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Op/Ed

12 pointed questions for Zillow’s Errol Samuelson

Errol Samuelson abruptly left Move, Inc. this month for competitor Zillow, and several tough questions remain in the wake of his departure.

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errol samuelson zillow

Earlier this month, Zillow announced that Errol Samuelson, former president of realtor.com and Chief Strategy Officer at Move, Inc. became their new Chief Industry Development Officer to direct the company’s relations with the industry. Move quickly promoted Samuelson’s number two, Curt Beardsley to fill his shoes, and days later, it was announced that Beardsley too, had converted to Zillow-ism. Both figures left on the heels of Trulia announcing that they had recruited John Whitney, the VP of ListHub (a Move company) to shore up their listing accuracy.

Some called the poaching a blow, others cited Move’s opportunity to bring in some new blood. Brad Inman, founder of Inman News recently sat down with Samuelson to discuss his exit, and we gained insight into Zillow’s culture. While we have tremendous respect for Inman and the paths he has paved for the industry, the video interview left us wanting more. Much more.

Prior to the publication of the video interview, we reached out to Samuelson, offering to tell his side of the story, even inviting him to do a video interview with our CEO who he has met with and spoken with in the past. He politely declined, citing that “right now I’m heads down with the team here in Seattle, putting together our plans for the next 6 months.”

Although our invitation stands, it may be because he knows that our policy is to not offer questions in advance, to never softball an interview, and to focus on the facts, that the interview was declined. For this reason, we were left wanting more. Much more.

12 questions remain for Errol Samuelson

Because we consider ourselves watchdogs for the Realtor membership and feel it fair that he answer to questions that impact not only Realtor-owned Realtor.com, but the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and their members. In that spirit, we have no choice but to ask these questions here.

  1. Why did you erase all memory from the iPhone, iPad, and laptop issued to you for business purposes by Move?
  2. Why didn’t you give the standard two week’s notice?
  3. Why did you resign by contacting the human resources department on a day that everyone knew your CEO would be in investor meetings and completely unavailable for the duration of the work day? Why didn’t you attend your scheduled 2013 review the next day with Steve Berkowitz and resign in person?
  4. When Berkowitz contacted you upon learning of your resignation, he asked only one thing – that you give him 24 hours before the announcement of your leaving goes public (we assume so he could finish his meeting and have his team mobilized to respond). You declined and the announcement went out just minutes later. Why wasn’t this request honored?
  5. How many Move employees did you contact after you had already left for Zillow? What was the context of those conversations?
  6. Why didn’t Curt Beardsley, your number two, leave at the same time as you?
  7. How do you feel about your actions (wiping hard drives, going to a competitor without notice) potentially impacting how Move will likely analyze Beardsley’s exit? Doesn’t this put Beardsley in an awkward position?
  8. Berkowitz noted that you were always one of the most outspoken critics of Realtor.com competitors, and to see that change overnight is like a Republican becoming Democrat with no explanation. How do you respond?
  9. In your interview with Inman, you allude to constraints at Move. Can you expound on those constraints?
  10. Were the constraints because of the company, or because in the past three years, a $90 million marketing budget was taken out of your hands, and you were stripped of involvement in day to day operations, leaving you as somewhat of a figurehead with tied hands? Is that the real reason you resigned?
  11. Zillow launched as the anti-Realtor.com, so why do you think they are recruiting talent from within the ranks of the company they once swore against and are creating products that are so similar to Move products? By joining Zillow, aren’t you just setting them up for the same failure you couldn’t control in your tenure at Move?
  12. In your new role in industry relations, wouldn’t you expect to walk into a broker’s office and receive this same line of questioning, given that the Realtor model is built on cooperation and trust?

Samuelson is a very pleasant person and not abrasive, so he is indeed a popular figure in the sector, but industry relations matters and it’s built on trust.

We look forward to getting answers to these questions, not because musical chairs aren’t common in corporate life, but because of the complexity of the Move, Inc. structure and how intertwined it is with NAR and their members; trade secrets are relevant.

This story originally appeared on AGBeat.com on March 25, 2014.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Op/Ed

How can a small business beat a large competitor moving in next door?

(EDITORIAL) How do you stand out when a big competitor moves to your neighborhood? Reddit has a few suggestions – some obvious, some not so much.

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Man talking on virtual meeting about a competitor moving close next door.

Small businesses, especially restaurants have been hit hard by lockdowns. Many closed for good this year, and those that are still hanging on are in a precarious position as their local economies shift. So how can a small business beat a large competitor moving in next door?

A user on r/smallbusiness asked a timeless question that is especially relevant right now. Reddit user longbottomjr writes:

“We have a strong competitor moving in next door in a few months. Our restaurant is one that pays the bills but […] I feel that if this new competitor takes up enough market share we will lose our restaurant. Can anyone chime in with resources/ideas I can use to help put together our plan of action?”

Comments quickly pointed out what common sense would dictate.

First, ensure the basics are covered. Being clean, quick, friendly, and high quality will take you far, no matter what competition you’re up against. And as u/horsemullet said,

“Customer service also happens before someone walks through the door!” So make sure that your online hours, contact info, menus and social media accounts are up to date and accurate.

Another point emerged that is less intuitive: Competing businesses will naturally gravitate towards similar locations. This is a well-established phenomenon known within game theory as Nash’s Equilibrium. In the restaurant industry, this is actually a good thing. It brings entirely new customers to the area and ultimately benefits all the other nearby businesses, too.

Take advantage of the attention by offering something other spots don’t, like loyalty rewards, specials, unique offerings, or meal deals.

Speaking of the area, a great way to stand out from larger competitors is to build relationships with the community you serve, as u/sugarface2134 emphasized,

“In my city there are two Italian restaurants in the same location – just across the parking lot from each other. We always pick the smaller one because the owner truly makes you feel like a member of the family.”

That’s an advantage of being a small, local business that all the money in the world couldn’t buy. Get to know your customers personally and you will not only create loyal regulars, but friends as well.

One of the top-rated responses, from u/seefooddiet2200, made an often overlooked but critically important point.

“Talk to your staff and see if they have any ideas. These are the people that are working every single day and may know one or two ‘annoying’ things that if they were switched would make things easier. Or maybe they see that there’s specific things people ask for that you don’t serve. Every single [one] of your employees is a gold mine of insight, you just need to be open to listening to them.”

That is applicable to any business owner who wants to improve their practices.

Ask employees what they think, especially the ones who have stuck around a long time. Not only do they know the ins and outs of their jobs, but this builds rapport and trust with your staff. A good boss realizes that employees are more than their job descriptions. They have valuable thoughts about what’s working and not working, and direct access to customer’s opinions.

Good luck, u/longbottomjr! We’ll be rooting for you.

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Op/Ed

How much minimalism is enough to succeed?

(EDITORIAL) Nobody starts a business praying for failure and debt, but if we don’t identify how little is too little, we not know when enough is enough.

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Enough peace

You’re scrolling on Facebook when you notice your friend’s feed, and the most recent post says, “You are enough.” You may recoil and think to yourself, “blech” what does that even mean? Touchy-feely crap. I am “enough.” Ha! I’ll show you enough.

While exploring the concept of being enough may make some folks queasy. Asking the question: How does “enough” translate from our lives to our business? is it relevant and can help us get to our raison d’etre, our sweet spot, our perfect pitch, our business manifesto. And, what is “enough” for us in planning our life and business goals.

Recently, I was watching a British show on Netflix. The gist is an “expert” who goes around to businesses to help them update their brands and improve business. In one episode, the host walks into a man’s clothing shop and asks the owner about his wares. He explains in one section he has clothing for the “fat bastards” (I am not making this up – he literally says that), in another section he has styles for the “trendy” kids, and in another section, clothes for the businessman.

The owner thinks he’s doing great, but his sales suck, his customer service sucks, and he doesn’t understand why.

From the outside looking in, it seems pretty obvious, that the guy is trying to serve everyone and in doing so, he’s doing a crap job of serving anyone. Plus, he was rude and literally didn’t understand that calling customers fat bastards wasn’t good customer service.

From a business point of view, this guy had no concept of what it meant to be “enough” because he was trying to serve too many potential customers and it was a very disjointed effort.

His problem is not unusual. Think about it. Haven’t you gone into a locally owned business to find it selling too many items that make no sense? Kind of like a gift shop gone wild. You look around and see things you like, but you get confused and leave without making a purchase. Instead, you walk a few doors down to the store that specializes in jeans or shirts or cool shoes and you drop some virtual Benjamins.

In his blog, Paul Jarvis expounds on the idea of being enough. He says, “In order to be more aware of what makes sense for our lives and businesses, we need to be aware of what enough means.”

And, that my friends, depends on who you are. Enough to me may not be enough for you. But, Jarvis explains is that it can’t be minimalism for Instagram’s sake. Meaning, that we aren’t truly living in an enough “state” if we are trying to be what we think others want to see.

Let’s not get caught up in the “yeah, but it’s Paul Jarvis.” Cuz, he also states this isn’t about judging others, because if you ain’t got much, it can seem pretty patronizing for someone to tell you to live with less. And, that isn’t what we’re talking about here.

If we go back to the business concept, consider Apple. The company started off building computers. It veered into phones and watches, but still tied to the idea of smaller versions of its computers. It stayed pretty true to itself. The concept was built around one product. The stores make that product shine. And, we as consumers feel we aren’t enough until we have the newest gadget and gizmo they sell. Brilliant.

For you, having the latest gaming system or all the streaming channels may be the thing. For me, I get by with basic cable and Netflix. My enough isn’t yours.

So, if we are truly cognizant of what we want in our business and lives, we need to understand what enough is for us. Not what is enough based on someone’s feed on Instagram, showing them with the Lambo (rented) and fancy clothes (rented) and fancy location (maxed credit card). We need to consider where we, from a truly authentic space, can live enough.

Per Jarvis:
“Enough is the antithesis of unchecked growth because growth encourages mindless consumption and enough requires constant questioning and awareness. Enough is when we reach the upper bound of what’s required. Enough revenue means our business is profitable and can support however many employees/freelancers we have, even if it’s just one person. Enough income means we can live our lives with a bit of financial ease, and put something away for later. Enough means our families are fed, have roofs over their heads, and their futures are considered. Enough stuff means we have what we need to live our lives without excess.”

One way to think about enough is to sit back and consider what would be your perfect day. If you were doing what you wanted – no holding back – what would your day look like. Imagine it. Are you really shopping and dropping $1k on a pair of shoes? Maybe. Or, are you hanging out with someone you love, doing work the way you want, having some food, walking your dog, doing yoga, CrossFit, etc., enjoying dinner, and heading to bed?

If you think about business in the same way, what would your business look like? Would it be like 7-Eleven with Slurpee’s, Slim Jim’s, lottery tickets, and birthday cards? Or, would it look more refined? Because Target and Walmart have a lock on mega shopping experiences. 7-Eleven has a lock on, it’s 4 a.m., and I’m wasted and need crap food.

Consider, how does your idea of equilibrium impact the outcome of your business, your work, and your idea of success?

Most of us would love to be wealthy and that is our guidepost when it comes to the idea of business success. But, when evaluating it from the perspective of “enough” our viewpoint might change if one considers debt load to profit or unsold, stolen, or damaged goods to profit. If you have more debt than cash, are you enough?

“Where things can go awry is when we never consider what enough is as a marker,” Jarvis says. “When this happens, we don’t solve for enough or optimize for it, we just keep going and going with more and more.”

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Op/Ed

Don’t just set and forget your succession plan – update it regularly!

(EDITORIAL) You may think that once you have a succession plan in place, you’re set for life, however, it’s recommended to continually update them!

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Older man looking out of window representing a need for a succession plan.

We’ve written before about how the everlasting success of the business will need to outlive you, and this is best conjured up in a succession plan. This is especially true for small business owners and entrepreneurs that have built an empire for themselves but aren’t sure what the future will hold beyond their passing. This is the exact reason that succession plans shouldn’t be set and forgotten, but instead consistently updated.

What are some of the obvious reasons that you may need to update your succession plan?

  1. Health Issues
  2. Marriage or Remarriage
  3. Changes in health in executors or guardians
  4. Changes in the law
  5. Changes in Residence

Now, for the not-so-obvious reason: It should be updated when any personal circumstances changes, which most likely happen often. This is why a will is like your home, an investment that needs to be properly maintained, and if it is, it will last a very long time.

Examples include changes in economic or parental status, as well as designations or fiduciaries. Elders could be aging, siblings may be having their own life changes, as well as if any dependents are born with or develop special needs.

“Every state has different laws regarding the administration of a will,” he said.?“For instance, states vary regarding the required residence of an executor, inheritance tax laws, and whether a child can be disinherited by omission.”

The recommended procedure is to review wills and powers of attorney at least every five years.

Lastly, when should a will update to a trust?

  1. When you have some significant assets (more than $500,000) in your own name.
  2. If you have special needs beneficiaries.
  3. If you have properties in multiple jurisdictions (multiple states or even counties).
  4. If you have beneficiaries you want to control distributions to (e.g., distribute at ages 25/30/35).
  5. If you have kids from a previous relationship you want taken care of.
  6. If you may want asset protection (special trust needed).
  7. If you are a big dog (over $22M if married), to save taxes.

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