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Opinion Editorials

Semantics, Spin and Selling Real Estate




Return on Investment

Recently I’ve sat with a few new Realtors who wanted feedback in what investments they should make into technology. While meeting with them, my wheels starting to turn in regards to my (and their) investment in Social Media. Part of my job is to actually get involved in new emerging technologies – and that part of my job I love, so I spend a bit more time on it, than I would encourage my agents to. Of late, I’ve been taking into account more and more the value or even unintended consequences of what I say online and what efforts I am going to put into it in the future. I want to know if it’s worth my time and effort; I feel it is – but only if I change a few habits.

Real Estate Illustration

In the ever expanding world of the I’ve gotten to know a few folks, some of them I’ve taken the time to engage off of the blogs by various venues, in order to find out who the really are. One such person is Barry Cunningham. I’ve only exchanged a few e-mails and listened to several of his radio shows. I agree with about 50% of what he has to say and about 10% of how he says it, but when I peel back the bravado, I realize that he has a passion for change and perhaps wants to see agents adapt to the current market. HOWEVER, if I have to work so hard to get past (what I feel is occasionally offensive) presentation, than I am concerned that he’s lost a greater opportunity to “transform” the real estate industry. I am not picking on the guy, but he’s visited her enough that I think I can use him as an illustration to my point, and he’ll understand.

The interviews on the radio show are great, they really are. I learn a lot and typically have pencil and pad around to take notes, but I simply wouldn’t encourage my students or agents to listen. (I wouldn’t persuade them not to listen, either…) I feel this way, because I feel that the radio show doesn’t build a rapport, I don’t get a connection to the show that makes me trust the opinions. I learned long ago that my students and agents needed to trust me and really feel that I had their best interests at heart, well before I could invoke change or challenge their way of thinking. Not only as an instructor, but also as a manager, was it imperative to be trusted. I could not obtain that trust by attacking everything. My premise is that currently Barry’s show (and he is probably fine with this) caters to about 20% of the which only about 10% of the industry practitioners. <note: I have no idea what his numbers are and I am sure he’ll correct me 🙂 > What could his influence be, if more than just those who agree with him started listening? I don’t need people to come to my lectures who agree with me, they are already doing it and therefore I am not invoking change.

Gauge Your Financial Investment

My second illustration is in regards to vendors. While helping my wife try and decide what marketing ventures to budget for next year, we were researching a particular product. I heard that there was to be a broadcast interview with the CEO of this product and decided to listen. In the 30 minute segment I counted several blatant disparaging remarks against real estate agents and a reference to how real estate agents were going to help sell his product before they were antiquated and the consumer began obtaining the information on their own. Hmmmm, no I don’t think I’ll invest my $1500 into his product and yes, I will ensure that I relay his opinion to each and every participant in my classes, in the future. So, let’s say I convince 2 folks a month to not buy this product, over 12 months, and I decide not to buy it – he just lost $37,500 in potential sales, but his consumer (the agent) was offended at his insertions and didn’t feel like being used. Could I have misunderstood the point? Yes, possibly but it doesn’t matter. My perception has already been established and he just lost money by doing this interview and sharing too much “transparency.”

Unintended Consequences

My last illustration about sharing rage or nefarious opinions on blogs, is related to the recent mess at ActiveRain. An individual (I stress individual and not the 80,000 members) made a stupid statement that was IMO offensive to African Americans. Fine, he said it and was rightfully dismissed from being a participant on the system. His friends then decided to write about their outrage of this individual’s dismissal and wrote in support of his actions. I would think that had they left it alone and e-mailed their support off topic to AR and to the offender, no one would have heard much about it. However, by writing more hateful articles it became a larger issue. The friends have probably called the attention of HUD and a Fair Housing tester will probably come visiting the original author when he least expects it. When the tester finds fault with the agent, they will probably pull posts from AR as exhibits in the hearing. Therefore the “friends” felt better for raging about something THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH REAL ESTATE and have inadvertently risk their friends license. My question: To what end? What real benefit did the time and effort to compose and argue the point gain for these “professionals?” Isn’t the real job to go and sell real estate?

Gauge your investment of time

How many of you actually know how much your time is worth? When I was managing and selling I was worth about $75 per hour. Not great, but not bad…. When you read a post and it takes you 15 minutes to read; did you get $20 worth of value? (no, you won’t from this one either…) Go read Russell Shaw’s and many other’s, you will get more than that if you follow the advise. However, go spend four hours arguing about the relevance of NAR versus DOJ and please tell me the value. I know it’s not a popular opinion, but NAR and DOJ’s dance has little to no cause and effect of my wife’s business – so why should she care until it actually does? (well ok, paying dues and paying taxes means that the business was negatively effected either way you look at it) Knowing the information is great, but arguing about it detracts for money making efforts.

If you don’t “get” NAR- fine. If you can’t find $100 in value on and in the field guides alone than you aren’t looking hard enough. I personally laugh at people who spend $400 on a print ad that every independent marketing survey in the world tells us is the worst ROI for real estate agents, and then spend additional time telling everyone why they shouldn’t spend $100 to be a NAR member. Stop wasting your money on arguments that you will not win – is my point.

I’ve been entertained at the phrase “poster boy” here. I honestly have no idea what the phrase means in this regards, but to attack a person for their desire to support something, all the while continuing to support your cause with equal veracity sounds silly. It’s as if you’re saying, “Since I don’t find value (you who don’t practice) you shouldn’t find value and if you do – you’re a knuckle-head.” My point is; why come back and argue a point that is immovable? Neither side will win the other over without some level of mutual respect and understanding that you may not be completely right? NAR has issues, yes we know. They also have value, but you have to acknowledge it. So why spend so much time debating it with people who will not listen?

Dismounting the Soap Box

As I climb off the soap box, I want to remind everyone that last week I wrote a post asking why people read blogs. The overwhelming response was that they read because they learned something. The real value in this technology is the ability to teach and learn. However, if your message is so mired in crap that no one is getting your knowledge you’re wasting my time and yours.

I have been all about the “transparency” that offers, but as we open the door to “transparency” I am left to wonder if that door is actually to Pandora’s Box. I am very concerned about the pending “new world order of real estate.” It seems to me that the individuals on the point of the sword have vanquished civility, healthy debate and respect in return for an opportunity to just “be heard”.

My summary is that everyone, needs to spend a little more time judging their return-on-investment and the nature of unintended consequences. I am targeting a certain market from here on out with my writing and commenting, my aim is to educate. I am challenging you to do the same. I am not at all saying that you shouldn’t invest some time and effort into a the community. Actually, I am saying the opposite – you should be writing and commenting. But, make your point the best you can and move on to the next learning / contributing opportunity.

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is

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  1. Matthew Rathbun

    May 29, 2008 at 6:29 am

    Wow. After I looked at how long this post was, I was left to wonder if I really wrote it or if Bill Lublin did??? 🙂

  2. Bill Lublin

    May 29, 2008 at 7:37 am

    I read the post and while it was long enough for me to write – it was too articulate to come from me
    Do I have to tell you that I enjoyed the post, but the comment made me LOL (loudly)

  3. Brian Brady

    May 29, 2008 at 7:56 am

    The Active Rain fiasco stemmed from the inability of the membership to stay on topic. The dumb comment stemmed from a post that promoted the concept of “acceptable racial preference”; a cute term supporting a politically motivated post.

    While I agree that the racially biased comment demanded Active Rain’s attention, the post that inspired the dumb comment was equally inappropriate on a real estate marketing website. That author should have been banned as well.

    The “outrage” is coming from Active Rain members who want the network to focus on its stated objective; online promotion of real estate and lending businesses. Active Rain promotes the concept of “first amendment rights” to the detriment of members like me. Today, the network is populated with content that is filled with Fair Housing/Fair Lending violations. It will change; the executives there will be forced to police the content to comply with the stated mission or evolve it into a non-real estate related network

  4. Barry Cunningham

    May 29, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Matt well thought out post…factually a bit incorrect, but entertaining.

    Here’s the deal. Our demo is comprised of those who want more than what they are presently getting. It’s not for everyone and most assuredly as agentgenius is primarily comprised of those who “get it”, our show and blog may not be the right venue for change as those here are already on the curve for change.

    We are sounding a wake up call to those in the business who are tired of being broke, tired of being treated like second class citizens and tired of rhetoric.

    We have one agent who regularly listens and has been struggling and realized finally that he needed to ask his broker and associates around him what they were doing to actually increase their business. Many agents don’t need flowery stories, they need step by step direction.

    I read so many articles on a daily basis about nothing. How to be the master of mastery, without delivering step by step actual direction.

    We ask the question of those we speak to, what do you do and how do you do it? The Chris Gardner approach. I am not sure what guest you were speaking of but if you can’t seek out the information that spurs change and development then of course you ahve to pay for it.

    We are launching a real estate sales blog to go with our radio blog and I believe we are going to take our new blog from a PR0 to a PR5 or PR6 in two months.

    Our guests and instructors like Mary mcKnight who does charge around $1,500 are more than worth their weight in gold. I for one have received way more than that from her. And it shows in our numbers and our rankings.

    I am an old football player. My style comes directly from being trained and coached by some of the best coaches in the world of sports. I did not attain the success I had in sports by having a coach treat me with kit gloves. He was in my face, he taught me my work ethic and to this day he is respected by thousands he has coached.

    He built a record of success by being more than the coach. He had a vested interest in the young man. Was it easy? Did he piss me off? Were there times when I wished his golf cart would run into a wall? Absolutely. Would I or a thousand others who were fortunate to be under his command do it all over again…you bet your a$$.

    I’m not in this to make friends. I am glad I have but it is not my purpose. I want to succeed and I want to help others succeed.

    Realtors saying they are attacked because they don’t like what was said is foolish. The word attack is losing its meaning and effect because it is bandied about so much. I can’t tell you how many people I have heard say they were attacked. Get over it people.

    There is a greater good to be had and instead of this kind of useless banter, why not come on the show and actually tell a young agent step by step what you are doing, how you are doing it and what kind of success you are obtaining.

    I’m not going to go back and forth with you on this..I don’t need to. I know who my demographic is, I know what our numbers are and I and you can see our rankings. In just 5 months of exiswtence and in just 127 episodes, I think we have most assuredly developed quite the audience…even if it rattles the cage of agents who have been around the block for a while.

    The reason I come to Agent Genius is because it allows me to gain insight. I love coming here. i love engaging and occasionally I learn something.

    I thank you guys for having this forum. While I have engaged many like Bill, and russell, and Jonathan, I have never said that Agentgenius did not have value.

    It’s funny, many times I have heard things like that which you write and I see the responses and as you notice, much like at Active Rain, those responses are from the same 10-15 folks.

    So your article basically is written for the demographic that chooses to visit this blog. They are interested, as I am, in what you have to say.

    Your marketing and your content reaches your intended audience…so does mine.

  5. Barry Cunningham

    May 29, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Matt..I forgot…in our 127 episodes we have interviewed some of the most successful people in buisness and in real estate. Many have been featured on Fox news, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, HBO and have published books and studies that have been heralded by the business world.

    Not sure what guest you were referring to but your statement that you “wouldn’t encourage my students or agents to listen” is laughable and somewhat sad.

    Maybe you should actually see a roster of our guests, who they are and what they have accomplished before making such a statement. Once in a while we have one that does not pan out but I am quite sure that most will agree that the quality of information and the guests that provide that information are at a minimum that which the NAR provides and in actuality quite superior to that which most brokers and NAR organizations can offer.

    To that point, next week we have David Meerman Scott on the program…yes..the same guy that the NAR is having as a keynote speaker at their National Convention in November.

    Like I said earlier, you have your audience and I have mine. Ours gets to listen to guys like Mr. Scott and hear that which he advises agents to do to be successful in business.

    Last week we had Craig proctor on, one of the most successful realtors in the world. You won’t believe some of our upcoming guests.

    Telling students not to listen is your choice, but not the kind of real world advice I would think someone who wants people to be successful would give.

    We’ll keep delivering top notch guests…you keep telling your demo not to listen…I wonder who’s audience will end up being more successful?

  6. Jonathan Dalton

    May 29, 2008 at 10:01 am

    > Many agents don’t need flowery stories, they need step by step direction.

    Actually, nearly all agents could use more step-by-step direction than flowery stories. My wonderful father-in-law (cough) has been in the business 30 years. When I was just starting and struggling I asked him what I can do to get things moving. “You’ve gotta work hard,” he said.

    Gee, thanks. That helped a lot. Never occurred to me.

    Back on topic – almost everything comes down to a question of time vs. return. Do I invest 15 minutes doing “A” with no financial return or “B” where there’s a high likelihood of return. Spend too much time in the non-income producing arena and, well, you won’t produce any income.

    I’d missed the flap on Active Rain. Add that to the reasons I gave up over there.

  7. Barry Cunningham

    May 29, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Spend too much time in the non-income producing arena and, well, you won’t produce any income.

    well said

  8. Bill Lublin

    May 29, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Geez Barry – Cut back on the caffeine! Your comments were almost as long as one of mine 🙂

    Matt said he was one of your listeners – doesn’t that mean by definition that He’s part of your demo?

  9. Matthew Rathbun

    May 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm


    Actually I knew that you were more than capable of defending yourself. I think the real strength of these posts is that the opposing view gets heard. I do listen, and as I said I find some value, but I cannot from the lectern promote a radio show that is so antagonistic against agents and Realtors. I still live in a world with politics.

    The interviews are fantastic and well worth the time, but the extra opinions that are sometimes added aren’t worth the flak I’ll get from brokers and managers.

    I don’t discourage the students from listening, but it simply isn’t a recommended tool at this time. My real world advice to students is to gather information and tools, while doing what they can to avoid being insulted, antagonized and suffering more drama that the already existing birth pains of an involving industry.

    I concede that your show has value, but I don’t trust that all agents will decipher drama from knowledge.

    Lastly, Mary McKnight is fantastic at what she does and was not at all who I was referring to in my post. A matter of fact, the interview was not on your show, at all.

    Thanks for brining balance to the post.

  10. Barry Cunningham

    May 29, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Hey Matt.I understand your politics. I misunderstood..I thought you were referring to one of our interviews.

    As for young agents being “being insulted, antagonized and suffering more drama that the already existing birth pains of an involving industry…..I think you are selling your students short. People are …in my opinion, smart enough to understand tough love and the truth vs. insulting and antagonistic “drama”. It’s a real tough world out there and being broke is more pain that enduring “scared straight coaching”.

  11. Mike Farmer

    May 29, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    “I read so many articles on a daily basis about nothing. How to be the master of mastery, without delivering step by step actual direction.”

    I haven’t read these, but perhaps you can point me to them — sounds a lot like something i could get into, sort of Peter Sengeish.

  12. Barry Cunningham

    May 29, 2008 at 6:51 pm


    Not going to do your work for you. they are all over. Pretty easy to find. You won’t have to look too far I’m sure.

    Not going down this path. Time much better spent on worthwhile conversation.

  13. Mike Farmer

    May 29, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    I just asked for a link, but, nevermind. I love topics about mastery — it’s a vital topic in my book. Mastery is what it’s all about. Mastery takes years and it starts with the general — a general decision to master that which one pursues — the motivation to seek excellence.

    Man, I wish I could find those sites. I’ll keep looking. Thanks for the lead anyway.

  14. Mike Farmer

    May 29, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Addition: One thing I didn’t know about mastery, or “knew” wrongly, was I thought it meant dominance over something, a perfection of sorts, but “mastery” really means something very different.

  15. Frank Jewett

    May 29, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Anyone who needs insight into the guru trade should check the coaching group on AR. You’ll find both good, step-by-step advice and plenty of useless platitudes, too.

  16. Mike Farmer

    May 29, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks, Frank, perhaps that will help Barry.

  17. BawldGuy Talking

    May 29, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    This post and the subsequent comments have brightened my day. Thanks to all of you.

  18. Barry Cunningham

    May 29, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Mike, this is someone else’s blog otherwise I would tell you truly to……but somehow I think you do a well enough of a job your self of showing your mettle.

  19. Mike Farmer

    May 29, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Barry, you’ve misconstrued the variables, not to mention how difficult it is to untangle noodles with a plier, but if you consider alternatives then surely you must concede that a proliferation of such is subject to a horrendous outcome. Therefore, in conclusion, I must make the assumption you’ve veered from all associations with the nonce and are now kibbitzing on the cusp. I must say this turn of events is troubling, to say the least, which is welcomed in a world of stentorian rabble.

  20. Matthew Rathbun

    June 2, 2008 at 10:00 am

    I have a pretty good vernacular; but Mike Farmer sends me to on a regular basis 🙂

    Frank: in re: coaching group, Benn and Lani have great visions and I was happy to see you give them props for these training posts. I know I love stumbling on a post with good take aways. As much as I like to read everyone (yes everyone’s) opinion on AG, sometimes even I get tired of constant opinions.

    Somewhere between Barry and Mike’s points on this matter, I think we have a good grasp on what resonates for each of us as truth. Obviously there is value for most at some juncture or they wouldn’t keep on reading!

  21. Faina Sechzer

    June 28, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    There is always a question of investment vs. the outcome. Everything business -oriented we do on the Internet is an evaluation of what would we get for the time or money invested. It applies to writing profound content vs. Google fodder, commenting on other blogs, and, like you suggested, even listening to radio.

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Opinion Editorials

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.



creative artist doodle

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.

Stay Inspired

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.

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Opinion Editorials

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.



Minimal desk with laptop, cup, books, and plant.

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.

#1. Digitally

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.

#2. Slowly

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.

#3. Somewhat

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!

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Opinion Editorials

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.



austin tech talent leaving

“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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