Blog / The Real Estate Dish: 15 Minutes with York Baur, CEO of MoxiWorks

The Real Estate Dish: 15 Minutes with York Baur, CEO of MoxiWorks

Jul 10, 2018   •   14 min read   •   Podcast

Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he gets the latest dish on real estate technology with York Baur, CEO of MoxiWorks—a comprehensive, open-platform system for both real estate agents and brokerages. As CEO, York leads the MoxiWorks team that serves over 100,000 real estate agents and 50 brokerages nationwide.

Eric: York, I wonder if you can give our listeners a brief overview of your background, and your current role with MoxiWorks.

York: You bet, Eric. And firstly, let me say thanks for having me, and for being a great Moxi partner—we’ll talk about that I’m sure throughout our time here. But, yeah. I’m the CEO of MoxiWorks. I’m in my 6th year. And it’s been a great ride. We started life as a spin-out of Windermere Real Estate 6 years ago. It was a single customer called “Windermere” and 6,000 agents at the time, and we’ve grown to where we have well over 100,000 agents, and over 55 brokerages now on the platform. So, it’s been fun.

Eric: I guess you could traditionally say that you folks were a CRM, but now you’re moving to more of a smart CRM.

York: You’re right. One of our flagship products is the Moxi-engaged CRM. I’ve long held the belief that sales of any kind in any industry are powered by relationships. And people forget, I think, that CRM is Customer Relationship Management. It’s not the wham-bam lead generator management. So our approach has been a little different, I think, than most in the industry, in that we believe an agent’s primary source of business is their existing sphere of influence—the people that know, like and trust them. That’s kind of been our hallmark to date. What we’ve done more recently—with regard to your question about Smart CRM—is to infuse what the agent is doing with their sphere and by the way, the average agent in our system has 400 people in their sphere database is to infuse that with a bunch of data—everybody talks about big data, analytics, and predictive stuff and all that. Basically, that’s what we’re doing. We’re using the interactions the agent has with their consumer, the consumer’s interaction with websites and other marketing programs. But critically, also public record data that informs both the system and the agent about a much broader picture of their consumer, and then the system uses all of that data to make better decisions about marketing materials and, in particular, to encourage the agent to do the right things at the right time. And I’m sure we’re going to talk about the platform play—obviously, all this data and stuff has to live somewhere, and that’s what the Moxi Cloud is about.

Eric: I recently heard you speak about the Moxi Cloud, and you used a great analogy—the power strip—and I know we’ll also talk about your Microsoft background. But how does Microsoft and the power strip help people understand the cloud?

York: We’ve all heard about cloud computing, and it’s this amorphous thing. I guess the simplest analogy, and I think this is one you’re referencing is: imagine a power strip—the dusty power strip that’s under your desk. Everything that you use on your desk, ultimately is getting its power from that power strip. And it’s as simple as plugging something new in, and it just kind of works. And if you have some device that’s gotten old, you unplug it, and you plug a new one in. And really that’s the idea behind the Moxi Cloud. What we want to do is provide that power strip for a brokerage. We all know how challenging technology—in particular disparate technology from a variety of different providers—can be for a brokerage. The idea of the Moxi Cloud is to give the brokerage that power strip I described, so that all the tools that they and their agents use can share data. And in particular the data I’m talking about is property data, brokerage data—which includes things like the brokerage’s brand and their agent roster and all those things that can be challenging—and, critically, also consumer data. One of the challenges the brokerages face is—we all know the consumer is ultimately the one buying or selling the house—agents can be very guarded about that information, and as well they should. So, what the Moxi Cloud does is give the agent a place for that consumer data to live, and therefore be able to use the tools very easily that interact with that consumer data, but still maintain control over it. So, it’s all about the brokerage and the agent maintaining control over the data that they each own, and yet having that data be freely available to the tools they use.

Eric: You have a lot of experience—your background, you were VP of Sales and Marketing, and EVP/CMO, and a deep, deep technology background—but, it’s interesting, your experience with Microsoft. How has that shaped where you are today, and even your career, as you look back and you look forward?

York: It is interesting. We are all shaped as you say, Eric, by our past experiences. For me, Microsoft is now—I’m a geezer now, so it’s a long time ago, it was in the early 90s, I was there for several years—what it did for me was a few things. One, is it gave me appreciation for scale, and we’ve carried that—myself and other here at Moxi—carried that into our world. So, when I talk about things like platforms and so on, these aren’t things that you whip up in the garage over the weekend. These are serious business-class, business-critical systems. And you have to have an appreciation for the rigor that goes into building and running systems like that. I learned a significant amount about that at Microsoft, obviously, who was powering at the time—and still does—some of the largest corporations and businesses in the world with technology. But the second thing I learned was the definition of what is truly an open platform, which is what we’re trying to do with the Moxi Cloud, meaning that this power strip I keep talking about really needs to live independently of the things that get plugged into it—not only from third-party things, but from our own tools. So, we talked about the Moxi-engaged CRM for example—we have other products like Moxi Present and websites and other things—those things need to compete on their own merits independent of the power strip, or the Moxi Cloud. If you think back to Microsoft, that’s kind of what Microsoft did with Windows. Back in the day, those of us that have been around awhile will remember that you could buy Windows, but you didn’t necessarily have to buy Excel as the only spreadsheet you could use on Windows. A long time ago, there was Lotus 1-2-3 that you guys probably remember, and there was a version of Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows that competed with Excel, and you could buy Windows and put Lotus on there. That’s kind of our mentality with the Moxi Cloud is that same level of flexibility. You as a brokerage should be able to mix your own unique cocktail of tools that you plug into a capability like this, and not have a lot of restriction in what you’re able to choose from. In fact, we have over 40 partners now that are participants in this plug and play scenario. I’d be remiss if I didn’t call you guys (QuantumDigital) out as not only one of our partners, but actually one that’s made some of the best use we’ve seen of this plug & play capability. You guys use every aspect of the data that we have, and a bunch of the other capabilities, so you guys are an example of the choice that a brokerage has as they figure out what each of these tools needs to be.

Eric: I want to ask you about a role you had. I’ve never been to the Space Needle, but you were the VP of Sales & Marketing for the Space Needle back in 2011. Tell us more about that role. That sounds pretty interesting.

York: It’s one that stands out on my resume as being a little weird for a software guy. But it was one of the most fun experiences that I had. At the time, the company, and it is a company—a lot of people mistake the Space Needle for being a public structure. Because if you’ve ever been to Seattle, it is absolutely an iconic structure. It was built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, so it’s this super iconic thing. But it’s actually always been privately owned. The folks that run that—there actually are several hundred what are called “tower structures,” which means attractions where you can go up to a very tall thing and look around—and we worked on some software projects, believe it or not, to increase the operational efficiency of how those structure run. In a given year, over a million people will go up and down the Space Needle. And on a nice summer day in Seattle, which we don’t have many of, it can be over 10,000 people. So, you can imagine some of the logistics. But I think the thing I take away from it is inspiration. We all get up every day and spend a lot of time doing the work that we do. You have to, in my opinion, be inspired for that work and that structure is an inspirational structure for so many people—not only the people that work there, but the people that visit it. So, it was a unique opportunity. I’m a Seattleite, I’m a northwest native, so for me to be able to a part of that, even along the way, was a great thrill.

Eric: Well, that’s cool. I wonder if your friends still needle you about working at the Space Needle. That’s my attempt at humor! It’s pretty bad, I know!

York: Well, okay! So, I’m going to toss some Space Needle humor back at you. It’s actually the “Spaceless Needle” because the people that work there—other than the people that work at the restaurant or around the elevators—don’t work in the needle, because there’s no space in there. It’s actually an offsite building 2 blocks away.

Eric: You had another interesting part of your career where you actually had a production company. That sounds pretty intriguing. Tell me more about that.

York: That and the Space Needle are basically the two things on my resume that people look at, and they go, “What were you thinking?” or “What was that about?” And the production company you’re referring to was called Peninsula Heritage Productions. It was a side project that I did with a good friend of mine who’s a filmmaker. And those of you that have teenage daughters, or wives that got involved in the Twilight saga—the vampire movies and books that took place in a town called Forks, Washington—I grew up partially in that area, and have a strong affinity for it. So, when those books and movies were raging—and more than 100 million people around the world bought those books, for example—we decided to make some documentaries, what we call “fanumentaries”, about what it would be like to be there. Because, we were not trying to prove some point, what we were really trying to do is give fans around the world—and they were literally around the world—the ability to see this place that was the real place in the story they loved. And what I learned from that—and I think that we can all take away, to even the real estate business—is people have passions, and they get fired up about stories. And it’s easy to forget that—particularly in technology, it’s really easy to forget that, and have it all be about the technology—but it’s not. It’s all about people’s emotions, the relationships they have, the stories that get told, and how people feel. And, it was just exciting. Ultimately, we sold well over a million copies—this was back in the days of DVD—we sold over a million copies of these DVDs, and tens of millions of people ultimately saw our product around the world. And just to be a part of something where people are so passionate about a story, taught me that if you can tap into that kind of passion—and what could be more passionate than helping people buy or sell a home—we should remember that it’s easy to get lost in the details of the day. But ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do, is help someone fulfill their dream. And what a great story that is.

Eric: As you look at your background and your skill set, is that who you are? Is storytelling part of your DNA?

York: I think so. I mean, I’ve always loved it. Even though I have a computer science degree originally, I shifted out of the purely technical world into product management and sales and marketing pretty early in my tech career because of that idea of storytelling and interacting with people. I think, ultimately, all this technology stuff, to me, boils down to one simple thing, which is—in real estate specifically, all the stuff that you guys do in your business, that we do with ours, and all this technology stuff we talk about—it’s about helping an agent be better with the people they know, and that they get to know. And that’s it! And we have to remember that. We have to remember, it’s not about the technology. The technology is actually not primary, it’s secondary. It’s the thing that supports the human interaction and the story that’s unfolding at all times between agents and the consumers they serve. To me it’s been a long-standing belief.

Eric: I had a great opportunity to be in your building several weeks ago, where you and I talked, and I was really intrigued by your culture. What a great Seattle vibe. Maybe you can just tell our listeners how you’ve developed your culture, and what exactly is the MoxiWorks culture today?

York: It’s a great question. I appreciate the compliment. It’s something that I’ve always personally taken very, very seriously. And it’s actually something—you know you asked me about Microsoft earlier, it’s something I learned—or maybe not “learned” because I think it’s built into all of us—but that became obvious to me at Microsoft, which is the melting pot. Our country is founded on the idea of a melting pot, and I really think there’s tremendous strength that comes through diversity. So, if I had to summarize our culture, it would be that. We have this incredibly talented group of people, but they’re very, very diverse. And I don’t mean just the diversity that we often think about or hear about in the media, of gender and race, and so forth. I mean we have that too, of course. But, it’s people with eclectic backgrounds and perspectives. And I think when you have that, you get a better answer. When people bring their game, their passion and their backgrounds to a discussion, chances are the outcome is going to be a better outcome than if any one of those people decided something in a vacuum. And so, to my mind, that’s what our culture is all about, and it’s why it’s vibrant. And I hope that’s the reason it rubs off on people like you, Eric, when you were in our shop. It’s supposed to be kind of infectious, and I feel like “you’re never done.” We’re certainly not perfect, but I feel like we’ve got a pretty good head start on that, and I certainly look forward to walking in the door every day because of it.

Eric: I was taken by the wall of inspiration you have.

York: Oh, yeah. The Word Wall? Yeah, you know it’s funny… it’s a typical word wall that you see in companies now, or at least in “hip” tech companies, like ours. But, it’s funny. It has about 10 sayings on it, various attributes of our culture. I was actually not involved in the selection of those things. In other words, that happened organically by the team when we moved into the space, and I was made aware of it, but I had no contribution to it. And I like that. I want the culture to be organic. The interesting thing—and I think you were an example of this, Eric, when we show people the wall, and I myself have paraded dozens and dozens of people in the year plus that we’ve been in our new space here past that wall—the one saying they all gravitate to, and often will say out loud, is “Get shit done.” And that is our mentality. It’s one thing to pontificate about technology, or how we help brokerages—and our motto is “We help make brokerages more profitable”—but, talking about it doesn’t make it so. Getting shit done is how that happens. So, we have a very results and goal-oriented culture as well, and I think that’s another attribute that I’m personally proud of.

Eric: I really appreciate the time today. It’s been fantastic learning more about your background, some fun experiences along the way with the Space Needle and the production company, and what you’re doing now with Moxi. It sounds like you’ve got your hands full. I want to thank you for today’s podcast, and good luck in the rest of the year.

York: Thanks, Eric. I really appreciate the opportunity, and good luck to you and everybody on the podcast.

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