dominosI just returned, as some 3,000 other folks have, from attending Inman’s Real Estate Connect in San Francisco. For many of the industry leaders whom I spoke with, it was one of the most successful Connects that they have attended and certainly the busiest. I found myself squarely in the same camp.

I discovered something incredibly special about what I think makes Inman Connect unique: It fosters the creation of what I call “unintended consequences that cause spectacular results.”

I have a few great examples from this most recent Connect to illustrate what I mean.

Origins of Real Estate Connect

In the spring of 1997 I left Fannie Mae, most recently as Director of Housing Impact for its highly successful Seattle Partnership office that I had opened, and forged out on my own. When Brad Inman heard the news, he asked me to meet with him. I had worked with Brad since the mid-1980s. He was a friend and I was a fan of his business acumen. I immediately said yes, as I wanted to talk to him about my new company.

So I brought my “team,” which at the time consisted of my wife, Kyanne, who handled the financial side of the business, and my father-in-law, Keith Willis, a skilled businessman and savvy investor, to a restaurant near the Hyatt in Bellevue, WA where we met with Brad.

My intended objective was to strike a content deal with Inman News for the company I had created that was going to help real estate agents more easily stay in touch with their customers.

Brad had another objective. He wanted me to help Inman News launch a brand new conference. It would be a greater manifestation of an experiment he had tried a year earlier at his “retreat” in Sonoma wine country along the Russian River.

Brad had invited a group of tech industry startup CEOs and a group of traditional real estate business leaders together for a face-to-face meeting in a setting designed to foster conversation and relationships. He dubbed it, brilliantly, “Real Estate Connect.”

The unintended consequence of our meeting with Brad was that I would agree the next day to help him launch his first full-blown Real Estate Connect conference at the San Francisco Hilton. At the time, I thought he was nuts, charging a $495 registration fee, which made it one of the most expensive real estate conferences around.

It turns out he was as crazy as a fox. In eight weeks, I would deliver a packed exhibit hall with some of the biggest brands in the business and helped attract 800 attendees. The audience included the who’s who of real estate and real estate technology firms, including the guy who fired Steve Jobs, John Sculley (then CEO of Live Picture). It instantly was the most “edgy” real conference in the space as Microsoft used the forum to first publically discuss its entry into the space, code named “Boardwalk” (which would become HomeAdvisor).

That meeting with Brad led to me eventually helping to market, promote, sell sponsorships and run the press conferences for the first eight Real Estate Connects, helping produce the last three of those. I would become Director of Marketing for Inman News and help Brad launch HomeGain as its first marketing maven.

Real Estate Connect was my one of my biggest unintended consequence that produced spectacular results.

The Streets to of San Francisco

At the most recent Inman Connect, I had a 7:15 breakfast meeting with a client at the Daily Grill, which was just a couple of blocks from the Hilton. I decided to head over early (my Midwestern roots makes me cringe if I’m late for anything) and I bumped into another client that was looking for a place to eat because the Daily Grill was not open yet.

I told him my favorite dive was just a half-block away, and since I had another 30 minutes before my meeting, I walked him to the Pinecrest Diner. I warned this client about the shooting at the diner that took place at a prior Connect for full disclosure. He didn’t seem too concerned as I was vouching strongly for the breakfast they served.

We sat down at a booth, spending the next 20 minutes discussing the conference and business in general when someone I’ve known for over 20 years walked by. I stopped this well known industry executive and asked the client if they had ever met. They had not. I introduced them, sat back and watched the “magic” happen. Ironically, this executive had actually been in the restaurant when the prior shooting happened and shared his story. What are the chances? Then, after five minutes of my client explaining his product, they had agreed to a meeting the following week to seriously explore working together. This could turn out to be a huge opportunity, as the executive works for one of the largest MLSs in the country.

The irony is the same kind of thing happened in New York at the last Connect when I was with the same client! We were standing in line to tape a video, when one of the icons of the industry, a gentleman who heads one of the largest real estate operations, walked by. I interviewed him for a major magazine feature years ago, so I stopped him. I reintroduced myself and fortunately, he remembered me (and certainly knows Victor and Marilyn well). So I took the opportunity to ask if I could introduce him to my client. It turns out that this chance meeting helped advance discussions that my client was having with his firm as this CEO immediately realized that they needed to get back on track after that face-to-face discussion.

Both of these unintended meetings are likely to result in significant opportunities for my client, and to me, just those introductions alone were a spectacular result.

Closer to Home

Victor Lund, one of the founding partners of WAV Group, was standing in line at the airport. This is more than a routine for Victor: He should try to take a second home deduction for his United Airlines expenses, considering the amount of time he spends shuttling around the country as one of this industry’s most in-demand senior advisors.

He looked down at the bag of the person in front of him. The luggage tag said “Lionsgate,” as in the film production firm. Victor reached into his bag, and as any proud father would do, share a one-page promotional piece that features his daughter, Alexander “Sparkles” Lund, who many in the real estate industry know as a 12 year-old accomplished award- winning dancer and a budding young actress to boot. Victor never said a word beyond the introduction. Fast forward a short time later, and “Sparkles” has been called back to two auditions with Lionsgate.

Victor’s intention was to board a plane. But circumstances took him in direct contact with an entertainment industry influencer, and whether or not Sparkles lands a role, the results of handing out a simple promo piece without any accompanying sales pitch is certainly spectacular.

You just can’t plan these things

This doesn’t just happen to me, but I am amazed and delighted how often these unintended consequences occur in my life. It even happened when I met my wife. I was in San Francisco, at the same Hilton as Connect, in 1992, visiting my late, dear sister-in-law Pat Hawkins, who worked for Hilton. She was in town for a convention and asked me to fly up from LA where I was living to show her and her friends Napa Valley.

As we walked through the lobby bar, I saw this beautiful, young blonde with strikingly long hair and a killer smile sitting at the fireplace and laughing with a few other ladies. I asked Pat who that was and if she was single and Pat said, “Yes, I will introduce you later. Right now you need to meet my boss.” I told her I had no interest in meeting her boss, but I turned around and her boss shook my hand. So twenty minutes of conversation later, I turned around and that gorgeous blonde was gone!

I was pretty pissed at Pat, but she masterfully changed the subject and asked me to pick a place for dinner for her and her friends (which unfortunately did not include the blonde). There were more than 3,000 restaurants in the city, so I played 20 questions, narrowing their interests to Mexican, fun and close. I picked the old “Cadillac Bar & Grill” halfway to the Moscone Convention Center and easy walking distance. But when we arrived, the place was packed and the line was nearly out the back door.

I struck up a conversation with someone who worked at a counter in the back that sold restaurant branded t-shirts. I told him I was looking forward to eating there as they had catered a function of mine a while back. He said, “We hardly ever cater, what was it?” I told him it was an event at the Mexican Museum with Dennis Weaver, the actor. The guy lit up like a Christmas tree and told me, “I worked that event!” He paused, wrote on the back of a business card, handed it to me and told me to bring it to the front of the line and hand it to the person seating everyone.

To make a long story shorter, the blonde, Kyanne, was standing in this long line about midway to the front. My party of 9 walked ahead of everyone, and we were seated in seconds at table of 10. Kyanne saw the open seat, next to mine, and invited herself to our table. The rest is history.

That was my most unintended consequence ever, and after 22 years of marriage next month and raising two remarkable boys, it was clearly a spectacular result.