The Innovation Conversation is a series of Q&A sessions between the real estate technology industry's top leaders and MetaProp 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?
As co-founder and CEO of Avail, a fast-growing startup with 65,000+ DIY landlords nationwide, my primary responsibility is hiring great people and removing obstacles for our team. At the stage our company is at, I’ve accepted that our success largely depends on the work of our team, not my own brute force efforts.
To hire and retain great people, we invest a significant amount of time and effort in ensuring everyone on our team is constantly being challenged to learn and grow. We’ve had such great success with this, that no one who has started with Avail has left the company.
I also spend a lot of time removing obstacles and minimizing distractions for our team. In some ways, the most important thing I do every day is to say “no” to projects that sound exciting but would detract from our team’s focus.
DESCRIBE HOW YOU BECAME INTERESTED IN PROPTECH AND INNOVATION.
I became interested in real estate at an early age. My parents are both entrepreneurs and own a small portfolio of rental properties. After finishing college, I moved to Chicago and took over day-to-day management of these rental units.
When this transition happened, I was looking for technology to simplify every part of my life. I was working 80+ hours per week at an investment bank, and time was precious. Uber changed how I got around the city and Grubhub ensured I was never hungry.
I looked for technology to simplify the management of the rental properties, and was surprised to find that there weren’t any tools available for part-time landlords like myself. Platforms existed for institutional real estate investors, but DIY landlords were completely ignored.
Believing that a solution needed to exist, I quit my job and learned how to code. My co-founder Laurence and I launched Avail in 2013 and have been building the business since then.
IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS, WHAT AREA OF THE REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY DO YOU THINK WILL CHANGE THE MOST DRAMATICALLY?
I believe the biggest change over the next 10 years will be the realization that owning your primary residence is NOT a good decision. Owning your home is not a good financial decision and it also ties you to a certain location, limiting your flexibility and mobility.
As more people recognize the importance of freedom that comes from renting, we’ll see continued growth in the rental market and other shared housing models.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN INITIATIVE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION TODAY?
At Avail, we provide rental management tools and educational resources for DIY landlords. These landlords, who have full-time jobs and typically own less than 10 rental units, have never had access to the same tools or resources as larger, institutional real estate investors.
Although each individual landlord controls a small number of rental units, collectively the 8 million DIY landlords in the United States own and manage more than 24 million rental units. This represents 55% of all rental units in the country.
By providing these landlords with a beautiful, intuitive rental management platform, we make it possible for them to manage properties themselves without the need for expensive middlemen.
WHAT ROLE HAVE MENTORS PLAYED IN YOUR SUCCESS? HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DEVELOP STRONG RELATIONSHIPS WITH MENTORS?
As a first-time startup founder, I have benefitted from the advice and guidance of a lot of people. The most valuable way for me is to learn from others’ experiences.
When I encounter a problem or situation that I’m unsure about, I’ll often reach out to an individual who has experienced the same challenge. I’ll ask questions about what they did in a similar situation and how it played out. Listening to the person and asking a lot of questions will typically help me make the best decision.
To develop strong relationships with mentors, I believe you get out of the relationship what you put in. Always ask mentors what you can do for them. The more that you provide value for your mentors, the more value you’ll get out of the relationship.
WHAT IS ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE DON’T ALREADY KNOW?
Prior to starting Avail, I spent three weeks trekking in Nepal and hiked up to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Getting from Kathmandu up to the Himalayas required flying into the most dangerous airport in the world.