Caleb Parker, Founder of Bold | Putting customers first when it comes to CRE | 24:18

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network I’m your host David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Caleb Parker, founder of Bold, a creative boutique space as a service brand designed to help entrepreneurs, innovators, SME’s and scale up companies grow faster. In this episode, we will learn about Caleb’s journey to his current position at Bold where he combines his learning from his experience as a founder and executive in the flexible workspace industry. We will tap into his thinking around controlling the entire customer experience as one of his keys to success. Learn about the early days of his entrepreneurial journey and gain insight into why he thinks people should be at the center of the universe, when it comes to thinking about commercial real estate. We are excited to be sharing this podcast with you. So be sure to follow TEN, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. Now I’d like to welcome Caleb to the show. Hey Caleb, really glad you could be with us today, how are you?

CP: I’m good David, thanks for having me on.

DA: Awesome, so let’s start with your journey to your current role as founder of Bold. How did you get started? Walk me through that, what did it look like? And maybe also just share a little bit about your current role.


CP: Sure, well I think we go back to my previous role where I was the CEO of meetingrooms.com. And at that time, we were processing bookings all around Europe, 70 different markets. And I was noticing that the demand for small meetings was growing. People were working from home but needed places to meet. This is pre pandemic of course, back in 2013, 14 and 15, and in 2016, when I exited meetingrooms.com, I had this idea that I wanted to continue solving the same problem for entrepreneurs, but I wanted to control the entire user experience because at meetingrooms.com, when someone made a booking, we lost all control over the user experience. So if they had a great experience at let’s say Marriott, then they might go back to Marriott and book directly the next time, because we were an intermediary. If they had a bad experience at someone’s office or someone’s meeting room, then they might not even come back and book with us. So I wanted to control the entire user experience. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. So I wanted to build something, build a brand around the people that I wanted to work with and those were other entrepreneurs. And so that’s how we sort of came up with the Bold brand and we decided to roll out and solve these problems for entrepreneurs that needed places to meet sometimes.

DA: Right, so just a quick dovetail but where did that entrepreneurial spirit first show itself? I’m just curious.

CP: Gosh, well I’d have to go way back to probably when I was 19, 20 years old, something like that, I was working at a hotel and I ended up meeting this guy, stopped in for gas, this is kind of a weird, crazy story. But this guy stopped there for gas, sorry, he stopped in the hotel because he had stopped for gas next to it. We were on the highway, on a motorway and long story short, built a relationship in like five minutes. And then later on, he recruited me to work with him in his software distribution business.

DA: Okay.

CP: Very random, but he introduced me to entrepreneurial thinking and I think I already had it in my core, in my DNA ’cause my grandfather was an entrepreneur and he was very much an optimist. So it just quickly aligned with me and that’s sort of when I started on my entrepreneurial journey.

DA: Okay, well this sort of connects to my next question then. Why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? What helped you to become successful, either skills, mentors, colleagues or books? And it sounded like you just shared a little bit about that but maybe just elaborate.

CP: I mean, I think as an entrepreneur or any person that’s looking to innovate or, you know, trying to have some sort of success in whether it be their own business or innovating within some other business, you have to have a passion for what you do. And for me, being an entrepreneur does require optimism and positivity, and that was innate in me already. But I think now, going back to sort of 2016 to, you know, where I am today with Bold, I sort of saw the problem of real estate not being friendly to entrepreneurs and me wanting to solve problems for entrepreneurs and support the entrepreneur journey of others. So I think it’s that passion for that, and looking to solve that problem is what sort of keeps you driving and eventually, hopefully having some success.

DA: Absolutely, I think passion’s a big part of what we do as an entrepreneur. Added with a little bit of perseverance, determination. I like how you picked up on the notion of optimism and you know, for me, that’s kind of, I am generally the cup is always half full, but as an entrepreneur and as now a founder of a tech startup, particularly coming through a pandemic, you need to also take a dose of reality and manage that general sense of optimism because you’ve got to be really realistic as well, in terms of what’s in front of you and how you’re going to move forward.

CP: Yeah, absolutely, and I think a lot of us, as entrepreneurs, we have that optimistic view of the world and sometimes we can be really big dreamers. Which is great, you need that, but you also as you say, need that balance. And for me, my co-founder was that balance. He wasn’t a pessimist by any means, but he was a realist and he thought about things logically versus romantically, so to speak.

DA: Right, good to have that balance.

CP: Absolutely.

DA: Yeah lucky you, so let’s agree, living through a pandemic is absolutely horrible. And from my perspective though, it shouldn’t become an excuse. And I think businesses that recognize that this is an opportunity to be better, build better and ultimately create something better. I think there’s an amazing opportunity. So if you had $100,000 additional budget right now, how would you spend it and why?

CP: You know, fortunately you shared some of these questions with me and I was thinking about what I would say to this. And I have to say, I don’t have this like quick answer for you and I’ve been thinking about it. I’d like to put $100,000 here, $100,000 there. But I think what I would do, is I would take my tech and I would go explore in the areas that I already think about, I’m already thinking about, how can we improve the customer experience? And so I would take it and allocate that. if it was just a magic hundred grand, I would just dedicate that to trying something new, that we think is on our horizon, that will improve our customer experience.

DA: I like that, so recognizing you’ve got that tech platform to begin with, what could align with what you’re already building, that maybe takes you in a new direction?

CP: Yeah, yeah, and I think, you know, ’cause currently we’re in COVID times but even post COVID times, wellbeing is a big, big focus of ours. And so there’s a few different things we’re looking at. I’m not going to go into detail right now but there’s a few things that we’re looking at, that we’re exploring and there’s some of that that would definitely like to try, sooner than later.

DA: All right, well I might probe you a little bit later on. A little bit about what you guys are thinking about. So listen, there’s a lot that we don’t know but I do feel pretty confident that there is going to be a return to the workplace. Obviously much slower than anyone would’ve expected or wanted. Flexibility which I know is a major theme of yours, we believe is going to continue to evolve and continue to emerge within commercial real estate. People are going to be working from everywhere, you know, including the home and not just now, but likely for a very long time. Just, you know, wondered what your thoughts are on all of that.

CP: I think flexibility’s a strong key word and I think it’s a big feature, but I think that the big keyword is choice and putting people at the center of the universe. And if we put people at the center of the universe and give them a choice, well, everybody’s different. So everybody has different needs and different desires and different ways of working that help them be productive. I think we, in commercial real estate, whether this is on the operator or landlord side of the industry or whether this is on the customer side of the industry, we need to be thinking about okay, well if people have choice, what is going to make them feel good? What is going to help them be productive? and flexibility comes into that, that’s why I’m really big on that. So I think the future, we’ve seen this massive discussion in all the circles online about work from home, the office is dead, or the office is not dead, everybody’s going to come back into the office and we’re going to go back to normal. And there’s a little bit of truth to both, but neither are exactly right. And I think the key word is that hybrid model. And some people will come back into the office every day ’cause that’s what they prefer. Other people like myself, will probably work from home the majority of the time and only come in when we need to collaborate with others. But the fact is when people do come in, their colleagues might not be there and they still need to connect with them. So we need to have the flexibility to choose our workplace, the flexibility to plug other people in if they’re not there and really the flexibility to not be stuck in the same thing for eternity.

DA: Right, so another off-script question, how’d the pandemic not happened, so now we’re really having to be, you know, think about a situation, that a year ago we couldn’t have imagined this. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, how long do you think it would have taken or what would have had to have happened to us, to get to a place where we’re now thinking about the kind of flexibility in the workplace that I agree with you, I think is going to be the way forward? I don’t think it’s one of the other, you know, I’m not loving working from home, I’ll tell you that, I do want to get back to the workplace but there are times when I could absolutely see myself spending an afternoon or a day at home, working on a project or doing some thinking that really doesn’t requiring me to be in that office building setting, that would be perfect. But what do you think would have had to have happened, or how long to get to the point that we are now, without a pandemic?

CP: Well prior to the pandemic, we saw future leaning companies already embracing flexible working, as a talent acquisition tool. Because when you have this war for talent, if somebody else is offering better terms, whether that’s money or flexible working or whatever it might be in culture, then they’re going to get the top talent. Because today, particularly in a knowledge-based economy, talent has a choice of where they work. So leading up to the pandemic, we were already seeing this shift towards flexibility, flexible working and you know, speaking of culture, as people, we used to be all about a barrier between work and life, this balance between work and life. And I think maybe this is a bit of a generational shift. I don’t think it’s generational because I think people felt this way before but the millennials were loud enough to speak up and now everybody else is benefiting. But you know, when going back to passion, we see a bigger shift towards people wanting to work for companies that are aligned with their passions or that enable them to pursue their passions. So when we’re passionate about what we do, we’re less concerned about having a barrier, separation between work and life. So if I am passionate and my boss or leadership trusts me because they know I want to improve the world like they do, we’re aligned, then they’re not going to necessarily need to see me in the office every day, what does that mean? That means that, well okay, let’s that say I have a child and the child needs to be taken care of around lunchtime for some reason, I can step out and not have to really worry about, oh, checking in all my hours and all this stuff. I can just step out and then go back to the office later or work from home the rest of the day. Me personally, I was in South France, you know, on a Thursday, whereas typically, you know, you’d go out of town on the weekend or something. I was there on a Thursday because on Friday I had phone calls working on my laptop but I was in South France, no big deal. I don’t mind working and making sure things get done. So I think we’re leading into that now and if the pandemic hadn’t happened, certainly it would’ve taken longer. I think the pandemic has been an accelerator for these trends, but we were already leading up to this.

DA: Right, I think that’s interesting. I think the trust level between employer and employee has really changed. I think that whole dynamic has changed and it used to be that unless I see them working, maybe they’re not, and I think that’s dramatically changed.

Commercial Break

DA: The commercial real estate industry as a whole I think, is finally moving faster to recognizing that its core business is not really just about asset ownership or building ownership but it really is about creating and delivering the best customer experience for their tenants or their residents. So I’m just curious if any thinking that you have on how we will define and deliver tenant experience in 2021.

CP: Well, I would actually challenge the statement in that question to say that commercial real estate is probably not there yet, in that thinking.

DA: Moving slowly.

CP: Definitely moving slowly, I mean it’s great to see that there are some conversations happening and people are warming up and asking about it now but I mean the capital markets need to change the mindset on flexibility, but what needs to happen in terms of tenant experience, going back to putting the human at the center of the universe, we need to be asking questions about what do I need to provide? I had a question the other day, what technologies do we need? I said, that’s the wrong question. The question is, what do your customers need to be successful?

DA: Thank you, you know, I just want to just pick up on that because I see in the competitive Landscape that we operate in, I see a lot of tech being thrown at the wall, to see what will stick and that that’s really the business that we’re in. And I agree with you it is not, it is all about the customer and understanding what the customer needs and wants and ultimately helping the customer either to do more or to be happier or to be more successful. And I don’t think enough of us are really looking at it from that perspective. I’m glad we are, I’m glad you are. But I think that’s the gap.

CP: I mean, tech is an enabler. The best tech, you don’t even know it exists because it’s there and it makes your life easier. But tech is just one piece of it. There’s also hospitality and service and the technology should free people up to be human.

DA: Right, so Michael Emory from Allied, which is a real estate developer here in Canada. He’s one of the few people that I think is very much aligned to what you’ve just shared, and he really believes that he’s in the talent and recruitment industry. You know, he feels that his number one job for his tenants, is to help them attract and retain the best talent, pretty rare.

CP: That’s a great perspective, I need to meet him. But yeah, no, it’s exactly right. And that’s the way commercial real estate should be thinking and if a big occupier is trying to go out, ’cause if you’re asking your customer, what do you need? Well I need the best talent. Okay, what does the best talent need? That’s what we need to be providing.

DA: Right, okay, so you did allude to earlier, that you are thinking about some new things. So without divulging too much, is there anything new or exciting that you’re working on or thinking, any challenges that you’re facing in light of the current world circumstances that you think our listeners might find interesting?

CP: Yeah okay, so my brand is called Bold but we’re part of New Flex, and New Flex, we’re an operator, we have a family of brands but we’re an operator. So we operate assets for our clients who are asset owners, portfolio owners and big occupiers. And when we operate those assets, often people think about us sliding in to 10 or 20,000 square feet and providing a flex base component, co-working, serviced office component. And that is a part of it, but there’s so much more, there’s the entire customer experience of the building. When you think about the entire customer experience of the building, it’s not just in that 10,000 square feet but it’s in the a hundred thousand square foot and all the people that are in the building.

DA: Absolutely.

CP:  Right now with COVID, we want to make sure that people can have a contactless experience, when they enter the building and access the building and buy their coffees, et cetera. But when I say wellbeing, we’re thinking about, in COVID times and post COVID times, you got to think about air circulation and make sure that the humidity levels are the right percentages and they don’t get too hot. You have to be thinking about, I mean obviously temperature controls seems like an obvious one. But then CO2 levels and that’s not just COVID but that’s in general and it’s proven scientifically, that CO2 levels affect productivity. So it’s monitoring these various areas through IOT and sensors, and so we are deploying those for some of our clients right now and doing some testing and ultimately, in the long run, we want to make sure that there are, just like there’s well and lead certifications. This will feed in to the wellbeing aspect of those. But then there’s also the physical wellbeing and that’s more in the health side, but then there’s the other side of physical, of you know, bringing in, and this isn’t necessarily technology but wellbeing, is bringing in the right physical wellbeing aspects of it. Whether that be gyms or yoga studios, et cetera.

DA: Right, it’s the whole ecosystem, right. And I love the fact that you’re thinking about, it’s not just the space that you, you know, have designed and are managing, it’s how does that permeate through the entire built experience? And that’s very much again, behind the thinking that helped create HILO, as a platform to ultimately engage everyone and provide that incredible customer experience throughout the entire built environment. So I love what you guys are doing. I’d love to continue the conversation in and around that.

CP: Absolutely.

DA: Our last little segment is sort of our speed round where we just sort of tap into what’s very topical. So we’ll go at it, five key questions. The first, if you could have one super power, what would it be?

CP: It would have to be teleportation.

DA: Okay.

CP: Yeah, I like to travel. So I’d like to be somewhere instantly, that’d be amazing.

DA: I love it, Star Trek, right. What city or country would you want to travel to first when you can?

CP: Oh gosh, I want to go home back home to the US and visit family and friends. I’m going to miss them for Christmas this year.

DA: Right, absolutely, what do you do when you’re not working?

CP: Well. Well we talk about work-life integration these days, so I’m always working, but I’m always not working as well. No, I like to stay in shape, so working out, although I have to admit, I haven’t been very good at that lately. I talked about travel, not doing that much of that lately. So if I’m really honest and maybe this resonates with most people on here, I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix.

DA: Well, that’ll be my fifth question, so hang on to that. before we get there, the number one thing you miss about the workplace.

CP: The people, absolutely. There’s no replacement for face-to-face.

DA: Agreed, agreed, okay, and your favorite recent TV or streaming movie or series?

CP: Well Designated Survivor has to be my favorite Netflix episode or a series right now. And there’s not any new ones, but if you haven’t seen it, go back. I think we need more politicians, like Jack Bauer.

DA: Right.

CP: It’s not really Jack Bauer but I keep seeing him as Jack Bauer, even though he’s the president.

DA: Right, all right, well I’ll share mine and that would have to be Queen’s Gambit. If you haven’t watched it, check it out, it’s amazing.

CP: All right, Queen’s Gambit, I’ma write this one down.

DA: Absolutely, Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Netflix should be a sponsor for our podcast. Caleb, I want to thank you for taking the time today. I’d love to continue the conversation. I, as I’m sure you are, looking forward to 2021 and what that will bring. And I hope that as you know, our belief in creating the best customer experience as the most important aspect of commercial real estate and the need for continued flexibility, I hope that those themes will continue to evolve. And I look forward to comparing notes in a few months and see how we’re doing.

CP: Indeed, happy to do that. Thank you for having me on and I maintain my optimism for 2021.

DA: Awesome, love it, take care, all the best.

CP: Cheers, David.

DA: Bye now. I want to thank Caleb Parker for joining me on today’s episode of TEN and for sharing his journey from early beginnings as an entrepreneur, to now helping his real estate clients drive more value in their assets by installing and operating Bold branded spaces. Great learning for all of our listeners and an opportunity to insight 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 davidathiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live.

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Season Two | Trailer | 1:13

Season 2 / Episode 0
Join us for season 2 as we continue our conversations with leading CRE professionals who all have something to say about the impact of technology on tenant experience in the built world.

Season Two | Trailer | 1:13

Season 2 / Episode 0
Join us for season 2 as we continue our conversations with leading CRE professionals who all have something to say about the impact of technology on tenant experience in the built world.