’t have to mean getting rid of everything – it can mean simply stepping back. For instance, you can minimize just by avoiding buying more things. Or maybe you set a maximum number of clothes you want, which means purchasing a new shirt might mean getting rid of an old one.
The point is, there are plenty of ways to start on the minimalist lifestyle without pushing yourself too far outside your comfort zone. So, what are you waiting for? Try decluttering your life soon!
Why tech talent is in the process of abandoning Austin
(AUSTIN TECH) There is no single reason Austin tech talent is packing their bags, but a handful of factors have collided to create a tenuous situation.
“Nothing’s keeping me here” is a phrase we keep hearing around town. Being in the center of the tech space, we’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse, and what we thought was primarily housing that is driving folks out of town turns out to be far more insurmountable than we could have ever imagined.
A perfect storm is brewing as the housing market collides with a dramatically transformed workforce that has become accustomed to working remotely and shifted priorities.
Last time Austin was bleeding talent, the year was 2011 and most investments were focused on early stage startups and there weren’t enough open roles that were senior level, so we started losing people to competitive markets. In response, we built a massive employment hub (the Austin Digital Jobs Group (ADJ)) and volunteered hundreds of hours to help make Austin a magnet for high quality employers.
This time around, we expressed to the Group of over 55K members that we were frustrated that people were confiding in us that they were leaving (or considering it). Some are even people that we all imagined to be part of the very fabric of Austin tech. We feel helpless this time.
Many of these talented people said that the soaring housing prices in Austin had them eyeballing smaller towns in Texas, or worse, their hometowns outside of the state. There are only so many times you can try to buy a house, get rejected, or get outbid on 22 homes before you start looking at other places. Only so many people will accept a billion percent rent increase at renewal time before thinking that going back home to Louisiana’s lookin’ pretty good.
This week, Austin CultureMap reported that Austin now ranks number two among the most overvalued home markets in America.
Tesla is getting ready to open their Gigafactory, Oracle is moving their headquarters to Austin, and Samsung is currently trying to get buy-in from city officials in Taylor so they can build their mega plant near Austin. Home investors and firms from all over are salivating.
It all feels both exciting, yet overwhelming when you’re going to buy a house here, only to get outbid by $150K over asking price from an investor in California. It’s been demoralizing for so many.
Because we also own a massive real estate publication, we’re firmly in touch with that sector, and brokers in Austin are telling us that the summer was out of control and overheated, but they’re already seeing that hyper-activity slow a bit.
Housing alone isn’t enough of a reason for an entire sector to be packing up or dreaming of leaving. So what gives?
At last count, a thread in ADJ on this topic is at 806 comments, and I personally received several hundred more via direct message with people in tech explaining why they’re leaving or considering leaving.
There are challenges within the city limits of Austin that have bubbled over like crime and separately, the contentious issue of houselessness – it’s an ongoing and very serious issue that has people leaving downtown, but not necessarily leaving the surrounding areas.
So if housing isn’t the exclusive driving force, how has that problem combined with the employment market shifts? How has the job market changed in such a way that talent is ready to hit the eject button on this town? It boils down to a changing talent pool, fractures in the hiring process, a shift in priorities, and a lingering brokenness in the entire process that is exacerbating all other conditions.
Let’s dig into that further.
Because of the global pandemic, remote work has become a staple in the tech industry, teams adjusted and realized the office is more of a luxury than a requirement, and many large brands swear that they’ll never require their employees to come into the office again.
For that reason, tech workers’ expectations have been forever changed. Fully remote options will drive the market for years to come, and hybrid options or flex work hours will also be how large tech firms attract and retain talent – ping pong tables and chill vibes will be less of an appealing sales pitch.
The pandemic has also shifted the talent pool to include everyone in America – if all workers are remote, employers no longer have to look just to the local workforce. This talent pool expansion is a double-edged sword – if an Austin tech company can look to Nebraska for workers, then remote workers can look outside of Austin to other budding tech hubs, potentially shifting the entire environment. That’s the main driver for Austin brands continuing to hire in Austin, lest the entire ecosystem fail.
All that said, a disconnect in the job market in Austin tech remains. Holdouts from attitudes and old systems of the past linger on.
A theme we continue to hear from high quality candidates is that employers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. You already know the stereotype of job listings that say they’re entry level but require a decade of work experience. But as budgets tightened in the face of uncertainty, Austin tech companies are becoming phenomenally great at hiring someone to do three jobs that pay less than one. One of our Group members asserted that employers are looking for turnkey employees. It used to be that employer job descriptions were a realistic wish list and that if you hit over 60% of them, you might get an interview. Now people believe that the requirements are becoming unrealistic and if you meet less than 100% of them, there is zero chance of an interview. Many have complained that hiring managers and recruiters continue to not be aligned, slowing the process repeatedly.
The timing of the acceleration of unrealistic expectations has locals feeling like the pandemic created conditions that allowed for employers to take advantage of job seekers who must be desperate since the world is upside down. I don’t personally believe this has anything to do with the pandemic, rather it is a continuation of an ongoing trend.
If you think this is an exaggeration, just this week a job seeker let me know that a recruiter sent them a job description that required the “ability to code in any language.” WTF. The recruiter was serious. Try telling me this isn’t out of control and I will laugh right in your face, friend.
Another serious point of contention in Austin is that salary levels are not increasing anywhere near the skyrocketing living expenses.
Many believe the salary levels are a decade old and simply can’t keep up with the market conditions in Austin and while we’ll leave the “you are a remote worker, you shouldn’t earn as much since you moved to a less expensive locale” debate to another day, we will firmly assert that this problem will hold back the tech innovation and the overall economy in Austin.
In that massive thread in our Group, one member asked, “So I guess a question is: do we accept the idea that Austin is now only for those making 6 figures??”
What is so disheartening about the salary conditions is that changing this couldn’t possibly be done overnight – it requires time and structural changes, and the bigger a company is, the slower it is to turn the proverbial ship.
Meanwhile, numerous people retired early during the pandemic, or began freelancing or consulting full time. Many of these people aren’t likely to return to the workforce under current conditions, and they feel like they have less roots in Austin – they can live anywhere now. See how remote work has caused a ripple effect?
Do you remember when some tech executives in Austin reluctantly sent employees home as the pandemic hit, flippantly warning that it wouldn’t be a coronacation!? Bad behaviors like this and other employee treatment during the pandemic haven’t and will not be forgotten – the memories will remain as fresh as the time you got shoved by that bully in elementary school. You may have forgiven, but you’ll never forget. Trust has been broken.
Trust was also broken during the pandemic when people lost what they believed to be stable jobs. It has created a certain trepidation in the marketplace.
The pandemic has forever altered all of our lives as individuals. Thousands died from COVID-19, and those of us left behind lost loved ones. We were all sent home with no job security. Many of us became homeschool teachers and somehow also had to keep up with our careers. We were forced to share spaces with our partners, our children, our parents, our family.
Some would think all of this is a recipe for resentment, but in the majority of cases, what has happened is a serious shift in priorities to favor the family, to appreciate quality time, to find solace in more quiet time and a less full calendar.
People tell us they don’t intend on going out for drinks after work when they’re called back into the office – it turns out we actually like our kids or partners now that we’ve gotten to know them, or that we value our newfound connection to old hobbies. The priorities aren’t fleeting – this pandemic has changed us.
Because of this fundamental change in who we are, ongoing problems in the employment market are now magnified.
“Isms” still plague the hiring process. Ageism continues to be a very serious problem in Austin tech, for example. People tell us that they’re still experiencing sexism, racism, ableism, and every other sort of discrimination. In 2021. It’s unbelievable. You can say all of that is simply perception, but in this scenario, perception truly is reality. And because our priorities have shifted, our giveashitters are pretty low when it comes to tolerating bad actors.
That same shift has also lowered tolerance levels for burnout. One member in the Group pointed out that after the market crash in 2008, resource levels were depleted – and here we are in 2021, they haven’t been restored. People were burned out before the pandemic, and now they’re moving to the country to work remotely and begin healing this burnout that is coming to a head.
It’s difficult to deal with ghosting (be it computer-aided or overworked recruiters) when you’re already burned out and thinking you’re the only one. It’s giving this sector a terrible reputation that is spreading.
Resources aren’t the only factor here that is stuck in 2008. Companies were so used to getting a flood of applications for every single job listing, their ATS (applicant tracking system) filters were implemented accordingly. The volume of applications has dropped, yet the filters remain overly restrictive. They put their ATS on auto-pilot once upon a time, and it remains that way, yet they continue to reach out to us in confusion, asking us where all the applicants are.
In the eyes of tech talent, the hiring process has deteriorated. Simultaneously, in the eyes of companies hiring, the process has been improved. Enhanced.
The disconnect here is not in the unrealistic expectations previously outlined, or the rising opacity in salaries, but in the actual mechanics of the hiring process. Even smaller companies have added additional rounds of interviews and ridiculous red tape in what is an effort in vain to compete with the Googles of the world. There’s a lot of what I would call “playing office” going on, with non-technical hiring managers hiring for technical roles, or unrelated staff being roped into panel interviews to weigh in on whether or not someone is a “culture fit.”
The process has become lengthy and demanding with endless personality tests, whiteboard tests, Zoom calls, questionnaires, more phone and video calls, aptitude tests, and so forth. Most people have come to accept these as hoops to jump through, but the practice of having job seekers do extensive unpaid projects as part of their job application is creating deep resentment and a growing resistance. No one expects to shake a hand and get a job today, but doing a 12 hour assignment that is due in 24 hours is unreasonable, especially unpaid and with no promise of their intellectual property being protected.
It started off as a way to aide candidates into demonstrating their true skills and it was simple. But over time, the practice has “evolved.” It feels to some like every Austin tech recruiter and hiring manager went to some evil underground conference a few years ago and were brainwashed into thinking that if they ALL assign abusive tasks, no one in the sector will notice because they’ll just accept that it’s “how things are done now.” But that’s not happening and the overly complicated process combined with other market factors is driving seriously qualified tech talent out of Austin.
The hiring process has continued to degrade and for no good reason. We actually built ADJ in a way that would directly connect hiring manager and job seeker, promoting the concept of simplifying the hiring process. Yet here we are.
The final nail in the coffin is that candidates and employers are blaming each other for a power imbalance, and thinking that their situation is unique. A feeling of isolation is growing due to peoples’ inability to openly discuss this process – both hiring folks and job seekers.
The bottom line is that numerous market conditions have converged to create a scenario where people are tired and simply won’t settle anymore. Expectations have changed. And we have changed as people.
We will inevitably get hate mail because of this editorial and folks will say that the very publication of this piece will push people out of town, but we would argue that if no one makes an effort to diagnose the growing illness, it will metastasize.
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