An Interview with Matt Dollinger, Head of Industry Relations, Trulia

New Head of Industry Relations, Trulia

As many of my readers know, Matthew Dollinger is one of my closest friends in the industry. Some folks, including Matt’s wife, have called our relationship a full-blown bromance. (It’s the hair, really….) But fact is, Matt has been one of the driving forces behind the innovations at @Properties — the largest brokerage in the Chicagoland market, whom I have profiled as an example of a viable brokerage business model. The man knows what agents want and need, and what concerns and challenges a broker has.

So I was happy for Matt when Trulia tapped him to be the new Head of Industry Relations. I rather thought Trulia managed to pull off a coup on that hire, and I’m somewhat eager to see what Matt would bring to the table as he shifts from the brokerage side of the industry to the technology side.

I thought it would be fun to conduct an interview with Matt and bring it to my loyal (if silent) readers. It starts after the fold.

(Full Disclosure: Trulia is not a client. However, I have provided unpaid advice to Trulia on certain strategic matters in the past, and may again in the future.)

Presenting… Matthew Dollinger

Robert Hahn: First question — so how did the whole Trulia thing come about?

Matthew Dollinger: So Trulia contacted me about what they were looking to create for the position. Asked me what I thought, who would be good for the position, what kind of qualifications they would need to have. I gave them my insight, told them that the person would need to have a ton of industry experience. Not just being in the industry but being able to understand the needs of the broker and what their concerns were about syndication, etc.

I even gave them a number of names of folks – they took that information – and in about a day, came back to me and asked if I would be interested in talking to them more about the position and what they were looking at doing down the road.

RH: Nice

Matthew Dollinger: After that – flew out to SF – met with a number of the top brass folk (Paul, Dan, Rob, Daniel, and then Pete). Talked at length with them about what I had done at @ – how we had worked to develop systems to support the agent population, the automation, went through my “resume” of tech projects etc. All of them focusing on “how we provide value” to the agent of our company. Not just that, but developing technologies that the agents were actually going to need/use and focusing on the automation. They were really interested in that.

Robert Hahn: I think what most people are probably wondering, and are too polite to ask, is this: You were for years one of the key driving forces behind @Properties being such an innovative brokerage. And now you’re over at Trulia. As you know, a lot of people think there’s a sort of us-vs-them when it comes to brokerages and portals. Some people are going to think that you crossed over to the other side. What are they not getting?

Matthew Dollinger: First of all – @Properties will continue to be a dominant force in the world of real estate. They have built an impressive system that focuses on doing just that – supporting and providing value to the agent on all levels.

With regards to the us- v – them mentality – one of the things that made me want to take this job was the fact that Trulia (and I can only speak for them) and everyone I spoke with there discussed how they could align themselves as partners and allies to the brokerage. I believe that this is very well shown in the changes that they have made over the last couple of weeks with regards to the competitive agent ads, brokerage branding and additional connections back to the broker site.

All of the conversations that I had with the various departments – from the Dev. staff to the Sales Team all focused around a similar mentality. “How do we provide more value to our brokers – What do the brokers need from us? – What do we need to provide to them that can assist them in their business goals?

This was really refreshing because you have to remember that I (at the time I was sitting there listening to them ask these questions) was a client… shared some of the same beliefs of brokers out there.

But after sitting down with the co-founder of the company who had just gotten off the road from a multi-month road trip to visit with both clients and non client brokers across the united state to simply express their concern for the current climate and understand what the broker wanted/needed… This was pretty powerful stuff

So if you are asking “what do you think you can do here Mr. Dollinger” then the answer is – “I can bring the brokerage mindset into one of the most innovative and talented companies in the real estate industry and use my past experiences and industry relationships to help create a mutually beneficial relationship… one that will support not only the company (Trulia) but the broker, franchisor, and agent in the industry”

Robert Hahn: So if the reality is that the people at Trulia are really so very much on the side of the brokers, of the agents, of the industry… why do you think perception got so skewed? What happened? And how will you fix whatever that was?

Matthew Dollinger: I can’t speculate on things that happened before my time – that would be only speculation. What I can say though is that I believe it all begins with trust and understanding. Where that might sound incredibly trite, I think it’s true.

Robert Hahn: It’s not speculation — you were on the brokerage side for years; what did you not know then that you know now?

Matthew Dollinger: When I was on the brokerage side, Trulia always approached our business as a partner. I believe that they have some of the most talented account representatives in the industry. I believe that they have taken some necessary steps to begin understanding what and why some of the issues that have come up.

Moving forward though – I believe that bringing me on board is a really strong showing to their dedication to understanding the broker and their needs/concerns today. I have never been a “quiet” person of my opinions and have always been a strong advocate for the broker.

By bringing me on not just as a figure head but as someone who is essentially overseeing their sales team… their goal is to have me work hand in hand with their account representative, educate them on some of these concerns, and develop solutions that will benefit their clients. In addition, I believe that I have worked really hard over the past years to develop not only relationships, but trusted friendships with many brokers, agents and owners of companies across the industry. It is my hope that these people will continue to see me as a trusted ally that is working on their behalf – the only difference is that now I have a wider reach and have chosen to align myself with a really strong presence in the industry – this time on the syndication side.

Robert Hahn: So let’s talk about some of the issues. What are the top three issues you want Trulia to focus on in the next 12 months?

Matthew Dollinger:

1. We need — my team needs to continue to reach out to the brokers across the US (clients or not) and work on establishing a trusting relationship. This is not something that is done easily or quickly – but by listening and understanding what their challenges are (not only with regards to syndication) we as a company will be better able to develop products or solutions to address these things.

2. Trulia has already taken some pretty major steps forward on data quality, but I believe this something that we will continue to move forward with. I believe that we are going down the right path right now, and will continue to do so. However, This kind of ties back to #1 however, where if a broker doesn’t believe that you have their best interest in mind or trust you to represent them well, they might choose to not share their listings with you. If this takes place the

I have always believed that this has to be a two way street. I believe that by understanding the concerns of the broker we can work to educate the industry on the importance of providing quality data as a starting point.

3. The third thing that I see us undertaking is providing all of the ideas, concerns and suggestions that our brokerage partners share with us to our development department and start creating true, tangible brokerage services to support them.

The goal of everyone is to sell their listings – case closed. If we can begin to provide services to the broker that will help them to secure, price correctly and close transactions effectively, THAT’s when we will really position ourselves as a true partner in the industry.

We have some of the most talented engineers, designers and data technicians in the business. If we can share some of their talent to begin creating services to the broker/agent – this is going to be a game changer.

Robert Hahn: Let’s pick up on that last statement, as I think that’s the most intriguing thing here. You say that if Trulia can share the talent of engineers, designers, and so on with brokers and agents, that will be a game changer. I’ve written in the past, as you know, that one of the issues with real estate is that everybody is trying to do everything.

What, in your opinion, is the brokerage’s role in the industry, and what is the portal/technology company’s role in the industry?

Matthew Dollinger: I believe this is a touchy area. it’s a fine line between a portal assuming the role of a broker and providing support or services to “aid” in the support of their agent population. it’s definitely something that is going to be brought into consideration when developing these type of tools.

The role of the portal is to serve as a partner to the agent and broker – probably on different levels for each. essentially our job as a portal is to support our broker partners. Provide them with data, insight, trends and tools to do their job more effectively.

This is one of the key questions that will need to be answered in my discussions with brokers over the next few months. “what can we provide to you that will a) benefit your organization while b) adding to the intrinsic value that you already provide your agent population.

I think that this is one of those areas that my background and expertise will definitely lend benefit to… And an area where some companies have acted first and asked questions later. It’s only by getting a true understanding of what the client wants/needs/and is going to use that we will be able to deliver items that our client will use and find truly valuable.

Robert Hahn: So what surprised you the most about Trulia?

Matthew Dollinger: how good looking everyone is.

Robert Hahn: Got pics?

Matthew Dollinger: LOL, no. The real answer is that the most surprising thing about Trulia that I have found in the last few weeks of diving into the company is the depth of their team.

First of all, they have one of the most amazing sales and business development teams out there. The industry team that I will be overseeing continues to amaze me and in talking to their clients – many feel the same way. I felt this way about them when I was with @ but even more so now that I have had the ability to see it first hand.

Their leadership team has backgrounds in an amazing array of different companies from Intuit to Yahoo and everything in between. Their product management team, lead by Dan Hang is amazing.

But most of all, the fact that everyone.. and I mean everyone… is on board with this broker-centric mentality. The ideas that came pouring out of the meetings I have had with them are amazing and everyone is asking the same question… “would this help our clients? Is this something that our clients would want?”

Everyone that I have spoken to at Trulia has been focusing around this company vision and I believe whole heartedly that Pete’s announcement last week is only the beginning of really monumental steps that they are going to be taking. This made a really difficult decision ( in leaving @properties) a lot easier. Because it wasn’t just lip service, or making a concession to appease an unhappy client – I truly believe that this is part of the company business model that is going to prove a killer differentiator down the road.

I wish Trulia and Matthew both the best of luck, and look forward to what they will be bringing to the industry in the future.

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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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