Lee Odess, CEO Inside Access Control | Self-awareness & shifting from Access Control to Access Care | 34:17

Transcript

DA: Hi. I’m David Abrams. And I want to welcome you to this edition of the Tenant Experience Network Podcast. I want to welcome today’s guest Lee Odess, CEO and founder at Group337 and creator of Inside Access Control. An entrepreneur and executive with over 18 years of experience, starting, building and leading businesses with a track record of sales growth and marketing effectiveness. In this episode, we will learn about Lee’s journey to his current position, as founder and publisher, where he combines his industry experience with his expertise in the technology space. We will tap into his thinking around self-awareness and recognizing the business opportunity as his keys to success and get a glimpse into what is top of mind for Lee, as he continues to navigate through new challenges and emerging opportunities. We are excited to be sharing this podcast with you. So make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now I’d like to welcome Lee to the show. Hi, Lee. Really glad you could be with us today, and I’m looking forward to our conversation.

LO: Yeah, I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you very much.

DA: So let’s start with your journey to your current role as founder of Group337 and creator of Inside Access Control. How did you get started and sort of walk me through what led to where you are today.

LO: Thanks for the opportunity. So yeah, so Group337 and Inside Access Control started roughly around January of this year. I left the position with a company and with really… Honestly not a true North of what I was going to do. I know I wanted to stay within the industry that I was in. I know I wanted to express myself and built relationships with executives within the industry that I could leverage for consulting on that case and then at the same time started a newsletter that was really more me just expressing myself, like I said, and next thing you know, pandemic hits at the same time before, if I to say, take a step back. I also started interviewing a lot of the executives in startups and people within the space with this idea that good content – pandemic happens – The main trade show that we have goes away and I have 25 interviews with people and I started putting them out daily on LinkedIn and growing a network early on that case. So call me lucky, I guess. Next thing, the association that the Security Industry Association sponsors it, newsletter grows, articles go viral. I wrote one that grabbed a hold of people I guess, and went big. And that created even more awareness. And since then we have three websites, six podcasts, three newsletters, the consulting business is doing well. And in October we’ll bring out our data from the analyst side. So we’ve created three legs to the stool and very excited about it.

DA: That’s really extraordinary. And of course at a time when there’s been so much uncertainty and so many things that we could not have planned for, and yet you’ve really obviously resonated with the marketplace.

LO: Yeah, I think so if you think about, so our business is within the physical access control, visitor management, space and this whole idea now that people wanting to go back to work and things to reopen, a lot of that’s going to be done through technology. And a lot of it goes through Access Control. And the industry was already sort… We were calling it an accelerated path of change anyways. This just like lightning speed on it, because you were seeing an industry that was… I would say late to adoption of technology and mainstream. All of a sudden be thrown right in the middle of it. And a lot of the things that used to be like to haves are now must haves. And we’ve created a platform for people to have good stories and conversations around that. That’s not just from the manufacturers. And then my expertise if you would of understanding technology and the space, companies are using that as a good way to help give insights and direction. So, again, I’ll say luck in a lot of cases of what’s made that. And I’m okay with that.

DA: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of luck along the way. So you’ve been an entrepreneur, you’ve worked in the corporate world. Why do you think you are uniquely suited to this new opportunity that has emerged before you and what unique skills have helped you to become successful? 

LO: Yeah, so I would say a lot of it’s come down to self-awareness more than anything else. And I’ve come to the realization and I’ve gotten real comfortable with the fact that, a lot of them if you look at my past, they’ve been sort of two to five year stints and then off. And I would say I’ve always been a consultant for companies just a single one for said period of times, right? So I think it was a more of a self realization that am probably my best and my happiness and best to my family by focusing on the things and the passion that I have and the the ability to go do it. Now, it has to be met with, business opportunity as well. And the other end, otherwise, I’m not independently wealthy and this isn’t a non-for-profit. So there’s a need there as well. So I would say that’s what’s driven me more to do what I do now. When I left the last place, and this has nothing to do with them. This was just… I’d say a culmination of a lot of places with… I wanted to work on projects that I wanted to do with people that I wanted to work with that got me excited. And I said sent out a path that if I created that good content and good information, the marketplace will be there. And I need about a thousand people. If I used to Seth Godin approach to this, “I need a thousand people to create a tribe”. And there’s not a lot of people that are excited about the niche of Access Control, but I am. So I’m just going to express myself and that’s what drove it. 

DA: I think that’s amazing. And I think to have that awareness as you mentioned, and then the wherewithal to commit to that path, great things will happen. So any advice for someone wanting to follow a similar path? Either coming out of the corporate world or coming into this new uncertain world. What would you suggest? 

LO: My suggestion would be to start small and just start doing more than anything else. And there’s so many platforms, whether it’s LinkedIn or Medium or Substack You name them. The ability for you to… Whatever gives you passion and you love doing, just do it. Whether it’s doing these, like this… I know a good amount of people like I’ve noticed. So of those six podcasts that we do, I do one. Five of them are other people. That their biggest, I would say impediment to go, is them just doing. And a lot of it was more of either time, self-confidence, this idea, you put yourself out there. But I would just start small and the community can be, your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your friend, your neighbor, whatever. And you’ll see the… If you start doing it, it gets out there. And the next thing you know, you can catch wind. And I didn’t predict the pandemic to happen and this whole getting back to work movement. And it’s was going to be met with what we’re doing. It just… But if I didn’t start and get out there doing it, I would have missed an opportunity. So I would just get going.

DA: Right, well, listen, I’d never been a host myself of a podcast until now. And because of my passion and the love that I have for the Tenant Experience space, creating this network podcast has been a lot of fun and you’re right. You just put your toe in the water and you start and you see where it takes you. It’s been quite exciting. And certainly in for yourself and choosing to build out this ecosystem all around Access Control. Again, I don’t think you were really the reason why we just went through probably the one the most unprecedented the times in the world in terms of the pandemic, but certainly all of a sudden Access Control, what may have been a want to have, or a nice to have, a certainly gone to a must have. We think as well.

LO: Yeah, so if you look at it… So I’ll tweak that just a little bit if you don’t mind. So it’s always been a must have, but it was a story around security of keeping bad people out.

DA: Right.

LO: And it had tension with convenience before, right? So you put barriers up yet, you put locks, you put turnstiles and it really was a cottage industry that was in the basement that you didn’t really want to mess with it because if somebody did something bad, you don’t want to own that, right? So that’s been great and that’s allowed it to grow at what it is. 8% growth is a good thing in our industry and we’re plotting along and anything that was considered convenient was considered insecure. Well, then came mobile. And that really was driving a lot of the convenience conversation of like, “Well, why do I need to use this card? I have my phone. I just want to get in. It’s a lot easier, it’s fun. it’s cool. The rest of it. But that was always like, yeah, you don’t want to do that though because you have to balance convenience and security and people from outside the industry are like, “Do I, I don’t think I do”. Like, I can give you a hundred examples of other places where I don’t have to do that. And we were already having that friction. And then, yeah. Then income’s T-bone of health where it then came into this thing like, “I don’t want to touch that doorknob or that lock in”… All of a sudden visitors, they’re also my employees. And I need to preregister and I need to know and how are we going to do that? It’s like, well, technology. The same people that were doing convenience before talking to about seamless, all of a sudden, overnight, we became touchless. It’s the same technology. It’s just marketing message, right? And it met the customer where they’re at. And so, yeah, those things that I would say what’s become nice to have now, that’s switched to a must have is, that technology middle ground of convenience, where the value proposition wasn’t great enough. The value of being a siloed security product, wasn’t there, but now you mix it with Tenant Experience and you mix it with health primarily and you mix it with tech and all of a sudden it’s a need to have, because I need this to have confidence and trust that building I’m about to go into, isn’t going to make me sick. And that all of a sudden budgets opened, the CEOs care about it, there’s a marketing component, there’s risk associated to it. So now you get the CFO involved. And all of a sudden, we move out of the basement, or there’s a whole bunch of people now that are coming in from external threats, that are challenging the status quo and it’s pretty exciting.

DA: I’ll accept your friendly amendment. And actually though it’s really interesting because I love what you said about, “The old system used to be about keeping people out”. And now it’s really about allowing people to get in.

LO: Amen. 

DA: Right? 

LO: Yeah, so I would also say what switched to it too is, there’s a human centricity to this that we didn’t have before. Before the people on the end where a card and a black reader on the wall. So frankly, we didn’t care about the end user. That’s the secret to our industry. We did not care. We cared about the installer and the admin. That’s what we focused on. Because frankly that’s who knew about our system and no offense, but like the end users, you didn’t care about us either. You were like, give me the card if I have to use it. And just let me get in and out. And then you don’t know me, I don’t know you, it’s fine. 

DA: Right. 

LO: So now all of a sudden, now that’s flipped. And in Mobo and whether it’s health data, all of a sudden our industry had behavioral sciences paying attention to it and the HR departments and the rest. So it’s pretty interesting and it’s only going to get greater in my opinion.

DA: Yeah, agreed. So what’s the biggest challenge you’re currently experiencing and how do you think you’ll overcome it?

LO: My problem currently right now is growth, which is a good problem to have, and I know how I’m going to do it is, I’ve got a good network of people around me that I help. I’ve been taking some classes and trainings that help make sure we’re going in the right direction and working on the right things, prioritizing and really understanding whether the good return… I would say the other side of it is, the balance of just life and work if you would with what’s going on now. I’ve always worked for my house. So that’s not new, but my whole family being around and sort of the emotional pressures of making sure I’m doing right for my kids and the rest that are here while I’m also helping be their teacher. All the things you’re supposed to do, but then also running a business like, so that side. So really leveraging my friends and network and the rest to help do that. But that’s primarily where the pressures are at currently now.

DA:  Right, well. Certainly the growth challenges is a good position to be in. And in terms of managing all the other conflicting and converging issues, many of us are dealing with those same challenges. So we’re in the same boat there, and I suspect there’ll be more learning shared over time and we’ll all sort of look for those opportunities from each other to help navigate through this. So if I were to give you an extra a $100,000 of budget, all of a sudden you got a $100,000 to spend right now, how would you spend it and why?

LO: Yeah, I would do couple of things. I would make whole some of the people that have been helping me do it, cause they’re good people. So I would help them out on that case because they’ve been wonderful on doing it on that end. And yeah, I would create some more resource opportunities for people to get involved in what we’re doing to expand the platform and take maybe some of the areas that I’m focused on to work on some other stuff for the business and bring in the resources. So mainly on people. 

DA: People. Since I’ve gone down this path, certainly you’re right. There’s no shortage of people that have stepped up and are willing to help. And we live this ecosystem of technology and startups and it’s amazing. And we all tap into it. So I love that pay it forward, but maybe actually be able to use some of that hard cash to do so.

LO: Yeah, I think it was the right thing to do. 

DA: Agreed. Any resources, mentors, colleagues, or books that have helped you along your journey that you think our listeners would find helpful?

LO: Yeah, absolutely. So I talk about, and I look up because the book that I keep around… There’s a handful of them, that I have up on my shelf for the shelf here, but “E-Myth Mastery” was one that set me on a path that’s been wonderful. I read it, it’s going to be now 15 years. But that one about really… It struck me in some of it’s… A lot of these books are common sense, but it’s the application of them that we’re really concerned but this one was more like the working on your business than in your business. That type of concept and how taking things and making them into processes. So repeatable systems. I’m shocked at how that just deeply got into me. And now when I look at it’s like that scene from the matrix where a million things are flying at you and it’s a slowly… The bullets go by. Like that’s how my application process of that book has made an impact on that side. On the mentorship side, outside of my father, he’s a big one on that end. He’s been someone that, from the beginning has gotten me, but even throughout he’s been helpful and keeping me grounded, but then also give me the honest feedback. So It’s good to have at least one to two to three people in your corner that, can call it when they see it. My wife is another one. She’s a partner of mine in the business and she helps when I need help and gives me direction a good sounding board on that side. And then there’s just a long list of, I would say people I’ve either worked for, or even have worked for me, or have been peers that have given me a much more than I will ever give them in a lot of ways.

DA: That’s refreshing to hear. You still got time so that you can still make good on all of it. 

LO: Yeah, I know. I plan on it.

DA: All right. Mind sharing details about something new you’re working on that you think our listeners might find interesting. I’m sure there’s no shortage given the space that you’re in, but anything a particular note.

LO: Yeah, so we’re about to launch another site that is focused in some of the verticals. So our plan is now turned into where we do these sort of deep… Mild deep technology or areas like Access Control, Visitor Management. We’re starting to now introduce, I’ll call them horizontals like multifamily and commercial real estate, where you can those different areas. And all of those things from the Access Control, Visitor Management, can be applied to a horizontal like multifamily. So I’m seeing good interest in people saying, “Great, like Access Control, like Visitor Management, help me understand how this applies to whatever”. So we’re starting to create content that is specific to speak to those communities. And take the same method that we had a very deep pool of people that are very focused at one information that speaks to them. So that’s the big thing that we’re working on currently. Now we’ll be launching that. Hopefully I don’t know when this airs, but this’ll be tomorrow our time. So it’ll be a pretty exciting for us for… Cause that’s always… That’s a fun ride when that happens.

DA: Right. Interesting. Now we’ll look forward to -keep an eye out for that.

LO: Thank you. 

DA: If you could have one superpower and it sounds like you might have a few already, but if you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

LO: Oh, if I had one superpower, my… I would say the biggest superpower that I would like would be, a deeper sense of empathy more than… Then I would say, “It naturally comes to me. I work on it”. And that’s pretty vulnerable for me to say out loud, but it’s the truth. That’s an area that I focused on and do. And if I could create that into a superpower where it became more natural for me, I probably could go work on something else, but that would be the area that I would want to have.

DA: Right, well, it’s interesting how many places empathy has a role to play. And certainly as… I’ve learned more about the whole sales process. If you’re going to be selling, if you don’t understand your customer, can’t put yourself in your customer’s shoes, for example, it’s pretty hard to do and empathy plays a big role on that.

LO: Yeah, absolutely. This is why I think… It’s interesting at least from a technology standpoint if you look at it. Our typical sales process has been very technical. And the behavioral sciences I think side of the impact now that I think one of the things that change is coming out of the crisis that we’re in is, that aspect of the people behind it. It’s not just technical specifications. And you see that in at least in our world, like everything you see now with like, thermal imaging cameras. Before that was like, yeah, we need that… Cause we have this problem. We need to check people’s temperature. But now we’re starting the conversations that I haven’t heard before. Things like, “Okay, so what could go wrong with that?” I’d like… What’s the process in the impact that we’re going to have, that if you take someone’s temperature and it’s got a false positive, and this person can’t get the work. And the downstream effects of what that means to them. We talk a lot in our case around. Going from Access Control to Access Care. And that’s a huge shift. And I think a lot of that is about human beings at the center. It’s about empathy. And it’s about a totally different way to sell and a way to market. And the way to actually consume products that I believe has… Was on its way, but totally accelerated because of what’s going on.

DA: Well, I love that notion of Access Control versus Access Care. And I think that speaks to your earlier comment that access control used to be about keeping people out. And now it’s about how we can improve the process of allowing people in and making them feel safe and secure. So I don’t know if you’ve coined that yet, but Access.. 

LO: By saying enough does it count?

DA: I think it does. And I keep saying it because I really… I made it around your space and your space is a very big part of what we’re doing, but that really struck me instantaneous. I had an immediate reaction to that. And I think that just speaks so… It’s so aligns to what we’re all going through. And as buildings I think are clearly struggling with re-entry. We all restarted- writing reentry plans in May and June. Just simply what we do. We moved into crisis mode and then, crisis mode is now under control. We’ve got to start thinking about what’s the next thing. Those re-entry plans anticipated maybe July 1st people will come back on mass. Well, that has not been the case. And I know in Toronto, we’ve had numbers that are still anywhere from, even less than 10% to maybe now creeping up to, 15 or 20%, but certainly not, 30, 40, and 50%. So that use of the word care, I think is going to be essential as we continue to figure out how to bring people back to the workplace.

LO: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more cause it’s ultimately… It’s going to come down to trust. And I don’t live in Toronto, but like restaurants and cities and that you have here, they put these signs on that show, you like, A rating, B rating, C rating, like the cleanliness. Same thing’s happening in buildings now for where you go to work. And if people don’t feel that they’re going to be… That they can’t trust that there place is clean, like just basic stuff like cleanliness, right? I think either people aren’t going to go, there’ll be distracted. You’re going to go work for a place if you have the ability to go work someplace else that has it. So it’ll impact you in talent. I think it will impact the overall profitability of those buildings and that. There’s a lot that goes into it. That is super heady and very exciting in my opinion to the transfer. It’s very rare. I think you have an opportunity to participate in a massive transformation. And I think we’re in the midst of it. And trust me. I have my moments where it feels heavy and it’s like… And it’s all the bad reasons why it’s not, but then if you think of some of the good stuff that may come from this, it’s those transformations and evolutions that I think a lot of people wanted, but either weren’t incentivized to do it, or it was too hard or, business models before wouldn’t allow it to happen, whatever it might be. That I actually think now it’s going to just accelerate. And those of us that I think are out helping do that will benefit.

DA: Right. I used to say in our presentations that, “The commercial real estate industry was going through a revolution”. And that was pre-COVID. Recognizing that it was no longer about desks & space that people want culture, amenities, programs, services that we’re kind of more hospitality focused within commercial real estate. And certainly I think your point earlier again, COVID has certainly accelerated a lot of what was already beginning to happen. But I think we’ll all start to unfold a lot quicker.

LO: Yeah, I think also something on that you said too. I think I agree. I also think it realigned priorities because the Tenant Experience, there was too much talk about, “Hey, look, I can order a latte through my phone”. Like in doing things like that is like the primary value creation, which is like, nice. But now the Tenant Experience is going down to like health and some of the what I’ll call the utilities that are needed. That actually really, really matter. And that the differentiation isn’t the ability to order a latte. The differentiation here is productivity, it’s health, safety, bringing actually communities together, which I think will be interesting. And I think that you’ll find a lot of these Tenant Experience applications will be sort of the fabric between the office in the remote work. I think there’s some opportunities there to where you bring your office home with you type idea, or it’s your home now, allows collaboration to happen. So I think it’s recalibrated a lot of what Tenant Experience actually means.

DA: Agreed. And our thesis from day one, as we created our Tenant Experience Network platform, it was never to be basically selling a building app. And the main reason for that is we did not believe that community, which we’re trying to help foster and facilitate is created within the four walls of the building. We thought this before COVID. And I think now coming out of COVID, I think there’s a stronger case that, building community now extends to perhaps a local cafe again. Perhaps your backyard patio and that’s going to be on a daily, weekly basis. It’s now not going to be an infrequent experience that, you will be still want to be part of your building and part of that community but might be working on your patio for a particular afternoon or a particular day of the week. So I totally agree. I think it’s all about engagement and not just about specific features or to your point ordering a latte. It’s it’s how do you engage with the building as well that I think is going to be a big differentiator 

LO: Absolutely.

DA: So you’re obviously curious by nature but… And you’ve shared a couple of tidbits of things that you’re already working on, but is there anything that you’re also really curious about right now and has got you thinking differently in light of current circumstances?

LO: Yeah, I would say I’m very curious to a couple of things. One of them being the ecosystem as a whole within our industry if you would of how that plays out. Cause I don’t think it’s going to be an individual company or the… I think it’s going to be a culmination of a group of companies that come together to create the solution that people need. So I’m very interested in the ecosystem, how companies play together, the way that you prioritize everything from the nitty gritty of how you do integrations to what partnership means. Like the differences between that, where before we kind of did that, but if we’re all being kind of honest, it wasn’t elegant. And I think there’s going to be a level of elegance needed and purposefulness built around that. So I’m interested to see how people do that once that… I think right now we’re on hype cycle high and it’ll come back down. The watermark will definitely not be where it was before, but it’s not going to be currently where we’re at right now on the hysteria. And I think it comes down a bit and then that levels to what norm is. So I’m interested to see when that happens and when we come back how people partner, how they work together, what that looks like. I’m also interested to see who falls off and then there’s a whole lot. Cause right now there’s a flush of money coming in to these areas. And some of the valuations that you see, I don’t know how they get realized, but then there’s also this large incumbent world that is there, that is entrenched into the process and the channel and it’s still construction and a lot of cases, so the slow moving parts, the wrestle. That whole world is colliding together and it will form a new star I guess on that end of what it looks like. So that’s a heavy case of where I’m really curious on that end. I’m also curious to see what does stick. Like that there’s a lot of conversation I don’t… We did a thing where we tracked some trends and sort of the noise that was coming off or what happened and you saw things that we never talked about before. Like we said like, “Touchless was not something anyone talked about before”. And then all of a sudden, it’s all anybody’s talking about, at least in our world. And then those types of things will stay around and not… I think when you mix the other area, I’m curious the pandemic with some of the societal stuff that’s going on on that end and that mixture comes together on that side. Like, I just think there’s… Again, fabric changes that have happened there and the expectations of how we work and we live in what we care about and stuff like that I think is going to be impacted. So I’m heavily curious of what that looks like, because I actually think there’s going to be a lot of accountability. That’s going to have to come for a lot of this stuff and that’s going to force some changes. And there’s some good leadership. And then there’s examples of just poor leadership that… I think is interesting when you have the two ends of that. You can create when there’s like not one end and there’s only one if you would. It’s kind of hard to know where the boundaries are, but I think we know the boundaries between good leadership and bad leadership on some of these cases and finding that norm in the middle of what good looks like moving forward, is super interesting to me. Just selfishly on the curiosity in my end, is journey that I’m on with the company that I’m on. I’m interested to see where it goes. So that keeps me plenty busy.

DA: I’m sure It does. I’m sure it does. Is there anything you would wish you had known when you first started out? Now that could be when you first started out with this latest venture, or when you even started out at the beginning of your career?

LO: I think what I would have known when I started my career, if I look back at that side is… I wish I would have spent more time on the personal development and than I did initially. I didn’t… I totally underestimated emotional intelligence and self awareness. I came from the old school, you just grind harder. And if you grind harder, then you’re going to win out. In some cases that does work because, I’ve seen it. It has worked for me and some cases of… I can grind pretty good. So… But if I were to mix that with the emotional intelligence work and that, I think it’s a juggernaut that I think a lot of people… And I’m actually really… A lot of the young professionals that I work with currently now, do a good amount of mentoring and that. And I’m pleasantly surprised at the level of awareness that a lot of them do. Now, you could argue whether they practice it or not, but at least they understand in a lot of cases what that is. Like I don’t know if anybody in school, when I was going through business school, they didn’t like self awareness and emotional intelligence. No, it was like economy. We did economy and whatever, but it was very mathematic. So I wish I would’ve known that. Well, I wish I would have known when I launched this. Now at this point I’m actually… I don’t want… It’s too early to reflect I guess on that point. And frankly I’m still learning at this point. So I don’t have any short term reflections other than I’m just thankful it’s turning out and going in the direction that it is.

DA: Yeah, likewise. I’ve been watching that journey myself and of course on my own personal journey. So we’re both aligned in being excited about building something new. Really glad that we could spend time together today. I really enjoyed the conversation. I hope that we can continue to talk about not only Access Control and Secure Buildings and what all that looks like and carrying buildings, and also how it relates to, what we’re building all in and around Tenant Experience. Cause I obviously think they’re very closely connected.

LO: Oh, I think they’re right together. And I appreciate the opportunity and I’m thrilled people like yourself are creating a platform for conversation and storytelling to happen. Cause I think it’s important and I think it’s really the way that business is going to get done moving forward. So congratulations on your end for doing this.

DA: Thanks so much. Let’s keep in touch and have a great day. Thank you.

LO: Will do, thank you.

DA: Okay, bye now. I want to thank Lee Odess for joining us on today’s podcast and for sharing his journey and advice. For starting small, and just start doing. Great learning for all our listeners and an opportunity to gain insights into what it takes to be an effective leader. Please be sure to tune in again for future discussions, with leading professionals, and industry experts, who all have something to say about experience in the built world. And the impact that technology is having on the largest asset class in the world. Commercial real estate. 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 or live. Thank you.

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