Robert Reffkin

CEO, Compass, New York, NY

Finding an apartment in New York is hard, so Reffkin started Compass—a website and tech company designed to demystify the process

I love finding new ways to make things better; that’s the principle at the heart of Compass. I started this company together with my friend Ori Allon, who previously sold a company to Twitter and a patent to Google, and who is one of the best engineers in the world. With my experience both at the White House and at Goldman Sachs, we wanted to partner together to use technology to solve a big problem.

That’s the key—starting with a problem and searching for a solution. We looked at the landscape of the US economy and discovered that the sector with the least technology was real estate. We then decided that the best way to introduce technology was through a brokerage. Compass is a tech-powered brokerage focused on simplifying every step in the process of finding a home. We do that by combining innovative technology and experienced agents. 

How do you do that? By hiring the best possible people. Ori talked to people from Twitter and Google, and I focused on colleagues from Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company. We built a great team, and we raised money from people who have invested in the world’s top tech companies, like Facebook. 

Today, Compass is live in the New York market. We’re the only brokerage in the country that has an app for agents. We’ve built tools that make it easier for customers to find a home, and we put power at their fingertips by equipping them with a consumer app. We offer online scheduling, online payments, and other systems that simplify the ordeal of finding a place to live. We’ll also grow by helping to connect our users to local goods and services through partnerships with movers, cleaners, gyms, dog walkers, and other businesses.

From here, we see ourselves expanding to cities across the country, and we want to continue to couple the best team with the best technology. Our secret is this combination of highly skilled agents and highly skilled tech developers. Our people have to be passionate. They have to be glass-half-full types, and they have to pass the “shower test,” meaning that they need to be so passionate about what they do that they even think about it when they’re in the shower. 

It’s been a busy first year for Compass. We’ve gone from zero to 85 people since we started. We’ve moved into our second office and raised $25 million. We stay connected to our base, survey our customers, and revisit our core often. That way, we get a lot of great ideas from agents and clients in what is a kind of incubator for ideas. Having great engineers next to great agents is what creates the magic. We are constantly prioritizing and looking at new ways to make this thing better.