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.
WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES IN YOUR ORGANIZATION?
I wear two hats. I am a vice president of Berman Enterprises LP (a multigenerational real estate development & management company that owns more than 9m sf of commercial office & retail space as well as close to a thousand multifamily units with thousands more in various stages of development) and I am also a managing director for our wholly owned venture company, Camber Creek. On the real estate side, I am primarily responsible for leasing & operations. On the venture side, I focus on deal flow and business development for our portfolio companies (we currently have 20).
DESCRIBE HOW YOU BECAME INTERESTED IN REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION.
We became interested in real estate tech/innovation roughly 6 years ago when CRE Tech was at its embryonic stage. Whether it was a question of efficiencies, revenue maximization or planning, or permitting & development, it was apparent to us that our industry was lagging behind others that had been radically disrupted & improved by tech. We began evaluating start-ups in 2009 & didn’t make our first portfolio investment until 2011.
HOW IS TODAY’S REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY DIFFERENT FROM WHEN YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER?
Night and day. In fact, it’s night and day from just 6 years ago! This is one of the issues we face as investors; similar to the early adopting consumer who buys the latest gadget (I’m looking at you Apple Watch’ers), we evaluate each company by where we think it and its market segment is going – not where they are right now. As I mentioned above, when we got into the tech space, CRE Tech was at its embryonic stage. We think it’s at its infancy just now.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN INITIATIVE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION TODAY?
That’s a tough question. From an operations perspective, it’s a relatively old one (that’s been improved by the cloud): our enterprise network which allows our partners access to any file on our network from any device anywhere we are (i.e. Dropbox).
WHAT DO YOU DO TO STAY ON TOP OF CUTTING EDGE TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS IN REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY?
As CRE Tech investors, it’s our job to stay on top of the latest breakthroughs affecting our space. We also keep a running dialogue going with other real estate development/management companies who may have been exposed to something that we haven’t.
AS A MENTOR, WHAT IS THE #1 VALUE YOU BRING TO A HIGH-GROWTH REAL ESTATE TECH START-UP?
The value we bring as a mentor is the same value proposition we offer as an investor to our portfolio companies: as a potential end-user of myriad CRE Tech products we can offer product/service level strategy that other vc’s may not (though within the MetaProp NYC family I think this is less unique - which is a tremendous strength of the community!). Perhaps more importantly, due to our size, chances are if we’re using a particular product or service, others will too.
WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MENTORS AND WHY?
My Grandfather, father & uncle.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BUSINESS BOOK?
The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
WHAT IS ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE DON’T ALREADY KNOW?
I lived in Russia (on & off) for a five year period from 2001. Nazdarovya!