Within six weeks of Keller Williams’ release of its agent-to-agent referral tool, Sarita Dua received $430,000 in inbound referrals and sent $1 million in transaction volume to agents across the country.
In the same time period, Dua added 886 agents to her network through Kelle – the company’s AI-powered personal assistant – and made over 1,400 outbound requests to agents she carefully selected after reviewing their profiles on KWConnect: the company’s education and information-sharing platform.
“It is real business that motivates me to build my personal referral network,” she shares. “I’ve added agents in the KW network with whom I have an established relationship, but also sought out top producers in strategic locations with whom I’d like to do business with in the future.”
This platform is the result of a process called Labs – a program where Keller Williams invites its 170,000 agents to help build the next generation of software that will power their business.
“We’re trying to solve real-world business problems that agents are facing every day by asking them to come sit in a room with us and solve them,” explains Josh Team, KW’s chief innovation officer.
Prior to September 2017, Referrals wasn’t on the company’s radar. It unexpectedly surfaced through a series of labs for KWCommand, the agent operating system of the future. Agents were struggling to find qualified referrals, were exhausted from shuffling through referral requests on Facebook, and were having difficulty communicating the status of referrals to agents on their teams. While this wasn’t an obvious challenge initially, it soon became clear that KW and its agents could design a better experience. This was in September.
A lab, containing over 225 teams with a collective $50 billion in volume, was formed in November for the sole purpose of solving this challenge. And, in February, just three months later, all Keller Williams agents were invited to use the platform.
This speed of development would have been a large feat for even the most agile of technology companies.
However, in addition to Labs, this was possible for KW due to the foundation that the company had started laying two years prior with the creation of the Keller Cloud.
Referrals – Born in Labs. Developed by Agents.
Building Our Data a Home in the Clouds
Anyone who wants to build the most powerful technology solution for their business possible – and outstrip the competition – first has to build an innovation engine. In technology, an innovation engine in its simplest form is a cloud service with artificial intelligence built on top of it.
The Keller Cloud is a very specific cloud service ecosystem that leverages the collective power of the largest real estate sales force in the world – Keller Williams agents. By putting to work its massive collection of agent, transaction and client data, Keller Williams has an incredible competitive advantage above anyone else entering the space and can ultimately create new consumer experiences at lightning speed. “Everything we do is about reaching the consumer,” says Team. “The development of the Keller Cloud began 2 ½ years ago after we realized that there would be no way for us to deploy the consumer experience of the future. We didn’t have a platform.”
For years, Keller Williams had affiliated itself with technology companies who offered “bolt-on” products to their agents. This resulted in silos of data, multiple systems that didn’t speak with one another, and an inability to access important insights that would move an agent’s business forward and allow the company to develop world-class experiences for consumers.
With the industry going through a period of rapid modernization, time was of the essence. Keller Williams could no longer stick to the conventional product development route of deciding to go build something, disappearing for long stretches at a time, and then releasing a product with fingers crossed. Instead, they would have to bring a product to life in 90 days – a milestone that was successfully reached with Referrals
A Courageous Decision Is Made
Keller Williams abandoned the traditional product development model and decided to pivot. Leaders were confident that there was a better way – a route that would allow the company to move with the shifting landscape of technology and engage their user base.
“Everything we do is about reaching the consumer.” – Josh Team, chief innovation officer, Keller Williams
“It was uncomfortable. There was frustration, but we knew the model had to change. We could no longer be accountable by the dates if we wanted to be agile and innovative,” reflects Adi Pavlovic, director of innovation. “Gmail was in beta for 10 years. Amazon put out the Fire and Facebook rolled out a phone. That’s when we realized that all of the companies we look up to have done courageous things that didn’t work out at first. Why not do that in real estate? Why not release products and get the ball rolling forward?”
Going Back to the Roots
The same conversations that occurred in 1983 when Gary Keller launched the company were happening in market centers across the country. Agents were engaged, excited and open to sharing their business challenges.
“As we spent more time with top teams, we saw that the feedback we were receiving was direct, honest and nonbiased,” says Pavlovic.
They showed a genuine interest in being co-creators of their technology. The model became clear – in order to be successful, Keller Williams could no longer build products for their agents, but WITH their agents. At the same time, they would build a collective of data together.
So, the team reorganized and refined the model of Labs, day after day. And today, Keller Williams has evolved into a technology company with a vision to redefine the real estate experience. Paramount to this vision is keeping the agent, with their hyperlocal knowledge and expertise, at the center of the real estate transaction.
A Competitive Edge
The Labs methodology is proving to be superior to others for many reasons. Pavlovic outlines several below:
Usually, you have user testing with a focus group after a product is developed. With Labs, however, we are able to brainstorm ideas, quickly validate them to see if agents find them valuable, and, if not, can catch red flags at the incubation level and avoid failure. A majority of companies would figure that out way later in the process after spending a significant amount of money on resources.
The process allows anyone to throw out a big idea that may not prove valuable today, but it could redefine how real estate is done tomorrow.
We can get feedback immediately from core users that other companies would long to have.
At Family Reunion, the technology team was able to host several labs on-site. Within 72 hours, and with the feedback of 400 agents, the team was able to design three products agents would find useful. That’s powerful. No other tech company would be able to do this. But with our army of 170,000-plus technology partners, we can.
The Innovation Engine Roars
The core of the innovation engine has been built with Keller Cloud and the innovation within it is powered through Labs. Now, with allied partners like Dua and the company’s large agent base, development cycles will become even shorter, products will become smarter, and Keller Williams is primed to respond rapidly to the evolving needs of agents and their consumers.
With this remarkable leverage, Keller Williams can move past companies who are pouring billions of dollars into technology designed to disintermediate the agent from the consumer.
“If our innovation engine allows us to build anything we want in 90 days, that means there is a race any time a disrupter comes into the market,” emphasizes Team. “Be confident that as these disrupters come to take your market share, you have the largest, strongest platform behind you pivoting. In order to be successful, they would have to get more market share than you and your 170,000 fellow agents have combined in less than 90 days. This is our greatest strength.”
And, because KW operates with only the best interests of the agent in mind, the company has made a data pledge to its people: We will always respect your data as your business and we will always allow you to take your data with you.
“I am very excited about the future of technology at Keller Williams and am a firm believer of the team,” Dua exclaims. “It became very clear to me, as I sat in the Vision Speech at Family Reunion listening to Gary [Keller] and Josh [Team], that we’re doing things differently. We’re moving faster than ever before. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this company.”
Feedback from the Field
The Loken Group, one of Keller Williams’ top teams and the first to get involved with Labs, has reveled in the opportunity.
“We really wanted to be a part of Labs so we could be allowed to present ideas that would help our agents,” shares Sara St. Marceaux, VP of Luxury for the group.
The team enjoys the collaborative and transparent process, which keeps the agent at the heart of the initiative.
“I love having the opportunity to see the bigger picture and vision at the beginning of a lab. And then breaking into small groups to see how it could work well for our business,” says Amy Flynn, VP of The Loken Group’s inside sales division.
For Lance Loken, owner and leader of the team, Labs works because it gives agents a microphone – an opportunity that doesn’t exist in any other brokerage.
“When we’re in a lab and suggest changes, within a week the changes we request are implemented. It allows us to see changes in real time. And, instead of having something launch and have glitches, we see the glitches as they happen.”
PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT THROUGH LABS
All labs begin with masterminds. This is where an initial group of agents share a problem they would like solved and collaborate, brainstorm and whiteboard potential technology solutions for the KW team to build or features and components they would like to see added to an existing product.
From there, KW technologists and product teams connect with the agents to design what a potential solution and an ideal experience might look like.
Information gathered at the collaboration and mastermind phases are delivered to designers who create initial designs to give everyone a visual representation of what a product may look like.
Designs are sent to the product development team. The team develops initial samples of how the product will look and function. At this stage, the product really comes to life!
Agents – hundreds or thousands – are invited to help technologists test the product and give direct feedback on bugs, as well as features and components they’d like to see in future iterations.
Agent feedback from the user testing phase is consolidated and delivered to product teams to iterate and create the next version of the product.