In this episode host, Glenn Sanford, introduces the Working Remote Podcast and provides a bit of context to future episodes. At the bottom of the housing market in 2009, Glenn Sanford launched eXp Realty as a cloud-based, fully remote real estate brokerage without any physical office infrastructure. 11 years later eXp Realty is the fastest organically growing real estate brokerage in the world operating in 4 countries with over 29,000 agents, brokers and staff. In this first episode, Glenn shares a bit about why embracing a fully remote mindset set the company up to win on many different levels including being recognized by Glassdoor 3 years in a row as a top place to work. Let us know what you think and be sure to hit that subscribe button.
Glenn Sanford: 0:00
Hi, This is Glenn Sanford for the host of the Working Remote Podcast. This is actually my first podcast, and I'm gonna introduce you to eXp Realty, a company I founded about 11 years ago. We actually run the entire company fully remote. 28,000 people, four countries and no corporate office. I worked literally out of my motor home at one point. In this first episode, I'm gonna introduce you to some of the concepts to maybe build a remote organization. Give you some tips and ideas, So subscribe now and enjoy this first podcast of Working Remote. So in 2008 was kind of an interesting year for me. I started in real estate back in 2002. Prior of that I've been involved in a number of technology companies and founded an eCommerce Logistics Company back in just before the dot com collapse. I referred myself a lot of times as a dot bomber and then and prior to that I actually built one of the largest online service is in Western Canada is called Interactive Cafe. Before that, I actually did a short stint working for AOL, and I'd been involved in again a number of sort of technology based companies literally, since I was like, well, pretty young. I was enamored with technologies starting at 12 years old. I remember, back in the eighties, there was a company that sort of hit my radar. I think I was going to university at the time Universal Oklahoma. And that company was called First Virtual. It was the first virtual bank. And what really kind of caught my eye I back at the time was the management team didn't actually go to an office. They they had conference calls and they worked on on the bank remotely. And I was a fairly successful bank. It had a Wikipedia page even today as sort of historical reference of the of the bank. But what was interesting was that they had actually, they ran a fully remote organization and they did it with really limited technology compared to what we have today. It always stuck in the back of my mind that that was one of the big powers of technology, the ability to build an organization without having to physically get together. Now, over the years, I worked for different organizations and I commuted to work like everybody else. I used to commute to downtown Vancouver from the U. S side of the border. When there was rush hour and everything else and many people concert relate to this, it might take an hour and 1/2 to get to downtown Vancouver. And if I left downtown Vancouver at any time after 3:30 it was pretty bad trying to get home. So it made more sense to wait till about 6:30 or 7:00 at night a lot of times to actually make my way home. As much as I kind of enjoyed the downtown scene, it was a bit of a pain. And so I'd work from home one day a week, usually and sometimes it was two days a week. And I just didn't fundamentally like the commute but had a good person I worked with, one of my mentors in business, so it was good to connect with him, but a lot of time to work in my office by myself and I'd go in, drive in an hour and 1/2 worked there all day, maybe have a few phone calls and then drive back home and I really hadn't really engaged that much in the office because, quite frankly, there was just other meetings and other things going on, and yet I did do my work and and did my thing and then and then went home. So I really because of that, I liked the idea of working remote, and again, I was a technology guy. This is actually a time in the mid nineties and around that same time. I think around it was around '93 or so I'd actually started my online service, Interactive Cafe and and that that went great, was kind of a fun project. We were basically almost think about his dial up Internet, but we really had kind of AOL kind of interface. We're building a community online, and then eventually the web showed up and kind of kicked our tail end because, you know, there's access to a whole bunch of information and Web pages are popping up every day, and, you know, it was kind of hard to sort of stay in that business. But I really still liked fundamentally the idea of building an online community. Not too long afterwards, actually, I think it's still actually in that time frame, America Online was sort of fading on its way down. Prodigy had been there. I was pretty big user, both those platforms. That's one of the reasons why I got tapped on the shoulder to work at AOL for a little while. And then in 2000... Well, first I went through a dot com collapse, so I ended up sort of working from home, trying to figure out what I was gonna do and tried selling some cars. And that really was not pulling me in. And and then I got my real estate license while I was looking for my next project, and it turned out that real estate was my next project. I built a nice personal practice, and my fourth year in the business had a team doing about $60 million production. And in 2007 I went independent from being inside of a real estate office and started my own personal real estate brokerage. And we we were up to four offices I believe in 2008, and then the housing market just totally collapsed. We were actually doing pretty good. We actually on track to have a much better year than we had in 2007 even though 2008 was slowing down. But with the mortgage meltdown, Lehman Brothers and all of that, we ended up really having to close three offices and and go into really kind of a skeleton crew on the 4th 1 up in Bellingham, Washington. And in April of 2009 a number of us actually got together and the question came up was, How do we? Well, somebody asked me, quite frankly, was, When do we get our offices back? And at that point, you know, housing market was still really, really slow. And so I replied that we're not getting our offices back. We don't know how long the market's gonna be the way it is. I think I used the technical term, didn't know how long the market was going to suck, and if it wasn't for certainly the Fed sort of being in there doing what they were doing at the time the market, it could have been really bad for a long period of time and so I made the statement we need to be able to build a defensible business model without any physical bricks and mortar. And around this time we were around 25 or so people wasn't wasn't a huge organization. Maybe if you combined Bellingham where I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, which was our second biggest team, and you sort of put them all together. Maybe we had about 35 folks in total. So it wasn't wasn't a big organization. But we said, you know, how do we build this thing without any any physical infrastructure? And so we built out some sort of mind maps and and and swats and different different things to sort of look at what that looked like. And what we realized fairly quickly is that if we didn't have physical offices, we needed a way to build community. And we looked at at the time it was Skype. Nowadays it Zoom, or Goto Webinar or some of these other WebEx all of these different Web conferencing platforms. But back then, Skype was kind of the one. We looked at Skype and it just didn't make sense. One thing that's a challenge for Skype is it's a little bit too transactional. You have to actually schedule, you know, actual meetings, which for some people probably works just fine. And then the other part that I saw pretty quickly was the fact that you had to have your webcam on in order to sort of engaged with the person on the other side. And I was played with or struggled with the bad hair day. You know, a lot of people are subconscious in front of a camera, and I sort of fit that mold a little bit. Not as much as others, but still enough that the camera was a little bit of friction for communication. And so we said, Okay, this this doesn't quite cut what we're looking for and around the same time, Second Life was kind of a big deal. So many of you may have heard of Second Life seven Second Life was the 3D... It's still around actually, it's a 3D virtual world, it's kind of a social network, and we looked at we actually literally took some of our tech team and other folks we went to different three 3D virtual world platforms and the Second Life piece didn't really work for us because it was too all over the map. It was too technical, still actually quite technical to sort of use the platform. But we really like the idea of a virtual world as a sense of place. And so that was one of our first truly enabling technologies that we embraced back in October of 2009. We actually, at that time referred to ourselves the world's first fully immersive Web 3.0 real estate brokerage. Now that's a little bit of a mouthful, I will admit. But we kind of saw the 3D virtual office as being the place that we would go to work. And so we did that and actually told the team because we're closing down the last sort of physical office that we had at a office building. And I said, Guys, take your computer's home with you and we had 3 guys that were working there; Kirk, Gabe and Eddi. All three I still work with even though our organization is quite a bit larger. Gabe is actually getting ready to quote unquote retire at a fairly young age for at least for a short period of time in his thirties, because of us working together for the last 12 years or so. But, I said "Guys, Why don't you take your computer's home. This is either gonna work or it's not gonna work. And so we all went home and we all showed up in a virtual world on October 6th of 2009 and we launched this company eXp Realty, and what happened was quite amazing actually. We actually started to work together, and we were actually more engaged in a virtual world than we'd ever been, in physical, in real life. Now, it kind of sounds kind of strange, but I was able to be more engaged actually from my home office than I was ever able to be engaged with the team from a physical office and it was because there was there was a place that I could sort of drop in, say hi. There wasn't all of that commute that went from place to place; And there were conversations and bantering and water cooler and all the things that would take place in a physical office. But it was done in a remote setting. Now we had to solve a few things along the way and in the podcast we'll talk about some of those aspects, but we we solved it very iteratively, very real time. We're all together solving these things as a team, and it really bonded us together. We've got a lot of basic, I think almost every single person there's only like one or two people that from those early days left the team. But since those early days, we've grown dramatically 20-25-35 folks. A few staff, some agents, multiple states in the U. S. to now a real estate brokers that's now operating in all 50 U. S. States, we're in most of provinces in Canada. We're in the U. K and Australia, and were combined probably with staff, probably over 29,000 individuals in those in those four countries. And then and then we even have remote folks that were actually in other countries as well, more on the technical side. But we've got some other other staff members that are helping us with the business. So with that, we had a lot of things that actually, we did really well. We built a community that is probably one of the strongest communities in the real estate industry. You do with some searches and start to do some research on eXp Realty. You'll find a lot of interesting data out there. One that's really cool, for the last three years, GlassDoor has ranked us is one of the top employers in in the US and that's alongside a lot of really big employers. I mean, same list that Apple and others are on. We rank in the top 100 employers. There's hundreds of thousands of employers that are ranked in this particular ranking. And in that same period, time I was ranked as a top CEO, one of the top 50 CEOs in the small to midsize category. Not sure what we're gonna come out, I think network Is there a large company? But we'll see where I where I end up this year on that. But this last year in the top 100 large companies to work for, according the GlassDoor, According to the Employees Choice Award. And the reason I've been able to do that is because we built a really unique ecosystem that really allows people to work from anywhere. I'll talk a little bit about the four A's that I think about remote work, and the Four A's are you need to be able to work from anywhere on anything with anyone. And what's the fourth A? Anywhere, Anything, Anyone at Anytime. So those are the four A's and I'll talk a little bit more about the four A's in a future podcast. But we really found that if you could sort of solve for the Four A's that it really provided this really unique ecosystem to grow a company. Now, virtual worlds for business is not a common phrase, it's not something you hear about. And yet I've talked about it for years as being the single most important technology to actually building a fully remote organization. There's a unique way to do that that gives you so many advantages over other ways of being remote. Now that's not to start to say that other organizations can't be successful working other ways, But from the way that I look at it, there's no technology that will give you a bigger lift in your business than trying to figure out a way to create a sense of place for your company if you do, in fact go fully remote. Another piece of the puzzle is that we were fully remote from the beginning, and and we're in the middle of the COVID-19 virus and reading a lot of the press and the news that that's out there. A lot of organizations are starting to see that if they're 100% remote as an organization, executives, all the team members, etcetera, that if they're all in the same boat all of the sudden, they actually engage in a totally different way than when you have two disparate organizations, one working in the physical office and they tend to be the ones that get all the attention and get all the resources and and and so on and so forth. And then you have the organization that that's remote, that is sort of doing menial type projects and labor and not very connected the organization, and even though they're there, they're doing good work, they're not recognized for the work that they're doing. And so for us being 100% remote organization we didn't struggle with that. There was no group of individuals who were more empowered because of where they worked or how they work together than any other part of the organization, cause we all work the same way. And so that was really one of the one of the secrets, and we'll talk a little bit about that as well in a future podcast. But I wanted to just kind of lay the foundation here for future podcasts. This is the first one and the future ones; The production quality and all the other things will get better with the with the podcast. But I just want to lay it out there that there's a really if you start to embrace this this working remote mentality and philosophy, because there's a philosophical element to it and why it's so powerful it could give you a lift in so many different ways. Financially... certainly. You've got a lower cost to operate. In a lot of businesses's, the single biggest cost to run a company is the physical office or the physical infrastructure, and then and then you've got the staffing costs to go along with that. And a lot of times there's a lot of duplicates staffing costs, especially if you support multiple physical infrastructures around the country or around the city, etcetera. And yet in a lot of cases don't actually need that infrastructure. Clients don't maybe come into that infrastructure. There may not be a need for or there may not be any client interaction whatsoever, but it's a place where you sort of work on whatever it is that you work on. And if you can get beyond that and you can get into this really remote work environment, all of a sudden you can be connected. You can have community, you don't feel socially isolated, and people actually are generally happier in the way that they work. So kind of a long intro for my first podcast and again thanks for listening and have an awesome, awesome day wherever you're at and look forward to having you on a on the next podcast. Thanks. Hey, thanks again for listening to the first episode of the working remote podcast. This is a work in progress, and it's only gonna get better. We're gonna have guests on in the future. We're gonna talk about many aspects of being remote and and how you can engage with your team, build collaboration and community on the cloud, and maybe take your business next level. So again, thanks for being a part of our audience today and be sure to hit that subscribe button. Have a great day. Talk to you soon.