The New York Times's Nick Wingfield just published a story on Redfin, about how a software company decided to hire a thousand real estate agents. The article doesn't make the case that Redfin will conquer the world. In fact it acknowledges how small our share of the $60-billion market really is, and highlights how employing agents through real estate's crazy ups and downs led in the early days to layoffs and low valuations.
But it does explain what makes us different: that as employees, our agents get salaries, health-care benefits and the opportunities to earn stock options, which in turn lets us focus on getting the right sale for the customer, not just the commission. There are still questions of fairness between agents and engineers that come up every month, but even in this entitled age, those questions hopefully begin with the understanding that everyone at Redfin is paid by the sweat of a real estate agent's brow.
The larger question is how the high-technology industry got to this point, where employing the people who do most of the work is a newsworthy approach? I came to Silicon Valley thinking I had found a kinder, gentler capitalism, where startup secretaries became millionaires, and ex-hippies ran Apple and then Google. This was before angry mobs slashed the tires of private tech shuttles, or employees in customer service published open letters about low wages.