NEW YORK -- Inman News Publisher Brad Inman strode on stage to give the welcome address for Real Estate Connect New York City, picked up an inches-thick stack of real estate transaction documents, and dropped it to the floor.
"This is what we are going to attack!" Inman said, after the stack of paper thudded to the stage.
With that, Connect was off and running with Inman hosting a series of panels and Q&As that focused on turning "The Latte Vision" -- making the real estate transaction seamless and consumer-friendly -- into a reality.
The conference's opening panel included Krisstina Wise, founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based brokerage The GoodLife Team; Glenn Shimkus, co-founder and CEO of paperless transaction management software provider Cartavi; Stewart Morris Jr., vice chairman of Stewart Information Services; Eric Bryn, vice president of digital innovation with Baird & Warner Real Estate; and Austin Allison, founder and CEO of transaction management provider dotloop.
Wise started things off by saying her 12-agent office has gone completely paperless. File cabinets? None. All "paperwork" is now managed via Evernote, she said.
Allison and Shimkus said it's important to focus on providing a valuable service to the customer. The two differed slightly in their take on how new technology should be presented to customers.
Shimkus said it's important to offer technologies that a customer is used to and to ease them into the new, paperless, all-digital age. Allison, referencing the consistent, location-independent quality of Starbucks, said the industry needs to figure out what experience it wants to create for a customer, and hold to that.
Morris took the middle way -- change will come with time.
"The ox is slow, but the earth is patient," Morris said, quoting the 1983 film "The High Road to China," of the path to the digital future.
Real estate professionals, tech leaders and software developers who want to help push the industry down that path can sign up to become "Latte Visionaries" by joining the Latte Vision Facebook group.
In a Q&A with Brad Inman later on Connect's opening day, serial Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist Rich Barton -- founder of Zillow, travel site Expedia and employer-transparency site Glassdoor -- agreed that change won't come overnight.
"The peak is in the distance," Barton said, but there's a river to ford and a swamp to crawl through before it's reached.
Zillow, which saw a successful $75.7 million initial public offering in the summer of 2011 and a $156.7 million follow-on offering late last summer, has experienced its own tough journey to real estate relevancy and success, Barton said.
Like most of his companies, Barton said Zillow was founded with the idea that "an empowered consumer is a better customer." One of the biggest surprises running the company, he said, was that the founders, as technologists, needed real estate industry insiders' expertise to make a successful real estate marketplace. "We didn't have an appreciation for that" in the beginning, he said.
With the mobile revolution brought about by the smartphone still in its very early days, Barton sees technology playing an even bigger role in real estate in the years ahead.
A quarter billion people around the world bought smartphones in the last quarter of 2012 -- more people than were using the Internet when Barton founded Expedia in 1994, he said.
Trulia CEO and co-founder Pete Flint, who also took the opening-day stage, said his motivation to start Trulia came from his own experience as a frustrated real estate consumer in 2004.
Just eight years later, now he was on the Connect stage as head of a successful real estate tech startup, which joined the New York Stock Exchange with an $89.3 million initial public offering last September.
One of Trulia's key challenges, which the company is dedicating a lot of effort to address, in facilitating simpler real estate transactions, Flint said, is ensuring data accuracy.
"The mental focus (on addressing data accuracy) is intense," he said.
For all of the budding entrepreneurs in the audience looking to improve the real estate transaction with a new technology, he had some advice: Focus less on a detailed business plan and more on developing something real to show potential investors that reveals a major consumer insight and does something tangible and clear.
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