Vision, Collaboration, Execution: How to Bring a PropTech Dream to Life

The role of commercial real estate owners is not unlike the role of technology entrepreneurs. Each day we both work hard to make our product better, our processes more efficient, and our decisions better informed.

The commercial real estate owner’s role is to create a vision for a space, find capital partners to fund the project, and then assemble the team to complete it. Interestingly, these mirror the three things that every PropTech entrepreneur must also do to bring their dream to life: have a great vision, find capital partners to fund it, and most importantly, assemble a great team to execute on it. Without these three things, the vision never becomes a reality for the project or the company.

In order to help the technologies building products and the real estate companies using them share their visions and collaborate, my company Honest Buildings hosted our Catalyst event on May 2. We assembled 200 leading real estate owners and commercial real estate influencers together in lower Manhattan to discuss these three themes. We heard from Lisa Picard, President and CEO of EQ Office, former Vancouver, BC Mayor, Gregor Robertson, authors Scott Hartley and Barbara White Bryson about what the future of the built world will look like. We invited leaders from Brookfield, Oxford, Prudential, Hines, Bentall Kennedy, Lasalle, Beacon, First Capital Realty, The We Company, formerly known as WeWork, Convene, and Industrious to help us understand what was happening from the companies that had “boots on the ground” in the real estate industry.

If you weren’t able to attend, it’s hard to convey the energy and interactions we witnessed. A consistent theme was the role people play in the technology equation.  While the collective consensus is that we are currently in the Age of PropTech adoption, human intelligence and human resources will always matter.

Speaking directly from his best-selling book, “The Fuzzie and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World,” keynote speaker, venture capitalist & author Scott Hartley assures us that IA (intelligence augmentation) will always eclipse AI (artificial intelligence.) Supportive of human intelligence rather than replacing it, technology allows those within our industry to rely upon the skills that built the most successful organizations throughout the last century.

One of my favorite takeaways was from Lisa Picard, President and CEO, EQ Office. She spoke about the importance of defining the vision and how it is often much bigger than just growing your technology. “So what’s the vision?” she asked, answering, “ to drive humanity into the workplace.”

Ralph Rose, Managing Director and COO global real estate at Citigroup Global Markets has his own vision for what those of us working to change the real estate world are doing. He said, “The raison d’être of PropTech companies is to bring something to the real estate industry that isn’t present.”

To do this we realize that we are all going to have to work together. We hoped the conference would create a temporary safe space, an environment encouraging us to ask each other hard questions and get honest feedback. For Adam Paul, President & CEO,  First Capital, this was all the more important once PropTech companies start to get past the startup stage. “Once your business gets to a certain size, you will have to rely upon teams rather than yourself to get the most done,” he said. “At that point, the assembly of people and team becomes super important.”

One of the participants in the roundtable discussions had a read observation about the importance of collaboration, saying, “we achieve operational excellence by collaboration. We define it broadly as the collection of cultural practices determining how we optimize our processes to achieve reliable, successful outcomes. It’s working together to achieve a common goal, consistently.”

In the words of Luke Petherbridge, CEO & President Shopcore, “What matters most for us are the people. We spend the most time building our teams and then aligning them to our cultural mission. If you get the right people on the bus, then it all comes together, allowing us to lean in on new tech or assets”

We continue to believe that the fabric of future communities and the people who work and live and play in them will be shaped by the technologies, relationships, and strategies commercial real estate owners invest in right now.

We will go forward, continuing to challenge the status quo, not by disruption, but by envisioning and then enabling success, working cross-functionally and across organizations to bring the best ideas to life. Lisa Shallet, Former Head of Strategic Innovation, Brookfield Asset Management gave us the charge to go forward:

“Success is the result of having a culture where you hear the ideas. Approach and process are important, but you have to establish a means for the ideas to bubble up. You will have to accept that sometimes ideas will fail; when you plan in advance, even when you stumble, you learn from the lesson.”

This is something that I have taken to heart. We have had some early success in PropTech, but our mission is far from over. We will surely have our failures, but the important thing is that we learn from them and keep advancing. We plan on making this conference part of the collaborative environment that we feel will be able to change the built world for the better. We hope to see some of you there next year.

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