Richard Sarkis, Co-Founder and CEO at Reonomy

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.

Richard Sarkis, Co-Founder and CEO at Reonomy


What are your day-to-day responsibilities in your organization?

As the CEO, what I do "day-to-day" really runs the gamut from meeting with current and prospective clients, to working with the Reonomy team on new product development, to meeting with the investment community.  Part of the reason I love doing what I do is that it stimulates me in different ways on a daily basis!

Describe how you became interested in real estate technology and innovation.

I was introduced to my co-founder, Charlie, three years ago and I was struck by two things.  His passion for bringing much needed innovation to CRE as well as the sheer scale of the value at stake in CRE.  Basically you’ve got a really big problem that a lot of people care about solving.  That is a pretty special combination that can lead to something very special when you’re looking to start a company.

What is the most important innovation and technology-driven initiative in your organization today?

One of the things we strive for at Reonomy is to be truly “agile” and customer focused when it comes to product development, innovation, and focus.  We have a team of user experience, design, and product folks who are constantly working with our clients to test new features and products and help provide tangible feedback to our engineering team.  So I’d say the most important “innovation” is the fact that we build our products with and for our clients rather than building something that we think will resonate and then trying to sell it.  Sounds simple but it’s actually pretty hard.

What do you do to stay on top of cutting edge trends and developments in real estate technology?

I meet with fellow CEOs of RE Tech companies on a regular basis and run into them on panels, at events, etc…  I also spend a bunch of time with clients and find out about cool things going on from them.

As a mentor, what is the #1 value you bring to a high-growth real estate tech start-up?

Probably a practical mindset.  Having been a tech entrepreneur for 15 years, I’ve learned the hard way that you can spend far too much time focusing on features, products, and strategies that seem optimal in theory, but don’t really work in practice.  Start with what works in practice.  Building up from that is crucial in my opinion.

Who have been your most important mentors and why?

I’ve learned a bunch from my co-founders over the years.  You learn a lot about yourself (and others) when you’re trying to build a company up from scratch with someone.  I’ve also learned a bunch from my dad who has been a successful entrepreneur for several decades and whose brain I still pick about some of the decisions I make on a regular basis.

What is your favorite business book?

Right now I really like The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.

What is one interesting thing about you that most people don’t already know?

I speak 5 languages.

Why Did We Start MetaProp NYC?

It’s clear that 2015 was the right time to launch a real estate technology accelerator in New York City. 

Steve Schlafman from RRE Ventures once asked if I thought 2012 would have been a better time to do it.  I pondered that question for a while and realized it probably would have been a financial windfall to work with the crop of high growth real estate tech start-ups that three years ago were just starting out (VTS, Hightower, Managed by Q, Compstak, Floored, Compass, Honest Buildings, SiteCompli, The Square Foot, Nestio, Reonomy, etc.).  All of these companies, and many more successful NYC based real estate tech companies, germinated at this time and we could have had the opportunity to accelerate a few of them.  Now, the best of those companies have gone on to raise substantial financing rounds and are building very successful businesses. 

After some reflection, I would argue that a world class real estate tech accelerator would not have been possible in 2012 and, furthermore, is only possible in 2015.  For a domain specific accelerator to work, you need a few things to coalesce.   First, you need technological talent.  Second, you need capital.  Third, you need mentors.  Fourth, your portfolio companies need customers and clients.  Finally, you need more mature start-ups in the ecosystem.

In 2012, one definitely could have put together the talent and capital but not a large base of clients and mentors.  The industry was simply too nascent.  Landlords worked with software for property management (Yardi, Timberline, and MRI, etc.) but used very little innovative software for leasing management, compliance, HVAC, marketing, or construction management. 

In 2015, not only do you have landlords learning more about software, they are clamoring for it.  Dave Eisenberg from Floored mentioned to me on a panel that a massive business breakthrough for him was initially suggested by a client.  The fact that a real estate professional is that in the weeds with a technology product is a massive shift for the industry.  This shift has been brought about by a meaningful dialogue for the first time commencing between software developers and clients in this industry. 

In 2015 you also have mentors who have been through that dialogue.  They now intimately know the dos and don’ts of selling software to landlords, marketing software, hiring, raising money, and many other critical business building concepts. 

We assembled an all star team of mentors and corporate partners (including Zillow Group, Warburg Realty, DLA Piper, EisnerAmper and The News Funnel) to launch MetaProp NYC because we thought that this was a unique opportunity in time to bring together new founders, old founders, clients, and financiers together to accelerate businesses.  While the industry has matured quite a bit in NYC from 2012-2015, we believe that the software disruption of real estate is just beginning and will continue to push forward into the next decade as technology changes the entire process of building, leasing, and operating a building from top to bottom.