MIB: Rich Barton on Making Information Available to All

Rich Barton was a senior Microsoft engineer working for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in the 1990s. His job required a good amount of corporate travel. Frustrated as a young traveling business person, his experience trying to compare options using Microsoft’s corporate travel agent were endlessly frustrating. “I would ask a question, I would hear this keyboard clicking, but . . . would [only get] one choice. I wanted to jump through the phone line, turn the screen towards me and take control myself.”

The experiences booking travel but unable to easily find and compare flights or prices led to the development of Expedia as a start-up within the software giant. Senior management had initially planned a CD-ROM – it was 1994, after all – but Barton convinced them “that this online thing might turn into something interesting.” The skunkworks project was eventually spun out, with founder Barton as CEO, charged with recruiting talent from what was then the hottest tech company in the world. “Microsoft was Google and Facebook combined.” Once Expedia was a standalone, Barton took the company to IPO. A few years later Expedia was acquired by Barry Diller’s IAC.

A serial entrepreneur freed from the bureaucracy of a giant company, he went on to co-found real estate site/app Zillow, and employer comparison site Glass Door. Barton describes the challenges of convincing the 900 independent regional offices of Multiple Listing Service in order to develop a uniform pricing tool which eventually became real estate app Zillow.

He is also on the board of directors of several tech companies, including Netflix, which he joined before its Initial Public Offering (!). Barton recalls Netflix founder Reed Hastings vision for network video service even before they went public as a DVD mailing firm. When he was introduced to founder/CEO prior to joining the board of directors in 2002, he asked Hastings about the format of sending DVDs though mail. “Rich, its called Netflix, not DVDFlix” Hastings responded.

He recently joined the Board of Artsy, which he describes as “AirBNB for Art.”

The consistent theme of all the companies he works with has been “using technology to bring transparency to data in industries” where that had not been traditionally done before. “Power to the people” says Barton, is not a political slogan, but “a technological one.” His track record of identifying diffuse data and finding ways to make it more accessible and easily usable to consumers is unique.

Barton is a savvy investor, and he still has some of his Microsoft ad Netflix stock.

All of the books he references can be found here.

You can stream/download the full conversation, including the podcast extras, on iTunes, Soundcloud, Overcast, and Bloomberg. Our earlier podcasts can all be found on iTunes, Soundcloud, Overcast and Bloomberg.


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