MetaProp NYC

The Forgotten 50%

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Real estate is one of the oldest industries in the world.  Some of the first ever real estate deeds were signed and recorded in cuneiform script, on clay and stone tablets, at the dawn of the 4th Millennium BC in Ancient Mesopotamia.  That means that human beings have been transacting land from one party to another for approximately 6,000 years if not longer.

Since then, real estate has become a roughly $15 trillion industry, which amounts to the size of the entire stock market.  From Sumerian times through the 1980’s, real estate was a family affair.  Property was owned and passed down from generation to generation, and each family had its own quirky way of managing, leasing, and selling real estate. 

Starting in the mid 1980’s, this “mom and pop” world of real estate gradually began to change.  In 1986, congress enacted new tax laws that leveled the playing field for institutional investors to start investing in real estate as its own diversified “asset class”, much like they would equities or fixed income.  1988 saw the creation of what many believe was the first modern real estate fund: the Zell/Merrill Lynch Real Estate Opportunity Fund.  This vehicle raised $400 million of institutional investor capital to pursue assets sold primarily by the Resolution Trust Company.  This opened the floodgates to the rapid proliferation of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and real estate private equity funds in the 1990’s. 

Along with the rise of institutional real estate as an asset class came the birth of the World Wide Web in 1989.  As the web proliferated in the 90’s, so did real estate technology.  Since then, real estate technology has been almost exclusively focused on catering to these “institutional” real estate investors and property owners.  Software companies preferred to sell directly to these types of entities, as they owned massive amounts of property and theoretically conducted business in a more organized and professional way. 

Thus, legacy players like YardiMRI, and RealPage, as well as newcomers like VTS and Hightower have focused almost exclusively on providing software to manage institutional real estate.  As these software platforms have grown more robust, more and more resources have been poured into assisting these large institutional players manage their massive portfolios.  However, what has happened to the smaller landlords, the ones who still pass down real estate through generations and maybe still write deeds in cuneiform on stone tablets?  The short answer: nothing at all. 

While mom and pop landlords still control roughly 50% of the total real estate market in the United States, they have been almost completely ignored by software companies.  Small time landlords manage 24 million homes according to the latest US Census data.  These landlords want to use software to manage property more efficiently, but can’t afford large solutions like Yardi or MRI.  At MetaProp NYC, we call this class of landlords “the forgotten 50%” because since the 1990’s the software community has largely forgotten about them.

Companies like MetaProp NYC portfolio company RentalutionsEasyrent and a few others are beginning to provide small landlords with the same functionality as larger property management software platforms at a fraction of the price.  Rentalutions allows landlords to accept payments online, screen tenants, execute leasing, manage facilities, and more.  Although the market is highly fragmented, these landlords are now clamoring for software.  Rentalutions has been able to sign up 16,000 landlords in 5,500 zip codes across the country to its platform and it’s growing quickly.

Some things never change: as large as institutional real estate has become, the business is still very similar to how it was in Ancient Mesopotamia.  Only difference is now small time landlords use Rentalutions instead of stone tablets.

Top 15 Most Influential People in Real Estate Technology 2015

In honor of our upcoming 2015/2016 Demo Days, MetaProp NYC presents:   

The first annual list of the most influential in NY real estate tech:

  1. Jared Kushner of Kushner Companies and Josh Kushner of Thrive Capital

    • These two power brokers control millions of square feet in NY, and are among the earliest adopters and champions of all things real estate tech including startups like: WeWork, Compass, Cadre, Honest Buildings, and WiredScore.

  2. Zach Aarons, Clelia Peters and Aaron Block of MetaProp NYC

    • The most prolific angel in real estate tech, one of NYC’s top residential brokerage minds and an ex-Cushman executive teamed up with REBNY, ICSC, the NYCEDC, Warburg Realty and Zillow to launch this real estate tech startup accelerator and the #1 global RETech seed fund.  This team also produces NYC Real Estate Tech Week.

  3. Nick Romito of VTS and Brandon Weber of Hightower

    • Founding entrepreneurs and competitors who are lighting the commercial real estate tech world on fire. Future of CRE could be here.  Both companies have activated old-line institutional partners (Blackstone, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank Corp, etc.) and have raised significant Series B capital from blue chip venture funds.

  4. Robert Refkin and Ori Allon of Compass

    • Ex-Goldman Sachs and ex-Google founders who built a tech enabled residential real estate brokerage powerhouse.

  5. Susan Daimler of StreetEasy/Zillow

    • One of the previous generation of real estate tech entrepreneurs who remains as relevant and influential as ever.  Currently GM of top residential listings site.

  6. Steve Schlafman of RRE

  7. Rich Sarkis of Reonomy and Michael Mandel of CompStak

    • Big shots taking on the goliath, publicly traded deathstar CoStar.  Michael’s CompStack democratized leasing “comps” and Rich’s Reonomy just completed a massive Series B with investors like Bain Capital.

  8. Michael Rudin of Rudin Management

    • 4th gen Exec who helps spearhead the 20m sqft portfolio's tech investments.  Incubating their own DiBoss building operations platform.

  9. Dave Eisenberg of Floored and Red Swan Ventures.

    • Widely recognized as one of the smartest entrepreneurs in the space.  The authority on interactive 3D graphics and space test fit technology.  Also investor in Hightower and other technologies through VC Red Swan Ventures.

  10. Bill Field of LeFrak Investments, Ryan Melohn of Expansion VC, Michael Milstein of Millstein Properties, Grand Central Tech incubator, and Circle Ventures, and Ryan Freedman of Corigin Ventures

    • Not as well known as the Kushners and Rudins but still very influential strategic investors.  These gentlemen invest real estate family money and help new technologies access pilots within their vast portfolios.  Local portfolio companies include Honest Buildings, Radiator Labs and LogCheck.

  11. Ryan Baxter of REBNY and Sarah Malcolm of ICSC 

    • You can't ignore the influence of real estate associations in the future of our industry.  Ryan Baxter is a lobbyist and liaison to the real estate tech community for industry association powerhouse REBNY.  He's recognized as a Crain’s NY 40 under 40Sarah Malcolm runs digital strategy for the global retail real estate association ICSC and maintains tight relationships with the local venture, start-up, media and real estate communities.

  12. Erik Levy of DMGI, Brad Svrluga of Primary Ventures,  and Jordan Nof of Tusk Ventures

    • Erik leads investments for the deepest investor in the real estate tech data space.  Holdings include Trepp, SiteCompli, and Real Capital Analytics.   Brad has been an early champion of real estate tech and investor in local startups Reonomy, Fieldlens, and TheSquareFoot. Jordan served as a director at Blackstone and now leads investments at Tusk Ventures.

  13. Riggs Kubiak of Honest Buildings

    • Ex-Tishman Speyer executive who invented the real estate market’s leading procurement and workflow platform

  14. Caren Maio of Nestio

    • Top female founder in today’s crop of real estate technologists.  Created NY’s leading residential listings system for residential real estate professionals.

  15. Ashkán Zandieh of CRE:Tech and Falkon

    • Founder of CRE:Tech research and consulting and property research app Falkon.  One of the original advocates for real estate tech in New York City. 

How To Turn Pain Into Gain

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When professionals in various industries approach me about starting companies, I almost always ask them to engage in a simple exercise.  I ask them what the most frustrating thing they did at work was and if software could fix that problem or at least make it less frustrating.  The answers usually run the gamut from, “yes, software could fix my problem and I want to build it” to “no, it’s still too esoteric a problem to benefit from software” and everything in between.  When someone wants to build software to solve a particular pain point that they have experienced at work, that’s when my eyes light up.

As an investor, I practice something similar to this method.  My friend Paige Craig of Arena Ventures has written extensively about what he calls the “hunting” method for finding great startups.  His approach is “imagining future solutions and then focusing my time on finding founders who fit within those theses”.  Now Paige is a very successful generalist investor and has myriad interests.  He is able to imagine these types of scenarios across different industries.  This is a difficult skill to master.  However, for mere mortal investors, I suggest engaging in the “hunting” method to find companies that address (and hopefully solve) unique pain points that you have encountered in your day to day business life.  

One day several years ago, I was sitting in my office minding my own business when I noticed that everyone was tense.  My office is typically a pretty quiet place but on this day people were pissed and I wanted to know why.  I found out that a subcontractor’s bid for a very important building material had come in significantly higher than we expected and caught us all off guard.  I felt bad for my colleagues for a while but then decided to see if there was a way to use software to provide greater transparency and efficiency to the construction bidding process. The workflow had been done for centuries with paper and pencil and only recently integrated what I would call “disorganized email solutions”. 

I put on my Paige Craig hat and decided to do some “hunting”.  I scoured the web to see if I could find some software that general and sub contractors could use to simplify and streamline the bidding process, and thus save money for developers in the long run.  I struck out, found nothing, and got back to work on whatever other project I had in front of me that day. 

Later that very evening I was bored and trolling Angel List.  I have found a few startups in my portfolio by just looking on Angel List, and then cold emailing those companies, but not many.  Nonetheless, I like to see what people are investing in and what cool companies are coming out so I visit the site almost daily.  Most of the time it’s easiest to see startups that are trending.  However, for some reason a company called BuildingConnected popped up on my feed.  The company was solving EXACTLY the problem I had experienced first hand at work that day.  It seemed too good to be true. 

I asked for an intro on Angel List and the founder, Dustin DeVan, replied to me within seconds.  Within 15 minutes we were on the phone chatting.  I liked him and the fact that he had extensive experience in the construction industry as well as a team of talented technologists building the platform.  I was sold!  He asked me if I wanted to see the product before cutting a check and in one of my gutsiest (or stupidest) moves ever as an angel I said, “I don’t need to see a product.  The fact that you HAVE A PRODUCT puts you leaps and bounds above everyone else in an industry that desperately needs it”.  I signed papers for the round that night.

Dustin has become a good friend, a mentor at MetaProp NYC, and a pillar of the nascent construction tech community since then.  He has signed up many contractors to use his platform and they just love it.  I continue to be incredibly excited about what BuildingConnected is doing because it is solving discreet, very painful pain points that developers and contractors experience across the world on a daily basis.  So, if you are looking to find a potential investment, look to turn your own pain into gain.  Happy hunting!

MetaProp NYC's Launch Event

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I had a great time at the MetaProp NYC launch event.  It was fun to see friends that I have met along the way working with different real estate technology companies.  It was also fun to announce our first deal, Rentalutions, and our first two initiatives focused on technological applications to affordable housing solutions and women in real estate tech.  

What made me smile the most, however, were the chance encounters that I saw popping up across the room: people from different areas of real estate were meeting each other and chatting meaningfully about ways they could collaborate.  All elements of what make the community so vital were represented last night as landlords, developers, and brokers, discussed collaboration with real estate technology entrepreneurs, seasoned real estate tech executives, venture capitalists, and policy makers.

Questions ranged from things like, “Can you think of a good investor for my seed round?” to “How can startups, landlords, and government organizations partner to create more economically sustainable realities for affordable housing”?  Everyone was open to new ideas and eager to show what they had to offer the room.  

Throughout the evening, I found myself asking a few people the innocent question, “How do you know each other?” only to hear that they had just met.  That was nice to hear because these conversations seemed so natural to me it was startling to believe that these people were not old friends.

The bottom line is obvious: when you put people together from different parts of an industry you get different perspectives and you get real meaningful collaboration.  We can all teach each other a lot, we just have to be open to new ideas and bring people from different viewpoints together.

An Open Letter To Venture Capitalists: Let MetaProp NYC Help You Diligence Your Real Estate Tech Deals

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I can’t put my finger on the exact date, but it was most likely some time in the year 2012 when a venture capitalist woke up one morning and realized that he or she had been sleeping in a bed, and that the bed was placed in a bedroom, that bedroom in an apartment, and that apartment in an apartment building.  The VC went to work after eating a quick breakfast, and realized that the firm where he or she worked was based in an office, and that office was inside of an office building.  Then, the Eureka moment occurred: “Holy crap!” pondered the VC pensively, “I both live and work in a building.  This real estate thing is really huge, and it’s not going away anytime soon!  There must be some opportunity for technology within this industry that builds, leases, sells, and maintains these buildings where I spend so much time.”  

Due to this relatively obvious epiphany, the VC then began to start pumping money into every single company the fund saw that had anything whatsoever to do with real estate.  “Because the market is so large”, thought the VC, “I don’t even have to do any real diligence within the industry.  If something looks good and has a good team, with great engineers, I don’t even half to ask any potential landlord, broker, or property manager if they would even actually use it.  Looks and smells like a winner so it must be a winner.  Here is a check for $2 million for a seed round and you can fill in the terms on the term sheet.  No big deal.”

Please, friends and acquaintances in the venture capital industry.  Don’t fall into the same trap that this naïve venture investor did.  Although my little yarn is silly and ridiculous, you would not believe the number of well-funded real estate tech startups out there with insanely talented technology teams that are selling hardware and software to landlords and brokers that no one in the industry actually wants.  Many of these companies don’t even have ANYONE on the core team that has worked within any aspect of the real estate ecosystem in a prior job.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many excellent VC’s who have done significant diligence on multiple aspects of real estate and have made excellent investments.  I am lucky enough that some of them have even let me participate in superb real estate tech seed deals.  Some of these investors leaned on me for diligence.  

In fact, the reason why I started investing in real estate technology was because of advice from a VC, Stu Ellman of RRE Ventures.  As my professor in a venture capital course at Columbia Business School, he told me that my idea for a final paper topic was really stupid and that I needed to focus on real estate technology instead.  I took his advice, fell in love with the topic, and then went on to make some excellent investors alongside his fund.

So, with all this hoopla we are announcing the MetaProp NYC VC Diligence Assist Program.  (We will try to think up a better name or an acronym later).  If you are considering making an investment in a real estate technology company, please send it our way and we will vet it with top experts in whatever field of real estate is relevant.  We will of course keep all the information as confidential as you desire, and we ask for nothing in return except for good karma.  

Next time you are considering pulling the trigger on a real estate tech deal but you aren’t sure about something, just let us know.  We are here to help!