Inman Connect San Francisco’s swan song: fear and discipline

This article was originally published on Inman News:
The kind of ingenuity displayed at ICSF is what will lead the winners into the industry’s next phase

Last week was Inman’s final Connect conference in San Francisco. When Gary Keller keynotes, he leads the story, except when Compass buys the top billing.

Compass CEO Robert Reffkin produced the actual “shiny object” that pervades conferences. It’s a digital lighted circular sign that sits on a single central pole 

It looks a bit like one of those viewfinders you’d use at a tourist spot to see the Golden Gate bridge. Put in a quarter, grab with two hands, press forehead against it, and look into Compass’ vision of the future.  

I actually like it. It’s impractical. It’s expensive. It’s insecure and highly unlikely to get traction in “normal” neighborhoods due to the myriad rules and regulations regarding signage.  

These digital signposts will probably be stolen, hacked and mining bitcoin in basements before they change the industry. Still, it’s fun to have someone taking chances to drive a new conversation.  

Reffkin’s real reveal was the company’s acquisition numbers. They’re paying up to 6.5x EBITDA to purchase some brokerages. The sales I hear about in the mere mortal brokerage world are often in the 3x range.

Of course, Reffkin only wants high producers, so big city boutiques are probably licking their chops. It’s no wonder the rumor is that every brokerage in the Bay Area is up for sale. 

The Keller standoff

Brad Inman, hosting the keynote interview asked: “Are you afraid of anybody?”  

Gary Keller of Keller Williams: “No.” 

Eyes of every non-KW attendee watching:


This wasn’t a brand event, and Keller didn’t seem to like being there. It was as if Darth Vader had entered a realm where The Force no longer worked.

Yet he tried ever so hard to choke the voice out of those who disagreed and cut off the hands of the progeny who’d followed his footsteps in a different path to brokerage Jedi greatness.

I’ll let Rob Hahn’s piece flesh out the feeling most in the room had because Keller’s a man we all respect. But the disrespect for his host and the intelligence of his audience went over like a Jeremy Conaway press release.  

At one point, we were told that every company either goes up, flat or down — illustrated with arrows and circles. The easel became a shield.

He should have sat down. 

It makes a lot of folks hope for eXp’s Glenn Sanford to be the Luke Skywalker in this story.

If you saw Sanford’s discipline and quiet charisma immediately following Keller’s roasting of Sanford and others, you can understand why he earns that hope. (By the way, congratulations on the new Zillow gig, @RealEstateJedi.) 


Maybe Keller is right and a walled garden is the only answer. Maybe every Fortune 500 company that uses services from Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft, et al., knows that there’s an alternative route to success as well.  

Show me the money

Justin Wilson of Softbank told us that the company’s vision fund has $100 billion to spend on technology and much of it will be in real estate. 

The highly respected journalist Kara Swisher nearly lamented the first amendment in her concerns about the way technology is changing communications, business and politics. 

There seemed to be a greater level of angst to the week than usual and, in this environment, how could you not be somewhat concerned about where the future leads? 

Still, there are moments of clarity. It was a breath of fresh air to see a leader like Clelia Peters of Warburg Realty calmly break down and navigate the potential for brokerages and real estate agents going forward. Her conversation with some of the industry’s smartest people is worth the watch for anyone feeling fear about the wave of changes coming to the industry.  

This is the kind of discipline that will lead the winners into the industry’s next phase.  

But then again, next year is in Las Vegas. Viva real estate.

Sam DeBord is Managing Broker/VP of Strategic Growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, Past President of Seattle King County Realtors, and 2019 NAR President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management. You can find his team at and


  • All opinions expressed herein are personal opinions and do not constitute the position or views of any organization. Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has two decades of experience in the real estate industry, spanning real estate brokerages, mortgage lending, and technology consulting. He has served as President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management with the National Association of REALTORS®, a REACH mentor, and on the board of directors for NAR, Second Century Ventures, and California Regional MLS. Sam began his career as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a recognized real estate industry writer for publications including REALTOR® Magazine, Inman News, and the Axiom Business Books Award-Winning Swanepoel Trends Report.