In November of 2013, Steve Halpern took a big risk on a brand new start-up called Urban Compass
He wears the badge of commission agent #1 at Compass very proudly. He’s even more proud of his contribution to create a collaborative culture to the foundation of Compass’ principles.
An industry leader famed for his innovative marketing, Steve recently sat down with us for a session of Agent Talk to discuss his career, his early years with Compass, his techniques for crafting compelling, eye-catching creative marketing, and how agents can perfect their marketing game, too!
You were one of the founding agents of Compass, back when it was still a newcomer to the industry. Why did you decide to join Compass back then?
So I had the honor of becoming the first commissioned agent at Compass, back in 2013 when it was still Urban Compass. At the time, I was doing really well at my former brokerage, I was getting some massive accolades, like launching the first $100K/month rental in New York. But I knew I was ready to take my brand to the next level and really work with a brokerage that understood my creative energy and what I brought to the table. I met with Robert Reffkin right when Compass was pivoting its model from salaried to commissioned agents, and there were only like 40 people total at Compass. For me, it was like this instant connection with Robert, with the people at Compass and with the company culture. I knew that this is where I belonged and that I had the chance to get in on the ground floor and help build this company.
Your choice to join Compass has obviously paid off for you, but how did you come to terms with the risky decision you were making in joining a start-up company?
You know, I feel like I’ve realized over time that where there’s risk, there’s also reward. And I knew that if I joined now and if the company grew in the way that I was envisioning, the reward pay-off would be huge. I’ve always been a bit of a risk-taker. When I was still thinking about joining Compass, I called up my Mom to get her advice, and she said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard you this excited about something.” That was kind of a sign that going to Compass was the right move for me.
What was the atmosphere like at Compass in those initial years, when it was still just a core group of agents and engineers?
I always compare it to what Google must have been like before it took off. Just a bunch of people in a room, working hard to get this company off the ground. It was a really electric type of energy, lots of collaboration, lots of creativity. And everyone had the chance to put in their perspective. You know, at one point, we were trying to figure out this real estate problem, and one of the engineers got involved and totally changed the dynamic of the conversation. That’s how it was back then, everyone pitching in and helping out, even if it was not their area of expertise.
How has Compass changed since then?
Well, you know, obviously it’s gotten a lot bigger. There are now something like 20,000 agents at Compass. But the collaboration, the creativity, and the energy of those early years are still there. They’re part of the culture of our company and they’re why people still want to work with us today.
Why did you start coaching, and why did you choose Chirag Shah to be your coach?
I feel like, as a general sense, always growing and learning is the sort of thing that keeps you engaged, and there’s so much more to life when you can actually keep growing and doing better. And then, of course, you know Chirag has a totally different perspective on what we do as Compass agents than any other real estate coach out there. It’s the reason I chose to work with him as opposed to other coaches, he knows Compass and he offers a personalized, dynamic approach to coaching. He’s also a great resource for connecting with other Compass agents. His event in September, Accelerate LIVE!, is going to be a great opportunity for all of us to get together and collaborate in person.
How has coaching helped you in your business?
Chirag has helped me bring structure and clarity to my business. He’s also given me the freedom to hire people more confidently. You know, when you’re putting together marketing content, you need help, and Chirag made me realize that it’s okay to hire somebody that will help you create consistency in your business and your creative output.
What is the philosophy behind your unique creative marketing?
I feel like a lot of agents try to separate who they are as individuals from the image they project to clients. That was never going to work for me. I feel like, in anything you do in life, you have to be authentic and true to yourself. That’s what I convey in my marketing. I try to connect with people in a way that’s true to myself, my interests, my likes and dislikes, and I think that’s what makes it stand out. It’s real in a way that simple listing marketing posts wouldn’t be.
Your social media presence is about a lot more than just real estate or your business. How do you strike a balance between posting about listings and deals and posting about yourself?
I know a lot of agents who just use Facebook or Instagram to advertise their listings. It’s like strictly a business feed, and I get that. But that’s boring to me. So I always try to build my marketing and posting around the things that are personal and important to me. You know, sometimes that’s rap music, sometimes that’s my favorite spots around the city, sometimes I even get into politics and social justice. I know that that might risk losing me some followers, but I don’t really care because, at the end of the day, it’s important to me, it’s true to who I am, so I’m going to post it. Now, my team also runs its own Instagram feed, @thehalpernteam, and we do post listing promos there, but even then, usually we try to make it more about the owners of the property, more human interest than just listing photos.
What advice would you give agents looking to improve their marketing output?
I think you first have to decide what it is you want to give to the world. You know, what is it that you want to put out there? Then, from there, you can better determine what content you want to produce and how you want to distribute that content to your targeted audience.
You have three pillars that you use in developing your marketing strategy. Can you share those with us and explain how agents might use them as well in their own business?
Sure. The three pillars encompass the whole of any marketing strategy. So, you know, the first pillar is mainly about the agent. You start with thinking about the things in your life that you want to share with people; your interests, likes, dislikes, personal stuff. It could be food, it could be animals, social issues, community involvement. But make it something other than, you know, listings. So that’s pillar one. Pillar two is about determining your target audience. You have to know who you’re targeting with your marketing (their location, age range, income bracket, etc.) in order to craft compelling content that speaks to them. Pillar three, the final pillar, is all about distribution; figuring out how this content is being distributed. In some ways this connects to the target audience. You know, if your audience is primarily young people, then social media would probably be the best place to distribute content. From there, you and your team can develop a plan to distribute content in the most effective way possible.