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Simon Ru: ‘Why is the real estate industry still the same as it was in the ’90s?’

By February 9, 2015 One Comment

Simon Ru is the CEO at UpNest.

Describe what you do in one sentence: Disrupting the real estate industry.

Age: 36

Degree, school: University of California at Berkeley for both undergrad and MBA

Location: Burlingame, California

Social media: LinkedIn

Simon Ru

Simon Ru with his son.


What’s your favorite activity outside of work and why?

Spending time with my two kids and wife; the little ones are super fun to be around.

What’s your favorite classic piece of literature and why?

“Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau. It reminds me to focus on simple things in life.

Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?


How’d you come up with the idea for your startup?

My wife and I were walking around our neighborhood and we saw a “for sale” sign, and one thing led to another, and the concept of our startup was born.

Describe a time when you felt particularly insecure about the future of your company. How did you bounce back?

We didn’t get too many seller requests after our initial launch. We weren’t sure if the model worked. We went back to the drawing board and put a lot of focus on making our partner agents look premium to the sellers and talking them up. We sent photographers out to do photo shoots and intro videos for our top agents.

We feature agents’ reviews, past transactions, marketing videos and flyers so consumers can get a 360-degree view of the agents who are competing for their business. All these efforts paid off. Consumers feel that they are getting top local experts that offer good values, and they are telling their friends about us.

What would you describe as your company’s biggest victory since launching and why?

The overwhelming positive response from our sellers have been our biggest victory. Hearing that sellers love our platform and our agents and save thousands in the process has been super rewarding. Over 20 people wrote Yelp reviews for us within the past year, and their feedback have driven us to continue to expand into every corner of the country.

What’s been the biggest obstacle your business has encountered, and how have you dealt with it?

We wouldn’t have the success we have today if not for the network of top Realtors who are visionaries and share our belief that transparency and competition will ultimately bring in more business. Our biggest obstacle was to convince top Realtors that our model offers a better return on investment than the traditional advertising channels.

We accomplished this by talking to hundreds of movers and shakers in the industry, listening to them, and identifying their pain points of needing to spend countless hours scrubbing leads and waste money on ads that don’t deliver results.

We built a performance-based pricing model where we don’t charge any fee until the home is sold, so our interests are completely aligned. This forces us to focus on delivering consumers a great end-to-end hiring experience. When sellers handpick an agent who competed for them and who they think is best suited to them, they are happier, and ultimately that made our business model successful.

What puzzles you most about the industry?

Why is the industry still the same as it was in the ’90s?

simon ru office

Simon Ru’s workspace


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business since launching your company?

It’s important to be constantly pushing yourself, nothing is stagnant and we can always do better. That’s why we make improvements to our products and services every single week.

What’s the most overrated real estate technology?

Not sure …

How will the role of the real estate agent change over the next five years?

As technology platforms such as Zillow, Redfin and UpNest put information and transparency in the hands of the consumers, the power of real estate agents will continue to erode. I believe that in the next five to 10 years, the profession will develop into two segments: Low-value facilitators and high value advisors. We see similar bifurcation in other industries.

Reviews, stats, and social and multi-media presence will be the important factors in distinguishing the two types of agents. Facilitators may eventually develop into advisors, but there is less certainty that years of experience will automatically translate into a successful career.

In the new environment, old clients are less loyal, and they have many metrics to evaluate an agent. Brand recognitions are more individualized, and affiliations with a large brokerage will have a smaller influence in consumers’ decision making.

What motivates you more: power or money?

Power and impact.

What is your biggest professional fear?

That I am not making enough impact in the online real estate space.

What is your biggest personal fear?

Letting work over-consume me and losing sight of the other important things in life.

Who do you respect most in the industry?

Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin.

Would you like to participate in our real estate leaders profile series? Email

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