Spencer Rascoff serves as chief executive officer (CEO) of Zillow.com, the online real-estate database that revolutionized house-hunting in the 21st century. A veteran of the first dotcom boom of the late 1990s, Rascoff was one of the founders of the discount-travel Web site Hotwire. The Harvard graduate joined Zillow in its start-up phase and was promoted to CEO in 2010 as it moved to become a publicly traded company.
Father Managed Presley Estate
Rascoff keeps a modest public profile but does reveal on his Web site that he attended the Dalton School in Manhattan and the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. His parents, Joe and Jane Rascoff, came from families with roots in Queens and Long Island, New York. His father is a graduate of the elite Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and served as the business manager for the estate of the late singer Elvis Presley in the 1980s. Later, the elder Rascoff joined the trusted management team inside the Rolling Stones' corporate organization.
Spencer Rascoff made his first appearance in the national news media in the spring of 1977, when a New York Times journalist interviewed visitors to the Ninth Avenue food fair. Reporter Mary Breasted reported that Jane and Joe had cycled downtown with Justin, age four, and 18-month-old Spencer, from their neighborhood at Park Avenue and 87th Street. The Rascoffs eventually relocated to the Los Angeles area. Justin Rascoff excelled in academics and athletics at the Harvard School for Boys, a private prep school in the Studio City area of Los Angeles and led student opposition to a proposed merger with the all-female Westlake School in Holmby Hills. Justin Rascoff was editor of the school newspaper and headed for Princeton University when he died in a car crash two days before his Harvard School graduation ceremony in May of 1991. Rascoff's brother had just dropped off the school paper's page proofs--the pre-digital-era slabs that were typeset then printed with ink onto newsprint--of his last issue as editor when his car spun off Ventura Highway and burst into flames.
Worked on Wall Street
Spencer Rascoff graduated from the same school, the newly merged Harvard-Westlake, in 1993 and also served as editor of the school newspaper. He went on to the other Harvard, the Ivy League university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he majored in government and graduated cum laude in 1997. "It seemed more practical than academic," he later admitted in alumni notes for Harvard University's Department of Government Web site about his choice of major. Though his undergraduate degree was not directly applicable to a career in investment banking or Internet start-ups, he added, it "did teach me critical thinking, improved my writing ability, and has made me a better public speaker."
Rascoff met his future wife at Harvard and went to work on Wall Street after their graduation in 1997. After a stint at the investment-banking giant Goldman Sachs, Rascoff and his wife moved to San Francisco, where he was hired at a private-equity firm, TPG Capital. In 1999 he and five other entrepreneurs founded Hotwire, a discount travel Web site. Cleverly named after a slang term for starting a car ignition without the key--a method perfected by auto thieves--Hotwire launched in 2000 and quickly captured market share in just a few short years with its discount offers on airfare, hotel rooms, and car rentals. The company, originally funded by TPG Capital, was sold to Barry Diller's massive IAC/InterActiveCorp (IAC) in 2003, and Rascoff was brought along to serve as vice president for lodging for Expedia, which was also part of the IAC realm.
Expedia had been started inside the Seattle-area Microsoft Corporation in 1994, and the now-married Rascoff had been commuting from his home in Seattle since 2001, when his wife entered medical school in Washington State. When Hotwire and Expedia were fused, Rascoff could stay in Seattle full-time, but eventually he came to miss the excitement of building a company from scratch. "By that point I had grown weary of working at a large company," he told Michael Sugerman, a reporter at the Harvard-Westlake Chronicle. "I wanted to do another startup, so I started looking at other categories that could thrive via the internet. The real estate industry seemed like a great candidate."
Promoted to CEO
Rascoff was one of the founders of Zillow, Inc., in 2005. The two main principals were former Microsoft executives Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink, who had created Expedia back in 1994. Rascoff served as chief financial officer and vice president of marketing at Zillow. The site went live in February of 2006 and was a near-overnight success. By mining data from county deeds registries and property-tax databases, Zillow offered visitors the chance to see recent home sales in an area and keep an eye on property values. With just a few clicks, it also gave users a nearly irresistible chance to check on what someone--anyone--had paid for their house, plus any given parcel's recent property-tax assessment data.
Zillow was free to use and generated revenue via advertising sales based on page views, which soared dramatically every quarter. Real estate agents were among Zillow's most vociferous detractors early in the game, claiming that the site and its competitors such as Trulia and Redfin would cause the real estate industry to spin out of control. That actually happened without any help from Internet search engines, as credit markets began to freeze in 2007 and housing prices in the United States plummeted in a recession. In a few short years, homes lost as much as half of their market value in some communities, data that Zillow offered in bird's-eye snapshots of residential blocks with each address's Zestimate, or potential market value, easily visible.
Rascoff became Zillow's CEO in September of 2010. Ten months later, the company was publicly traded on the NASDAQ, with shares trading under the coveted single-letter ticker symbol "Z." Rascoff rang the opening bell on the NASDAQ trading floor along with Zillow's chief financial officer Chad Cohen, a friend from his Harvard-Westlake graduating class.
Born c. 1975; son of Joe (a music-industry executive) and Jane (Schaps) Rascoff; married Nanci (a pediatric rheumatologist); children: three. Education: Harvard University, A.B. (cum laude), 1997. Addresses: Home--Seattle, WA. Office--Zillow, Inc., Russell Investment Center, 1301 Second Ave., 31 Fl., Seattle, WA 98101. Web site--http://spencerrascoff.com/.
Investment banker, Goldman Sachs, c. 1997-99; with private equity firm TPG Capital after 1999; co-founder, Hotwire.com, 1999; vice president of lodging, Expedia, 2003-05; chief financial officer and vice president of marketing, Zillow, Inc., 2005-08, chief operating officer, 2008-10, chief executive officer, 2010--.
- Harvard-Westlake Chronicle, February 9, 2012.
- New York Times, May 15, 1977; January 28, 2008.
- "ABs to CVs: Government Alumni Career Paths," Alumni Career Paths, Department of Government, Harvard University, http://www.gov.harvard.edu/files/Alumni%20Career%20Paths%20v1.pdf (November 12, 2013).