The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with Drew McKenzie of Sibcy Cline, REALTORS®
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he gets the latest dish on real estate trends and technology with Drew McKenzie, VP of Innovation at Sibcy Cline, REALTORS®. Drew leads the strategy across marketing and technology that connects both buyers and sellers with the Sibcy Cline agents. Sibcy Cline is the largest independent real estate broker in Greater Cincinnati, Dayton, Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana.
Eric: Drew, welcome to the podcast.
Drew: Thanks, Eric. Glad to be here.
Eric: I wonder if you can give our audience a brief overview of your current role as VP of Innovation at Sibcy Cline, and what that means in terms of your responsibility.
Drew: Sure. Well, I think you kind of teed it up with technology and marketing. I think both of those disciplines are certainly coming together, both for the brokerage and for our agents, and how they interact with the general public and their clients. And my real focus is to really put the consumer—the client—at the center of everything that we do.
Eric: You’ve been there… I think you started in January, 2018, and as you look back, it’s probably been a very fast-paced year for you. What are some of the milestones that you’ve kind of marked out over the past 12 months?
Drew: Yeah, it’s been a fantastic year end that just absolutely flew by. I would tell you that we did a lot of work on the technology side in our branches, in our offices. We have 22 locations across the markets we serve, and we spent a lot of time making sure that they had all the familiarity and smoothness, if you will, of a Starbucks, but the horsepower, if you will, of a FedEx office. And so, we spent a lot of time upgrading our Wi-Fi, new printers and copiers, all that fun stuff that, really, our agents were asking for. So, that was a big focus for us this past year. Now, we’re just getting into the real fun part on the digital side with a new digital assistant that we rolled out for all our agents, called SIMON.
Eric: Ah, can you tell us more about SIMON?
Drew: SIMON is really that digital red front door to all of Sibcy Cline’s tools and services that we offer our agents. Classically, you would think of it as an intranet, but today these things are becoming much more sophisticated, and really turning into more of a proactive assistant in the agent’s day-to-day life.
Eric: In terms of technology, I looked at your background. I know you a little bit. You’ve got a great background in startup technology, agency, and now you’re taking all that experience to the real estate industry. You certainly have a love for startup technology. Tell me more about your entrepreneurship, and a little bit of past history of your career.
Drew: Sure. I probably spent the first eight or nine years of my career on the agency services side, servicing large Fortune 500 brands—being in Cincinnati, Procter & Gamble, U.S. Bank, many others that I kind of think about—but, I was really helping those brands reach the consumer through digital strategy. And it was during that time in my career where I really fell in love with mentoring startups that were forming. So, these were seed-stage companies. And, after about 10 years of working and doing some advising work, I finally decided to make the jump. And that’s when I joined two startups in my past that were venture-backed companies. And I tell you what, you want to talk about an amazing ride, there’s nothing like being a part of the hockey stick with results, and then all the pressure that comes with it. So, yeah, I would say it was a fantastic experience. And for those who’ve only kind of experienced venture capital companies—true startups—from news articles, I’d tell you go spend a day with one. You’ll come out with a whole lot of new expertise. It’s a wild ride.
Eric: What were your roles, if you look back at your startups, and where you had, obviously, a lot of fun—and it was the wild west back then, for sure—what was your role?
Drew: Yeah, so in both of those companies, I was overseeing the product—so, the actual software that we were building—at a company called Everything But The House. We were focused on taking estate auctions online, into an online marketplace. And so, as the head of product, I had a team of product managers working with our engineering teams and data scientists, to really be that internal voice of the consumer. So, you know, not just creating software for software’s sake. And that was really what I learned at both startups that I was at. And I think if you continue to put the consumer first, you’re going to win, no matter what business you’re in.
Eric: I know you worked for a company—I’m not sure I’m going to say this right—is it Ahalogy?
Drew: Ahalogy, yes.
Eric: Ahalogy. And I know that had a connection, and it was written up by Forrester at one time. Tell us more about that experience and what that company did.
Drew: Ahalogy was founded with the premise of helping big CPG brands really focus on getting in front of the consumer with authentic content. Take a Procter & Gamble, right? They want to sell Tide and a bunch of other products at shelf, right? But, in between those purchases, they need to deliver a lot more value. And those brands are always looking for really authentic content. And so what we did is we, through the lens of Pinterest at first, we created a network of publishers—mostly bloggers, very successful bloggers—we would then make matches with brands to help them find and curate content for their various marketing activities. And then, we extend that out into Facebook and Instagram, and really even got into influencer marketing from the aspect of insuring that these influencers were actually influencers, and they were delivering the reach. And so, from a CPG standpoint, it’s an incredibly valuable tool. And that company was recently acquired, so kudos to them. It was fun to be a part of that ride for a short while, and have a little bit of an influence there.
Eric: So, it sounds like the startups you’ve had, obviously a lot of experience in product management, it sounds like product marketing as well. Would it be just overall technology and overall infrastructure, as well?
Drew: Yeah, I mean as I progress, and as you’re working more and more with engineers and data science, which you know we always hear about big data, right? Usually, it’s probably less about big data and more just handling the signal vs. the noise. But, as you dig deeper, you always had to become more and more comfortable, with the hardware and those kinds of things. So, certainly getting more comfortable with that, as we continue to progress.
Eric: So, now you’ve made the transition into real estate. Tell us more about that. Is it similar? The pace may be a bit different, but it sounds like the passion is still there, trying to move new ideas through. Tell us more about that last year, that transition into Sibcy Cline.
Drew: I think with my retail experience and my background—whether it’s selling Ray-Ban® sunglasses, or it’s helping somebody find a mid-century modern couch—I think helping make matches with the public and our agents, then ultimately the homes, it’s actually probably not as much of a stretch as I would have anticipated. Because, I think at the end of the day, if you look back at any part of my career so far, it’s always been about helping businesses grow. And I think that’s exactly what Sibcy Cline is all about with our agents. We’re helping them not only facilitate their business, but helping them find ways to grow it. So, I think it’s really been kind of a natural continuation.
Eric: I would say that is one of the biggest things that, when I think of you, I think of a guy who has a constant desire to learn. You’ve been serving, and you’re a coach, and you’re also a mentor. Would that be accurate?
Drew: Yeah, I guess I’d like to think so, if you ask people. I think you always have to be learning. Last year, even during this transition, I really decided that I wanted to try teaching. And so, I’m now teaching a class one night a week with a university here, locally, with undergraduates. And it’s been an absolute blast. You know, it’s one thing to coach adults, if you will, that are in various stages of their career. But, it’s been a lot of fun to talk with young minds that are still very, very pliable, and figuring out what they want to do next, and how they want to put their mark on the world. So, that’s been another real fun part of this transition, as well.
Eric: Well, you know I think you mentioned to me at one time that your Wednesday night classes gave you jet fuel, and you often had your best days on Thursdays and Fridays, when you applied what you had talked about with your students to your own staff.
Drew: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s the fun part, right? So, you come back from that academic world that’s kind of separated from reality in some aspects. And these are people that, hey you might come away with an idea that all of a sudden, maybe the next couple of days or a couple of weeks later, you’re finding ways to try to maybe bring forward some of that in the team’s work that we’re doing here on behalf of our agents and our clients.
Eric: I find it very stimulating. You know, I do a lot of reading as well. I don’t teach, but I can certainly understand how that would be… just drive your passion, because you’ve been coaching and mentoring and assisting entrepreneurs, and you’re doing the same thing now in real estate. Because every agent is their own boss, their own business.
Drew: Yeah, exactly. Just yesterday actually over lunch, I was helping an agent market themselves. And so, yeah. It’s a lot of fun. So, every day is a little different. But that keeps it exciting.
Eric: If people were to get to know you a little better, what do you do outside of work? What are some of your personal passions, or some of your hobbies?
Drew: It might be counterintuitive, because I live in Cincinnati, but I actually love to sail. My family lived up on the east coast for several years, and so I picked it up there. And, so my brother and I, we’ve got a little 24 foot sailboat that we go run around on, so I’m always excited to do that. My wife and I love to travel. Usually once or twice a year, we’re out running around the globe somewhere, when we can. So, we’re very fortunate and blessed that we can do that. And I guess the last thing I would say is, we have a fur baby named Guinness, an Airedale Terrier, and he keeps us on our toes and keeps us young.
Eric: So, where’s your next big trip? Where are you guys heading?
Drew: That’s a great question. I think we’re probably going to be heading to South America. We’re thinking about doing a trip down to Peru, Argentina, Buenos Aires, all that fun stuff.
Eric: Nice. You do some volunteer work, obviously. You’re on the board of directors of a community center. Can you tell us more about that experience?
Drew: Yeah, that was a few years ago. So, it’s like anything else, right? I feel like everything I get involved with, it’s somewhere around transforming what we’re doing. So, I think it’s fun. But, yeah, Emanuel Community Center was a classical community center in the sense of after-school programs, and early childhood development in the urban core here in Cincinnati. And, what we found is the neighborhood was changing. A lot of development here, which I think that a lot of folks around the country can attest to. Cities are growing and booming. And, as the demographics changed considerably, we found that the community center really needed to change its mission. And so, we were able to find a great way to merge the community center with a squash program, believe it or not, that’s all centered around taking urban youth, and teaching them life, and all about academics, and everything, through the game of squash. And they’re now operating I think in 20 markets around the country. But it continues to inspire those ideals that the community center was founded on, and at the same time, it’s allowing those students to find great homes in college, after their playing days in high school—helping them to find scholarships. That was a really interesting process to be a part of. But I think if anybody can get involved with a non-profit, I would highly encourage them to do so.
Eric: Well, that’s a fantastic experience. So, I don’t have a lot of time left, but I do want to ask you to look in your crystal ball within real estate. And, maybe in your market too and what you guys are planning. If you look at the next 12 months for you, what are one or two of the top strategies or top activities you want to move the company towards, to handle this new marketplace?
Drew: I think it starts with the consumer. I think the consumer has different demands for the real estate agent. I know I’m personally going to be focused on—and I think as a company, and I’m sure other brokers as well—is really making sure that our agents really understand what those new demands are, and finding solutions or new patterns of practice. And maybe sometimes just tweaking a current process, or a pattern, to make sure that they’re able to best succeed and, frankly, overdeliver on some of those new demands from the consumer.
Eric: Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting year. There’s lots of new models coming out, tons of technology. Are you someone who’s attracted to shiny objects, new technology? Or do you sort of look at things that are well vetted, and then when they’re tried and true, you implement them?
Drew: Yeah, I would say probably a little bit more of the latter, believe it or not. I mean, look, shiny things are good. You want to keep your pulse on them and understand how they can really move the needle. But, I think sometimes if you move a little too early, especially with a large organization—if you have lots of agents, I think sometimes if you’re a little too early, and you can’t prove it out, and that it’s truly going to drive the business for them—you’ll probably fall flat a little bit. So, I would say we’re a little bit more on the latter side. We try to go deep with the tooling that we brought on board over the last few years, and what we’re building. And we’re pretty judicious about anything new we bring to the table.
Eric: Is there a secret, or have you found the magic sauce to get agents to adopt the tooling? That’s something we struggle with, is we think we have great stuff, but adoption often is awry.
Drew: Yeah, I think it’s always going to be a challenge, especially when you have such a cross-section of individuals that are attracted to getting into this industry. But, at the same time, I think it just comes down to basics. And I know that everybody probably tries this every day, and we can always be better, but it really just comes down to making it as easy as possible. And, really, it’s going to be up to the agent—whether they find it to be applicable to how they run and operate their business.
Eric: Well, Drew, thank you very much. It’s been fun. I’m glad I got to know you a little bit better, and our audience now knows a little bit more about what you do, and what makes you tick. And I really want to thank you for your time today. Good luck in the balance of the year.
Drew: Thanks, Eric. I really appreciate it. It’s been fun chatting with you.
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