The Innovation Conversation is a series of Q&A sessions between the real estate technology industry's top leaders and MetaProp NYC Co-Founder and Managing Director Aaron Block. Topics include thoughts on the future of property and technology, corporate innovation activities, and executive development in the real estate technology space.
Justin Cohen, CMO at Pangea Properties
What are your day-to-day responsibilities in your organization?
At Pangea I oversee our shared services, which includes our leasing function (marketing and call center components) and product development. With that, my goal in the organization is to drive new renters, build the Pangea brand and improve business operations through technical solutions.
Describe how you became interested in real estate technology and innovation.
I’ve always been interested in solving business problems. Throughout my career, I have worked at technology-enabled startups where moving quickly wasn’t a choice, it was the only option. When I started at Pangea, we had only 400 units but had big ambitions and knew technology was the only way to grow to the national scale we expected. We now have nearly 11,000 units in three markets and our entire lead-to-lease platform was built and is maintained in-house.
How is today’s real estate technology different from when you started your career?
The real estate industry, overall, is slow at adopting technology and, in many instances, rather archaic. Over the past five years I have seen a slight shift in trying to advance the industry with things like e-leasing and new property management solutions that are cloud-based, but in the end most of the money (and time) has been spent chasing listing sites. The lack of efficient solutions drove some organizations, like Pangea, to take on the challenge to build scalable platforms more customized to the business’s needs internally.
What is the most important innovation and technology-driven initiative in your organization today?
At Pangea we have built an in-house CRM that focuses on the leasing cycle allowing us to move swiftly from lead creation, to appointment setting (showings, lease signings), to an online automated application and underwriting process. We have dubbed the proprietary system as ‘pCore.’ This system is built as a composite of modules and is integrated with our data warehouse, which allows us to continually refine our business processes. The modules that are next up for development are maintenance work item dispatching and an e-leasing engine.
What do you do to stay on top of cutting edge trends and developments in real estate technology?
I think it is important to note that technology should be looked at as industry-agnostic. With that in mind I look at how other companies apply technology to solve their business problems and try to discern how it might apply to Pangea – this ranges from actual diligence to just keeping an eye on everyday technology solutions that I use. I keep an updated backlog of these ideas and review when it is time to product plan. Last, to stay up on the trends for Pangea I review blogs and use my Twitter feed to quickly view the daily happenings.
As a mentor, what is the #1 value you bring to a high-growth real estate tech start-up?
I bring over 10 years of startup/entrepreneurial experience with five of those years in a real estate company that has grown from a proof of concept to a mature business. My areas of focus are building a multichannel marketing program and finding practical and scalable solutions to business problems.
Who have been your most important mentors and why?
I've been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my life. My parents taught me to work hard, support those you care about and always show up when you say you will. Early on I was connected to Dave Shorr (from my parents) who helped jumpstart my career, through an introduction to Al Goldstein (someone Dave mentored before). They had just launched CashNetUSA (which they later went on to sell to Cash America and eventually went public as Enova, NSYE: ENVA). He impressed upon me the power of networking and relationship building, the ability to enjoy every aspect about business and life and identifying opportunities in the market.
I've been able to work closely with Al Goldstein, who has founded Enova, Pangea and Avant where he also serves as the CEO. Over the last 11 years I have been able to watch, learn and try to emulate some of his best practices such as his loyalty to co-workers and business partners, vision and execution of now 3 successful companies, the ability to remain humble and the drive to continue to learn and improve even through all the success.
What is your favorite business book?
Taking people with you. This book by the Yum! Brands CEO, Dave Novak, dives into the skills it takes to drive an organization in one direction and build effective teams.
What is one interesting thing about you that most people don’t already know?
I am also married to an entrepreneur. My wife founded a health and wellness company called A Sweat Life that focuses on helping busy professionals stay healthy no matter whether they're at home, work or on the road. Her daily visits are growing exponentially, so we work together, to optimize the traffic, improve their technology and enhance the operations.