Glenn Felson, Author of PropTech and the Future of Real Estate | A new voice on tech in CRE | 24:44

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network, I’m your host David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Glenn Felson with 20 years of experience having held executive roles in sales and operation for the likes of Breather and Kastle Systems and now author of PropTech and the Future of Real Estate and a board member at Urbanimmersive. In this episode, we will learn about Glenn’s journey to his current endeavors, where he combines his experience from working in residential brokerage, with his learning from the building access and flex space industries. We will tap into his thinking around finding really smart people who believed in him as one of his keys to success. Hear about his ability to pick up the phone and make things happen and gain insight into why he thinks we have yet to see a winner in the tenant experience space declared. We’re excited to be sharing this podcast with you, so be sure to follow TEN, so you never miss an episode at the Tenant Experience Network. Now I’d like to welcome Glenn to the show, really glad you could be with us today. How are you?

GF: I’m doing great, thank you so much for inviting me.

DA: My pleasure, I’m looking forward to our conversation. Let’s start with your journey in commercial real estate spanning now 20 years, I don’t want to date you, you’ve held executive roles in sales and operations for the likes of Breather, Kastle, you’re now author of PropTech and the future of real estate and a board member at Urbanimmersive. How did you get started? Walk me through that, just share a little bit about that journey.

GF: Absolutely, so I started right out of college at the company called Realogy, fortune 500, they are the owner of Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Era, Better Homes and Gardens and Sotheby’s. And so I started entry level, I knew nothing about real estate and I was in contract administration. I loved everything about it but I knew I didn’t want to be entry level for that long. So I really dived in, I studied everything I could about the company, and I was very fortunate that I had really good mentors and leaders there. So a year into my role there they promoted me to a management position, and then my next step, a year later they moved me into sales. So it was a franchise sales director for Coldwell Banker, and when I stepped into sales, it just clicked, I knew that that’s what I love to do, where other people hated to make cold calls, I loved it, I loved that instant gratification of getting somebody on the phone and closing them. So very lucky that I had a great territory, and at first year I think I doubled my quarter and they moved me up to ARVP. So I was managing a franchise sales team of nine sales directors, three for Coldwell Banker, three for Era and three for Century 21. And we just had a great year, we had a lot of fun and they promoted me to vice president of franchise sales. So I spent six years there and then Apollo came in and acquired them with a private equity buyout, and it went from the most fun place I’ve ever worked to, to fairly toxic, just because every dollar went to debt service. So I picked up the phone and I called the gentleman named Bill Raveis, who owns William Reveis Real Estate Mortgage and Insurance, and I pitched him on starting a franchise division, I told him I know everything that franchisees love from my time at Realogy, I know everything that they hate, and I thought that together we could build something really special. He was hesitant because he didn’t know me, I was just some kid that called them on the phone, but credit to him, he rolled the dice and he brought me on board. And that first year we sold about 35 of those franchises and really wrote, just blew it out, and then he moved me to a more senior role where I was overseeing our brokerage offices, I was doing a lot of recruiting. And then he put me in what was probably the most exciting part of my career, where I would go into markets that nobody ever heard of us before. We didn’t have an office, we didn’t have name recognition, and my job was to build startup offices from the ground up. And I wouldn’t meet with top agents from all the competitive offices, build really deep relationships with them and I’d get them to resign from where they were and we’d move them all over in one fell swoop to our team. We’d get a temporary office, a permanent office and we would go from no market share to leading market share overnight. And we did that time and time again and opened up dozens and dozens of offices, and we brew while I was there from about $5 billion in sales to a little bit over $10 billion worth of sales. And it was stressful and it was exciting and I really just wanted, everything about how agents think, how they make decisions, how they influence their decisions and how to help them grow their business. I then got recruited to join a company called Kastle systems as their president. And I knew nothing about that industry, Kastle Systems sold access control, CCTV and visitor management. Interclass Eby multi-tenant commercial buildings, and the leaders of that company were absolutely fantastic, super innovative and really gave me the leeway to grow that business. It was my first entry into commercial and is a very different animal than residential, but really, really exciting, and that’s why I learned about tenant amenity apps, that’s where I learned about SaaS, and I spent four years there. And then I heard about this company Breather, and Breather was at a very pivotal time in their evolution, they had made a change across the top from an executive team and I really wanted to be in the flexible space. So just like I picked up the phone and I called Bill Reveis, I called the new CEO, Bryan Murphy of Breather and I told them that I wanted to join the team. He also looked at me like I had 10 heads cause he had never met me before, but we spent some time together, he believed in me, he brought me on the team and the rest is history.

DA: Wow, I love it, that’s great. So you’ve very entrepreneurial really in a sense, and if you don’t get recruited, you go and sell yourself.

GF: I do. that’s been my demo is to go out and try make things happen and really find what I’m passionate about and take some chances. For every call that I’ve called into a CEO to try to sell myself, there’s 50 other calls that I made where they didn’t take the call.

DA: So we’re only hearing about the successful ones.

GF: You’re only hearing the successful ones.

DA: All right, I love it. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? What helped you along the way to become successful? You mentioned a mentor but any skills, mentors, colleagues, books tricks of the trade.

GF: So I think first of all, I think I have a real unique perspective on the industry because I’ve been in franchising, residential, commercial, Flax, SaaS. So I’ve seen the industry from all different sides, I’ve been a buyer of SaaS, seller of SaaS. So I really understand a lot of different unique perspectives, but I owe a lot of the up of my success to people that believed in me along the way, my first manager, when I joined Realogy his name is Mike Nadler, he believed in me as a kid out of college and he’s now the president and CEO of Century 21, so I’ve got to learn a lot from him. Bill Raveis believed in me and gave me great mentorship, and then when I joined Kastle, Piyush Sodha and Mark Ein who are the two owners of that company, the smartest people I’ve ever met. And they literally are, and the amount of knowledge that I was able to get from them is just incredibly valuable. So I owe most of my success to other people just really believing in me.

DA: That’s amazing. It’s great to have a journey where you can track along the way the people that have had such an impact on your life.

GF: It is and the other thing is that I’ve also learned a lot from folks that have worked for me, my philosophy has always been to hire people that are smarter than me, I’m not that smart, so it’s not that difficult to do. But I had a gentleman that worked for me at Breather, his name’s Henry Mozelle and he taught me the importance of Rev apps when it comes to growing a business. And for anyone that’s listening that’s building a sales team, what I would tell you is to invest heavily into a really, really strong rev apps leader. The value that that can bring to a company is it is hard to, it’s hard to put into words. And so I’ve learned from people that I’ve worked for, I’ve learned from people that have worked for me, I really just try to spend as much time learning as much as I can from everybody.

DA: I love it. Well, I may tap into that intellect, that experience offline as HILO continues to scale. And we’re now bringing our first building online in New York City and looking to improve our own sales operation, I might tap into that expertise you spoke of.

GF: Anytime, I’ve checked out your product, and it’s amazing, I don’t think you need that much help. You guys have really built something special.

DA:  Thank you, thank you. So listen, let’s agree that living through a pandemic is absolutely horrible, Granted, there are going to be some amazing outcomes as a result, but the pandemic itself is not good, it’s terrible, but we believe we’re at a point in time now knowing that it’s not going to end anytime soon that we need to do better, be built better and build something better, even in this time. So to that end, being the big thinker that you are if I was to give you an extra $100,000 in budget right now, what would you do with it? How would you spend it and why?

GF: So at Urbanimmersive, they have built what I believe is the best product in 3D tours, and to tell you a little bit about how it works is I think everyone has seen 3D tours before but they built a proprietary platform that not only creates it with any camera, so they’re camera agnostic but they’ve embedded video conferencing into the tour so that you can literally tour somebody through a property when you’re both in two different locations. And unlike most companies that fake it till they make it and really start selling a product towards fully baked, Urbanimmersive has spent so much time building a product and getting it perfect, and while they’ve have tremendous amount of sales the reason most people haven’t heard of them is because they’ve really been working on their product and getting it perfect. So if I had an extra $100000 right now I would spend it all in sales and marketing. The product is absolutely 100% ready to go, it’s been deployed, but we need to get the word out about this product. And the first time I saw it, I was drooling, it was the… I had never seen anything like it, and over the past couple of weeks, since I’ve been on their board, I’ve been demoing it for leaders in residential, commercial flex, and everybody that sees it is blown away by it. We just need to invest now in sales and marketing, and I would take that $100,000 and put every penny into it.

DA: Well, I’d love to, again, offline, learn more about that, we’ve been looking at some other 3D imaging platforms from the perspective of HILO is kind of unique in the marketplace that we’re not just selling building apps and providing any siloed approach, but really creating more of a community neighborhood network. And to that end, we’re looking at some of these platforms to help bring to life the neighboring community as well not just the building. So definitely we can connect and explore that opportunity further.

GF: Fantastic.

DA:  So there’s a lot that we don’t know. In spring last year, we all thought we’d be back to work in July, in July we were hoping in the fall, I think in the fall we all began to take a more realistic view and recognize that it was going to be sometime in 2021 but not necessarily pinpointing a date and time. And now we’re already thinking about 2022. So we know it’s going to be a slow road back, we know that the theme of flexibility is going to be… Is going to stay with us, it’s probably something that is going to continue to be very important in terms of how people view commercial real estate, how people viewed the notion of working from everywhere. So I just wanted to get your thoughts on sort of all of that.

GF: So it’s a great point, the world has changed forever, and I was not a person that liked to work out of my house, I have always wanted to be in an office. And for the first month into the pandemic, I kicked and screamed about not being able to leave the house, and over time I started to get used to it. And my commute into the city every day was two hours each way, so as I started working from home, I started to realize that I can be really productive but I also want to be in an office sometimes. So in my mind, the future is a hybrid approach, people want to work in the office, they want to work at home. They want to work in offices that’re closer to their home. And I believe that the company that really nails the tenant experience correctly is the one that is able to accommodate flexible schedules. I don’t want to have to work with 15 different landlords because I’m going to work in different locations, I want to be able to use one platform to be able to work where I want to work and when I want to work. Five years ago, I told my boss that I wanted to work where I wanted to work and when I would have been fired but the leverage has moved over to the employees. So really making sure that you’re able to work in flexible schedule, flexible locations is key, but you hit on a really important point and that’s community and community is one of the things that I miss the most about being in the office, the ability to network with the folks that are in my office, in the building and the local community. So a lot of kind of amenity apps I really don’t focus on community and that’s where they get it wrong. You need to be able to tie flexibility and community into the same platform, and that’s where you’re really hitting it on the bark and I think your focus on community is really, really important.

DA: Thank you, you’re right and we’re really focused on, where you work, where you live and everywhere in between. And I think that is going to be our new reality. And I agree with you, when I have found working from home to be certainly more productive at times, my commute was not nearly as long, but now I miss that commute, I miss the interaction, the busy-ness the craziness of being in and around people during that transition from home to work. And I do miss, obviously, the collaboration,the interaction, those moments of spontaneity and creativity that naturally happen that are very hard to manufacture, through a zoom call. So I can definitely see myself and my team coming back to a workplace, but also being far more flexible and allowing people to work, when and where it makes sense. And I think that’s going to be a really positive outcome.

GF: I agree 100%, I think flex was really starting to gain popularity in the US and Canada but COVID has absolutely accelerated that trend, and I don’t believe we’re going to go back to 15 year leases and in warrants in quarter offices.

DA: All those long-term leases will be for smaller footprints of space and they’ve been re-imagined to recognize that it’s for when people need to come together versus somebody that needs to sit in an office head down and do work, which they can do at home or at the deck of the cottage.

GF: I agree 100%.

DA: All right, let’s take a short break and we’ll be right back.

[Commercial Break]

DA: We’re back with Glenn Felson, CRE industry expert and author, thanks so much for being with us again today.

GF: My pleasure.

DA: So the commercial real estate industry is moving faster and faster towards recognizing that their business is really not about building ownership. So I might argue it’s moving slow but I think we’re starting to pick up speed. Building operators are starting to recognize that it is really about creating the best customer experience. It is about their people, it is about their tenants or their residents, they are their customers, they’re the most important. So any thinking around how we will define and deliver the best tenant experience in 2021.

GF: It’s going to be about technology, and in order to provide a tenant experience on a distributed workforce you’re going to need a strong technology platform. In my mind, it’s not a mix of 15 different platforms that exist today, right now, a tenant needs one app for access and you’d want app for visitor management, they need one for experiencing community and nobody wants to log into 15 different apps in order to enter their building and to do what they do. So in my mind, the perfect tenant experience app, and is one pane of glass that integrates with all the different best in class solutions that are out there. A winner has not been crowned in this space…

DA: Not yet, not yet.

GF: If I’m a betting, man, I got money on you

DA: Well, I agree with you, I do think we like to say that no customer wants five apps, three portals and two websites, so we’ve got to think more about the customer and less about the technology. In fact, technology, technology not for the sake of technology but what is the outcome we’re trying to achieve. And I think that’s where we’ve really focused. We are really trying to understand the end user, the customer and build a platform that they’re going to love and then figure out, what do they need? So a different approach.

GF: I think this is the right approach.

DA: So can you share any details about anything new that you’re working on or a challenge that you’re sort of knee deep and thinking about, particularly in light of world circumstances that you think our listeners might find interesting.

GF: So I am very close to making a move to a new role, and it’s been really, really an interesting process interviewing remotely all these different positions. And what’s changed is that all of the positions that I’ve always interviewed for have been in New York, now, due to COVID geographic boundaries have basically fallen off and the companies that I’m meeting with are in San Francisco, they’re in Texas, they’re in New York, they’re in the UK.

DA: Maybe Toronto.

GF:  I would love nothing more than that. So it’s been a really interesting process to interview and to meet with people 100%, all these interviews taking place over zoom. We never met any of these people face to face and really trying to understand what the culture is like in that organization and trying to figure it out over zoom has been a really unique process. It’s been really interesting but it also creates a level of anxiety that you just want to make sure you’re making the right decision. For me, culture is the most important piece of any company, and that’s really what I’ve struggled to get an understanding of what a company without physically being in our office and meeting people face to face.

DA: So now I’m just curious, any of the opportunities you’re looking at were they ones that you actually just called someone up and said, Hey I would like to talk to you about an opportunity.

GF: Every one of them.

DA: Every one of them, I love it.

GF: Everyone of them, there’s something that I’m looking for a very specific set of requirements that I’m working for in a company. And from my end, I researched the company, research the industry and then reached out and luckily people took the calls, so now it just comes down to making a decision. And so within the next few days, I’ll have something to announce.

DA: Exciting, I look forward to that. Our closing speed round, we’re going to ask you a series of questions, looking free, sort of your top of mind answer. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

GF: Predict the future.

DA: You and me both. What city or country would you like to travel to first when you can and why?

GF: So I have never been to the UK and I’ve managed teams in the UK, I’ve been on phone calls all day with people in the UK and I’ve never been there so that is the first trip I’m taking.

DA: Sounds good. When you are not working, what are you doing?

GF: Playing with my kids, where we play football in the house which drives my wife insane, but the boys love it. and that’s what we do when I’m not working.

DA: Number one thing you miss about the workplace? I know it’s not the commute, but what else?

GF: I honestly miss being with my coworkers, to me, you just can’t, you can’t duplicate that over zoom.

DA: Agreed, agreed. Your favorite recent TV or streaming movie or series?

GF: Whatever my wife was watching.

DA: So you’re just sitting by, watching by and following along.

GF: I am and I’m barely paying attention and stop and answer the question throughout.

DA: Listen, Glenn, it was great to get to know you, a great opportunity to connect. I look forward to continuing the conversation and look forward to learning more about your next endeavors, and I’m sure it’s going to be an incredible journey for you. So thank you very much for joining us today.

GF: Thank you. I’m really looking forward to follow your company and helping out in any way I can.

DA: Awesome, thanks so much. Take care. I want to thank Glenn Felson for joining me on today’s episode of TEN, and for sharing his journey from early beginnings in commercial real estate to now exploring new opportunities without geographic boundaries, great learning for all our listeners and an opportunity to gain insights into what it takes to become an innovation leader. Please be sure to follow TEN for future discussions with leading professionals and industry experts who all have something to say about the impact of technology on tenant experience in the built world, if you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live. Thank you.


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email