Like many entrepreneurs, Rich Barton is a fan of NPR’s “How I Built This.” He says it has long been his secret dream to be interviewed by host Guy Raz on the show.
But when he finally got the opportunity, the Expedia and Zillow co-founder started with a critique of the program’s name — specifically, its pronoun.
“There are no ‘I’s who built anything,” Barton explained in an email, recounting what he told Raz. “Anything. ‘We’s build stuff. And ‘We’ is way more fun than ‘I,’ in my experience. And the group of people I have been lucky enough to work with from college, through Microsoft, Expedia — and then all of the Expedia diaspora, many of whom founded great companies — has been nothing short of miraculous.”
He added, “I would start listing companies but I know I would forget some and feel bad. There have been so many. Anyway, the tight, supportive tech community in Seattle is huge part of that success, and I’m grateful and lucky to have landed here.”
Lesson number one: always credit the team and the people around you.
His critique of the name didn’t make it into the final edit of the show, which was recorded a few months ago and released last weekend. However, the theme did come up in other ways, as Barton credited his success to his good fortune in working with “an insanely smart and hardworking bunch of people” over the years.
The interview traced the course of his career from travel to real estate, from his early days at Microsoft, where he and his colleagues hatched travel giant Expedia, to his current role as CEO of Zillow Group. Barton co-founded the online real estate company in 2005, and was succeeded as CEO by Spencer Rascoff in 2011, before returning to the role in 2019.
A common theme running through Barton’s career is the notion of disrupting established industries through transparency, empowering people with information. Examples include Zillow’s closely followed Zestimate home price estimating tool, and the company reviews on Glassdoor, which Barton co-founded with former Expedia colleague Robert Hohman.
Barton said the key is not disruption, but provocation.
“Provocation is a fantastic marketing strategy,” Barton explained on the show. “I’ve had many companies now where I’ve used this as a tool.”
Barton’s return as Zillow Group CEO gave the conversation a more timely feel than many other episodes. For example, he explained that the tech tools adopted by the real estate…