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Compass IPO day: CEO Robert Reffkin on how his mom inspired him to launch the real estate unicorn

“She didn’t give up. She became an agent. I saw, through that, [that] agents are the greatest group of entrepreneurs.”

Compass IPO day: CEO Robert Reffkin on how his mom inspired him to launch the real estate unicorn
[Photo: god4ather/iStock]
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Robert Reffkin’s mother inspired him to found a real estate company that uses technology to help its agents succeed. Ruth Reffkin sold real estate for years, including years when she was raising him as a single mother, disowned by her white family for having an interracial relationship. He watched how she struggled to do her job with as many as nine different third-party tools.

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In 2012, he started Compass, and she’s one of the company’s 19,000-plus agents. And today, Ruth Reffkin was on hand as Compass was listed on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time—and as her son became a rare Black CEO taking a company of this profile public.

“She didn’t crumble. She didn’t give up. She became an agent. I saw, through that, [that] agents are the greatest group of entrepreneurs,” the junior Reffkin tells Fast Company, describing the old days. “If you’re a merchant now, you can go to Shopify and have everything you need to succeed, to grow your business. Agents don’t have that . . . That’s where Compass comes in.”

[Photo: Daisy Korpics]
Shares of Compass under the symbol COMP opened at $21.25 this morning and closed at $20.15.

The listing comes a day after the company decreased its share price range from $23-26 to $18-19, and the number of shares from 36 million to 25 million, according to the updated S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That changed the estimate for the amount of money raised to $475 million, down from the original $936 million.

“Our strategy is to replace today’s complex, paper-driven, antiquated workflow with a seamless, all-digital, end-to-end platform that empowers real estate agents to deliver an exceptional experience to every seller and buyer,” the filing reads. ‘Through 2020, Compass agents have represented either sellers or buyers of more than 275,000 homes worth more than $300 billion.”

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Compass says that’s 4% of the U.S. market by gross transaction value, adding that its team closes an average of 19% more transactions, when comparing their first and second years with the firm, and that its agents sold homes in an average of 21% fewer days versus their competitors.

According to the SEC paperwork, Compass’s revenues were $3.7 billion in 2020 and $2.4 billion in 2019, with losses of $270.2 million last year and $388 million the previous one.

Compass hit its stride in 2017 with a $450 million investment by SoftBank.

“I’m feeling very grateful for all the thousands of people who worked so hard and took risks in their careers to be part of Compass,” Reffkin says.

He previously worked at Goldman Sachs, Lazard Frères, and McKinsey & Company, and as a White House fellow. He has a bachelor’s from Columbia University and an MBA from the Columbia Business School. Reffkin was one of Fast Company‘s Most Creative People in 2013 for founding the not-for-profit now called America Needs You, which helps first-generation college students with mentorship and career development.

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“It matters a great deal to me that through the success of Compass, I can help pave the way for others,” Reffkin says. “There’s a sentiment that you can’t be what you can’t see. Hopefully, I can be an example.”

He has pledged to actively give back and serve as a mentor, in turn saluting dozens of people who helped shepherd his path, including: Ken Chenault, one of the first Black executives to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company as head of American Express; New York City mayoral candidate Ray McGuire, who was one of the top Black executives on Wall Street, most recently at Citigroup; and the late Vernon Jordan, a Washington power broker and Lazard senior managing director.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays are the lead underwriters for the Compass IPO.