Thirty Days Swimming Upstream

It’s been one month since I dove in head first as CEO of Upstream. After assessing the landscape, interviewing stakeholders, reviewing the project’s history and rooting out issues, I found a common theme that when done well, has facilitated our success. When done poorly, has exacerbated risk, stakeholder tension and resistance to adoption. That theme is transparency.

For the uninitiated, Upstream is a comprehensive data management project for the benefit of the real estate industry. Brokers and broker representatives got together years ago to develop a data management solution that would work for every broker of every size and business model. Its goals are to create efficiencies, let brokers distribute data deliberately and create an ecosystem that inspires innovation. The breadth of data starts with listing/parcel information, but if the previously mentioned goals are realized, it’s easy to see the benefits to other information sets critical for real estate practitioners to thrive. Upstream is a project conceived by brokers, owned by brokers and managed by brokers and therefore…

We serve at the pleasure of our broker participants.

As I come up for air after my first thirty days, this is what I discovered. I have a team of really good people, doing really good work, with really good intentions, but insufficient data is being exchanged between each other and our stakeholders. Do we have broad enough clarity to discern good work from the right work? Has our ambiguity spawned enough misinformation to suffocate our good intent? When there is a vacuum of information, people make up a scenario that is often “less positive.” Not because of malice but because we need to plan and have certainty. So we fill in the gaps as best we can; planning for the worst and hoping for the best. There is enough misinformation about Upstream’s intent, how it would work, cost to integrate, etc. that would have killed a lesser initiative. Fortunately, there’s a visceral desire to realize value propositions we seek to create and the outpouring of support has been amazing.

The deep waters of Upstream have many moving parts. Stakeholders impacted range from practitioners (brokers, their agents, and franchises), MLS boards, 3rd party vendors and the local and national associations. I have a board of managers that consist of 21 senior executives (from competing brands) who are so passionate they’ve volunteered their time to breathe life into Upstream as a unified team. There are three workgroups (technology, implementation and legal) that have mixed members from the board and outside participants. Finally, I have a strong technology vendor in RPR whose parent just happens to be the National Association of REALTORS®.

Two beliefs that have served me well when navigating precarious waters are:

  • When more than one person is responsible for a result, nobody owns it
  • You don’t know what you don’t know

The work to date is remarkable. It’s a product of pure will and desire by really smart and talented people. Is it optimal? Of course not. There hasn’t been a single owner swimming along all of the previously mentioned moving parts. Technical architecture can influence legal agreements, pilot selection criteria can minimize test cases, etc. These nuanced connections are difficult to find as separate workgroups. Fortunately, this is solvable as I take ownership of the outcome(s) with an understanding that success requires the collective intelligence of the impacted stakeholders. That is, I know we can’t do this without your input.

I believe there’s a need for transparency. I’m not implying the work requires oversight or auditors. What I am saying is I want transparency so that I can solicit the knowledge and insight of the community at large. If I let you in on what we’re developing, you’ll tell me what won’t work and why. There are so many variants in how brokers operate and as I mentioned, I don’t know what I don’t know.

I also want transparency, so you have all the information you need to plan effectively. With that said, I will launch the Upstream website in a few weeks. It will have designs, documentation and talking points so you can inform your teams. I will frequently post our status and write about what’s working, what’s not and how we’re addressing issues (the good, the bad and the ugly). I will dissect our operating agreement for you as well as our corporate charter. You will have access to everything that is Upstream. Additionally, I’m creating both an MLS and Broker advisory group and intentionally add our greatest “naysayers.” If you want to do world-class work, you must seek out criticism… not just accolades.

The theme of the last thirty days was “Foundation.” I spent time understanding the moving pieces, creating relationships, assessing and remediating structural and legal items, budgeting, and building out my infrastructure. The next thirty days is about “Velocity.” I’ll be establishing and tightening metrics to increase development speed and market penetration, we’ll begin marketing, and I’ll hit the road speaking at various committee meetings and events to clear up misinformation and create excitement. will become the definitive site for Upstream information and updates. I’ll continue to write here about startup and business topics and what I’m learning as the initiative grows.

I invite you to join the conversation. Come on in… the water is fine.



7 Responses to Thirty Days Swimming Upstream

  1. Ronald Gombach July 4, 2016 at 7:15 PM #

    Alex, you ask here: “Has our ambiguity spawned enough misinformation to suffocate our good intent?”

    I’m having virtually no success finding “any” information — “mis” or otherwise.

    Alex, you declare here: “ will become the definitive site for Upstream information and updates.”

    As of today (7/4/2016) there’s nothing more than ambiguity at When can we expect the flow of information and disambiguation to begin? Days? Weeks? Months?

    • Alex Lange July 4, 2016 at 7:23 PM #

      Hi Ronald. I will launch the site in July (hopefully in the next two weeks). It’s true, most of the information has been disseminated via speeches and updates at conferences so there’s little, if anything on the web. A few MLS sites have dedicated pages which is where I’m finding much of the misinformation. To that end, I’ll be meeting with many of them in person over the next 60 days. Stay tuned!

      • Ronald Gombach July 4, 2016 at 7:43 PM #

        Alex, thank you. Staying tuned.

        If not already planned, I recommend some sort of registration at where we can sign-up for notifications when additions/changes are posted on the official site.

        If/when that occurs, I will remind folks (who I suspect will be — should be — interested) to sign-on and participate.

  2. Jim Harrison July 18, 2016 at 10:02 PM #

    Alex, thank you for posting the update through CMLS. It’s always good to stay informed, especially when we are a pilot MLS. If you need to reach me, my email is

    • Alex Lange July 18, 2016 at 10:23 PM #

      Of course! Happy to keep sending the updates.


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