TheSquareFoot

Michael Mandel, Co-Founder and CEO at Compstak

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.

Michael Mandel, Co-Founder and CEO at Compstak

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

As CEO, I don't have a lot of day-to-day responsibilities.  Mainly I focus on making sure we have money in the bank, and that our team is happy and productive. The only regular tasks I have are weekly 1 on 1s with our team leaders, and our weekly Progress meeting, where we discuss our progress from the past week, where we need help from the rest of the team, and our plan for the next week. Otherwise, I spend a ton of time in both internal and external meetings with our team, prospective employees, our customers, and our members.  I travel a decent amount - mainly for speaking engagements and new market launches. When we're raising money for the company, that becomes my full time job, and it's so time consuming.  

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

I've always had an interest in technology and innovation.  I studied entrepreneurship at Babson, and always intended to start a business.  Before starting CompStak, I was a commercial real estate broker.  While working as a broker, I saw tremendous opportunity to innovate in the commercial real estate space.  In truth, if you were looking for it, the opportunity for innovation in the CRE industry was everywhere.  The industry was so antiquated, and the question was not IF there was an opportunity to innovate, but what opportunity was best, and how could I make an impact.

How is today’s real estate technology different from when you started your career?

When I started working in commercial real estate, the only technology regularly used in CRE leasing in Manhattan was CoStar.  On occasion I would use LinkedIn, Loopnet, RCA, PropertyShark, Jigsaw, or electronic public records data from the NYC DOB. Some brokers used CRMs, but most just used Microsoft Outlook and others used index cards (seriously). Today, there is technology that dramatically improves a broker's workflow in every step of the process.  Prospecting is done on LinkedIn, CompStak, ProspectNow, Crunchbase, and other sites.  Market Data to negotiate deals comes from RCA and CompStak. Deal management, workflow and space tours happen on VTS, Hightower Property Capsule and Ten Eight. Customer relationships are managed in Apto, Clientlook or REThink, and space is marketed with VTS, 42Floors, TheSquareFoot, OfficeSpace.com, Floored and others.  All of these new tools provide tremendous value to brokers (not to mention investors, lenders, appraisers and others). They provide transparency in information, and accountability to landlords and tenants.

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

I'm most proud of the technology we've built in-house, which our members and customers never see, but which allows CompStak to grow incredibly quickly.  We've built an in-house Mechanical Turk platform, combined with Machine Learning, Statistical Anomaly Detection, and workflow tools that allow us to process an average of over 30,000 comps a month, while maintaining high quality and direct analyst review.  We've then built a sophisticated comp integration process, which allows us to maintain an average of 5 versions of every new comp we receive, uncover the differences between these versions and choose the best comp attributes to deliver a high quality experience to our users. I'm just scratching the surface of what it takes and what we've built to create a scalable platform for managing a massive quantity of data from a ton of disparate sources.  This stuff is really cool.

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

I really enjoy the various CRE Tech events (too many of which have the word "disrupt" in them).  Other companies in this industry are building incredible things, and a lot of them are taking inspiration from outside of the real estate tech world as well.  I think if we all really want to innovate, that's what we need to do.  We need to look at best in class technology and design in all industries and think about how to apply that to the world of real estate technology.  Our tech team shares their code repos in GitHub, and our product team shares their designs in Dribbble.  Of course, it's also important not to get too distracted with what other people are doing, and to focus on making your product as good as it can be.

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

Personally, I think the value I provide may be valuable to entrepreneurs more generally, than just real estate tech companies.  There are a lot of things I would change the second time around, that would have accelerated our growth. My advice will likely be around effectively telling the story of your company, identifying the biggest opportunity possible, understanding how you will capitalize on that opportunity, and selling that opportunity to investors.  Early stage entrepreneurs need to be tremendous story tellers and salespeople, and while it's partly art and partly science, it's definitely something that can be learned.

Who have been your most important mentors and why?

Jason Freedman from 42Floors once mentioned to me, that the best mentors are other entrepreneurs who have gone through what you're going through a few months ahead of you.  I think he's dead right.  I love chatting with entrepreneurs who have just closed the type of customers I'm trying to win, just raised the round of funding I'm planning to go for, just hired that big senior employee, or hit that scaling challenge.  It's wisdom that is incredibly relevant, and practical.

What is your favorite business book?

My favorite recent business book is The Hard Thing about Hard Things. I've also really enjoyed Zero to One, anything by Eliyahu Goldratt, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Delivering Happiness, Built from Scratch and Double Dip by Ben and Jerry (really).

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

I really enjoy manual labor.  I get tremendous pleasure out of fixing things, painting things, organizing things, building things and cleaning things.  I love the sense of accomplishment I get from completing a project.  Incidentally, I get that satisfaction, even if I'm not the one doing most of the work :-).  That's part of what I love about being an entrepreneur.  Our team is always doing new cool things, and there are lots of small wins along the way.

Jonathan Wasserstrum, Co-Founder at TheSquareFoot

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.

Jonathan Wasserstrum, Co-Founder at TheSquareFoot

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

At TheSquareFoot, I make sure there is money in the bank, that the team doesn't have roadblocks in their way preventing them from excelling, and recruiting new people to join our awesome team (we are hiring btw!).  I still love working on deals too so I spend time there as well.

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

My background is in commercial real estate.   Several years ago I got a call from a high school buddy who was looking for space for his last company and struggling through the process.  Aron was able to go online and find a place to eat dinner and his new apartment but no dice on office space.  I hadn't thought about it much before then, but after talking more with him and Justin, the lightbulb went off and we were off to the races.

How is today’s real estate technology different from when you started your career?

I remember when I was at JLL and we were being asked to start using a CRM system.  It was revolutionary at the time.  Today it's table stakes.

We've been working on TheSquareFoot for more than 4 years now.  When we were first doing business development in Texas, people on the other side of the table looked at us like we had a third eye.  The industry has come along way to embracing technology since then.

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

Everything.  We just brought on a senior product executive from a very successful  technology company.  That's not a typical move for a real estate company.  Product and tech is at the core of our business and it enables our transactions team to provide a superlative client experience.

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

While real estate technology has blossomed in the past few years, there are still a manageable number of players (especially on the commercial side).  I speak with many of the other founders directly on a regular basis, plus we run into each other at industry events and on panels.  So I guess long story short...directly from the horses' mouths.

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

Having a background in the industry has been instrumental in our progress to date.  However, building a tech company from the ground up is something that we hadn't done before.  We are on our way to doing it now and have learned an insane amount along the way.  I’m excited about showing the next groups how to avoid the potholes.

Who have been your most important mentors and why?

Cliche, but it's true...my mommy.  She was born in a Lower East Side tenement and after a lot of hard work went to HBS and eventually had a long career climbing the ranks at JPMorgan Chase in Texas.  She did this all at a time when women in the executive suite were even less common than they are now.

Also, my boss when I was at JLL, Steve Collins.  I learned a lot about the industry obviously and also more important life lessons like not to use your cell phone at the table.  

Both of them also illustrated that having a great career and a great family are not dichotomous.

What is your favorite business book?

Power Broker by Robert Moses.

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

I once tried out for the Amazing Race with a buddy from college.  I had never seen the show but he was all in.  We made a video and everything.  We are still waiting for that callback…