If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song - Carl Perkins
It's been an exciting journey navigating the uncertain waters of legacy systems, disparate industry interests, fiefdoms, incentives and "wives tales" to bring Upstream to life. There were times it felt like we needed to brace ourselves for Class 5 rapids. But as we head into the NAR Annual convention, I realize the excitement is just beginning as we prepare to put Upstream into production.
Upstream started differently than traditional start-ups. It wasn't two people sitting in a garage with a unique idea trying to figure out how to build, market, sell and scale it. The catalyst was escalating frustration. The troubling inefficiencies and data control issues had been around for years, but they seemed to get more expensive, the liabilities greater and the ability for a brokerage to capitalize on their data increasingly "watered down." It was a frustration great enough for competitors across the country to collaborate on a solution.
The founders wanted to remove the inefficiencies and expense of operating in a patchwork of redundant and overlapping software vendors and MLS’s. More important, they wanted to develop a system that allowed them to control the distribution and use of their data. Giving access to one of their greatest assets needs to be specific and given with intent. Upstream is simple in concept but complicated in execution. However, few in our industry, even it's critics, argue it's merits.
So they all jumped in and launched what is now Upstream. They put in their own money knowing they were supporting a change to better the industry. Being competitors, they structured the company to eliminate competing tensions, monetary incentives and democratize decisions. Everyone has one oar and everyone rows.
A course was set. In hindsight, it was probably optimistic. What did you expect from a group of real estate professionals who wanted it "yesterday" and weren't technologists. It’s been said that Upstream may be one of the biggest undertakings in our industry since the rollout of the computerized MLS in the late 60's.
To the waiting practitioner, it seems that Upstream is taking a long time to arrive. "Haven't we been talking about this for years?" It certainly seems that way however the NAR/RPR vendor contract wasn't only signed in October of 2015 and it's first employee (CEO) has only been in place since June of 2016.
And it’s an inherently complex initiative. Our platform gives brokers incredible flexibility when managing their data and it’s imperative to get it right vs. “right now.” The granularity in which they can entitle access, control and delegate authority is unprecedented. We are touching a part of our industry that won’t tolerate trial and error mistakes.
Upstream is changing the way the industry thinks about fiduciary responsibility and protecting the consumer. Over time, we’ll even change the process in which we interact with data which is increasingly becoming more personal and confidential. Some say we are too ambitious. Some say that the project is simply impossible.
The true factors affecting our pace has been the combination of the willingness or ability of either an MLS or their vendor to integrate, , Upstream’s need to alter its strategy to adapt to new requirements, and any technology partners ability to quickly adapt to our changes.
Challenging rapids experienced through the pilots came in many forms. We quelled the concern by many that Upstream was NAR attempting to disintermediate MLSs. We saw friction when stakeholders' products directly compete with either Upstream or our partner's offerings. We discovered direct integration could, at times, create too much burden for our MLS partners. After all, there isn’t a standardized method to handle the Add/Edit function outside the MLS ecosystem.
Our MLS partners, especially those in our pilot, have been very supportive. Our MLS advisory group with members from COVE and CMLS meets every month without fail and has been influential in our strategy. It was the catalyst that created our Broker Direct Feed and RESO strategy.
Only a few short months since that seminal decision we have our Broker Direct Feed platform ready to launch. We've already mapped and can process back-office feeds from Northstar MLS, NTREIS and ARMLS. What's most exciting is the industry is embracing this new approach, and we already have commitments from MLSs across the country that cover over 250K agents. The list of MLS partners is growing every day.
Our new strategy doesn't eliminate Upstream's promise to alleviate inefficiencies and data control issues. You maintain the majority of the benefits with Broker Direct Feed. You will maintain 100% of what most say is the most important benefit: complete distribution control of your data. And you can continue to enhance your listings by adding additional property information not maintained by your MLS and add unlimited high-resolution photos, videos, and documents. Everything can be uniquely and securely entitled to a vendor at your command.
Broker Direct Feed does not solve all the efficiencies issues, but it's far better than what most brokerages experience today. Whether you enter the listing into Upstream or an MLS first, Upstream can eliminate the need to input and update information in the other systems you use such as back-office applications, marketing vendors, portals, etc.
Using Upstream as the "front end of choice," through the original Direct Input model will still be an option. We continue to deploy it in parallel in select markets. For markets where the feed option is deployed, it's simply delayed as we work with our MLS partners to accelerate the RESO Web API. Once in place and the industry is transitioning from the RETS standard, we'll transition to Direct Input.
As I look back on this journey, I search for what we could have done better. Ironically, our biggest shortcoming is free: communication. We've been transparent, hold monthly meetings with our pilot brokers and MLS partners, work with our advisory groups, push blog posts and hold Town Halls. It hasn't been a shortage of raw data. It's been a shortage of information that makes it relevant to you. It's the "whys" and "how does this impact me" that matter.
We promise we will be better. It will be a core competency.
As I mentioned, the excitement is just beginning. Upstream is rolling out market by market. We're able to launch multiple new markets per month, and once it's live, we'll be inviting everyone in your market to "jump in."
As it turns out, we apparently are doing the impossible.
We seek to create efficiencies by reducing redundant entry, help brokers distribute deliberately by giving them control over who can access their data and inspire innovation by removing artificial barriers when the broker allows.