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An Interview with Compass CEO Robert Reffkin

Amit Bhuta

Making a sound real estate decision can move you in many ways...

Making a sound real estate decision can move you in many ways...

Aug 1 16 minutes read

A few months ago, my mom, like many people outside of the real estate industry, did not know who Robert Reffkin was. 

As an agent that works for Compass since April of 2018, I was always very impressed by SO MANY things that he does. 

Replying to all emails the same day and usually in less than an hour, regardless of your production as an agent, was just one of the things. 

Another thing, pre-COVID, was at every COMPASS REtreat (our company conferences), Robert would take the time to welcome and speak to every single one of the attendees.

Many times the attendance was close to two thousand people!

Another time I visited the COMPASS headquarters in New York from Miami where I live and work. 

Being a decent agent, but far from the best agent at COMPASS, I would rate myself as an average or slightly better than average COMPASS agent. 

Our team does about seventy-five transactions per year and our average price is roughly $1.2 Million. 

With that said, we do rentals for $1,500 per month and everything between that and multi-million dollar homes and condos.

 The reason I am mentioning this isn't to try and say we are doing a good job, but more that we are just average and don't stand out from the thousands of other real estate agents at COMPASS. 

Anyways back to the story.

While I was visiting the COMPASS headquarters, I could see Robert across the room and that he was very busy. 

With that said, he took the time to walk over to me, hug me, welcome me to the office, and tell me how much he liked my post on social media about my wife and our anniversary. 

Talk about how a CEO that is very well known in the industry really pays attention to EVERYONE at the company! 

Something that still wows me to this day. 

Back to my mom. 

My mom listens to a lot of books on audible and she asked me for a recommendation for her next listen. 

Robert Reffkin recently wrote a book with ALL of his proceeds going to charity

My mom loved the book and finished it within a few days. 

She is a HUGE fan of Robert know. 

I was fortunate to interview Robert Reffkin recently with my friend, Chirag Shah

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did when we interviewed him. 

The Interview is Below

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Chirag Shah:
I'll never forget the first time I was ever in HQ at an all-employee meeting. 

I saw Robert speak and I hear him go, "HELLLOOOO COMPASS!" 

And just the energy in the room. 

It was the most captivating experience I ever had in my life at that point. 

I was like, "Wow, this is where I needed to be."

Robert Reffkin:
HELLLOOOO COMPASS!

Amit Bhuta:
Thank you so much for joining us, Robert.

Robert Reffkin:
Hey. How's it going, Chirag?

Amit Bhuta:
How are you?

Robert Reffkin:
Hey, Amit. How's it going? It's great to see you both.

Amit Bhuta:
Likewise. I've been doing real estate for 17 years and I have three real estate heroes. 

Two are Chris Smith and Jimmy Mackin from Curaytor

They've taught me marketing. And you are the third, Robert. 

I get so many calls from people asking me about how it is to work for Compass. 

I've been doing this a little bit over three years at Compass. 

And I tell them that Compass makes you feel like you're LeBron James when you're that high school player on the bench. 

So thank you so much for that, Robert.

Robert Reffkin:
That's awesome. Look, I love everything you said, except you don't work for Compass. 

Compass works for you 😊 

That's an important philosophical thing for me.

Chirag Shah:
I would say there's like "Disney Magic" here.

When kids go to Disney and you see their eyes light up and stuff like that.

Robert, that's what it's like no matter where you go in the country for an agent at Compass. 

It's amazing how many people have said Compass has changed their entire lives. 

Friendships, relationships, their values, the way they show up places, the way they do their business. 

Agents have had the best year of their life ever that done it in six months this year. It's incredible.

Robert Reffkin:
It's awesome.

Amit Bhuta:
So we have a few questions that we're going to ask you. We're going to alternate, and hopefully, you enjoy the questions. 

So the first thing is what is a fun fact about you that most people would be surprised to hear?

Robert Reffkin:
My favorite pastime, other than being with my wife and kids is, and we actually do it with the kids and wife, are watching movies. 

Because I'm a huge dreamer. 

So watching a movie, you're literally in the dream. 

And I'm a big believer that everything is bad is good, and everything good is bad, because if you think that way, then you don't stress out as much. 

And every great movie, in order to get there, they had to go there. Right? It puts it all in great context. I love movies.

Amit Bhuta:
What are some of your favorite movies? 


Robert Reffkin:
Well, look, some of my favorite motivational ones are like Pursuit of Happyness. 

Of course, different variations of Rocky. 

I think the best sports speech of all time... ESPN actually said this as well, was the Any Given Sunday speech. 

Al Pacino, piece by inches, where it basically says, "It's a game of inches. Every inch matters." 

My philosophy is every interaction is an opportunity, right? 

So there's a lot of really good stuff there. 

But look, if I had to say one, I mean, it's old school. 

But Goodwill Hunting is just awesome, and it's even more awesome that it was created by two 20-year-olds. 

It was a great movie!

Chirag Shah:
So being a dreamer, right? 

And you get into this industry and real estate agents, like we always talk about, had big dreams when they get here. 

Freedom, potential, being an entrepreneur. 

Based on everything you've seen, what's the best advice that you want to give someone that's something simple and actionable just getting into this? 

Because there's a whole sea of things to think about.

Robert Reffkin:
Hey look, it's the same advice I would give literally anybody. 

And it's hard advice to follow.  

But the greatest advantage you have in life is the speed at which you learn. 

So you have to learn fast. 

How do you learn fast? 

You look to your left and you look to your right. And, what are the best people and companies and competitors doing? 

And do that. 

That's really it. 

So if I was a new agent, I'd be saying, "Who are the best agents in my market?" 

And you have to categorize, right? 

Are they individual agents? Are they teams? Are they luxury? 

What's their background relative to who you are?

Then I would try to adopt those practices. 

And how do you find those people? 

And how can you get them to mentor you? 

How can you get them to allow you to show their open houses? 

How can you get them to let you be on their team if you want to learn that way? 

How do you get more attention from your sales manager to coach you than anyone else? 

It's just learning. 

Just make sure at the end of the year, don't measure yourself by how many transactions you did. 

Measure yourself by how much you learned to be great for the future.

Chirag Shah:
I love that.

Amit Bhuta:
So my next question. 

You work and see a lot of agents. And as the industry continues evolving, what do you see being the biggest difference between those who are just in business and those agents who are really succeeding? 

Chirag, can you clarify what I am asking?

Chirag Shah:
Robert, I think a better way to express what Amit's asking is, is what is the difference between someone who is just existing in the business, versus an entrepreneur that's building and scaling?

Robert Reffkin:
In the word entrepreneur, the answer is there. 

It's like, how much do you try? 

How much are you a yes versus a no? 

How much are you - I'm going to give it a shot versus not? 

How much are you going to market more versus I do enough? 

How much are you going to reach out to more clients versus say, "Oh, I have enough clients. 

The first thing is top agents are passionate people, and they're passionate about their clients and their work. 

They love it. Love it to the point it's an addiction, which I imagine were similar in Steve Jobs and in Oprah Winfrey.

I imagine there are a lot of people that are like that. 

But passion toward their job and their clients and creating successful clients. 

The second thing is like the first thing I mentioned, which is they're always trying to get better. 

They're always trying to do more. 

They don't rest on their laurels. EVERY one of them. 

The best agents are nervous on Jan 1, like they're starting at zero. 

They feel like they have to build everything back up from nothing again. 

Then I would say hard, consistent work. 

Again and again and again and again and again, the same thing. Again and again. 

When roadblocks hit them, they see them as opportunities. 

I guess that would be number four or five. 

They protect their energy. I promise you this. 

The agents that perform the least versus the ones that go up, if you really had to categorize it, it's people that protect their energy and move it forward. 

Because people that have these things make them really retract and go down. 

You got to protect your energy.

Chirag Shah:
I see a lot of this, Robert.


Robert Reffkin:
And also people that have really created a sphere of influence. A repeat and referral business basically where they have a lot of people that will want to work with them again or they're friends with them.

Chirag Shah:
You know what's interesting guys is so much of this is the way that they think through things, right?

Robert Reffkin:
Mindset is key. There's a quote I put up in the last couple of weeks. 

It says, "He or she who believes they can, and he or she believes they cannot are both right." 

Because if you say, "I can't," you're not going to. You say, "I can," you may get bumps along the road, but you can.

Imagine if I said, "I can't expand Compass. I can't hire a 1,000 person technology team that we have right now. 

I can't this, I can't that. I can't." 

Then what happens? But there's something about being delusional optimistic where you shoot.

Chirag Shah:
Delusionally optimistic! Robert, I think that's like a new great quote. Be delusionally optimistic as an entrepreneur.

Robert Reffkin:
The top agents say, "This is going to be my best year ever." 

They don't usually get there, but their numbers are REALLY HIGH. 

I'm like, "Go do it. I know you're going to do it." 

But it doesn't really matter. 

Sometimes they get it, but where they're like really optimistic to go for it. 

They set BIG TARGETS, BIG GOALS.

Chirag Shah:
So a quick digression. There are a thousand people on the engineering team now?

Robert Reffkin:
Yep. 1,000 people. So two years ago, it was around 150. We now have 1,000. 

I think one of the best things that we as a company have been able to deliver is a 1,000 person technology team. 

I give you my commitment and my word that this time next year 95 plus percent of our agents are going to say, "Everything that I need in software is here. Everything. It's all here." 

The next 12 months, I tell you, you'll remember I said this 12 months from now, or at least at certain points through the next 12 months. 

You're going to feel and see a company transform for you.

Amit Bhuta:
Nice.

Chirag Shah:
That's awesome.

Amit Bhuta:
Robert, one of the things that I tell sellers. They'll say like, "Why should I hire Compass?" 

Besides all the other things we say, I say, "Do you use your phone a lot?" 

And they're like, "Yeah, I use it all the time." 

I say, "Do me a favor, Google mobile engineer and whatever brokerage you're thinking about using and do the same thing for Compass." 

If you do Compass, you have pages and pages of that. 

If you do any other broker, there's nothing. Nothing at all. It's pretty powerful.

Robert Reffkin:
That's so smart.

Amit Bhuta:
Thank you.

Robert Reffkin:
That's awesome. I love that. Cool. I should try that. Okay. What's next?

Chirag Shah:
What's the best advice here for building your personal brand within Compass, with all the tools that we have available to agents through Marketing Center?

Robert Reffkin:
It's two things, and no CRM opportunity and no marketing center opportunity be left behind. 

I mean, I'll say if I was an agent, there'd be nothing in CRM that I would not do. 

It would be repeat and referral. 

I know it would take me a while to really input everything and continue to input everything. 

Things will be happening more and more. 

I may hire a virtual assistant or assistant and just to do it all for me. 

That'd be high ROI. 

You'll only have to get like one or two more clients to pay for it, but it would be years of work. 

No one would say, "Hey, do you do this in CRM?" Of course, they do. Everything. And same in marketing center.

But more broadly though. 

I think for your customer, I think it defined broadly those two things. 

What are the ways to reach many people at the same time? 

Those are all obvious, right? 

Be on social media, digital newsletters. 

But then what are the ways to make very special one-on-one communication? 

So we have gift center, right? 

I've been doing gifts all the time. Because the return on investment is always there. 

But also handwritten notes, happy one year anniversary. 

Every client would get a gift on their happy one year anniversary. 

All kinds of very personal things. I'd been watching my clients. 

I'd watch my clients and see when they have special moments in their lives. 

"Oh, I saw your kid graduated high school. Congratulations." Handwritten note.

Amit Bhuta:
Well, just to be mindful of your time, if I could ask you one last thing and it's sort of interesting. What are you most excited about?

Robert Reffkin:
Look, I give you certainty we are in the best place we have ever been. I'll define it as this. 

There was no point in the last eight and a half years I would rather be in than now, right? 

Which by definition means we're the best place we've ever been. 

We have a 1,000 person technology team, right? 

Our chief product officer was CEO of Amazon Prime Video and launched Alexa and Amazon. 

We hired the CTO of AI from Microsoft. 

And before that, was CTO of Consumer at Amazon. 

We have more revenue than we've ever had. 

We have more markets than we've ever been in. 

We have a higher agent happiness score than we've ever had. 

Our agents are growing our business faster than they've ever grown.

We are investing more in products and services for agents than we've ever had. 

I'm incredibly excited about that. 

And I think specifically the thing that I'm most excited by is what I told you earlier, that this time next year when I walk the halls of Compass and I see you, 95% of people... And I say, "Hey, does the technology work? 

Do you have everything you need?" 

95% are going to say, "Oh, of course. There's everything I need. It's all here. It all works." 

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