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By Nikhil Chaudhri ’16
On March 3, 2015, the Columbia Business School Real Estate Association (REA) with support from the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate presented its first annual Real Estate Technology and Entrepreneurship event as a part of the Centers’ Career Panel Series, to a room filled with current students and alumni attendees. The event kicked off with a networking reception, where students networked with alumni and alumni reconnected with old friends.
Thereafter, Zachary Aarons ’13, Project Manager at Millennium Partners, moderated a panel comprised of speakers from six entrepreneurial real estate technology firms that are actively involved in finding solutions for inefficiencies that inundate end-users and service providers alike. Panelists included:
- Geoff Lewis, Business Development, Honest Buildings
- Jason Griffith ’06, Partner & Co-Founder, SiteCompli
- David Snider, Chief Operating Officer, Compass (formerly known as Urban Compass)
- Dave Eisenberg, Founder & CEO, Floored
- Tripty Arya ’12, Founder & Director, TRAVTUS
- Jonathan Wasserstrum ’12, Co-Founder & CEO, TheSquareFoot
The most popular topic of discussion revolved around the increased interest of Venture Capitalists in real estate technology businesses. The panelists saw increased VC interest in the field because of its vast scope; real estate is the largest asset class in the world and it usually is the largest expense for most people. Despite the increased interest from the VC community, the panelists cautioned to make sure the business strategy of the venture is in line with that of the fund. As an example, Tripty Arya suggested, if an India-focused fund were to invest in an Indian firm, the international expansion of the firm could be constrained by the fund’s inability to hold investments with a scope outside of India. The panelists also suggested raising capital from diverse pools of capital, and doing so from a position of strength, after becoming profitable, to help the venture maintain autonomy.
When asked about the keys to success, the panelists unanimously agreed on the importance of having the right team in place. Beyond that, executing well, and servicing clients on both sides of the transaction were also considered essential. Among challenges, adaptability was a key concern, as the firms often have to try to think of creative ways to get users who are used to doing things differently to use their product. The panelists also at times struggled with finding the balance between meeting client needs and doing too much to service a client, however, they saw an opportunity in identify recurring client demands and implementing them into the platform.
After over 30 minutes of Q&A with the audience, the forum concluded with some food for thought. The panelists saw tremendous potential for technological change in the consumer mortgage space, and challenged the attendees to think of ways to improve the experience for all stakeholders involved.
View the Photo Slideshow.
- Honest Buildings: Allows users to post real estate projects and solicit bids from pre-approved vendors. www.HonestBuildings.com
- SiteCompli: Helps NYC property owners navigate through the city’s complicated compliance requirements and stay current on their documentation. www.SiteCompli.com
- Compass: The premier platform for residential real estate transactions that empowers brokers with state of the art technology and provides an easy-to-use and reliable interface for end-users. www.Compass.com
- Floored: Allows users to virtually experience real estate spaces online. www.Floored.com
- TRAVTUS: Based in India, is a platform that brings together employees and employers for construction projects. www.Travtus.com
- TheSquareFoot: Online brokerage platform for office space across the country. www.TheSquareFoot.com
Nikhil Chaudhri ’16 is AVP of Communications and Technology for the Real Estate Association, and the Treasurer of his cluster. Prior to Columbia Business School, he spent five years at JPMorgan, where he advised corporate clients on debt financings and managing their exposure to interest rates by utilizing various derivative products. Nikhil is the co-founder of a 100 condominium senior housing development project and he also owns and manages some student housing properties in Ann Arbor, MI. Nikhil graduated from the University of Michigan, where he studied Computer Engineering and he is also a CFA charterholder.