Journalism has evolved through time. Covering a myriad of topics from news, to entertainment, to real estate technology, journalists have surely become versatile throughout the years. Craig Rowe, a real estate technology reporter for Inman News, joins Bill Risser to talk about his role and the knowledge he is able to impart on the team. Craig recalls how his love for writing and his interest in real estate served a great purpose in his position at Inman. Listen in as Craig walks us through his summers as a kid, to how he got involved in real estate and settling in as one of Inman’s greatest assets.
Craig Rowe, Real Estate Technology Reporter, Inman News
In this episode, I’m going to talk to a copywriter, journalist, and backcountry guide. I’m going to talk to Craig Rowe. He is a real estate tech reporter for Inman News. I met Craig at the Inman Event. He’s a neat guy and has a great background. We’re going to have a lot of fun exploring some stuff outside of the world of real estate and talk about how things work at Inman. It’s a very interesting conversation. Let’s get this thing started. Craig, welcome to the show.
It’s great to be here, Bill. Thanks for having me.
We met at the Inman Event in Las Vegas. It was so much fun getting back in front of people again. Molly McKinley knows you well. It was nice having a conversation. I have read a lot of your columns. Tech is my thing, and it’s your thing. I appreciate all the work, insight, and effort that goes into those. We’re going to talk a lot about that and also some more stuff as well. I like starting where people grew up. It’s always fun for me to see these different parts of the country. For you, it’s Upstate New York. First of all, I had no idea where Caledonia was. My first thought was, “There is Rome, Syracuse, and Ithaca. It has to be somewhere in that neighborhood.” I’m not too far off.
You’re not too far off. It is South of Rochester.
Let’s talk about that upbringing growing up in New York. We’re going to talk about what you’re doing now. I’m going to assume that a lot of who you are now was influenced by where you grew up.
I loved growing up in a small town, and I am now full circle right back in a similar location here in Northern California. Caledonia was neat. It was a small town. I had a lot of close friends. I have three older brothers. In all our lawns, we had all these families in the neighborhood. All the backyards met, and every family down the street had six kids, and the back of us also had 5 or 6. There was this amalgamation of families and all these kids of different age groups all the time interacting. It was very Americana for the most part in this little town. We spent all-time outdoors.
We are very much free range. You could open the door at 8:00 AM, and I’ll come back at 8:00 PM. That was pretty much it. In those hours, I could be anywhere in the local trout stream fishing, and at some point during the day, you throw the pole back in the garage without your parents even knowing, and you take off again. I could be riding my BMX bike for two hours, and in the afternoon, we’re playing football, Wiffle ball, baseball, or something. That was it every day throughout the Summer until Winter stopped us from being able to do that stuff.
I grew up in San Diego. It’s a little bit different situation. When the street lights went on, I had to be home, that mentality, which was cool. It is that whole connectivity you talked about. It wasn’t people going into a garage, the service store, and to the house. You could get home and never see anybody if you wanted to. That was not the case for you. Everybody knew everybody. I love that. We’re going to talk about how much of an outdoorsman you are. We will get to that later. As you continue, you end up going to college locally. You stuck around up there and went to Nazareth College. You are an English Major, which makes perfect sense because of what you do, but you’re also a soccer player. We got to talk about that for a second.
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In high school, I played primarily forward and halfback because I was fast. I was not your foot skill guy and beating a lot of people with the ball. I was fast and aggressive, getting open and running down the opposite player’s best guy. Thankfully, my college coach recognized that. The position I grew into in college was someone would call a marking back where my sole job was to follow around the other team’s best player the entire game. I made an art of it. I would follow him to his bench, and when he stepped off the field, I would go back to my field. I would try and get into their heads. I had an aggression issue. That would often come out on the field. I led the team in yellow cards in my senior year and got a couple of notable ones in college. Ultimately, I always relied on being fast and my speed for the most part.
That is what helped me excel. I was not the best athlete on the field, but I was aggressive and played hard all the time, and that led to that. Caledonia was a football town. It had one of the better football programs for many years in the state of New York overall. They were always good. All the good athletes played football. I played soccer with a few of the other misfits and ended up at Nazareth, which was a big lacrosse school and remained a very prominent lacrosse school in the country in Division 3. From what I understand in lacrosse, there is not a big difference between D3 and D1. There’s a fine line.
I ended up playing soccer at a lacrosse school. We didn’t have the best record, but it was still a lot of fun. I enjoyed it very much. I was an English Major, but I started as an Art Major. I was always creative. I grew up drawing. It was the same thing. I was very inspired by comic books when I was a kid. I was drawing and writing all the time.
You got an Art Major and turned into an English Major. What was your plan? What was the thought process when you got out of school?
I got no plan. I talk about this often. I remember being at my girlfriend’s apartment. That night, I graduated from college, and I said, “Now what?” This goes right to my personality. I’m not necessarily a planner. I’m not career-driven. I’m much more lifestyle-driven, and that surfaced right when I got to school. All my friends were headed off to grad school.
I have some regrets about that. I probably should have gone after an MFA in Screenwriting or something, which is a big love of mine, or magazine writing, or straight into journalism. While I’m the only Inman writer, that does not have a Journalism degree. I am the only one that has a real estate license for a while. I was licensed in the industry several times. I had no real plan, so I ended up moving down to Florida with one of my brothers.
Somehow, you get involved in real estate. I believe it happened up in North Carolina.
Let’s talk about going to Raleigh and what you were doing up there.
One thing that might be of interest to touch on what I did in Florida is when I got into publishing in journalism. I had a short stint at the Orlando Sentinel doing graphic design when newspapers were still thick with classifieds. I was doing all the design work on these very expensive auto dealership ads, where you’re placing the car image and getting down into the five-point type, and all that thing. I went from there and worked for a magazine company.
This magazine company was attached to an over-the-counter penny stock company. You’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street. I was knee-deep in that environment. If you remember those scenes in the movie when they’re in this giant bullpen and all these guys are out on the phone. Picture me in an office to the side with one editor, and he and I were putting together these magazines that were advertising these stocks.
Even though it was much smaller and not New York City, that atmosphere was spot on. At one point, we went down, and my editor told me not to go. He was a great guy. He said, “Don’t do this.” I said, “It sounds fun.” The owner of our company rented a bunch of limousines, stocked them full of beer, and what I learned later were drugs. We drove down to Miami or close to it to look at Marina, this boat company building these boats. On the way back is when everybody started to party. I was pretty intimidated by what was going on. By the end of that car ride, one of the managers, a mid-level guy, had fired everybody in the limos.
[caption id="attachment_4116" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Real Estate Technology: Consumers are already incredibly educated, but they don't know how to steer the ship yet. They’re on the ocean and they got their boat but they need someone to navigate it for them.[/caption]
He pulled over three times on the Florida turnpike and made people get out and find their own way back. I was the only one he was not in charge of, so he could not fire me. By the end of the night, we’re back in the parking lot, and it was me and this ravaging, coke-addled, drunk stockbroker and his girlfriend sitting there staring at me. I witnessed this whole debacle fights inside. It was nuts. There I was, the little magazine editor standing there. That’s how I got started in publishing. At my stint there, one of the guys died. He took too much coke and got in a hot tub. He was left alone and croaked. It was terrible.
I live in Florida. You’re not painting the brightest picture of Florida, but that’s okay. Nobody ever does, other than the weather.
Other than that, I have a couple of good friends in Florida.
That makes sense because, in your next role, you end up being a marketing manager for a real estate investment firm. It makes sense. That’s a flow out of what you were doing down there. Let’s talk about that.
I went up to Raleigh to get back together with a girl I had dated in college. I got a job. At the time, it was called CB Richard Ellis, doing marketing for all the tenant reps, listing brokers, and asset services. I tended to click pretty well with all the brokers. Even though I was young and in this pod with all the other assistants and stuff, I had some good marketing ideas. Back then, a good marketing idea was an animated PowerPoint. They loved it. They couldn’t get enough. I started doing some work on a software product called Flash by Macromedia. It animated stuff you could publish on the web. I was making listing presentations and marketing materials, and people loved that.
I got recruited to this team for CB’s website. Their website rollout was they had this master site, and each office would have their templates to populate with content. I got this little side gig where I was going around to the different offices and helping them get up to speed with their website. I would come into an office in Charlotte or Nashville, Richmond, and help them get their website up to speed. That’s how I got into technology and real estate. I would interview the agents and talk to them about what was good, what they should put on the site, what content they should use, and all that stuff. I worked with CoStar as well when they were physically walking around office buildings recording space.
We have to get you to a little town in California called Truckee. Behind you, I see snowboards, or maybe a sled. There is some great stuff that tells me a lot about where you live.
My wife and I were traveling from the East Coast out West to hike and backpack in all the national parks and having grown up camping all the time because where else do parents take four boys? You can’t take them on a civilized vacation. You have to take them into the wilderness and hope they come back. It was always ingrained in me. We ended up first in Las Vegas, prior to Truckee. That’s when I started doing my guide work, working as a backpacking guide, taking people on trips in the Grand Canyon and other parts of Southern Utah in the Southwest. I don’t love Vegas as a place to live. The town has a number of great assets and things going for it, but it was not for us.
We went to a small town again. I was very fortunate. My wife is pretty well-regarded in the world of college counseling and consulting in private schools. She was recruited to a number of different mountain towns in the West like Jackson, Aspen, Vail, and all these other places. We ended up in Truckee for a number of reasons. It had great access to water. At the time, it was more affordable than some of these other places and Lake Tahoe in general. This is a pretty fantastic place to live. The summers are unbeatable, and the winters are a lot of fun because the entire town and vibe of everybody are always to get on the mountain. Everything is about the snow and when it’s going to happen.
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Some of the most fun times for me is this buildup of a big storm coming like we had over Christmas. It was fantastic. I loved that excitement. I have become a kid again, back in New York, can’t wait to get out and go sledding in the Winter. I get distracted. I have a hard time working when I know there’s good snow out there that needs to be ridden. I’m very much like a child before the end of the school year waiting for Summer. I get distracted by it, and it becomes all-encompassing.
Truckee being a small town, you get to know a lot of people quickly. You see them on the hill. I do some stuff split boarding in the backcountry as well. It was fun. There are a ton of Olympians and current pro-athletes that are always around. You never know who you’re going to be sitting with. I have a local bartender that can do double backflips off cliffs and a good friend who’s dating a four-time Olympian. I love all this connection to outdoor sports, adventure, recreation, and everything. It’s fun.
You’re still doing your backcountry guiding. Talk about that typical client. It’s not going to be a guy like me who doesn’t like camp. It’s probably somebody who is a little more in tune with nature.
It’s a little of both. The common client is someone who wants to experience some outdoors but doesn’t know where to begin, or they don’t want to get into it full on. They don’t want to buy a bunch of equipment because they know they’re only going to do it once or twice every few years. They hire people like us to take them out. The company I work for provides all the gear. We prepare all the food for them, and they get the permits. They have a whole team dedicated to getting permits in these parks and remote places. It is a lot of fun. The most rewarding work that I do is if you take someone who has never camped or hiked significantly.
For example, you hiked them for five days across the Grand Canyon. It’s on Corridor Trails, so it’s very well-marked like backcountry campsites, but they’re developed. They have pit toilets. It’s technically a backcountry and wilderness, but it’s a little more developed. Even so, for some people, that is any men’s experience, taking someone who has never done that, and something they don’t even believe they can do. They’re so scared and nervous about the hike, sleeping outside, and all this thing.
The reward that they feel and the role that you had in helping them get through all these emotional hurdles, fear, experience, and enjoyment is extremely fun and rewarding. I had a lot of incredible experiences and got to know a lot of cool people by guiding them around different places in the woods.
You’re the only guests out of 306 guests, Craig, that we’ve had this conversation with. That’s awesome. Thank you for bringing it to the show. Let’s get to the real estate stuff. We’ve talked about the fact that you’re the tech columnist for Inman. How did that come up? How did you connect with Bradley Inman? Was it someone else at the time that you connected with?
I connected with Amber Taufen, who at the time was the editor. I was a freelance writer at the time. In 2009, I went out on my own. I was working for real estate agents and different companies, but I always read Inman because I was in real estate. I was always on it. I emailed them about being a contributor, someone who writes for free, as a way for me to get more real estate business potentially.
However, when Amber saw my background, she said, “We’re looking for somebody that understands technology and can be a regular paid contributor.” As a freelance writer, a standard regular gig is awesome. You’re not scraping to get pitches accepted and all that thing. I did a couple of demo columns. She showed it to Bradley, and he liked it. I was very grateful. That’s how it started. It started as one a week quickly went to one a day. It’s very hard to sustain.
In 2015 and 2016, there were not that many new companies coming up as there have been in the last few years. Every day was hard to do a demo. Think about my views on it. Compare and contrast it to other products out there. We found a good balance. I liked the atmosphere and everyone I worked with at Inman. One of the big reasons I very much enjoy it and stick around is because I’ve always had good people to work with. I’m a very vocal advocate for journalism, and it’s why I love working with all these other journalists. I learned a ton. I bring a lot of real estate knowledge to Inman, but learning about principles of journalism, why things are published, why they’re not, and why certain things need to be edited. I love that. It gets me very excited and fired up.
[caption id="attachment_4115" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Real Estate Technology: The industry is learning to take all of this data, put it in this little machine, and then pump it out into any shape or form they want to use, and they're doing some incredible things with it.[/caption]
I love our Connect events because it’s one of the few times where the Inman team gives some people how it works if they want it. During these Connect events, we sit in a room around a table. All of us are writing, and these discussions will erupt about anything from a word we should use or not use, and we’ll debate for five minutes about whether we should use that word or not, how to quote something correctly, or should we use that person’s comments.
I love those conversations and hashing that stuff out. That’s how I came into Inman. I continue to do other freelance projects on the side. I have other clients, but Inman is my primary workload each day. I still love it. It’s a lot of fun. I have gotten to know a lot of great people, see some cool products and some duds.
People that know me know that I am a massive fan of copywriters. I wish I could write something that compels people to take action. That’s such a...