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?
At iFunding, I lead daily operations and oversee technical developments. My responsibilities include overseeing all processes related to work on project listings, fundraising, closings, and distributions. I also work closely with our programmers to make sure they can build solutions for our team. Together, my team and I were able to build and maintain the first real estate crowdfunding app in the world which even iFunding uses.
DESCRIBE HOW YOU BECAME INTERESTED IN REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION.
When I was an investment banker, I realized that there was no app for performing financial analysis and startup valuations. So I quit my job and built Valuation App, which I seeded via crowdfunding in 2012. I ended up raising money from 57 different backers. This made me realize the power of the crowd.
It is a known fact that real estate is one of the few industries that has not come even close to benefiting from innovations in technology. I started iFunding after realizing that real estate was an industry that could benefit from such an innovative form of financing (crowdfunding) by using technology like an accelerant to support fundraising efforts. Thankfully, it was also the year in which the JOBs Act was signed so regulations were in place to support this disruption in the real estate world.
HOW IS TODAY’S REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY DIFFERENT FROM WHEN YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER?
Three years ago, real estate was ripe for disruption across all verticals. Today, entrepreneurs have gone beyond this realization and built startups that have capitalized on these opportunities by building successful business models around the same. They have created data, technology, and funding resources, which have been validated over the past few years. We now have APIs readily available to leverage these infrastructures.
It is now time for real estate disruption 2.0, where newbie startups can benefit from better infrastructure and resources to further leapfrog into building better solutions. The advent of complementary industries, which didn’t even exist when I was starting my career, have opened up avenues for exciting possibilities. For example, 3D printing could change the face of real estate development, drone technology will disrupt real estate solicitation/marketing, innovations in greentech can further give rise to real estate solutions that are eco-friendly, smart home solutions put us on the verge of RETech solutions beyond our imaginations, and most importantly, crowdfunding shall soon find a place for itself as a recognized form of financing in any developer’s fundraising strategy alongside big banks. Exciting times ahead to be an entrepreneur at the intersection of real estate and technology!
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN INITIATIVE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION TODAY?
Making sure that all our systems are built for scale, while reducing the effort required to maintain them on an ongoing basis.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO STAY ON TOP OF CUTTING EDGE TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS IN REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY?
Meeting with like-minded individuals through organizations such as YEC and TiE, which have a lot of successful entrepreneurs from all industries. I am part of a number of angel investor groups as well, such as TiE NY Angels, which help me keep current with the brightest ideas. Organizations such as MetaProp NYC will also help me stay on top of cutting edge innovations.
AS A MENTOR, WHAT IS THE #1 VALUE YOU BRING TO A HIGH-GROWTH REAL ESTATE TECH START-UP?
I have background in real estate, finance, and technology. I am an entrepreneur and angel investor. I understand how a certain disruption can have implications across multiple verticals, which allows me to offer unique perspectives of the future.
WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MENTORS AND WHY?
I have only had one mentor all my life – my brother, who works at DTZ. I have always had entrepreneurial ideas, but used to struggle with bringing them to life. Some challenges I faced were identifying how to commercialize a potential business idea, or how to get access to a network of advisors who could help me connect the dots. He has taught me to build my thought process such that I may break out of my comfort zone, and go beyond just good ideas to allow individuals to see the economic benefits of all my decisions.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BUSINESS BOOK?
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson — this book teaches you everything you need to learn about life, management, and leadership.
WHAT IS ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE DON’T ALREADY KNOW?
I LOVE going to movies and brunches alone over the weekend. As weird as it sounds, this is the best part of my week, and one I look forward to most. I have struggled a lot with maintaining a work-life balance, and such activities help me reflect on everything that’s going on, while rejuvenating for the upcoming week.