Urban Compass is trying to disrupt the real estate industry with a tech-savvy brokerage model. They have raised $70 million and are currently valued at $360 million based on the last funding round. Listen to Robert Reffkin explain why he thinks the company will dominate the industry.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised, and in what kind of background?
Robert Reffkin: I’m from Berkeley, California. My mom is an Israeli and my father was African-American. I grew up in a mixed race household with a single mother. When I was younger, I went to an entrepreneurship program called the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. It helped me create a disk jockey business in high school. I was actually a DJ in high school and college, which paid for school. It was the foundation of a lot of the entrepreneurial drive that has carried me since I graduated from college.
Sramana Mitra: What did you study in college?
Robert Reffkin: I studied Economics and History at the Columbia University. From Columbia, I went to work at McKinsey as a consultant and then went back to Columbia Business School. Then, I worked at Lazard doing mergers and acquisitions and spent a year as a White House Fellow and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Treasury. Then, I went to Goldman Sachs for seven years to work in a private equity group and ultimately, as the Chief of Staff to the President of the company.
Sramana Mitra: What year does this bring us up to?
Robert Reffkin: This brings us up to 2012, at which time, I founded Urban Compass, which is a technology-powered real estate company. I co-founded it with Ori Allon. Ori sold a company to Google and another to Twitter. He’s one of the best engineers in the world. Together, we have now raised $73 million. Most recently, we’re at a $360 million valuation.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s take it step by step. In 2012, what was the concept that you were working with and why did you choose that concept?
Robert Reffkin: The concept has always been the same—to improve the process of finding a home by empowering agents with the best tools.
Sramana Mitra: In 2012, this was not a new industry. Explain to me what your analysis of the ecosystem as it stood at that time was that warranted starting a new company in that space.
Robert Reffkin: What Ori and I set out to do was to bring technology to a space that didn’t have it. We looked at the major segments, and the largest segment without technology is real estate. If you look at Retail or Oil & Gas sectors, there’s tremendous amount of technology. In the finance sector also, they’re investing in technology. There are actually more engineers than there are bankers and traders at Wall Street.
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