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From Microsoft to Expedia to Zillow: Behind the scenes with Rich Barton on NPR’s ‘How I Built This’

Zillow Group CEO Wealthy Barton speaks with Man Raz for NPR’s “How I Constructed This.” (“Man’s staff despatched some specialised gear out to make me sound higher than I do IRL,” Barton says.) Photograph courtesy Zillow Group.

Like many entrepreneurs, Wealthy Barton is a fan of NPR’s “How I Built This.” He says it has lengthy been his secret dream to be interviewed by host Man Raz on the present.

However when he finally got the opportunity, the Expedia and Zillow co-founder began with a critique of this system’s identify — particularly, its pronoun.

“There aren’t any ‘I’s who constructed something,” Barton defined in an e mail, recounting what he informed Raz. “Something. ‘We’s construct stuff. And ‘We’ is far more enjoyable than ‘I,’ in my expertise.  And the group of individuals I’ve been fortunate sufficient to work with from faculty, by Microsoft, Expedia — after which all the Expedia diaspora, a lot of whom based nice corporations — has been nothing wanting miraculous.”

He added, “I’d begin itemizing corporations however I do know I’d neglect some and really feel dangerous. There have been so many.  Anyway, the tight, supportive tech group in Seattle is big a part of that success, and I’m grateful and fortunate to have landed right here.”

Lesson primary: all the time credit score the staff and the individuals round you.

His critique of the identify didn’t make it into the ultimate edit of the present, which was recorded a number of months in the past and launched final weekend. Nevertheless, the theme did come up in different methods, as Barton credited his success to his luck in working with “an insanely sensible and hardworking bunch of individuals” over time.

The interview traced the course of his profession from journey to actual property, from his early days at Microsoft, the place he and his colleagues hatched journey large Expedia, to his present position as CEO of Zillow Group. Barton co-founded the web actual property firm in 2005, and was succeeded as CEO by Spencer Rascoff in 2011, earlier than returning to the position in 2019.

A standard theme working by Barton’s profession is the notion of disrupting established industries by transparency, empowering individuals with info. Examples embody Zillow’s carefully adopted Zestimate residence value estimating instrument, and the corporate evaluations on Glassdoor, which Barton co-founded with former Expedia colleague Robert Hohman.

Barton mentioned the hot button is not disruption, however provocation.

“Provocation is a improbable advertising technique,” Barton defined on the present. “I’ve had many corporations now the place I’ve used this as a instrument.”

Man Raz, left, and Wealthy Barton, proper, throughout an earlier dialog for a Zillow digital occasion for its actual property companions. (Picture courtesy Zillow Group.)

Barton’s return as Zillow Group CEO gave the dialog a extra well timed really feel than many different episodes. For instance, he defined that the tech instruments adopted by the true property business out of necessity as a result of COVID security protocols — digital residence excursions, digital closings, and so on. — will stay everlasting fixtures even after the pandemic.

Nevertheless, as a longtime listener and fan of the present myself, I used to be shocked that Raz didn’t reap the benefits of that timeliness to press Barton on extra hot-button points, such because the aggressive threats dealing with Zillow from rivals reminiscent of Seattle-based Redfin and conventional actual property companies.

Over e mail, I steered to Barton that Raz could have been taking it simple on him.

“A great deal of content material landed on the chopping room flooring and I truthfully don’t bear in mind if there was competitor stuff in there,” Barton replied. “You assume he took it simple on me, eh?  It’s best to have seen me the evening after the interview. Like Rocky after assembly Apollo Creed.”

He defined, “It was an extended interview — over three hours — which have to be a part of his course of to make it sound as actual and uncooked as he can. He’s an extremely gifted and sensible interviewer.  I might hear the wheels spinning as he was determining the puzzle — the story. I discovered fairly a bit from him whereas I used to be being questioned. And I discovered about myself, truly.”

Whereas it was Barton’s first time on “How I Constructed This,” he had spoken with Raz earlier than. Barton interviewed Raz for a Zillow digital companion occasion for actual property professionals towards the start of the pandemic.

Though his critique of the present’s identify didn’t make the ultimate minimize, Barton did share a number of of his finest practices for naming corporations: Make up a phrase you can fill with your personal that means and register cheaply as a site; search to include high-point Scrabble letters; and maintain it to 2 syllables if attainable.

That final one got here in hindsight, after Expedia was named — simply one of many classes from Barton’s entrepreneurial journey.

Take heed to the “How I Constructed This” episode with Wealthy Barton here or above.