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Aiming to Dominate Real Estate Brokerage: Robert Reffkin, CEO of Urban Compass (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Dec 15th 2014

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.

We’re building tools for agents and customers to provide more insights to make better decisions around the home buying and selling process.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Aiming to Dominate Real Estate Brokerage: Robert Reffkin, CEO of Urban Compass
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