In this episode of Agent Engine, co-hosts Brian Gardner and Jay Thompson discuss their encounter at Starbucks, Jay’s illustrious career in real estate, and how he passes the time now that he is retired. (Hint: Life is good.)
Announcer: Welcome to Agent Engine, a podcast for agents and brokers who are serious about building and growing their real estate business. Co-hosts Brian Gardner and Jay Thompson, along with leading industry experts, explore the power of technology, the value of community, and the tools you need to become a real estate powerhouse.
Brian: All right. All right. All right. A little Matthew McConaughey there. Hey, everyone, this is Brian Gardner. Welcome to Agent Engine episode number one. I am the co-founder and CEO here at Agent Engine, and I am also the captain of the ship here on the podcast. I am thrilled we are finally doing this thing. We will get into my background and the evolution of Agent Engine later on, but right now, I am most excited to share that my good friend and real estate expert and aficionado, Jay Thompson, is co-hosting with me. Yes, I am talking about the Jay Thompson of Phoenix Real Estate Guy and Zillow fame. He is the stuff that legends in the industry are made of, and most importantly, a friend and fellow geek. Jay, welcome to the show.
Jay: Well, thanks, Brian. What a fabulous introduction. I am indeed a fellow geek. I don’t know about the legend thing. A legend in my own mind, probably. But it is really cool to be here. As we’ve talked in the past, you know, I’ve been a guest on a bunch of different podcasts, but this is my first foray into co-hosting. So, I’m kind of excited about it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I think we’ll have a lot of good stuff to share. And I’m excited to see where this goes.
Brian: Yeah. You know, as I told you earlier as we were prepping for the call, that I had hosted and edited, ad nauseum, the “No Sidebar” podcast, and it was an experience to do that. I know podcasting is a huge thing these days and in the digital space, and I certainly look forward to producing the show. I’m glad you’re a part of it. We’ll have, as we agreed, you on, kind of, a majority of the shows, but then I’ll give you a break and let you do your thing while I, you know, run off into the industry and grab some people who are experts in their fields and stuff like that.
So, I was prepping for the show. I wanted to look something up, and I’m going to have some fun here. And I think you know the answer already, but I’m going to give you a clue. January 14th, 2012 is a long time ago, longer than I had thought. Does that ring a bell? Does that have any meaning to you? Do you remember what happened that day?
Jay: You know, it was a long time ago. Like, I can’t even do the math. Over nine years. Just over nine years. And my first impulse was it has to be the day that you and I first met in real life, which would have been at a Starbucks in Scottsdale, Arizona? Is that right?
Brian: Wherever the convention center is nearby. Because I think, for context, Shelly and I, my wife and I were visiting Phoenix with friends, we were running the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon.
Jay: Yeah. You were there for the Rock n’ Roll. So, you know, it was probably downtown. Anyway, it was a Starbucks somewhere in the Phoenix Metro area. And we had known each other for quite some time online through the social space and whatnot. That was the first time that we met in real life.
Brian: Yeah. It’s funny how you know people and can know them for years, and up until specific points, conferences usually are where some of the tech people end up meeting for the first time in real life. But yeah, like, I was thrilled to…, and I still have the picture, and I shared that with us, me, you, and Tony, I think, a couple of months ago. We certainly look a little younger back then, and that’s okay. But we are wiser in our age. But yeah, it was great to meet you back then. You know, we’ll get into the story about how we met here shortly, but here’s what I want to know, though. Before we start talking about our history, what I want to know, what a lot of people want to know, how’s the fishing down there? How’s the fishing been?
Jay: Oh, man. Let me tell you. This is, you know, we moved to Texas about seven months ago now. And I knew, coming down here, that this was a world-class fishing area. And it is. It truly is. I live in a canal subdivision, so right on a canal. I can look out my window and see Redfish Bay, which is very appropriately named because it’s full of redfish, which for our listeners that may not know, and that’s a game fish that hangs out mostly in the back bays, in the flats of coastal areas all up and down the Gulf Coast and East Coast.
There’s also offshore fishing here right out into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s about five miles as the crow flies to get offshore. But I don’t do any offshore fishing. I do all inshore fishing in saltwater, and it is genuinely world-class spectacular fishing. I don’t catch fish every day. There’s a reason they call it fishing and not catching, but rarely do I get skunked. I usually catch something every day. And the cool thing to me about fishing saltwater, in particular, is you never know what may bite or come up out of the water because the biodiversity is amazing.
I’ve caught redfish, speckled trout, black drum, flounder. Those are all edible game fish that most people may know. But then there are things like lizardfish, rockfish, and stingrays. Saw a shark the other day. The sharks don’t typically come in near the shore, which is fine by me, but they do get there, and you see them. So, it’s cool stuff.
Brian: Yeah. Every time you post on Facebook or Instagram, the first thing I see, and it” s usually around like your porch and your launch deck and stuff like that, the first thing I always think about, like, I start hearing Jimmy Buffet in the background. Like, no, it’s not like Key West or down in that area, but, like, it’s, like, you with a Corona in your hand, your feet up at the sun and the water. And I’m like, “Man, that guy is just…” And I say this often on your posts, I’m like, “When I grow up, I wanna be like you.” You look like you’re living a pretty fun life down there.
Jay: It is incredible. You know, like, our home WiFi network is named “living the dream.” So, there’s a lot to that. It’s a beautiful lifestyle. I have zero complaints.
Brian: Well, if anyone’s ever by me where I live here in Chicago, and you happen to see the WiFi network called “Starbucks WiFi,” that would be mine.
Jay: This does not surprise me.
Brian: Yes, Starbucks. So, a little bit of background information here for context. As I said, I am the co-founder and CEO of Agent Engine. I have two other partners, Jason Schuller, a very talented designer and developer. He’s our Chief Technical Officer. And Tony Clark, who is our Chief Operating Officer. I’ve known both of them for at least a decade. So, there are many tenures here, sort of, in our relationships and our friendships.
Tony’s been a dear brother to me. He was a partner with me at Copyblogger. And he’s around to keep me away from the edge. I am an idea person, I’m a dreamer, and I have all kinds of crazy ideas that I want to pursue. And he aligns me and puts my focus on the right things. With that said, we currently have two founding advisors, though that might change. And Jay, I’ll talk to you about that at some point soon.
Jay is a founding advisor with us. And as I mentioned before, he’s a co-host of the show, which is pretty cool. That’s part of his participation, among other things. He’ll be joining us for some of these episodes, and then he’s going to resume his fishing responsibilities. And maybe one of those conversations we have here on the upcoming episodes, you can talk about your dolphin friends that you found.
Brian: And at that point, as I said, I’ll dive in headfirst to the pool with those who are industry leaders, not that Jay isn’t, but in addition to Jay, we’ll talk to other people who are out and about selling real estate, doing real estate tech, and everything in between. I’m a little bit conflicted here about calling you a jack of all trades when it comes to real estate because you’re certainly a master of plenty, right?
The whole jack of all trades, master of none. So, I’m not insinuating that. However, over the years, it’s been, I don’t know, 20 or so you’ve been in the industry, you have served several roles and have your hands in a bunch of things. What’s the relatively abbreviated version of life before real estate? And let’s talk us through how you got into real estate.
Jay: Sure. And I’m glad you said relatively abbreviated because I like to talk, and this may not be of interest to some people, but I think it’s, kind of, necessary, maybe not important, it’s good to know people’s backgrounds. And a lot of people do know my background, but a lot of people don’t. I’m sure a lot of people are going to listen to this episode and go, “Who the heck is Jay Thompson?” So, you know, it started a long time ago. Before I got into real estate, which was around 2004, I was in semiconductor manufacturing for decades.
That is, I worked at Motorola most of the time, Intel for a little bit, in what’s called a wafer fabrication plant. We made semiconductors, microprocessors, computer chips, whatever you want to call them. It’s a super fascinating industry. It’s brutally competitive. I started literally as a production operator on the graveyard shift three days after turning 19 years old. And I made $3.50 an hour when I started, which was well over the minimum wage, and I had benefits. So, I thought, “Wow, I’m in the fat city with this amazing job.”
At the time, I had no idea that it would turn into a lifetime in a career. So, I spent 20 years in the semiconductor manufacturing arena and did many different jobs. Moving up from production operator into the engineering side; and was an engineering technician for years. And then I got into the management side of things. In the last three or so years I spent in HR management. That was, kind of, always my dream job. I have no idea why but I wanted to be an HR manager. I thought it was cool stuff.
I remember I applied for this HR job and got rejected, and I was crushed. And basically, I was told, “We can only hire HR managers that have college degrees.” And I didn’t have a college degree at the time. And at the time, I was in my mid-30s. And so, I said, “Okay, fine. I want this job. I’m gonna go back to college and get a degree just so I can be an HR manager,” which I did. I went to St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, which is a great school that Motorola had a tuition reimbursement at the time, so basically, her college was covered.
It was pretty brutal, though, being an adult with brand new kids and trying to go to school simultaneously. But I managed to. I ended up graduating when I was 38 years old. It was a bachelor of liberal studies with a human resource management concentration, and I got my HR dream job. And not long after that, the whole semiconductor industry took a significant, giant downturn. I mean, it’s a very cyclical industry to start with. But back in the, what would it have been, the mid-’90s or maybe mid…whenever it was, mid-long time ago, mid-’90s, the Japanese were dumping a bunch of integrated circuits into the U.S. at under cost and undermining all the semiconductor fabs.
Long story short, all I did for the last year or more in HR was close down factories and lay people off, which, to be frank, sucked. I didn’t get into HR to lay people off. I got into HR to help people. So, every Monday morning, I’d open my office door, take a little peek through the door crack, and there would be a list of names on my desk of people that I had to invite into my office and lay off, which was terrible. I mean, I had… There were people with 25, 30, 35 years of service with the company, and they’re sitting across from my desk, and I’m like, “Sorry, you’re on the list. Today’s your last day. Here’s a box. We’ll go pack your stuff up, and you’re done.”
And it was horrible. But you know, that’s part of life, I guess. And the whole time that was happening, you know, shutting down factories can only really mean one thing. If you’re an HR person, you’re like, “Well, as soon as we’re done with all these factory closures and shutdowns, we’re probably next.” So, there was a rumor going around that the severance package was going to get cut. And I was eligible for quite a bit of severance pay, so I went to my boss, and I said, “Hey, are the rumors true?” And they said, “Can you be out by the end of the week, and you’ll get the full severance package?”
So, off I went. I was severed from my 20-plus year career at Motorola. And I had no idea what I was going to do. I did get… I got a lot of pay. And my wife and I had two friends that had gotten into real estate about six or eight months before that, and they were doing well. And we talked to them a lot. And my wife and I said, “Well, what if we get real estate licenses and try this real estate thing? We’ve got enough severance and savings that we can live on for a while if it doesn’t work out. Let’s just give it a shot.”
I was done with corporate America, right? I mean, it was brutal shutting down all those factories. And I’m like, “This is a way to be an entrepreneur, to make good money.” It’s the kind of business where the harder you work, the more you make. It’s, sort of, all on you, you know? You don’t have a paycheck, and you don’t have benefits, you don’t have a boss. But if you’d make a go at it… We figured we could make it go at it. And so, that’s what we decided to do.
Brian: You had commented, and you had me up until you went to the second part of this statement of, “At the time, I didn’t have a college degree.” And then you… I was like, “Oh, yes, hands up. I didn’t graduate college myself.” And here, I thought we were kindred spirits. And then you said you went back to college and, you know, you were in your upper 30s. And although he was older even when it was, you know, the story of…you remember the movie “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield, right, which is the whole… How many? Probably back in the ’80s or ’90s, Rodney Dangerfield went back to college with his kid and partied and all that kind of stuff. And so, that was the first visual I got when you said you went back to college in your 30s. I was like, “Oh, it’s just like Rodney Dangerfield.”
Jay: Yeah. That movie wasn’t real life. It was tough. But the school I went to, St. Edward’s, had an excellent program for adults getting their degree. And the reason I picked St. Edward’s, there’s a couple of reasons. Still, the biggest reason was they had this program to build a portfolio and collect evidence that you had achieved a college experience through the school of hard knocks in life. You write many reports and a bunch of documents, and you assemble this portfolio, and they will grant you college credit hours based on your life experience.
So, that had a massive appeal to me. Because I’m like, “You know, I’ve been working for 20-plus years. I’ve been in management. Why should I have to sit through, you know, marketing 101 classes and all that kind of stuff when I’ve been doing it for 20-plus years?” So, I built this portfolio. It was brutally hard to do and super time-consuming. And I spent about six months working on this portfolio. But I can’t remember now; it’s been so long, I don’t know how many credit hours I got. It was on the order of 30 or 40 hours, though.
It gave me a year, almost a two-year jump into getting my degree just by assembling this portfolio of life experiences. So, that’s what I did. And my wife, bless her, was praying at the time, trying to raise one kid and give birth to another one. And so, she, kind of, saddled up and took care of everything while I worked and went to school, which was tough. But yep, I’d say, I jokingly say that I was on the 20-year plan to graduate because I went to college right after high school. And I went to Texas [inaudible 00:16:24] in Galveston for the first semester, which was a terrible idea.
My kids’ advice was don’t go to college on the beach because it’s tough to motivate. My buddy and I would sit in class and look outside the window at the waves rolling in. We’d look at each other, we’d nod, and we’d get up and walk out of class for the rest of the day and go to the beach. But that was when I was 18. When I went back in my mid-30s, there was not much of that partying stuff going on. It was nose to the grindstone and get it done.
Brian: So, we are kindred spirits because all I’m going to ever think about now are these references of ’80s and ’90s movies. Because when you commented sitting there and looking outside at the beach, all I could think of was the “Summer School” movie with Mark Harmon, which is when he teaches summer school, and there’s a girl in there, Courtney Thorne-Smith, who is, I think Pam was her name in the movie, and there was a… there was a scene where she was in summer school, looking out the window at the beach daydreaming; that’s the visual that I got.
Jay: Yep. That was… I mean, that was spot…that part of the movie world was spot on. So, yeah, going to the school on the beach was a poor idea in hindsight. But, you know, it’s all life experiences form and shape who you are and what you turn out to be.
Brian: Semiconductors don’t interest me all that much. I almost had to Google what those were when we first started talking about this. But it’s the real estate story, which, of course, is relevant to me and the audience and all of those, and to the last, you know, 20-some years of you and what you’ve done. Walk us through just some of the early stages. You had already said that you had, you know, take a little bit of your savings and, kind of, put that in the bank so that you guys could try this real estate thing, which, of course, back then is different than it is now. Walk us through how that happened, and bring us through the seasons to where you’re at right now.
Jay: Sure. And I don’t care if you got into real estate 40 years ago or if you’re getting into real estate today, it has changed a lot, but a lot of it is still the same. And where I’m going with that is real estate is a prospecting and lead generation business. I had a friend years ago that was on a panel, and she said, you know, “The thing about being a real estate agent is every day you wake up unemployed.” And that took me to heart because it’s true. Because as the real estate audience will know, unless you.
You don’t get paid until the transaction closes, right? It gets recorded and titled. That’s when the commission checks get cut and distributed. And you can work for days, weeks, and months with clients before a real estate transaction closes. Heck, you can work days, weeks, and months and have no transaction that closes. So, you do wake up every day unemployed when you’re in real estate. You’re working on 100% commission. It’s a tough job, but the big battle, in my mind, in being successful in real estate sales is prospecting and filling that pipeline with contacts and ways to turn connections into commission checks.
It’s a super challenging thing to do. But that’s what we did. My wife… I got licensed first. My wife got licensed a few months later, and that was just a balancing act with young children. So, we initially decided from day one that we were going to open a real estate brokerage. And in Arizona, where I got licensed, you have to be a licensed sales agent for three years before taking the courses and the tests for your broker’s license. It’s different in every state, but there’s usually some amount of tenure that’s required as an agent before you can become a broker. But that was our goal from day one.
“We’re gonna put in three years as sales agents, and then we’re gonna open a brokerage.” And that’s precisely what we did. I’ve managed to find a great broker with Century 21 who had been in the industry forever. He was a great mentor. Taught… See, real estate school, real estate licensing school teaches you nothing about selling real estate or building a business. The sole purpose of a real estate licensing school is to get you to pass the licensing exam. And they do an excellent job of that, but that’s it. That’s as far as it goes.
So, we found a great broker who was a great mentor, taught us the business. And we told them from day one, “We’re gonna open a brokerage in three years.” And he, kind of, nodded his head and goes, “Yeah, yeah, that’s what everybody says. And most people don’t do it.” But that was what I wanted to do. I tried to open my brokerage to do real estate sales the way I wanted to. So, it was somewhat selfish. So, we did that. We started. It was rough in the beginning. It’s always rough in the beginning for a real estate salesperson.
There’s a tremendous amount of turnover in the real estate sales industry. Something like, depending on whose data you believe, 80% to 90% of agents don’t make it the first two years. Because it’s hard, and there’s very little income coming in in the beginning. So, it’s tough. But we powered through that. I spent a lot of time in a little old fashioned, which then was called floor time. Meaning you got to go to the brokerage office and sit at a desk and wait for the brokerage phone to ring because they were running classified ads in the newspaper.
The brokerage had a website, but this was 2004, and there wasn’t a lot of web activity in real estate. There was no Zillow. There was realtor.com. But the whole web scene in the early 2000s was very primitive in real estate. But while I sat at that floor time desk waiting for the phone to ring, I decided, “Hey, this internet thing is going to be big in real estate, so I might as well start working on it.” And by that, I mean start building a website, which I did with WordPress, completely self-taught. And I created a couple of pretty nice-looking sites. And then one day, I can’t remember when it was, but I decided, in a flash of brilliance, I said, “I’m gonna start a blog.”
And at the time, there were only a handful of real estate blogs. I mean, you had to dig deep to find a real estate specific blog. You know, the connotation of the blog back in the early 2000s, in the mid-2000s, was, “It’s just a personal journal. That’s what a blog is.” And it seemed to me… I love to write. I always loved to write. I think I’m reasonably good at it. It’s relatively painless for me to write. And I know some people struggle. They sit down at a computer and with a blank screen, and they’re like, “I don’t even know where to start.” So, I had the gift, so to speak, of being able to write. And I enjoy doing it.
So, I’m like, “I’m just gonna start putting real estate content on this blog, figure out this search engine optimization thing, and see if I can drag out some business from it.” And I thought, you know, “If I can close two or three or four transactions a year from my blog, that’s not bad. And maybe if I close those transactions, those clients will refer me to other clients, and I can slowly start building a business from the blog.” It did nothing for six months because, to be honest, I was writing blog posts about once a week, maybe twice a week on a good week.
And as I learned more about SEO, search engine optimization, I realized I need to generate a bunch more content because that will make Google notice me or notice the blog. So, that’s when I cracked down. And I started posting almost every day on phoenixrealestateguy.com. About probably four or five months after the daily posting, things just started to click. The phone started ringing. I started getting emails. People were finding blog posts and contacting me to help them buy and sell a house. So, I was like, “Holy crap, this thing works. This blogging stuff works.”
And it worked so well to the point where the time came to get my brokerage license, and I’m like, “You know, not only do we wanna become a brokerage, we need to.” Because I’m starting to get so many contacts from the blog that, to be honest, I was blowing a lot of them off. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with all the leads it was generating. So, my wife and I sat down, and we said, “Okay, now’s the time to open the brokerage.” I went and got my broker’s license. Boy, I posted on Phoenix Real Estate Guy the day that Thompson’s Realty opened.
We were small, independent, not affiliated with Century 21 or RE/MAX or anything like that. Independent brokerage, [inaudible 00:25:10] Thompson’s Realty. The day I posted that we were open for business, my phone lit up, and it was agents wanting to come work for us or work with us. That’s what you do in real estate. And I looked at my wife, and I’m like, “Holy crap. We never really talked about hiring agents.” We were going to work with our friends that, kind of, got us into the thing, give them some leads that the blog generated, and see if we can close more business.
But on day one, I probably had ten agents say, “How do I join Thompson’s Realty?” We had nothing planned. We had no independent contractor agreements ready for agents to sign. We had no commission split structure. We had zero. And we were like, “Okay. Do we do this? Do we dive in and start bringing in agents to hang their license with Thompson’s Realty?” And it seemed like the right thing to do. So, that’s what we did. And we winged a lot of it, which, in hindsight, is probably a mistake. But I mean, we never got sued.
I was very proud that my brokerage was open, very few like I can count on two fingers the number of agents that left the brokerage voluntarily, people stuck with us. We did feed them contacts from the blog, but I think it was more than that. It’s we gave agents the freedom basically to do what they wanted to do, obviously, within legal and ethical boundaries. But I wasn’t a big fan of, “You’re here to promote my brokerage, and you’ve got to put the Thompson’s Realty on your webpage, and it’s gotta be at the top and bigger than your name.”
I was like, “No. You know what? We’ll let agents brand themselves with our backing and support.” We were a “virtual brokerage,” meaning…and I’m making quotation marks in the air, which doesn’t work on a podcast, but we had no physical brick and mortar presence. Because in the State of Arizona, you can run a brokerage out of your house. You don’t have to have a commercial office space, unlike in some states. So, we did that. And that was, at the time, that was somewhat revolutionary. There weren’t a whole lot of people doing that. And we got… I got laughed at. I had people say, “Oh, that virtual brokerage thing will never work. People wanna come to an office and work.”
Well, it turns out, not all of them did. And it did work. And because we didn’t have a physical office space, which is probably the single, other than commission payouts, is the biggest expense item on a broker’s profit and loss statement is overhead. It’s the physical space. It’s the rent, the light bills, the water, and the copying machine, and all that kind of stuff. And we didn’t have any of that. So, Thompson’s Realty was profitable every month we were in existence, except for month number one, which is another thing that I am proud of.
Because some people joke, “There’s a reason you call…the word is brokerage because brokers are broke.” It’s not… A lot of people think it’s the road to riches. Open a real estate brokerage, and you’ll just…and money will pour in. It’s a tough little business, and it’s hard to make a profit in that business. But we were profitable every month of the year or every month we were in existence. We did that for about four years. And through the blog, that blog opened up so many paths and avenues. It led to speaking engagements. It led to agents joining our brokerage. It led to transactions. It led to a lot of stuff.
And the thing that…one of the things that led to was me getting to know several of the people that work for Zillow. And Zillow launched in 2006. Just three days ago, they had the 15th anniversary of their birth on February 6th, 2006 was the day Zillow launched. It was early in 2012 when they reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in working for them. And I’m like, “Why in the world would I do that? I have a successful brokerage.” But they were persistent in inviting me up to Seattle, where their headquarters is, just to talk to them.
I went up there and walked into Zillow headquarters and immediately fell in love with just what the vibe with what they were doing, with how passionate they were. And so many crazy, smart people. And I’m like, “Well, this might not be such a bad gig.” So, long story short, they eventually, actually fairly quickly made me the veritable offer I couldn’t refuse. And I took a job with Zillow as their Director of Industry Outreach, which is, kind of, what it sounds like. They hired me because…for two primary reasons.
One, they wanted somebody with agent and brokerage experience to, kind of, act as a liaison between Zillow and the broker agent community. So, I did a lot of that, which included monitoring for Zillow brand mentions in the social space and responding to those, which got very difficult at times. And the other part of the job that I did that people never saw, except inside Zillow, was I helped Zillow employees understand how brokers and agents think, how real estate works. Because Zillow hires brilliant developers, programmers, engineers, and all that kind of stuff, they don’t have direct real estate experience.
And they’re young typically. A lot of them never bought or sold a home. So, I was in charge of internally helping Zillow understand the broker, agent mindset, and what brokers and agents need from their products. I got input on products and product development. It was just a cool job. I loved it, as ugly as it sometimes called, fighting the brand detractors, but it was a great job, and I loved it. So, the plan was, my wife would stay in Arizona. Our daughter, our youngest, our daughter was just graduating from high school. She was going to go to college at Arizona State University.
And the wife was going to stay and run the brokerage, get our daughter at least going into school, if not through a school, and then we’d figure out what to do. And that lasted about six months. And my wife and I quickly found out, I mean, we knew we adored each other, but moving to Seattle, jetting all over the country for Zillow with her in Phoenix trying to run a brokerage, it was not a lot of fun. It was, like, kind of, a long-distance relationship with this woman that I worship and adore. So, I’m like, “Well, crap, this isn’t going to work out. So, what are we going to do?”
We have a couple of choices. We can sell Thompson’s Realty, we can close the doors, or maybe we can merge it with some other brokerage. And we were trying to figure out what to do when if it’s karma or serendipity or whatever it might be, but I was at some event, some real estate conference. This guy named Glenn Sanford walked up to me, who I’ve met before because of the blog. He looked at me, this is like a week or two after my wife had talked about just shutting down Thompson’s Realty and getting back together in Seattle, and he looked at me, and he said, “Have you ever thought about merging Thompson’s Realty with another brokerage?”
And I looked down, and I’m like, “Were you listening in on my private conversations with my wife? How do you know this?” And took him over to the corner of a room, and we started talking. Glenn Sanford is the founder of eXp Realty, which is now one of the fastest-growing real estate brokerages. At the time, this was 2012; they were barely in existence. We talked, Glenn and I spoke, and Francy, my wife, and I talked, and we said, “You know what? The best thing we can do for Thompson’s Realty, the best things we can do for Jay and Francy, and the best thing we can do for our Thompson’s Realty agents is to merge this brokerage with eXp Realty.”
That’ll take all the bunker duties off my wife’s plate. It will allow us to reunite in the same physical location and do good things for our real estate agents that move over to eXp. So, that’s what we did. We merged with eXp Realty. I’m an agent… And I’m still hanging my license with eXp. I’m agent number 95 at eXp. And they are now; I’m not sure, they’re probably… they’re pushing 40,000 real estate agents. They’re huge. So, that’s what we did. We merged the brokerage with eXp and it, kind of went off and did its thing. Francy and I reunited in the lovely city of Seattle. And I kept working for Zillow for six and a half years and woke up one day and said, “I think I’ve had enough. I wanna retire.” And that’s what we did. We retired. And bam, here we are.
Brian: All right. So, lots to unpack here.
Jay: Lots to unpack.
Brian: Lots to unpack, from the idea of Phoenix Real Estate Guy, hyper-local websites, to grooming and growing a brokerage and all of this stuff. And I’ve learned a couple of things over the last few minutes. One of the episode titles of this show is not going to be “Who are these guys?” It’s “Who is Jay Thompson?” Because episode number two is actually, we’re going to, on the fly, splice this conversation into two episodes. So, we will, sort of, go through wrap-up what you’re doing now and things like that. And then, on our next episode, we’ll get into what Agent Engine is and how it evolved.
Jay: Which is important, by the way. And I was not too fond of all the stage, but it is a long story. But I think it’s an exciting story. And I think there’s a lot to unpack there and a lot to learn from it. So, cool.
Brian: Yeah. And I’m good with that. I wasn’t trying to say anything negative about that. Now, for the listeners out there or anybody interested in podcasting, the best way to fill a 30-minute show is to ask Jay Thompson one question.
Jay: And tell him to be brief.
Brian: Of course, the abbreviated version, Jay. No, I’m kidding. No, there is a lot to unpack there. And it’s essential because as important as I am to Agent Engine, I think the expertise you bring to the industry, our listeners, our newsletter subscribers, and those who are potentially on our platform, I mean, is invaluable. So, I’m more than always ready to accommodate anything you have to say at whatever depth or length you want to say. So, I will say that upfront. Here’s what I want to do.
Huge journey. Long journey. Lots of, sort of, in-betweens there. And throughout the episodes, as we move into the first season, you know, we’ll pull pieces here and there out of that. What… I just want to know this, though, I asked you this question, and I love this. I made a quote out of this and posted this on our Instagram page. Real estate, you’ve been 20 years. You’ve served several different roles. What is your favorite part of real estate?
Jay: You know, when you asked me that question, I thought it was going to be hard to answer, but it came to me immediately. And it’s because I’ve said it before. Every career, every job needs some reward, right? I mean, other than just a paycheck and benefits. If that’s all you’re working for, you’ll be miserable. I will never forget the very first sale I had. It was a buyer. He bought this condo in Phoenix. And when we closed at the title company and I had the keys to his condo in my pocket, and I reached in my pocket, and I handed him the keys, and this was a long time ago, and I still remember the guy’s name, Robert, and I even know his last name. I said, “Robert, here you go. Here are your keys.”
And the look on his face, the smile of the grand, just the…what he was exuding was pure joy to him, which in turn turned into pure pleasure for me. The best feeling I have ever had in any job in my life was handing the keys to that buyer. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool.” And at the time, I thought, “I wonder if this will ever get old, you know, this feeling of handing the keys to a buyer.” And I figured it probably would, but I was wrong. It never got old. Years later, when I would give the keys to a buyer for the first time, it was… I can’t even describe the feeling.
It almost makes me misty, to be honest, talking about it right now. It is a feeling like none other I’ve ever had as far as satisfaction for a job done. I’m like all the crap you put up with as a real estate agent to hold the transaction together with duct tape and baling wire; it all pays off when you hand the keys to the buyer. And conversely, it also works with a seller. When you can go to a seller, you have a listing, and you can say, “We got an offer on your house that I think you’re gonna like.”
Both of those things are just unbelievably rewarding. And I still, to this day, I’ve never found anything to match that experience. I’ve had many different jobs in my 60 years on the planet, but that is the best, hands down.
Brian: Well, it should go without saying, you know I’m an emotional guy. This podcast and any conversation we ever have will always be a safe place, but it’s nice to see you getting misty-eyed over something like real estate. So, here’s what I want to do. I want to bring up how our paths intersected, and that would be a great place to stop an excellent segue into the next episode, which is a little bit more about me and my involvement with Agent Engine.
As Jay mentioned earlier, his blog, back in the day, Phoenix Real Estate Guy, a hyper-local website, writing about content relevant to people in the area, was on a competitor’s WordPress theme in the space that I was in. Again, I’ll get more into my story next episode. But for all intents and purposes, I founded a company that created WordPress themes. Jay was on a competitor. We saw him as, kind of, an influencer back in the day. And so, we, sort of, did the pitch of, “Hey, if you move over to our platform, our framework, we’ll do a great new redesign and make you look even better than you do right now.” And so, Jay, I would like to say, made the right choice, for many different reasons.
Jay: Oh, 100%.
Brian: And allowed us to do it. Rafal, who was working for us at StudioPress, a brilliant designer.
Jay: So good.
Brian: Yes, he is. He’s a great friend of mine, and we’re doing our own thing separately now. But Rafal came up with a beautiful design for Jay. We launched the new Phoenix Real Estate Guy v2 or whatever we would want to call it. Jay not only had a great site that Google indexed and brought lots of leads through search, but it also was a beautifully designed website, which, in the real estate space, is very important, just, sort of, the whole appearance and looks and perception of value and stuff like that.
Through that, which was happenstance, somewhat, sort of, strategic, from my standpoint, blossomed the friendship that we’ve had over the years. We’ve always stayed connected. Several years ago, I, sort of, dabbled in the real estate space. The company I was in, Copyblogger, had a little brand called AgentPress. I never really went where I wanted it to go with as much potential as I thought real estate had in the digital space. But fast forward to this past summer when I decided that it was time to do my next thing, which is what Agent Engine ultimately is right now and what it will be.
And as we were forming a tight partner team, the first question was, you know, “We’re three smart guys, and I think we’ll be okay.” But I made the suggestion; I think that we need to find one or two people at the time as advisors, people who understood the space or understood how to scale, you know, a software company. And without a doubt… And I would have been crushed. And I’m so thankful you said yes. Because without a doubt, the first person that…and I even insisted, I said, “There’s no person I’m gonna ask before Jay Thompson if he’s interested in helping us with this project.”
Because…and I had a feeling… And I had a question here, and we’ll finish with this question. It’s a good segue into the next question. I had a feeling, and I’ll use air quotes now loosely also, this retired real estate guy might have a few hours a month here or there to resurrect his career and dust off the boxing gloves and get back into the ring. And so, when I asked Jay, I said, “Jay, hey, look, we’re building this cool thing. I know you’ve been following me. You’ve been, kind of, aware of all that I’ve been doing, but now we’re going to hone in on real estate and bring beautiful design, simplicity of experience, and all of that. Would you be interested in advising us?” And kicking and screaming, Jay said yes.
Jay: Yeah. It took about three seconds to make up my mind. I was like, “Absolutely. I am in.” Because you are, honestly, and I’m not saying this because… I’m just saying this out of the heart; you were one of the best, if not the best, designers out there. Everything you’ve done from way back in the Revolution theme days won’t mean a lot to some people. That was one of the first things I tried on Phoenix Real Estate Guy, was Revolution. And I just… I’ve always been a fan of your design, your attitude, your ability. And you make beautiful websites, and you do—the best.
And everything I see that came out of Revolution, all through StudioPress, into Copyblogger, and now Agent Engine. And you know, the other people listening will never know this, but anytime we talk Agent Engine in a meeting or a call, or wherever we have. The developers pull up the latest version of Agent Engine; I just sit back and go, “Oh my God, that’s beautiful. I love it.” I love your design. I love your philosophy and your attitude. So, yeah, it took all of the three seconds to say, “Heck, yeah, I’m in for this.” Because it’s going to be very, very calm and beautiful and functional and do good things for real estate agents.
Brian: Well, I feel bad, though, because we had the conversation about the podcast several months ago. And ultimately, where we’ve landed with our MVP is a lot more sophisticated and better functioning than we had set out for initially. So, for those listening, this podcast should have aired, started; the whole thing should have been towards the end of last year. Still, we kept iterating and conversing with agents who told us something they wanted in a system or pain points in their digital marketing process.
And I told the team, I’m like, “Hey, there’s a couple more things we gotta do. We gotta get this right to go out the door.” But with that then, kind of, came the inevitable delay of several things: one, the launch of Agent Engine. The podcast’s launch was because I didn’t want it to go out the door too quickly. And so, Jay’s had this podcast mic that I almost made him buy for the show sitting there for months. And he’s probably like, “Oh, we’re never gonna do the show.”
And yet, here we are, in early February, recording this show, looking forward to, sort of, moving into the next episode, talking a little bit more about my story, and more importantly, about what we’re doing at Agent Engine, why we’re doing it, and how we want to help the industry. So, with that said, and I said earlier, just the air quotes of the retired guy, which is, sort of, hogwash because, as I mentioned to Ryan earlier on our call this morning, I was like, “The guy says he’s retired, but he’s probably busier now than he’s ever been.”
Jay: I am.
Brian: But you’re doing things you love, and that’s great. And you get to, kind of, cherry-pick, even within the industry, what you do. So, just give us a quick…just a short window into, like, what you’re doing now. We talked about the fishing stuff, but, you know, you’ve got your hands in a few other things.
Jay: You can’t fish eight hours a day, seven days a week. I mean, I’d give it a heck of a shot, but I also have to exercise my brain. And I love the real estate industry. I got sucked into it back in 2004. And anybody that’s in the industry knows how consuming the real estate industry can be. So, I can never give it up. I write a weekly column for “Inman News.” I’ve been doing that almost since I retired from Zillow. So, it’s been over two years. I think I just submitted today call number 115 or 116 to “Inman.”
I’m proud that I was just picked to be an industry advisor or an industry representative for the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors & MLS. So, I’m on their MLS board. They have the foresight to hire somebody outside of their MLS that has industry and MLS experience. So, I’m doing that with Ryan, who you mentioned that you talked to today. Our first official board meeting is tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to that. Then I stay busy, you know, writing the “Inman” column, working where I can, as an advisor for Agent Engine.
I just…I love everything about this business and wanna stay connected to it. As you said, the beautiful thing for me personally is I get to pick and choose what I want to do. I worked for Picasso as a consultant for a little while because that was cool. That’s a second home buying thing that was started by a couple of old Zillow execs. I like to stay busy doing something that I think will benefit the industry. And I know Agent Engine will help… I don’t know if they’ll benefit the industry, but they’ll undoubtedly benefit the people in the industry. So, by extension, that benefits the industry.
I am super excited about Agent Engine. Again, I pulled up my profile on there today, and I just…I leaned back and go, “Wow, that’s pretty.” But it needs to be more than just pretty. I mean, pretty is essential, but it’s the stuff underneath, and the potential that Agent Engine has to help agents’ business is what excites me. So, I’m super stoked and super excited about being involved any way I can. I’m excited about this podcast. And I promise I won’t ramble on as much. Well, I probably shouldn’t make that promise.
Brian: Don’t make that promise.
Jay: I’ll try not to ramble on as much, but I am excited about this. This whole project is… it’s super cool stuff, and it’s going to be cool to watch it grow. And I know it’s going to grow, and it’s going to benefit you and the Agent Engine team. It will help the agents and brokers know franchises, associations, and other stuff they could benefit from. It’s going to be fun to watch.
Brian: No, I’m glad you’re part of it. As I mentioned earlier, I’m an idea guy. Like, I have exquisite, like, stratospheric ideas of what we’re going to do at Agent Engine. And so, we just launched our homepage yesterday. So, by the time people hear this, it may be a few weeks before that at this point. Again, I lead with design, and I have to remember that life is never always about design. It’s very much about design. But, you know, what we’re building at Agent Engine goes beyond well-designed websites and digital experiences and goes a lot more into optimizing workflow, growing your business.
Ultimately, you know that we want to help equip real estate agents and teams, allow their businesses to flourish, and make it easy for people to do business with them. I mean, even if we can come in and, you know, increase someone’s closing, one, two, three closings a year, just by way of what we’re offering, the ROI is without a doubt there. And we just look forward to playing a role. We will record episode two, which will be a little more about me and my past and what we’re doing.
And then, I’m excited about the following episode. I know we’re going to talk about real estate websites. We can, kind of, go back to Phoenix Real Estate Guy, how that helped, sort of, the evolution of what hyperlocal looks like. Things like Love Livermore, our mutual friend, Nicole Nicolay, and Robyn, what they’re doing. We’re going to dive into, you know, the digital thing, which is, you know, websites and social media and stuff like that throughout the season. So, looking forward to, kind of, getting nerdy into real estate websites as well.
And I think that we don’t have the fourth episode yet chosen, but I guess that within the next two, as we record, something will bring itself up to be a topic that we should discuss. And I’m entirely open to that because it reminds me of the scene in “Titanic” when Leonardo DiCaprio is eating dinner on the Titanic, and he’s talking about…I think Kathy Bates asked him the question, “Oh, do you, like, enjoy this kind of, a lifestyle that you live, kind of, all over the place?” And he’s like, “You know, just the other day, I was sleeping under a bridge, and here I am on the finest ship of the world eating dinner with you fine people.” And, kind of, just going with what feels right and.
Brian: And that’s what we’re about. We’re about what feels right and what should be from that. So, I just wanted to thank everybody for listening a little longer than we had expected, and I’m 100% okay with that. It was great. Jay, you bring a lot to the table, and I want to hear every bit of it, as do the listeners. And we look forward to the next episode, where we can talk about some more stuff specific to real estate. And thanks for listening. And we’ll talk to you guys soon.