Inman Connect SF 2016: Day 1

Inman's sprawling, energetic conference kicked off today in downtown San Francisco. It used to be that Tuesdays before the conference were sleepy -- not anymore, especially with today being free.

The conference, celebrating its 20th year, is as big as I've ever seen it (caveat: I've only seen the last four years), and the content is great. In addition, there's something for everyone in the Inman (RE) universe: brokers, agents, vendors.

While the CEOs gathered at Facebook headquarters down in Silicon Valley, I swarmed with the masses.

Michael Meier, broker-owner of NYC-based Meier Real Estate, filmed some Facebook Live videos from the CEO Summit event.

Drawn by a tweet by industry savant Jack Miller, I swept down to the great "MarTech" breakout session hosted by real estate tech vendor legend Greg Robertson, co-founder of Cloud CMA maker W&R Studios and publisher of great industry blog Vendor Alley, and David Friedman, founder and president of large real estate marketing tech firm Boston Logic. 

Real estate tech's going nowhere fast

Hopefully Robertson and Friedman's session was recorded, because if I was a real estate tech vendor, I'd watch it over and over. They dropped valuable lessons from their hard fought years building successful real estate tech companies, including how to structure your business, what metrics to focus on and why and how to negotiate with MLSs. 

Take the latter for example. Robertson explained that complications with integrating with the U.S.'s 857 MLSs, many of whom have unique requirements not to mention time-intensive approval processes, may be the prime factor in stilted real estate tech innovation. For example, even though Robertson's firm has relationships with over 200 MLSs through its CloudCMA platform, it needs to go to each MLS individually to hook up its new offering, CloudMLX. 

Some MLSs, Robertson pointed out, require board votes for tech vendor approval. These boards may only meet once a quarter and be booked three quarters out. You get the idea. Tech's going nowhere fast.

Evolution may be slow, but one thing remains the same, it's tough for brokers and agents to appropriately, quickly followup with leads. Friedman listed a whole bunch of services from the stage that have cropped up to help real estate pros convert internet leads: BoomTown's Rokrbox, CallAction, Howard Hanna Real Estate's One Cavo, Boston Logic's Ace, Zillow Group's concierge.

One important note, vendors: Both Greg and David offered help to real estate tech startups multiple times: for perspective, to talk to them or an expert on their team about the gnarly journey that is building a RE tech firm. I'd get in touch yesterday.

Kenny Fast is everywhere

For those of you who know Kenny, he's got a quirky, innovative mind, and he's everywhere. Caught by his catchy #FASTAGENT branding in Oakland, California, where I live and he operates, I checked him out. I was an Inman reporter at the time, and, given he turned out to be the real deal, I did a feature on him

Anyhow, I ran into him in Startup Alley. And, as always, he's cooking up some wild stuff. He's operating three lead-gen/website/CRMs at the moment: Commissions Inc., RealScout and Chime (is that it Kenny?). He raved for a few minutes about Firepoint, which he had just demoed a few meters away.

Chime is fascinating and leads to the next point.

The website/CRM/lead-gen all-in-one platform convergence

San Francisco-based Chime is a subsidiary of Renren Inc., which the firm's global vice president Matt Murphy described as the Facebook of China. 

Currently the platform's in beta in the San Francisco Bay Area, and guess who's an early user? Mr. Fast. Kenny said the leads are many and good. Murphy said Chime stands out from the all-in-one lead-gen/website/CRM crowd, which is getting big, by advanced techniques to turn up the best leads. It's $199 per month.

A similar platform, Austin, Texas-based RealSavvy, was just a few booths down from Chime. It also offers a unified lead-gen/website/CRM platform. It's unique value proposition? A sleek, collaborative home search component, the startup's vice president of marketing Alani Rondon told me.

The firm operates in Austin and Dallas, coming to Houston soon and then to New York City, as it begins the complicated, expensive, drawn-out headache of securing MLS licenses (see Greg Robertson's point above).

Other firms have touted collaborative search tools, Zillow, RealScout and many others, but have all backed away. I wondered aloud if this is because consumers just didn't value it that highly. Rondon said that with younger, tech-bred consumers coming into real estate transacting age, it might be time for the feature to flourish.

Other players in the space: RealScout, Commissions Inc., BoomTown, Kunversion, Zillow Group, in a way (I'm forgetting some, please add in). 

I'm planning on doing a full-out profile of FirePoint tomorrow when I meet with the CEO. Kenny was wowed with it. He's got a sharp eye for successful platforms, so I took note. Look for that tomorrow sometime. (Look for a full profile of Chime later, too).

Also should be noted, the firm's coming out blazing. Walking into the afternoon Tech Connect session, which was packed, and featured a panel with Kenny, I was handed a sleek, 88-page, full-color glossy Firepoint marketing booklet upon entering -- the booklet wasn't cheap or the sponsorship. Something's going on.