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Zipvo Revisited: Zipvoplatinum, Business Models, and a Q&A

September 8, 2008

Greg Afarian of Zipvo.com was kind enough to alert me in the comments section of my original post on Zipvo that they are about to announce Zipvo Platinum:

I wanted to get back to you about our “incredibly flawed business model”. We are revealing http://zipvoplatinum.com/ after MANY months of production. We have kept ZIPVO Platinum a secret and because of this we were NOT able to comment on business models at that time. Unfortunately, that whole ads in video and ads in places on the site was a smoke screen to avoid the subject. (sorry about that) We feel that we have a revolutionary product that will change the way Real Estate is found, viewed, shared, and marketed on-line.

As I thought originally that the guys from Zipvo appeared to be really nice, really smart people, I’m glad to hear that maybe I wasn’t seeing the true story of Zipvo. It was kept a secret. 🙂

So the real Zipvo is apparently “a revolutionary product that will change the way real estate is found, viewed, shared and marketed online.” Cool. Let us begin the diving.

Except that there isn’t much to dive into, at least based on what has been released/leaked thus far:

Zipvo Platinum Products

Zipvo Platinum Products

Clicking on any of those product buttons takes you to the announcement, instead of any in-depth information about each of the products.

Judging by the front-page of Zipvo Platinum, there are two more mysteries to be unveiled soon, so that will be something.

All of those are very nice, but they do not answer my fundamental critique: How will Zipvo make money?

Presumably, if the “ads on the bottom of the page” was just a smokescreen, then with these products, Zipvo is going to adopt some non-advertising business model. That means either (a) subscription of some sort, or (b) lead sales, (c) data sales, or (d) some new model that has yet to be invented.

To answer these questions, I emailed Greg. The following is from that exchange, posted with his permission.  I will be commenting after each Q&A with my $0.02 on the matter.

Q: Business Model – My original critique had to do almost entirely with the flawed advertising-supported model, which apparently was just a smokescreen. 🙂  So… what IS your actual business model here?  Subscription?  Software sales?  Support contracts?

Greg: Yes, our original “business model” was a smokescreen to cover what we were working on behind the scenes. We will still have advertising opportunities on ZIPVO, but our primary business model will be subscriptions to ZIPVO Platinum, licensing agreements, and technical support for our products.

This is honestly a much better business model generally speaking.  However, it now gets interesting, because the issue will now be 100% be whether the products being offered are seen as being worth the price being charged.  All of the ‘free’ models avoid this thorny issue, which is why they are so popular despite being so weak.  Furthermore, since I happen to be working at a company with a subscription/licensing based model myself, I have to point out that Zipvo’s sales team will now become a focal point.

Q: Listings flyers – Seems to me there are a fairly large number of companies offering this.  What makes your product so different?

Greg: Our listing flyers are not necessarily revolutionary. PDF flyers can only go so far. One feature we will be adding is clickable hotspots on the PDF flyer that link back to the listing site. Also, our listing flyers are easy to use. Simply click a button and you get a professional looking listing sheet that includes your photo, logo, listing information, listing photos, and an easy to remember link where customers can go to view your video, more information, etc. That link is also viewable on the iPhone. These flyers are in PDF format so they can easily be printed and emailed.

Meh.  Clickable hotspots on a PDF flyer.  As Greg himself notes, this is hardly revolutionary.

Q: Online address book – Again, seems to me that there are a number of these things out there already.  What differentiates your product?  Very pertinent to this question is if you can answer why you believe agents and brokers would be willing to put their customer data on your site.  What sorts of privacy, data protection, and data ownership features will you be offering?

Greg: There are other address book solutions out there, and much like our other products one great feature is the ease of use and coupling with all your other online marketing needs at ZIPVO. With ZIPVO you can easily connect with business associates and customers. Your ZIPVO Address Book can be used to let your contacts know about a new listing, blog post, or anything else you want to announce with just the click of a mouse. We will also have a “Subscribe to My Updates” feature that allows ZIPVO Platinum users to put a link in their blogs, profiles, video pages, so interested users can automatically be added to their address book, much like a newsletter. We will be integrating a WYSIWYG system so agents can easily create professional-looking HTML emails.

As for privacy, our systems are very secure and all of our login information is encrypted. We backup our site daily so data loss is never an issue. We will also allow agents to download a copy of their address book in CSV format for their own backups. ZIPVO will never contact agents stored contacts, nor will we sell that information. The address book entries are owned by the agents who enter them. If a user decides they no longer want their contacts stored on ZIPVO we will gladly delete the data forever.

I am glad to hear that Zipvo is going to put in strong data security measures for their online addressbook.  But really, what they need to be thinking about is auto-sync.  I’ve had a lot of experience with these sorts of systems from my time at Coldwell Banker Commercial, as these kinds of document-creation and marketing systems are all the rage in commercial real estate, and one of the trickiest things we ran into was the simple fact that most people do NOT want to maintain three or four different client databases.

Without auto-sync, which is not at all easy to do, these online addressbook solutions become yet-another-data-entry nightmare.

Seriously, I hope the Zipvo guys are already thinking about this, and have very easy, very simple auto-sync — and I mean auto-sync, not “download a file in CSV and upload to whatever” — solutions in the works.

Also, WYSIWYG system for the agents is a great idea.  But again, based on my experience, Zipvo should seriously be looking at bringing in office admins instead of agents.  When I deployed a similar system at CBC, what I found was that no matter how much education and training were provided, agents simply did not want to spend time making flyers and HTML emails.  They wanted their admins to do it for them.  Things might be different in residential real estate, but I doubt it.

Differentiation will also be a real issue — how the heck do you differentiate yourself using templated designs?  It’s awfully hard to do.

Q: Singe property websites – People are already doing this, so presumably, the product will offer some value that they are unable to access by themselves.  What is that value?

Greg: Single property websites are nothing new, and have certainly caught on over the last few years. We have three points we feel make ours unique. First, we offer a domain registration service where you can instantly register a domain such as 123mainstreet.com for your single property site. Second, the single property sites are under the umbrella of ZIPVO so our powerful analytics will track how people are finding them, how long they’re staying, and what they click on while they’re there. Third, your videos will instantly embed on your single property sites with a non-branded player. No embed code needed.

This section right here tells me that Zipvo is likely to be aiming at the agent/small-brokerage market.  If single property sites are under the umbrella of Zipvo, then all that consumer traffic is going to some “videos.zipvo.com/123mainstreet” type of URL.  An enterprise brokerage that has an interest in growing traffic to its own site is not going to find this all that appealing, no matter how powerful the analytics. (See below on this point.)

That isn’t bad in and of itself, but getting a subscription/software licensing/support contract type of business model understood by that market segment is going to be something of a challenge.

It might make sense for Zipvo here to figure out a way to let the client host all of these websites as a part of the main client website — maybe a software appliance type of an approach?  I simply can’t imagine NRT deciding to send all the traffic to its single property websites to some other company (to be monetized via advertising, no less), for just one example.

Q: Analytics – Google Analytics is free, and really good.  Why would someone use your analytics?  What are the mechanics involved — javascript?  Log analysis?  server-side analysis?

Google Analytics is undoubtedly one of the best solutions out there, but is only good for agents with some technical skills and limits them to tracking only their own websites. ZIPVO Analytics tracks all of the activity on ZIPVO.com from blog views, profile views, video views, time spent on pages / videos, how they got there, and what they clicked on while on a page. Much like Google Analytics it’s a JavaScript based system but requires zero technical skills by the agent. We will also be integrating server-side analysis in future releases.

This is interesting on three fronts.

First, I hope that Zipvo is going to build API’s or some other way to hook into existing analytics packages.  Even if we’re talking about an individual agent or small brokerage without the technical skills, people are going to want to look at analytics as a whole.  It simply makes no sense to have to login to one system to find out how the traffic to my company website is, then to have to go check Zipvo Analytics to see how the traffic to my video and my profile views and such are.

Second, if it’s a javascript-based system, I wonder how they’re doing the unique tracking pixels.  That sounds like an interesting bit of technology — to auto-embed the unique identifier of the client into all of the pages/video.

Third, I wonder how Zipvo is doing the “time spent on video” metric, and whether they can spot jump-off points inside a video.  In other words, if I have a 3 minute video, can I find out that 80% of the users leave at the 1:36 mark on the video?  That would be cool, but I’d love to know how they’re tracking that.

Q: What are the mystery products you have yet to unveil? 🙂  How do they change the equation of the above four?

Our two mystery products are PhotoVideo+ and ZIPVO Video Editor.

PhotoVideo+ allows agents to enhance their PhotoVideos with music, text descriptions of the photos and rearranging the order of photos. The end result is much like the virtual tours that exist today, but the process to get there has been simplified. Unlike some, our PhotoVideos are indexed by Google, embeddable, and are listed in the ZIPVO search directory.

ZIPVO Video Editor is an online editing system that allows agents to edit videos with ease and requires no software to download. In technical terms it’s a non-destructive Flash based system that requires no rendering time when cutting together video clips, photos, and music. Simply upload your videos and photos and you can easily create a professional looking video. The user interface looks like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker and is entirely drag / drop. It’s very easy to use and there is hardly any learning curve. It was based on the needs of real estate video.

I don’t know what a PhotoVideo is, so I probably shouldn’t comment too much.  It sounds like a cool piece of technology though, especially to get indexed by searchbots.

The Video Editor, however, is seriously cool.  Seems to me if it’s really that easy and that powerful, Zipvo should just go after the far larger personal video editing market.  I know I spent hundreds of dollars on video editing software — if I can just do that online, I’d do it in a non-destructive flash.  (Okay, sorry about that… really.)  Thing is, video processing takes enormous CPU/memory on a desktop — I’d have to see this online version work to believe it.  A 5 minute video on my Canon Vixia is like 4GB.  Uploading that over the Internet will take how long?  Processing HD video is going to take how long?

If Zipvo has solved those issues via online video editing… wow.  That’s incredibly cool.

Q: What is REVOLUTIONARY about this product or set of products?  REVOLUTIONARY implies a total paradigm shift — a process of creative destruction.  So who/what will you be destroying?

ZIPVO Platinum is revolutionary for a number of reasons. We provide new and existing solutions to agents, at a much more affordable cost with much better products. There is no longer a need to visit 5 different websites when you have a new listing. ZIPVO Platinum provides a full solution for an agents online marketing needs.

We built our product based off of what our users were asking us for and kept ease of use in mind at every stage of development. We will constantly be releasing new features that make our products even better based on changes in technology, the market, and user feedback.

We put our users first, and everything we develop is based on what they want and need. We even go so far as visiting offices to teach the agents how to use ZIPVO and other forms of social media as it pertains to real estate.

We will be destroying all of the existing companies out there that only offer a fraction of what we do. By using ZIPVO Platinum as your online marketing solution you gain powerful tools at a fraction of the cost. ZIPVO Platinum is ten times better and costs ten times less.

Traditional print media is a dying breed and with today’s technically savvy, instant gratification consumers, an online marketing campaign is essential to success. Marketing yourself and your properties online with powerful tools such as video, blogging, and social media saves an agent both time, money and increases productivity.

You have to love Greg for his enthusiasm — if he didn’t feel passionate about Zipvo, it’s unlikely that he would have devoted so much time and energy into the project.

At the same time… all of the products strike me as evolutionary change.  Perhaps the Video Editor, if it works quickly, is a real game-changer, but the rest of the products are things we all have seen already.  And the Video Editor is way way beyond known technology capabilities, so… color me skeptical until I see it in action digesting a 5GB upload over the Internet, then working with it real-time in Flash.  The real promise here appears to be that Zipvo will simply do them better, and cheaper, and do a better job of listening to its customers.  That is always possible, of course. 🙂

The ‘no longer need to visit 5 websites’ is a bit of a stretch, seeing as how the reason why you don’t need to visit 5 different websites is that all of your online marketing will be done through and on Zipvo.com.  Sure, if you’re willing to outsource all of your online marketing, that can be done pretty easily.  But if you already have invested in a company website, have listings syndications setup, then I’m not so sure that applies.

Conclusion

My personal conclusion is that Zipvo may indeed be a real improvement in certain areas, at least for the agent and small brokerage market.  Zipvo may be able to bring the power of institutional online marketing down to the independents — if they can do that successfully, and provide enough value, then I can see them getting a bunch of subscribers.

But now they’re playing in the same space as Move, with its Top Producer product.  It’s possible that Zipvo will end up destroying that business in the whole ‘creative destruction’ cycle.  But it’s never a good idea to bet against one of the biggest players in real estate technology.

Only time will tell.  But revolutionary change?  I don’t see it.  Possibly great suite of products, slickly integrated?  It just may be that.  Stronger business model than ad sales?  Without a doubt.

-rsh

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Marianna permalink
    September 10, 2008 7:33 am

    I find Zipvo to be just a copycat of a million other sites out there. What’s the point, actually? Another place to create a single property site that DOES NO GOOD except maybe massage a seller’s ego? They don’t rank in search engines, they can’t be found. What’s the point? Video? You can upload videos to a gazillion sites – nothing special there. Search for videos? Everytime I try and search Zipvo I get nothing that I’m looking for – their search function has never worked well. I just don’t get it.

  2. September 12, 2008 4:14 pm

    Heh, Marianna — if most agents/brokers feel as you do, then Zipvo is in a lot of trouble. 🙂

    -rsh

  3. September 17, 2008 3:53 pm

    @Marianna – What ZIPVO offers is very unique. We’re not just another video sharing site. We offer powerful tools for real estate agents to market themselves and their listings online free and easily. Single property are a growing trend for real estate listings and help get the listing out there with an easy to remember website address to find it. Uploading a video to YouTube, DailyMotion, Revver, etc is great but it gets lost in the shuffle. ZIPVO’s video platform is specifically for real estate videos so your listing is always with professional content. We’re working on our search platform and it will be much stronger in our next release. We appreciate your feedback.

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