8 million unique users monthly from desktop, 11 million app downloads, half a million available listings – since 1998 ImmobilienScout24 revolutionized the German real estate market. In this interview with Frank Schlesinger, the Head of Technology at ImmobilienScout24, you will learn how the company keeps this leader’s position by ensuring agility, growth, innovation and great end user experience.
Paulina, E-commerce Berlin: Let's start by reminding everyone that you work as the Head of Technology at ImmobilienScout24, top German digital real estate marketplace. Your previous roles in this company were Head of Agile and Project Management and Senior ScrumMaster. Could you tell us a bit about how all your expertise and professional experiences affected ImmobilienScout24? What does your job there entail now?
Frank Schlesinger, ImmobilienScout24: I started at ImmobilienScout24 in 2012 as a ScrumMaster, supporting our engineering teams fostering good collaboration and the use of good agile processes. As Head of Agile, I was leading our team of Agile Coaches and Project Managers. Since this team had high knowledge on organizing work effectively and efficiently, I worked hard with them to make sure that we are offering our services to all parts of the company and not only the IT engineering.
In 2014, the company was undergoing a big structural change. Our coaching team played a big part in that by facilitating the internal change process and pushing middle management to take on every next step.
As Head of Technology, I am now running Scout24’s major business unit. With my team of Engineering Managers I make sure that we have acquired good talent, have lean engineering processes, have a high level of functional excellence. But most of all, I care for the alignment of 40+ people working in product development, so that they know and understand the direction and strategy to enable them to make good decisions in their self-organization.
ImmobilienScout24 is Germany's leader in the residential market segment by reach. According to 2015 data, you had 8 million unique users per month. And this number refers to the desktop site only! How did you build this volume of users?
When ImmobilienScout24 entered the market in 1998 it was the first real estate portal in Germany. Up to then all properties were listed in print exclusively. Putting it into the web and thus extending the reach for the agents and increasing the market transparency for the seekers was a win-win-win product.
Naturally, we were always pushing SEA and SEM hard and were investing in good end user experience in desktop and mobile to attract as many users as possible. But having most of the listings and thus getting most of the traffic and vice versa is something like the golden equation of our success.
As a company, did you grow rapidly? What were the milestones in your growth?
I think there were some rapid growths in the first years when it comes to people growths. In the last ten years, things are more relaxed on the people-scaling side. This also means our cost grow far less than our revenue YoY.
You are also available – and very popular – on mobile. The ImmobilienScout24 apps have been downloaded roughly 11 million times since their inception as of June 2015, which makes you also the leader of the mobile sector. About 65 percent of visits are now made via mobile devices. Does it mean that people are ready to buy houses on mobile? How has the ImmobilienScout24 user behavior changed over time?
We were monitoring traffic closely to know the general growth in the number of visitors on our portal every year. The year we launched the mobile apps was at first very disappointing. Our traffic charts were actually flattening and we didn’t know why. It took us some time to realize we forgot to put the mobile traffic into the charts ;)
Mobile is the most important end user channel for us. Though the actual process of buying a house is still happening in the physical world, the complete seeking and orientation phase works on mobile. With the raise of mobile devices, we could actually see the changes in the user behavior. The traffic on our portal was more equally distributed over the day and it extended to the late evening.
Your users have access to roughly half a million of available listings, many virtual home tours, and useful online advisory services and innovative analytical tools – this all to help them find their dream home. What does this innovation mean in practice?
For the consumers on the seeker side, innovation has the intent to help them make some of the most important decisions in their life in a simple, efficient and stress-free way. For our customers listing on our portal, the innovation helps to make their work simpler, and for us, the innovation helps to build new products along the property value chain.
Is the focus on introducing new functionalities the key to your success?
It depends on the business unit. Some of them are executing new innovative business models and surely build and test new functionalities all the time. If the model is running, then success lies also in your possibility to scale it and to keep good relationship to your paying customers.
What is the hardest part of your business? What are the most difficult aspects of managing a digital real estate marketplace?
As a portal, we are connecting very different people, helping them to make business. It’s very difficult to keep the balance between the young hipster seekers demanding full market transparency on any device 24h a day and a classical local agent running a family business and still relaying on print for a half of their listings.
The topic of your presentation at the E-commerce Berlin Expo 2017: “Real Business Agility – A case study of change from Germany’s top classified market company Scout24 AG”. What made you choose this specific topic and why you think it deserves all the time and research you're putting into preparing this talk?
I like to talk about things I’ve been part of. So this topic came very naturally to me ;)
“Agile” is definitely a buzzword now. Do you think that any (ecommerce) company can be agile – irrespective of its size or range of operations?
Agile is a buzzword. That doesn’t mean it is not the right thing to do. And yes, I think every digital company can and should be agile to a certain degree. Doing things, the agile way is a competitive advantage.
Since “agile” is a buzzword, there are thousands of publications, trainings, webinars and other resources on this topic. As an expert in this field, what resources would you recommend to anyone willing to start their journey to agility? How ecommerce companies – especially the small ones – should learn to be agile?
Always start with external help. You need honest and independent feedback and people pushing you out of your comfort zone.
Finally, what are the plans of ImmobilienScout24 for 2017?
2017 will see VR becoming widely used in digital property business and we won’t miss to be part of that. We will also push some now products into the market like the “Maklersuchmaschine” helping home owners to find a good agent for selling your house.
The new home page has just been launched, but it will definitely see improvements over the next year just as we are going to work on the results’ list and exposé continuously.