Today, we’re excited to announce that Zillow Group has been named #4 on the list of Fortune Magazine’s Best Workplaces in Technology. We’re honored to receive this recognition because it’s based on employee feedback — and our employees are the foundation of our success, building the great products that help people make smarter decisions and transform industries.
As we enter our second decade as a company, we’re finding new and better ways to tackle our mission to build the largest, most trusted and vibrant home-related marketplace in the world. To succeed, we need to outsmart, out-innovate and outpace every other tech company in the space. That requires a lot of innovation. Here’s how we empower employees to fuel our efforts:
Small teams, big impact
We deliberately structure our company to encourage innovation. We keep our teams small which allows us to move quickly while tackling huge projects.
“We’re a technology company in the real estate space. Since technology changes much faster than real estate, we have the opportunity to be nimble and innovative.” – Alex Ivashchenko, Principal Software Engineer, Trulia
Small teams of developers can improve the user experience and build cutting-edge products with quick turnaround times.
Freedom to hack
Our employees participate in Hack Weeks – also called Innovation Weeks among Trulians – three or four times each year. During this time, employees stop their everyday work and dedicate their time to new ideas, ranging from building new features to improving our internal efficiencies. The week culminates in office-wide presentations where each team presents their projects to the company.
“Innovation Week gives you the freedom to tackle problems that might personally bug you,” Ivashchenko said. “It also allows for a faster pace and shorter feedback loop.”
“I love getting to see the diversity and creativity of the projects that come out of Hack Week. I always come out of the week feeling inspired by my co-workers and excited by how much more we can do.” – Sara Buzak, Product Marketing Manager, Zillow
Hack Week gives employees a green light to work on projects they think will enrich our home-related marketplace. Notable projects include accelerations of major tools like the Premier Agent App, add-on features like Trulia’s Rent Near Transit and socially conscious programs like Community Pillar.
In 2016, two breakthrough products at Zillow and Trulia started off as Hack Week and Innovation Week projects and blossomed into full-scale features:
Facebook Messenger bot: Speed matters in a hot rental market, so the Trulia product team created a bot during Q2 2016 Innovation Week to help renters find the perfect place – fast – by viewing and engaging with rental listings on a platform they are already using. Renters can quickly search for properties using key phrases, such as “for rent in San Francisco,” to see all properties for rent in the area, and they can further refine their search by typing in property specifics such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. With the bot, users can also get detailed information on specific rentals, look at neighborhood insights or even subscribe to daily updates with new rentals that hit the market.
“Our team had been monitoring the chatter around bots, and we were inspired to learn how to create one for renters. We thought Facebook Messenger would be a platform that a lot of renters would use, and their API seemed easy to learn, so it was really a natural fit.” – Corina Putinar, Associate Software Engineer, Trulia
iMessage app: Product teams at Zillow also brought the home search onto familiar platforms. During Hack Week 13, a team created an iMessage app compatible with iOS® 10, allowing users to conveniently share their favorite homes without leaving iMessage. As home shoppers increasingly use smartphones for their search, this feature allows them to better communicate with their agents, friends, family and other co-shoppers while on the go.
“The app is an easy way to share home photos and details organically in a conversation,” said Buzak. “It was a great candidate for Hack Week, as we thought we could get close to having a working product by the end of the week.”
Buzak and team were correct – after getting a strong start during Hack Week, the product launched just one month after its initial conception. Trulia’s Facebook Messenger bot also launched quickly following its development during Innovation Week, showcasing Zillow Group’s ability to move fast and think big while still creating useful products for consumers.
We continue to innovate on decade-old features, including Zillow’s flagship Zestimate algorithm, by leveraging the vast computing capability made possible by the cloud. Our data scientists are adding new algorithms to recognize features that may affect a home’s value – like granite countertops – and are working to incorporate that information into the Zestimate.
As Zillow has information on over 110 million homes, going through all this data for a deep analysis is no small feat. But by using cloud services to maximize computing power, Zillow Group is making this process as efficient as possible while delivering a huge, positive impact to our customers.
That impact can be quantified in the reduction of our Zestimate’s median error rate, which has decreased from 14 percent at Zillow’s launch to just 4.5 percent today. Much of this drop has occurred within the last year – the median error rate changed from 8 percent at the beginning of 2016 to 4.5 percent today. As the analytics team works with these ever-growing data sets, cloud technology allows them to experiment more easily and innovate even faster.
We regularly set specific, overarching goals called “Plays,” designed to align the entire company on a common goal and move the needle on a specific initiative with a big outcome. All employees – developers, managers, marketers and more – work together on the Play, enabling us to make a huge impact in a short amount of time. The audacity of the goal leads to a pretty fantastic celebration when we achieve it.
— Spencer Rascoff (@spencerrascoff) September 9, 2015
While we’re very proud of the work we’ve accomplished in the last decade, there is still so much left to do and plenty of room to grow. Want to be a part what we create next? Check out our open positions – we’re hiring all over the country.