Pete Flint of Trulia famePete Flint

is the CEO of San Francisco-based


 - in our opinion, one of the best vertical search engines that we’ve seen.

Focusing on the US real estate market, the site indexes data from major brokers and agencies and displays it alongside other information such as area guides and heat maps.

We caught up with the man when he was over in Oxford earlier this month….

What gave you the idea of launching Trulia?

The origin of the company was really driven through consumer frustration. I was based in the US and looking for somewhere to live, so I went on the internet and was really quite disappointed with some of the research tools that were on there.

I thought it was quite strange how there weren’t any useful tools for me to do research on properties and neighbourhoods, and that sparked off an interest. From there, I tried to look at the industry and understand what consumers, agents and brokers were looking for.

How have you been working with the estate agents to collect their data, and how receptive are they to the concept of vertical search?

Well, we fundamentally believe that the agencies will be involved in transactions today and for the foreseeable future. We approach this as very much a partnership with them to help them market their services, and they’ve been involved in the company from the beginning.

When we started the service, the vast majority of data was from the web, but now it’s flipped and the vast majority is through XML feeds, through signed agreements. We publish the specifications on the site so we get feed submissions from brokers everyday, and that works better for us. It’s about the quality of the data. We get a higher level of data accuracy.

Are you planning to use this data to provide market research back to the agencies?

We provide information about what users are doing on our site at a more granular level to brokers that sign up with us. We’re not looking to sell that data right now, but we think we can provide a really useful service to our broker partners.

We’re not exactly sure where it is going to go, and we’re not able to discuss some of our future plans, but we feel this is a really essential business tool for brokers to understand what online consumers are doing. We’re happy to provide that data for free to listings brokers that sign up with us.

From your feedback, what are the main tools and features house-hunters are looking for from real estate search engines?

We launched with just a basic search engine for homes for sale, and we expanded that when we launched nationally on our one-year anniversary at the end of September.

The new tools we added were ‘heat maps’ to allow people to really visualise local real estate trends; neighbourhood and city guides to allow people to view school information and other demographic data; and a comparison tool to allow people to make comparisons based on particular property types.

This is what we have launched with a team of 30 in twelve months, and we are constantly thinking about ways to improve the consumer experience and help to drive more traffic to real estate sites. A lot of the products we have on the site right now came from user feedback.

You haven’t taken a walled garden approach to your data – was this because you wanted to avoid being seen by brokers and agencies as a competitive threat?
We feel that when a consumer looks for information on a property for sale, they should end up on the listings broker’s website. That’s where there are the most pictures, information and virtual tools. That’s where the contact details are, and that’s where as a consumer I want to go.

The internet lowers transaction costs and consequently drives consumers to the source of information. In the real estate industry, the source of information is the broker or agency and our goal is to direct consumers there. That’s what consumers want and that’s what the real estate agencies and brokers want. We do that for free for all the properties in our index.

You currently charge brokers for enhanced listings. What plans do you have to expand your advertising base?

The model in some ways has started to flip, because we have a lot of listings on our site and people are understanding the benefits now, so we are getting a lot more people approaching us than ever before. So we have reached a kind of critical mass now, and we’re delivering significant volumes – we deliver 1m referrals to brokers every month.

That will continue to grow and if brokers are not on the service, they’re not getting the value and they’re not delivering the value to their clients. They realise we’re a trustworthy alternative to buying advertising, and we’re speaking to major brokers across the US. 

Have you started looking at markets outside the US – Europe or Asia, for example?
We are doing some research into our roll out plan. We are very focused in the US but at the same time, we expect to launch internationally in the future. I can’t give exact timings though.

What are your thoughts on the European market?

I can’t really comment on the order and timing of international rollout, but we have the most sophisticated real estate search technology in the world and we have had a lot of international interest in the service.

What’s different about the US and Europe, in terms of business culture?

Well, in the US, they’ve managed to assemble all the ingredients for start-ups. Everything is in such a small radius, it’s easier to do deals and find people and share ideas, and that’s one of the secrets of its success. The other factor is it’s such a huge market compared to Europe, which is increasingly becoming one big market but is still very locally based. Everyone wants something different, and that’s not forgetting the language and currency issues.

Are you looking at other verticals?
We’re not really looking at that right now. We think the real estate industry is a very large and interesting problem and opportunity, and that’s our primary focus.

Any plans for mobile features?

I think it would be great to use the service on the move, an increasing number of people have web-based services on the phone. We’ve a number of other priorities but it could be a really useful tool.

How’s it compare to


, and have you adopted any of its ideas in terms of your management style?
It’s a really different industry. We’re a media company, we’re selling advertising, whereas for them it was transaction based. We have this thing, a culture called BOFFI, which stands for ‘Best idea wins, Output not input, Feedback, Fun and Integrity’, which we think are our core principles. They’re really important.