Rich Barton

Posted by Joe Phillips on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 8:48 AM PDT

Rich Barton, founder of such companies as Expedia, Zillow, and GlassDoor, spoke in the Albers Executive Speaker Series on April 19th, to an audience of more than 300 students, faculty, staff, and alumni.  The title of his talk was, "Power to the People:  How Technology Transforms Industries."

Barton has a remarkable for picking companies that use technology to successfully disrupt their industry.  In addition to Expedia, Zillow, and GlassDoor, others include Trover, Avvo, and Qliance.

Barton started his presentation by showing the Apple Super Bowl XIII ad from 1984, which he said inspired him to grasp the "power to the people" potential of technology to enable people to do what they really wanted to do.  No matter that the majority in the audience was not yet born in 1984 -- at least I was!

In his presentation, Barton explained how the genesis for Expedia, Zillow, and GlassDoor all came from his own frustration as a consumer and his desire to have more control of his destiny.  In the case of Expedia, it came about from his frustration of managing his travel itinerary while a project manager at Microsoft.  In that role, he travelled all over the country, but could not shape his travel schedule to meet his personal preferences.  He realized the travel industry guarded the information that would liberate him as a business traveler.  To overcome that problem, he convinced Bill Gates to launch Expedia as a business internal to Microsoft, one that was successful and ultimately sold to IAC in 2003.

The Zillow story started shortly thereafter when he was trying to buy a new home in Seattle.  Again, it was a situation where the industry was controlling information in a way that short circuited him as a buyer.  Zillow was launched in 2005 to release that information and empower the consumer.  It is 2016 and the rest of the Zillow success story is history, you might say.  Being a homebuyer is a much more information-informed activity today!

GlassDoor was inspired by a gaff Barton made while doing some employee evaluations at Zillow.  He mistakenly left some employee performance and salary information in the copy machine and some employees found it.  In the aftermath of that experience, Barton asked himself what would be wrong with more transparency around such things as salary, benefits, and company culture?  It turns out that nothing is wrong with that, and GlassDoor has been very successful since launching in 2008 and successful companies are embracing GlassDoor rather than resisting it.

In the question and answer period, noted that, "Good ideas are cheap.  Execution is dear."  Good ideas are the easy part.  Actually building the company (execution) is the hard part.

When asked why he thought 2016 had been such a slow year for IPOs, he noted that part of the problem is the prevailing myth that companies do not need to go public.  Barton disagrees and thinks going public introduces a certain discipline that is good for firms in the long run.  He also noted a trend of waiting for really big market valuations before going public, but he ticked off a long list of companies that started with market valuations below $1 billion who have gone on to create much larger market capitalizations.

How does he think about horizontal versus vertical growth? He prefers the latter, because it is hard to do and if you can make it work, it is very difficult for someone to replicate, giving you more market power.

When he was asked where he saw future opportunities in the job market, he emphasized the growth of data and the need to manage it and get something useful out of the data.  He thought this would be particularly true in the marketing arena.  Sounds like a great plug for our new MS in Business Analytics program starting this fall!

Richard Barton has demonstrated a phenomenal ability to pick out businesses that will succeed in disrupting their industry by putting more information in the hands of the consumer.  It was a great opportunity to have him speak at the Albers School on April 19th!