Recently, I made a big decision and an even bigger life change. I left my career leading teams at Google, most recently as the head of programmatic ad sales in North America, where I oversaw a multi-billion dollar business and a global portfolio. Google is an amazing company and I was proud to spend 8 years there, but I left to join a PropTech startup.
Now I’m leading the business unit as VP of marketing, sales and success at HqO, a startup that’s building a tenant experience platform for commercial real estate. Everyone I talk to, including my family and friends asks me why I would leave Google for a startup in commercial real estate tech. Many think I’m crazy, but here’s why I think it’s a good bet and a great decision.
My background at Google
At Google, there were two core focus areas that were critical to the business and helped me succeed, and I think both are applicable to commercial real estate.
First, the most important asset and the currency of our business was data. Data informed every decision I made as a leader, from where to hire talent to what solutions would drive what results for our customers. I will go into detail about the opportunity that CRE has by incorporating data into tenant relations.
Second, the ability to gain efficiency through technology was imperative to our work with clients. The promise of programmatic advertising is that it can save time, drive better performance and grow the customer base for advertisers. Technology enables this at scale in the same way that it drove efficiencies in banking (ATMs), transportation (EZPass), and other industries. These efficiencies allow people to shift their focus to more strategic projects and execution. The opportunities to leverage technology and data to drive efficiency and asset value is relatively untapped and one of the most exciting I’ve seen in my career.
Why CRE, Why Now?
Commercial real estate, in other words the buildings where business gets conducted, has been around for a long time as real estate as an asset class dates back thousands of years. With the exception of the introduction of the agent/broker model in the early 20th century, not much has changed in all those years. The opportunity to be disruptive in commercial real estate is massive. It’s the largest institutional asset class in the world–$14 trillion dollars in the U.S. alone. Such a massive market size is an incredible opportunity.
Commercial real estate owners have millions of customers engaging with their products and buildings, every day and most don’t know their tenants, guests, or anything about them. With the technology that exists today, there is so much more landlords can do to engage with and understand their customers.
As one of the last industries to catch on to the efficiencies and gains earned from technology, PropTech startups have an incredible opportunity to build and influence from the ground up. As tech startups, we can make a real difference for CRE owners that are already incredibly successful by layering on one of the top business drivers they’re currently missing: data.
When I looked at the opportunity to join HqO, one question piqued my interest most: if data is the new currency in business today, how is it that property companies have little to no data on the end users of their product–their tenants? There is almost no actionable data about 99% of the people who use the product on a daily basis.
Enter: tenant experience (TeX) software.
Why TeX software
At Google and in my prior roles, I witnessed the impact of the first wave of innovation in mobile technologies. There is no arguing that the mobile advancements we’ve experienced to date have been transformative. They changed just about every aspect of our lives – but they also connected people to screens unlike ever before. Constant connectivity and digital addiction are challenges that the largest tech companies have now acknowledged. Apple, Facebook and Google, just to name a few, are building tools to help their users experience “JOMO,” or the joy of missing out. This next wave of mobile technology will connect people to the real world.
TeX software is the first and most baseline application of this thesis. TeX turns a tenant’s smartphone into a device to access and interact with the places and people they experience every single day in the real world. It’s like a remote control for your building. There is massive room for improvement to people’s daily lives by providing delightful experiences through software. Property owners have a unique opportunity to get in early on this wave of innovation.
In fact, tenants are already experiencing improvements to their daily lives through TeX software – alerts about the building, info about amenities, streamlined access to loyalty programs, local retail perks, transit and traffic data, on-demand and on-site fitness classes, just to name a few. We’re in the earliest stages of TeX software maturation, but these daily improvements for occupiers are driving up value for owners. As TeX offerings mature and get more intelligent about the ultimate tenant experience, the data gleaned will be invaluable. By working and talking with some of the largest and most innovative landowners in the world, we’ve identified six pillars of an excellent tenant experience.
- Entertainment – Are onsite and neighborhood events available, discoverable and promoted to the tenant community?
- Convenience – How is the property set up to make a tenant’s day more streamlined by including amenities such as on-site daycare, dry cleaning, conference room booking, grab-and-go food options, etc.? If the property does not have those amenities or capability on-site, how does it bring those services to tenants on-demand via technology?
- Mobility – How accessible is the property to tenants traveling to and from work every day, including walkability, shuttle and transit options, alternative forms of transportation, data that improves convenience and productivity, sustainable-friendly transportation options, and more?
- Security – Is the property set up to facilitate and distribute security protocols, notifications, procedures and contingency planning? Are tenants and visitors given access appropriately?
- Sustainability – How is the property team identifying, promoting, and organizing charitable fundraising events and corporate social good content from tenants, and is the facility set up for sustainable HVAC and lighting control?
- Wellness – What type of offerings, programming and facilities exist to promote and support the tenant community’s interest in health, wellness, and fitness initiatives?
I landed at HqO for a few reasons – the founding team’s prior success, the opportunity to build a category, product strength and tech advantage, and more – but I was especially drawn to the formulaic approach to enhancing the six pillars of tenant experience above with the following essential software features and functionality:
- Commerce – How do we enable tenants to book and pay for food, amenities, events, and services via software? Mobile ordering and paying, booking and reservations, incentives, discounts and loyalty programs, parking payment, and amenity/services marketplaces.
- Community – How do we enable in-person interactions between the tenant community via software? Event listings and promotion, event management, digital concierge functionality, and in-app messaging.
- Content – How do we arm the tenant with all the information and knowledge they need at the property via software? CMS and in-app posts from property teams and tenants, in-app notifications, and directories.
- Control – How do we give tenants the ability to control their environment via software? Tenant and visitor access control, booking and requesting services, HVAC and lighting control.
We still have a lot of work to do but I believe this approach will truly set HqO apart in the market.
Trend spotting: big tech gets poached
I don’t believe I’m an anomaly. I believe we are at the very beginning of a trend where we’ll see more talent from big tech companies will move to PropTech startups. The opportunity in this space is apparent and the category is continuing to mature.
We’re already seeing this happen with a few startups: Compass hired ex-Microsoft Joseph Sirosh as chief technology officer, Matterport hired eBay chief product officer RJ Pittman as its new chief executive, and one of our investors, Mihir Shah at JLL Spark, was a tech exec in his prior life: Groupon, Yahoo, and an early Uber investor.
For big tech folks like myself, it’s an exciting time to join this industry because of the opportunity to use all we’ve learned at scale and apply it to an emerging, but rapidly growing, category. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for those that take advantage of it.