AGBeat is proud to present 2011’s Power Moves in housing, technology, mobile and business as the year of growth and perseverance comes to an end. We’ve covered and followed 2,232 stories this year and have highlighted the top power moves of the year, both positive and negative. In 2011, despite one of the worst economic climates many of us have seen, the winners came out more than on top after strategic power moves including acquisitions, major rounds of funding, talent grabs and explosive growth.
For the second year, we have created the top list of power moves, recognizing the faces in the leadership roles whose power moves were game changers for their industries, some of which we completely disagree with while also showcasing innovation, with the goal of capturing the essence of the top power moves of 2011.
Google redoes everything:
In all of 2011, Google dominated headlines as they launched remodels and rebrands of all of their services into a streamlined suite of products that all work in conjunction with one another, culminating with the release of their social network, Google+. AGBeat covered 304 news stories this year pertaining to Google ranging from the Blogger revamp, algorithm updates, live analytics, Google+ launch and explosive growth, circular ads, ripples, RSS Reader upgrade, and Gmail’s makeover to Google now mapping the great indoors. The company was an undeniable force with 2011 being their biggest year so far. Although thousands of people were involved, Google’s Senior VP of social, Vic Gundotra spearheaded most of the efforts that propelled Google in 2011.
Android becomes the top operating system:
Under the leadership of Google Senior Vice President, Andy Rubin, the company’s mobile operating system, Android, became the leader in 2011, making explosive gains in market share. Rubin’s role in mobile has helped to put the Android operating system into the hands of millions in this year alone. Rubin reported that 3.7 million Android devices were activated on December 24th and 25th, and Android maintains roughly half of the market share of all smartphones while Apple trails at a third.
Facebook explodes in 2011:
2011 was both a very successful year for Facebook yet a tumultuous year, marked with lawsuits. As the social network launched the Timeline feature, transforming the aesthetics and functions of user profiles, they assuaged users into adding personal details from their entire lives dating back to their birth in a brilliant effort to collect even more user data. Facebook updated their native mobile apps to include Timeline and added major functionality that boosted their mobile offering tremendously. Meanwhile, they were the subject of several lawsuits including a suit lodged by Timelines.com alleging Facebook’s feature threatens their business, a user sued for invasion of privacy, the company caught heat for creating shadow profiles on users that were not yet signed up for the network, and a FTC probe was requested to investigate Facebook for tracking user behavior across the web, even while logged out.
AOL goes on a shopping spree:
In 2011, under AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, the company bought up several web properties including notable tech blog, TechCrunch.com as well as the famous Huffington Post network of blogs. Arianna Huffington was brought on to run all editorial at AOL including Tech Crunch and AOL Real Estate is rumored to soon be absorbed by the Huffington Post. The main impact the acquisitions had was the public implosion of Tech Crunch which has now lost their strongest talent and original staff, all of whom left publicly and made no bones about the back room deals that several said had threatened their integrity and careers. AOL’s power play did not come without consequences, but buying such large web properties is a power play that will serve them well in the long run.
Kindle Fire fills the Apple void:
As the answer to the Apple iPad, Amazon released the Kindle Fire in 2011, complete with the incredible cloud-based browser, Amazon Silk. Although created as a smaller, more portable tablet to meet the demand for a product between a smartphone and a full sized tablet, Amazon Kindle has reportedly pushed Apple to reconsider their position, as rumors of a mini-iPad are swirling. The Kindle Fire is only $199, far less expensive than the iPad, with many saying the profit on the actual device is extremely low as Amazon hopes to enrich their ecosystem of songs, books and apps for sale which is where the true profit lies. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been a very public and enthusiastic face on this game changing device.
Apple iPhone, iPad 2 outsells all:
Despite Android powering so many smartphone models and offering the most popular operating system, the iPhone continues to sell more than any other single type of smartphone while the iPad 2 continues to outsell all single tablet models. Apple did not introduce the iPhone 5 in 2011 after coming out with the iPhone 4S months late, having made few adjustments which many believed would hurt the company, but they remain the top tech company with the highest profits and their power play for 2011 is not Steve Jobs joining the afterlife, but in their outselling everyone even without releasing a legitimately new product this year.
REP. LAMAR SMITH
SOPA splits the tech world:
H.R.3261, the Stop Online Privacy Act has split the tech world as supporters lament rampant, blatant copyright violations across the web as critics note passage of the bill would do little more than stifle free speech and destruct the nature of sharing online. Sponsored by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and co-sponsored by 16 Republican Representatives (King, Carter, and Blackburn) and 16 Democrat Representatives (Wasserman Schultz and Conyers), the bill has only been introduced and not yet passed in the House or Senate, but threatens to change the rights of all content providers, as well as internet users. Count on the House’s 2011 power move to be big news in 2012 as well.
Gilt Groupe went global, proved niche:
New York startup, Gilt Groupe is a free, invitation-only e-commerce site offering luxury lifestyle brands at sample prices, proving the value of the classic “insiders” network. The private company’s most recent valuation was $1 billion, receiving $236 million in funding so far under CEO and Founder, Kevin Ryan’s leadership. The company went global in 2011 after adding a variety of high profile executives to their roster. They acquired Decorati and BuyWithMe and launched home focused retail alongside men-focused retail. Their power grab in 2011 was undeniable as they snatched up funding and acquisitions.
KEVIN SYSTROM & MIKE KRIEGER
Instagram popularizes photo sharing:
San Francisco startup, Instagram is a free photo sharing application wherein users take photos with their iPhone, apply a filter or special effect and share it through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, Posterous and even Flickr. Originally popular with the hipster crowd, Instagram’s power move for 2011 was a $7 million round of funding from names like Jack Dorsey and Baseline Ventures and going mainstream with 14 million downloads as of December. The app is known as an homage to Polaroid cameras and in 2011 popularized photo sharing in a way that not even Flickr or Twitter has not been able to.
Houzz hits the ground running:
Houzz is a community built around home design fanatics, claiming the largest collection of high quality home design photos online with over 10,000 design professionals’ portfolios uploaded with over 60,000 photos in their database and growing. Houzz made a major power move in 2011 not only with their impressive $11.6 million round of funding from high profile backers like Sequoia Capital, but by showcasing the potential and power of niche-specific communities.
Under co-founders Evan Sharp, Paul Sciarra, Ben Silbermann:
Pinterest’s pockets exploded in 2011 as their valuation of roughly $200 million netted two huge rounds of funding – $10 million in May and another $27 million in October. The invitation-only photo sharing site experienced skyrocketing traffic in 2011 and is one of the top tech brands of the year with users evangelizing for the company very much like the first Twitter users enthusiastically evangelized. Users are spending an exorbitant amount of time on the site and visits have increased 4,000 percent in the second half of 2011. No other company grew quite the way Pinterest did in 2011 which is why they appear in the Genius50.
Klout goes mainstream:
Klout measures influence across the web which has been critical in a year when social proof became the name of the digital marketing game and companies obsessed over the scores they had, along with how their employees and even potential employees were ranked. The company came under fire this year for overstepping privacy bounds and creating ghost accounts for future users, even minors. Some question the accuracy of the scoring mechanism and a movement began late in 2011 by users encouraging others to delete their Klout profiles. Despite all of the negative attention, 2011 is the year CEO Joe Fernandez led Klout to their biggest round of funding ($8.5 million) and became a household name for the marketing industry.
Path proves demand for privacy, rejects a $100 million offer:
Mobile social sharing app, Path proved in 2011 that despite the theory that all people should share everything openly (like Facebook advocates), some demographics are simply not ready for social sharing public, or are early adopters and have tired of the demand for transparency. Because Path is limited to 150 connections and is a more gorgeous version of Twitter + Facebook + Instagram + Foursquare that only allows your small network to see your updates, the success and $8.65 million round of funding received in 2011 has the tech world drooling over Path. The true power move made by Path in 2011, however, is their rejection of Google’s offer to buy them for over $100 million under CEO, Dave Morin’s leadership.
HomeAway files $230M IPO:
Rental search company, Homeaway, whose portfolio also includes VRBO.com, BedAndBreakfast.com and VacationRentals.com went IPO for $230 million this year and came as a major power play given that they had $504 million through various rounds of funding, nearly six times the amount of real estate search site Zillow which went public this year as well. HomeAway’s headquarters are custom built in prime real estate in downtown Austin, diagonal from Whole Food’s headquarters and have become well known for their acquiring their competitors over the years, including Second Porch in 2011 for $3 million. Despite impressive funding and acquisitions, HomeAway’s power play for the year was going public in a big way.
AirBnB sees $112M in funding:
AirBnB CEO and Co-Founder, Brian Chesky led his team to a massive round of funding in 2011 to the tune of $112 million, well over what many companies see in their entire existence. Starting off as a Y Combinator backed company with an initial investment of $20,000, the company was quickly seeded by Sequoia Capital and others for $600k in 2009 and ultimately funded in 2010 by Ashton Kutcher, Greylock Partners and others. The company was a model for how to handle bad press as a user came forward after her rental was robbed and destroyed, after which, AirBnB was publicly apologetic and took steps to insure rentals and circumvent future problems. In 2011, AirBnB made a power grab not only financially but by not letting their name get drug through the mud.
Move partners with AOL:
Early in 2011, Move, Inc., operator of companies Realtor.com and Top Producer, partnered with AOL to be the provider for the AOL Real Estate network to distribute real estate listings. In 2010, real estate search companies rushed to have their listings syndicated on major news sites and in 2011, we watched these partnerships boost each others’ traffic and Move’s partnership with AOL was well timed as AOL itself is growing, having made major acquisitions in 2011 and regaining relevance. Move’s CEO, Steve Berkowitz made this power move in a measured, paced way without rushing to the race.
Move acquires SocialBios:
In a strategic power move, Move bought social search platform, SocialBios not only for its ability to create a single social hub for online profiles and creation of an interactive “about” page, but for the company’s talent which was likely used to strengthen Move’s secretive lead generation product, Move Cycle which quietly launched at the annual National Association of Realtors convention. Move’s Chief Revenue Officer, Errol Samuelson has been a public face for Move’s aggressive 2011 expansion, which makes him notable for this power move.
Top Producer CRM in HTML5:
Move’s Top Producer (customer relationship management software) has long been dismissed by the early adopter tech snob crowd, but in 2011, under Move’s Chief Revenue Officer, Errol Samuelson’s leadership, Top Producer launched a new beta version built on HTML 5, built to function and appear miles ahead of their competitors as the first HTML 5 CRM in real estate. Top Producer now offers innovative features like “contextual coaching” which sends automatic follow up reminders along with tips, swipe navigation to expedite the work flow, analysis of the contact “pipeline,” with prompts to reach out or follow up and more. This update went overlooked by much of the industry, but as more people get their hands on the product, the company will receive more buzz.
CoreLogic calls out NAR data:
CoreLogic’s President and CEO, Anand Nallathambi picked a classic David versus Goliath fight so big that it shook all of housing. In early 2011, CoreLogic publicly stated that the National Association of Realtors had overstated sales by 15 to 20 percent, with the implication being that inaccurate reporting was tantamount to lying to the public that counts on their statistics reporting (namely companies using the data to hire or fire employees). NAR responded by saying that CoreLogic’s data “comes from courthouse recordings. It makes some assumptions about non-covered areas” and stated they were waiting on the most recent U.S. Census data in order to perform benchmarking which is common for statistics reporting as are revisions. The CoreLogic standing up to NAR was not the power move, it was pushing for their face to be the reason NAR had to revise their data, even though the Association was in the process anyhow – it was a risky yet brilliant public relations power move.
CoreLogic changes credit scoring forever:
One of the most overlooked stories of the year was CoreLogic’s announcement that they have partnered with the major credit agencies to be the information provider that gives lenders the equivalent of a second credit score for all Americans which includes previously unreported data like utility bills, property tax liens, child support, whether borrowers are underwater on a home, have taken a payday loan and rumors that cell phone bills and the like will eventually be included. Borrowers that were once off of the grid will now be on the grid, and high scoring consumers may be hiding behind other dings. Some believe this levels the playing field, while others fear that borrowing in 2012 will be dramatically different with new scoring in light of tight lending. CoreLogic’s power move is in partnering with credit agencies to provide a shadow credit score with all of the millions of data points they have accumulated, launching them to superstar status overnight, even if some do not like this move.
CoreLogic wins patent suit:
Like many major companies, CoreLogic was the subject of a patent troll, but rather than roll over and settle to avoid being drained of millions, CoreLogic fought back against CollegeNET who CoreLogic’s MarketLinx CEO, Ben Graboske said evidence was on their side and a judge agreed. CoreLogic is an information provider, best known in the real estate industry for powering several multiple listing services across the nation. CollegeNET initially alleged violation of their patent on computer software that sends automatic notifications when newly entered data matches pre-defined search criteria. CoreLogic argued that CollegeNET’s patented system had been disclosed publicly prior to the date of their patent application, which led to a motion for summary judgment, declaring CollegeNET’s patent invalid, terminating the case prior to going to trial. CoreLogic’s power play is in not taking the standard path of settling.
Folk hero born by foreclosing on his bank:
Early in 2011, a long haired industrial music promoter who goes only by Patrick became the face of the disenfranchised homeowners that tired of big bank abuses. Patrick took advantage of a loophole in RESPA that allowed for his foreclosing upon his local Wells Fargo bank after they did not respond to his requests for information about new, inexplicable fees mounting on his mortgage. With his win, he became a folk hero and others followed in his footsteps from the homeowner who won a $21 million lawsuit against his lender, the dozens of military homeowners who sued banks for violating SCRA that protects them from foreclosure while serving abroad, the Realtor who never made a late payment yet got foreclosure papers anyhow, the couple who fought back for being foreclosed upon over a missing dollar on their account and the owners who showed up at their local Bank of America branch with the Sherrif to foreclose on the branch, and the Hurricane Ike victim whose mortgage payments were never late despite his home being flattened yet was being foreclosed upon. Patrick’s gutsy move did not cause a nation to fight back, but it was a highly visible part of homeowners standing up to bank abuses.
CAR launches agent ratings:
California Association of Realtors’ CEO, Joel Singer and the team pushed forward with a pilot program to offer Realtor Ratings on all members in the spirit of transparency, but rather than a third party company coming in and giving arbitrary scores to agents, the association took control and gave control to brokers and members who can opt in and out of the publicly available metrics. The Houston Association of Realtors boldly tried a ratings program, but members rejected the move, and Redfin gave national ratings a shot but pulled the program within its first week, while CAR’s pilot with select brokers has worked. CAR’s power move has emboldened others to try offering ratings while given a roadmap for how to give transparency that is fair.
NAR launches RPPSI
2011 was a huge year for the National Association of Realtors whose biggest move was to raise dues by 50 percent to pay for the new Realtor Party Political Survival Initiative (RPPSI) which uses national dues to give local associations the talent, bandwidth and power of the national association. Because the branding of the RPPSI was poorly packaged initially and local associations and members have had to be sold on the value proposition, RPPSI has been set back more than necessary, but as the Initiative sees more successes like their partnership with the Louisiana Association of Realtors which mobilized agents and voters to win a major real estate tax transfer battle, RPPSI will be seen as a necessary tool rather than a $40 ankle weight.
NAR committee makes major IDX decisions:
Pat Callan is the Chairman of the National Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listings Issues and Policies Committee which voted at the fall NAR convention to rescind the franchiser IDX policy by a large margin. Additionally, the MLS committee approved the concepts developed by the NAR IDX Presidential Advisory Group but without RSS feeds, allowing for a broker opt out for social media IDX. The rules for the IDX PAG will be crafted by a work group to be presented in May at the NAR Mid-Year conference for adoption. The industry is struggling with how to control listings and information and rules made at the MLS level have a major impact on how real estate is presented online.
FDIC’s high profile lawsuits clean house:
Under acting Chairman Martin Gruenberg, the FDIC cleaned house in 2011, launching several high profile lawsuits. First, the FDIC filed a civil lawsuit against three Washington Mutual executives for $900 million, accusing them of neglicence for their roles in creating and executing the bank’s reckless lending prior to the bank’s collapse in 2008. Then, the FDIC went after Lender Processing Services for $154.5 million for their role in millions in losses at WaMu due in part to false affadavits filed (also known as robo-signing), simultaneously filing suit against CoreLogic’s eAppraiseIT unit for $129 million for similar charges. This summer, former IndyMac CEO was sued personally by FDIC for an astonishing $600 million. Some feared the departure of former Chairman Sheila Bair would weaken the agency, but the FDIC has been strong on pursuing abuses and not hiding behind the banks, rather going after specific people for their roles in the housing and economic crash.
Beazer bucks trends:
In 2011, while executives across the country were given big bonuses despite poor economic conditions and poor company performance, American home builder Beazer’s Board of Directors rejected the concept and cut executive bonuses under the leadership of Chairman Brian Beazer himself. In the past, we’ve seen builders continue to reward executives while the companies fail and often the Board of Directors makes the decision and is usually headed by the CEO or another executive that would benefit. The company also made a power move by getting creative, opening a new division dedicated to buying resale houses that it will in turn rent out. Their plan is to buy homes that are in short sale or foreclosed to receive a price break, starting in Phoenix with homes built after 2004. The company even ousted their long time CEO to get the company back on track. Beazer chose to buck the national trends of big bonuses and business as usual and got experimental while many others sat idly by watching business deteriorate.
Posterous targets ActiveRain:
Recently, real estate blogging platform, ActiveRain.com (AR) disillusioned many of its users as it began charging for use in spite of a promise to grandfather in early users. Seeing a growing weak point at AR, free blogging platform Posterous.com stepped up and directly invited ActiveRain users to switch and even made it easy to import AR content – many switched and took to blogging on Posterous rather than pay for AR or stick around for future changes. We polled our readers, a majority of whom supported users switching. The move to directly take on AR was gutsy and was a respectable power move.
NWMLS bans QR codes:
With the rise of QR codes being used in marketing, questions came up in 2011 including security of QR codes, which the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) took seriously and became the first real estate group to ban the use of QR codes on real estate listings on the MLS, so users can no longer upload a QR code in place of a listing photo. Under Rule 10(i) of the NWMLS, advertising is prohibited in listing data, and QR codes constitute advertising. Some bucked the ruling as uninformed but the power move made a huge impact on the area and stifled agents’ push to bend the rules.
Vertical Response acquires Roost:
Self-service direct marketing company, Vertical Response which targets small to medium businesses, acquired social media marketing technology company, Roost.com in 2011. “This is the first acquisition for VerticalResponse in the nearly 11 years we’ve been in business, so it’s a truly exciting time for us,” said Janine Popick, VerticalResponse CEO. Roost makes Vertical Response social in a way that makes them easily tower over their competitors and poises them for an extremely strong and distruptive 2012.
Hotpads first to Honeycomb:
With the release of the first Android tablets in 2011, the race was on for which companies would be the first to offer an app on the Honeycomb operating system. In the real estate search race, underdog HotPads.com won, months before any of their competitors, with a major push from Co-Founder and COO, Douglas Pope. HotPads said they brought the Android tablet (Honeycomb) app to market because they “believe finding a new place is inherently a ‘mobile’ adventure. Naturally, we want to make sure home shoppers have the ultimate freedom to take their personalized search on the go, no matter what mobile device they use.”
DotLoop blows up:
Young CEO, Austin Allison led DotLoop into a boom year despite a wrecked economy and shrinking Realtor base. The company announced a free “lite” version of their product and partnered with EXIT Realty to form the first “brand wide” offer-to-close” solution, reaching 1,000,000 signatures across 700 cities by 80,000 agents. More national partnerships are expected in 2012 and earned a 40 percent tax credit incentive from the City of Cincinnati, the company opened large urban offices to prepare for a doubling in their staff in the coming year. Allison was named in Forbes’ 30 under 30 and the company has become one of the top real estate industry stars of 2011 making several power moves and asserting they will make even more in short order.
WRA braves member boycott:
A self-proclaimed “progressive” Wisconsin group named itself “Real Estate Professionals for a Better Wisconsin (REPBW),” launched a boycott against the Wisconsin Realtors’ Association (WRA) for their support of Governor Walker which months prior to the REPBW revolt was unanimously supported by the WRA board and WRA committees that decide endorsements of political platforms and their candidates. Because the REPBW was a fringe minority, the WRA under the leadership of long-time President, Bill Malkasian refused to bend to the vocal group and rather than give the boycott a knee-jerk reaction, the team allowed it to run its course which quite deflated the movement. Malkasian is now the VP of Strategic Political Planning at the National Association of Realtors for his ability to handle complexities like the WRA boycott.
Nestio launches, grows, gets funded:
Co-Founder and CEO, Caren Maio led apartment search and bookmarking site, Nestio to a $750k round of Angel funding with a breakout year having gone from a small site to a national search tool with impressive partnerships with the likes of eBay and NakedApartments. Nestio’s power move was not just their growth and funding but in their not selling out like real estate search and bookmarking tool Dwellicious did for an undisclosed amount in 2011. We anticipate 2012 to be an even bigger growth year for Nestio as it streamlines apartment hunting, compares units side by side and offers bookmarking across other search sites.
Zillow files IPO, Move boosts value:
This spring, the long awaited SEC filing for IPO was filed by Zillow with an original stock price of $12 to $14 projected, amending the price to $16 to $18 and ultimately launching at $20 per share. While going IPO is a huge power play, the quiet power grab that was swept under the rug was Move, Inc.’s bringing Zillow into the ListHub fold during Zillow’s quiet period wherein Move announced the partnership as Zillow was restricted in what they could say while they awaited the SEC to approve their bid for IPO. The agreement improved Zillow’s volume and accuracy of listings, with ListHub owner, Move, Inc. essentially giving Zillow a boost just as they were going public.
Zillow powers AOL’s mortgage search:
Although Move, Inc. is AOL’s partner for real estate listing syndication and Realtor.com powers all real estate search across the AOL network, AOL selected Zillow’s Mortgage Marketplace to power their mortgage search likely due to the disorganization at Move’s Mortgage Match. This was a huge power play for Zillow as they stepped into a role that otherwise would have gone to their competitor, and helps the company strengthen their mortgage marketplace cash cow.
Zillow acquires Diverse Solutions:
After acquiring Postlets.com and making it free to all Zillow users this year, Zillow acquired IDX provider, Diverse Solutions which helps Zillow approach their goal of being a “total addressable market as a technology platform for agents.” While most believe the acquisition is an agent-centric move, it is much deeper than that – our sources note that the acquisition came with over 100 direct broker feeds, and with direct feeds, Zillow could further improve data accuracy and reduce their reliance or need to pay for third party listing syndication (like ListHub). Our sources tell us that Zillow has already inquired as to how they can further utilize the direct feeds from Diverse Solutions. This acquisition was a huge move for 2011 that most saw only as a marketing tool for Zillow, but it is so much more – the results of the acquisition and potential use of the direct feeds will most likely be seen in 2012.
Rise of the American squatter:
Kenneth Robinson upset a Dallas neighborhood by walking into an abandoned $330,000 home, filing a paper for adverse posession with the county, and refusing to leave, saying he was the rightful owner, leaving police and officials powerless. Robinson became the face of adverse possession this year and our inboxes were flooded with consumers asking how they could walk into a luxury home abandoned by the owner under a now defunct bank. A former Florida mayoral candidate formed a non-profit organization to match people with vacant homes, and in North Carolina, a pair of men claimed religious sovereignty over a vacant home, presenting a deed to the home to officials. The situations are confusing for most people, but in states where squatting for several years with the bank or original owner not claiming the home, they may actually get the home by simply paying property taxes during their stay. We anticipate squatting will become even more prevalent in 2012 as more consumers discover the loophole.
ForSaleByOwner.com founder gives up, uses Realtor:
In what many believe to be the top story of 2011, ForSaleByOwner.com founder and former CEO Colby Sambrotto gave up on listing his New York home on his own and through his site, ultimately resorting to hiring a real estate agent. New York broker Jesse Buckler immediately advised a price change, leading to attracting multiple offers, closing for $150,000 over the original asking price. The listing sold for $2.15 million including a 6% commission. Buckler’s power move was not only netting the most notable real estate client of the year, but in fetching far over the asking price.
Inman usurps sponsor partner’s talent:
In 2010, Move launched TechSavvyAgent.com with the fresh faced product marketer, Chris Smith as their headliner which showed great promise as being an influential blog in the industry. Move has long subsidized Inman News conferences and their supporting blog, and in 2011 sent Smith on the road with Inman’s Agent Reboot traveling road show which was advertised via the extensive Top Producer and Realtor.com emailing lists in an effort to promote the visibility of the TechSavvyAgent blog. In response to the free city by city email marketing of the conference and years of financial support, not to mention the star power Move created for the Agent Reboot conference, Inman repaid Move by usurping Chris Smith to become their new Chief Evangelist. Neither company wants to publicly admit that the transition was heated, but our sources at Move and Inman tell us it was a contentious transition, despite appearances.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
Obama’s executive order on housing:
In a year filled with threats to banks from President Obama, his notable power play was bypassing the House and Senate and issuing an executive order aimed at repairing housing in the form of a revamp to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) in hopes that the colossal failure of a program could be repaired and save housing. Supporters note the move has bipartisan support while critics point out the extremely marginal relief HARP could bring to the economy. Regardless of the outcome, Obama’s executive order was unquestionably a top power move for the year in housing.
Keller Williams to go global:
Late in 2011, Keller Williams announced they were exploring franchise locations in Singapore for an international real estate launch in 2012, saying that over the next ten years, they plan to grow overseas by 75,000 associates, citing momentum with their model as the reason. Already the second largest real estate company in America with over 80,000 associates, the global growth would double their size. These early days of such a large expansion make for a top power move of this year.
JIM C. HODGE
HUD sues Allied, Allied sues back:
As with many mortgage companies in America, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) government agency is investigating Allied Home Mortgage Corporation, suspending the company’s ability to originate FHA loans while under investigation. Allied CEO Jim Hodge and his team opted to fight back, launching a landmark lawsuit against HUD, claiming the agency had not proven any wrongdoing and that by freezing their ability to originate FHA loans, 90 percent of their business would be destroyed and they would have to lay off most of their staff. A judge agreed with Allied and granted an injunction against HUD, allowing Allied to continue originating while under investigation. The company is not in the clear, but their power move was fighting back against HUD who has not proven guilt.
Homeowner sues MLS and brokers:
Homeowner Thomas Logue made a massive power move this year by settling a class action lawsuit for $2.4 million against West Penn Multilist Inc., Howard Hanna Real Estate, Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Freeman Realty, Northwood Realty and Prudential Preferred Realty, claiming they violated anti-trust laws by blocking discount brokerages, saying they conspired to keep broker commissions artificially high by limiting competition among companies, keeping rival businesses from effectively marketing properties, blocking discount brokers from listing in the MLS, causing him to pay more than was necessary to list his home in 2006. The settlement granted Logue a minimal amount of money while paying his lawyers a hefty $1 million, but Logue is hailed by advocates as a trailblazer willing to stand up for competition in the marketplace when he could have cut his losses and walked away long ago.
Windermere spins off tech company for all agents to use:
Windermere Real Estate spun off a tech company in late 2011, Windermere Solutions, built to create products that strengthen “the relationship between agents and brokers,” launching their first product, Agent Websites which was first made available to Windermere Real Estate’s 7,000 agents, then launched publicly to all Realtors in an effort to help agents be as tech-savvy as empowered consumers are coming to expect them to be. The spinoff is a power move as it breaks the mold of the preferred vendor pay-to-play model big box brokers subject their agents to. Windermere has offered a brand-agnostic solution, backed by a talented tech team as well as industry insiders that know the needs of practicing agents.
Trulia hires high profile talent leading up to IPO:
In addition to expanding through partnerships and app launches, Trulia added two high caliber senior management hires this year, Sean Aggarwal as the new Chief Financial Officer and Scott Darling as General Counsel, both of whom have experience in scaling companies, signaling preparations for going public. We have long predicted that Trulia will go public and with these two appointments as Trulia’s 2011 power move, it appears the company is on the verge of filing with the SEC, most likely in the first quarter, possibly in the coming weeks.
Brookfield Residential Property Services buys Prudential:
Having already acquired Real Living and GMAC Real Estate, Brookfield Residential Property Services made a major power play by buying up Prudential Financial Inc.’s real estate brokerage and relocation business for $110 million, making Brookfield the second largest global relocation operation and third largest residential real estate brokerage in North America. Prudential franchisees will be allowed to use the Prudential name until the expiration of their franchise agreement. According to their SEC filing, as of the end of the third quarter, Prudential’s real estate brokerage and relocation business had a net book value of roughly $25 million. Brookfield Asset Management says they manage roughly $150 billion, with interests in residential and commercial property, along with energy holdings and infrastructure projects.
CIVIX launches another round of patent lawsuits:
CIVIX has a patent on “systems and methods for remotely accessing a selected group of items from a database” aka web search relying on geo-location. The company already settled with Realtor.com and the National Association of Realtors, and set their sights on Trulia in 2011, demanding a trial by jury against Trulia for allegedly infringing the CIVIX patent which we noted appears to be a predatory power move, likely counting on Trulia settling quickly as they gear up to go public in the coming year and are less likely to fight than a company not about to be under investors’ microscopes.
Smarter Agent sues more companies over patent:
Named a game changer in 2010, Smarter Agent launched more patent lawsuits in their power grab, this year filing against Goomzee, Diverse Solutions, Market Leader, ForSaleByOwner.com, Hillside Software, MobileRealtyApps.com (StreetEasy), Kurio, and Terrostart Technology Solutions, alleging patent infringement, asking for injunctive relief and monetary damages. Smarter Agent is suing based on their ownership of the patent for “global positioning-based real estate database access device and method,” “position based information access device and method” and “position based information access device and method of searching.” In other words, anyone using a mobile app wherein real estate is searched, Smarter Agent will likely sue for infringement of their overly broad patent which some say is an alternative business model to innovating or providing a service.
JUDGE DENNIS BLACKMON
Judge chastises US Bank:
When a homeowner alleged his application for a loan modification through U.S. Bank was denied without reason, rather than dismiss the case as most judges are wont to do, Judge Dennis Blackmon admonished the bank. “This court cannot imagine why U.S. Bank will not make known to [the homeowner], a taxpayer, how his numbers put him outside the federal guidelines to receive a loan modification. Taking $20 billion of taxpayer money was no problem for U.S. Bank. A cynical judge might believe that this entire motion to dismiss is a desperate attempt to avoid a discovery period, where U.S. Bank would have to tell [the homeowner] how his financial situation did not qualify him for a modification. Maybe U.S. Bank no longer has any of the $20 billion left, and so their lack of written explanation might be attributed to some kind of ink reduction program to save money.” Seeing case after case like this and deeming U.S. Bank as “poorly run,” Blackmon opined, “Sometimes, only the courts of law stand to protect the taxpayer. Somewhere, someone has to stand up. Well, sometimes is now, and the place is the Great State of Georgia. The defendant’s motion to dismiss is hereby denied.” Standing up for the people has made Blackmon one of 2011’s top folk heroes.
This list was published in no particular order.
How to effectively share negative thoughts with your business partner
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You and your business partner(s) are in a close relationship, and just like a marriage, negative emotions may play a role in the relationship.
You and your business partner are in a relationship. Your business was born when you shared a common vision of the future and became giddy from the prospect of all you could do together that you couldn’t do alone. Now, you spend much of the day doing things together in collaboration. The stakes are high; there are obstacles to overcome, decisions to make together, deadlines to meet, and all the stresses of running a business.
It’s no wonder a business partnership can often be just as complicated and emotional as a romantic relationship. If you are struggling with your business partner, you might find helpful advice in resources originally targeted towards troubled couples.
Relationship expert Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein has explored how to share “toxic thoughts” with your partner. In a linked article, Bernstein describes toxic thoughts as distortions of the truth that cause us to overemphasize the negative attributes of our partner.
Some examples of toxic thoughts include blaming your partner for larger problems that aren’t really their fault, inaccurately assuming your partners intentions, or resenting your partner for not intuiting your needs, even if you haven’t expressed them. The defining characteristic of these toxic thoughts is that, although they may be based in the truth, they are generally exaggerations of reality, reflecting our own stresses and insecurities.
Just as much as in a love relationship, these toxic thoughts could easily strain a business partnership. If you find yourself having toxic thoughts about your business partner, you will need to decide whether to hold your tongue, or have a potentially difficult conversation. Even when we remain quiet about our frustrations, they are easily felt in the awkward atmosphere of interpersonal tension and passive aggressive slights that results.
Dr. Bernstein points out that being honest about your toxic thoughts with your partner can help increase understanding and intimacy. It also gives your partner a chance to share their toxic thoughts with you, so you’d better be ready to take what you dish out. It might be hard to talk about our frustrations with each other so candidly, but it might also be the most straightforward way to resolve them.
Then again, Bernstein points out, some people prefer to work through their toxic thoughts alone. By his own definition, toxic thoughts are unfair exaggerations of and assumptions about our partner’s behavior. If you find yourself jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, or blaming your partner for imagined catastrophes, perhaps you’d better take a few minutes to calm down and consider whether or not it’s worth picking a fight about. Then again, if you’re self-aware enough to realize that you are exaggerating the truth, you can probably also tease out the real roots of any tension you’ve been experiencing with your business partner.
If you are going to get personal, shoulder your own emotional baggage and try to approach your partner with equal parts honesty and diplomacy. Avoid insults, stay optimistic, and focus on solutions. State your own feelings and ask questions, rather than airing your assumptions about their intentions or behaviors. Keep your toxic thoughts to yourself, and work towards adjusting the behaviors that are making you feel negatively towards each other. Your business might depend on it.
Zen, please: Demand for mental health services surges during pandemic
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) 2020 has been an exceptionally hard year for many on a mental front. How has COVID-19 changed the mental health landscape?
As the pandemic stretches on, it continues to affect everything from jobs to plastic bags, but one major shift has come with mental health. According to the National Council for Mental Health, while demand for mental health services is up 52%, the capacity of mental health organizations have actually diminished. So…what does this mean?
Mental health startups get a boost
From tele-health to mindfulness apps, venture capital investments for mental health startups have already surpassed what was earned in 2019. And it makes sense; as more people are isolated for long stretches of time, there has become a greater demand for digital mental wellness services.
With COVID-19 predicted to spike again in the coming months, combined with shorter spans of daylight and less welcoming weather, the desire for these sorts of businesses isn’t likely to fade. If you have an idea for a neat app or website to help with mental well-being in some way, now is prime time to release it.
Companies increase mental health options
As the pandemic rages on, many companies have started to partner with mental health solutions for their employees. For instance, Starbucks has started offering free therapy sessions to employees through the mental wellness provider Lyra, and Zoom began to offer mental health seminars.
Of course, while smaller companies might not have the means to provide specific therapy, many companies have gotten creative with how they’re looking out for employees’ mental and emotional well-being. From providing virtual meditation sessions, to increasing self-managed leave, to connecting employees through book clubs or happy hours, there are a variety of ways that any company can help employees manage their psyche during these difficult times.
Resources are more accessible
Although therapy and similar apps do cost money (many apps include a monthly fee for the services provided), there are plenty of low cost alternatives available for those having a hard time. For example, many sites are offering free trials to services. There are also plenty of free or low-cost apps available to help you do anything from track your moods to manage your breathing. Or check out YouTube for videos to help with yoga or meditation.
While these resources are not a replacement for medication or talk therapy, they can help mediate some of the increased strain on our mental state that many of us are feeling right now.
In case of an emergency, there is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available by phone call or chat 24 hours a day. If you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
The success of your business could be tied to your succession plan
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You can’t spell ‘successor’ without success. In the age of COVID-19, are the two mutually exclusive to your ventures?
“Heir” is a weighty term. A fun pun, to be sure, through the beauty of English homophones. But seriously, unless you’re already 10% and up rich, talk of heirs and succession does connote a certain heaviness you may not be used to.
For those choosing successors, it’s the heaviness of accepting mortality. For the potential promotees, it’s the heaviness of accepting a multitude of responsibilities. Or buying ear poison. Either way.
We expect to deal with familial succession. As eldest (assuming he doesn’t outlive me), I’m in charge of flinging Dad’s ashes into a nicer section of the ocean and distributing all of his Cosby sweaters amongst the sibs, and I take the role very seriously.
As a serial-small-business employee though, I’ve only just started wondering what would happen if my boss died. Of all the ‘lose your job’ scenarios I’ve had waking nightmares about, that one in particular only cropped up for me a year ago. And now, with the coronavirus taking up our attention, more business owners than usual might be wondering the same thing from the other side of the desk.
What’s going to happen to my employees if I’m too sick to work? Have I set things up so that this company can survive past me? Does at least one other person know the combination to the safes?
If your business is big enough to have employees and advisors on deck, these are questions you need to have answered… Preferably in written, notarized form to ensure smooth succession.
So where should you start? Probably with a good talk.
If you have a next-in-command standing ready, but don’t have a plan yet, let them know that if the inevitable happens sooner rather than later, that you’d like them to step in. A frank conversation about their future with your brand, and actually asking them if they feel up to taking the reins is a great place to start. Otherwise, consider your network— who you might sell the business to, and who might know someone who knows someone.
P.S. If your VP says they’d rather run off and sail the world if you got hit by an asteroid next week, please don’t hold it against them.
We all know that ghosts stick around because they’ve got unfinished business, right? Don’t let your literal business be the shade that haunts your team! Take a deep breath and get the ball rolling on THIS side of the dirt… Ouija boards can only do so much.
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