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Focus and discipline

A long tenure at Google taught Domain CEO Jason Pellegrino valuable lessons on how to get comfortable with ambiguity and constant change. He’s now applying those lessons to the traditional classifieds environment where he tells Samantha McLean that “bigger is not always better."

Jason Pellegrino has seen a lot of businesses transform in his career so far.

And with a CV full of experience in a number of blue chip companies, he’s seen plenty of ‘behemoths’ of the corporate world struggle to keep up in a world where rapid change will continue to be the norm.

He says there is a reason that some businesses do well, while other companies falter.

“The biggest anchor to future success is being beholden to past success,” he says.

“And so, to be successful you really need to forget the past and think about what good looks like going forward.”

With this strategic thinking, Domain, traditionally a classifieds business, is forging ahead in a new direction, with a clear focus on solutions that deliver agents qualified buyers and genuine leads on potential vendors.

Jason says there is a desire for Domain to be part of innovative change rather than fighting against it.

“This transition to a marketplace is stepping away from selling ads to delivering solutions,” Jason says.

“A large part of that solution is going to be helping agents and vendors find willing buyers.”

In a world that is traditionally driven by audience numbers, Jason says moving forward bigger is not always better.

As part of its focus on solving problems and providing solutions for agents, Domain recently acquired RealTime Agent, a digital point of sale platform that saves agents spending precious time filing paperwork.

Agents don’t want to waste time on administration, but prefer to zero in on the tasks that generate them the best results.

“If you think about where agents add value, it’s through relationship support,” Jason says.

“It’s through holding people’s hands through one of the most complex,
emotionally-charged processes that they will ever experience in their life.”

Jason says RealTime Agent founders Angus Ferguson and Daniel Portelli built a solution that dug into the nitty-gritty and detailed workflow of what agents needed.

“They took hours out of every transaction that an agent would spend on low value and admin tasks,” he says.

“They’re providing platforms to automate, not replace agents, but to actually act as assistants to allow them to do the right things and spend their time where they add more value.”

Jason’s understanding of the need to provide value through solving problems for clients started straight out of high school when he scored a job as a media IT specialist at KPMG.

In the time he worked there, Jason learnt to better understand business, people and relationships with stakeholders.

But it was his time at Google, as a member of the Asia Pacific Leadership Team and responsible for its sales and operations across Australia and New
Zealand, where he learned to get comfortable with ambiguity and change.

“There’s a concept called ‘Googliness’,” he says.

“Googliness was always one of those things that was difficult to explain, but it’s about more than just ‘fit’.

“It’s the ability to be comfortable with ambiguity and change.

“You came out of that business being deeply comfortable with change.

“And not only comfortable with change, but expecting change and I think that is a great set of characteristics in the current environment because change is only accelerating.”

In 2020, Jason says the real estate industry has experienced “rolling waves”
of change.

He says it is an “extraordinarily resilient and adaptive industry” as even during a global pandemic, agents have convinced more than 70 per cent of typical vendors to sell their property.

At Domain, when COVID-19 hit, Jason says it was immediately clear that the company had to work hard and fast to offer support to the industry.

“Profits are made in good times, reputations are made in bad times,” he says.

“We, very early, put our hands up and said this was a time for us to step forward and support the industry, our partners and stakeholders.”

They took action on an industry support package that recognised cash flow challenges and introduced Project Zipline, a voluntary staff program which aimed to circumvent the need for redundancies or stand-downs for Domain employees in the event of market uncertainties.

“We went to our employees and said ‘through this program we will offer you the option of moving to a four-day week, but we’ll also present an option to stay at five days and for that fifth day, instead of paying a cash salary, we’ll issue share rights that represents that and those shares will be payable at a period in the future’,” Jason says.

More than 90 per cent of staff opted in and there was no reduction in staff

“We called it Project Zipline because it was really about zipping across the top of that ravine and making sure that we had as many people as possible and as many capabilities and as much capacity as possible at the other side of that ravine,” Jason says.

Although change is now the norm and it’s accelerating, Jason’s advice is to still be incredibly disciplined about what you are going to focus your time on, and what you’re not.

“I spent a lot of time early on, in my time at Domain, talking to teams about the difference between speed and velocity.

“And that sounds strange because they are the same concepts but fundamentally different.

“Speed is about how fast you can go.

“And velocity is about how fast you can go, but in the right direction.”

He reasons that speed gets you nowhere, and in fact, the bigger the business becomes, speed becomes an anchor because you’ve got multiple teams moving fast in different directions where nothing good happens.

“When everyone involved is aligned you’re able to accelerate really, really fast.”

Going forward, Jason’s advice to other businesses is to go back to the future.

“Change is now the norm. It’s accelerating, and one thing I keep going back to is that you need to make sure past success is not an anchor for future success.”

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.