Rasheq Zarif | Co-founder & COO | ReWyre | Helping ReWyre the built world and future-proof buildings

Transcript

DA: Welcome to “TEN,” the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host, David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Rasheq Zarif, co-founder and COO of ReWyre. In this episode, we learn about Rasheq’s journey to the PropTech space after two-plus decades in the automotive and mobility industry. Rasheq saw that commercial real estate was ripe for disruption and that many of the challenges were similar to the auto industry, so he was able to apply his experience and methodology to disrupt CRE. Rasheq is now partnered with Ricky Chera, co-founding ReWyre to support the property technology that is leading the digital transformation of the industry. Rasheq and ReWyre envision an ecosystem that contributes to a common cause by creating a neutral party to help transact for multiple solutions. Data will be a big driver for CRE to see the bigger picture, and according to Rasheq, this is where HILO is uniquely positioned to be able to better understand the customer’s needs and provide a higher level of service. I love Rasheq’s thinking around buildings as environments rather than assets. This way of thinking aligns with mine, as I’ve recognized for some time that buildings are really places for people. The only way to optimize real estate again, is to solve the root cause of the problem, challenging building operators to create better workplace environments that people will want to spend time in. Rasheq fused tenant experience, safety and security, and climate change as three main components of the PropTech ecosystem that are driving demand for emerging technology solutions. I am convinced that Rasheq’s unique background is going to allow him to see opportunities where others don’t, helping to rewire the built world and future-proof buildings through enhancement without having to make major changes to the infrastructure. We’re excited to share this podcast with you, so be sure to subscribe to “TEN” so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now, I’d like to welcome Rasheq to the show. I am really glad you could be with us today. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation.

RZ: Absolutely, David, thanks for having me here today.

DA: My pleasure, very interested, very curious to know about your journey to your current position and role. How did you get started?

RZ: Well, it’s quite funny. I mean, many folks in the PropTech space have been in the real estate industry for quite a long time, but for me, it has been a massive pivot. My two-plus-decade career has been in automotive and mobility, both at Mercedes-Benz, running innovation over there, as well as leading future mobility at Deloitte. So many people come up to me, and they’re like, “What do you do in real estate? “What are you doing in PropTech?” And actually, the reality is, is that I actually interfaced a lot with real estate during my two-plus decades, and it was interesting how mobility had an important impact in real estate, but then at the same time, it was obvious that real estate was an industry that was ripe for disruption, and the same challenges that we faced in the automotive industry, you know, it was obvious that it was just going to be a copy, paste from a strategy and methodology perspective to disrupt real estate, and I said, “Okay, if I have one foot already “through the door here in working in the industry, “I might as well bring in the other foot and jump in “and disrupt this space as well.”

DA: Wow, great, and so obviously, there’s a lot of history to that evolution, and how did you, and tell me about, sort of the connection to ReWyre.

RZ: Yeah, so Ricky Chera, who’s my business partner and the COO of ReWyre, him and I met on a confidential project, probably about seven, eight years ago, and of all the developers that I met, he was the one that actually got it and saw this transformation coming to fruition, and so we kept in touch. We talked about what’s going to happen, where things are going to go, and when was the right time to jump in to build something to support property technology to kind of proliferate and formulate that digital transformation that we’re seeing happening right now. And we actually met at CES, early 2020, just before the pandemic, and independent of the pandemic, there were a lot of other factors that came into play that was starting to be a catalyst towards this proliferation, so when we look at 5G network infrastructure being rolled out, the fact that IoT sensors were becoming more apparent, more funding toward smart cities, and most importantly, the focus on climate change, it was starting to lead towards that direction. Little did we know that the pandemic was going to exponentially increase that from a nice-to-have to a must-have.

DA: Right, huge impact, right? I mean, certainly, the tailwinds were there, but the pandemic sort of accelerated probably, I don’t know, three, four, five years from what we’re hearing.

RZ: Absolutely, absolutely.

DA: So why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? What has helped you to be successful, skills, mentors, colleagues, books? Certainly, you talked about your experience in the automotive industry has been a catalyst to some of that success, but maybe just share what has helped you to really be successful.

RZ: I think independent of the industry, and what I’ve noticed more and more happening is that, this thought process methodology of building an ecosystem, it’s no longer about suppliers and vendors and manufacturers and so forth. It’s, how do we all partner together and work in a digital environment to be able to kind of solve problems for the greater good? We’ve seen that there’s certain companies out there that have built massive ecosystems, and they play in all different parts of the industry, but the true benefit to society will be when you have different companies being able to work together and share for a common cause, and when you look at PropTech, you know, there are a lot of companies that are serving particular objectives, but there’s starting to be this formulation of an ecosystem that’s coming together, and that’s where something that I have constantly worked on, and it’s why I envision and I see it all coming together, but there is no neutral body to support that from happening, and this is where ReWyre can come in and serve as that neutral party to start that process of transacting, not just for one PropTech solution, for multiple solutions and finding a way for it all to come together.

DA: You know, I think that’s the greatest challenge. We’ve gone from zero to 100, literally just started pre-pandemic and now through the pandemic. When I went to my first PropTech conference, there might have been a couple hundred people in attendance. We’ll be attending that same conference in October, CREtech in New York, and I believe there’ll be 2,000. So it speaks to the growth, and it speaks to the number of people that are engaged in this industry now and providing technology services to the commercial real estate industry, so you know, I think the mission and vision for ReWyre, your timing is amazing.

RZ: Yeah, no, it is. You know, part of it is timing, part of it is luck, and part of it is just, I don’t know. Sometimes it is just what it is, right?

DA: Right.

RZ: But, you know, I think technology is one component of it, but the importance of building this ecosystem is also the data, right?

DA: Right.

RZ: You know, seeing different perspectives of data and bringing it together to formulate a bigger picture, and I think this is where HILO is uniquely positioned with the Tenant Experience App that you have developed, and how you’re able to kind of really understand what your customer needs are and to be able to provide that higher level of service through what you’ve built. It’s one of many companies out there in their respective fields that’s going to take this to a whole different level.

DA: Right, we really, and thank you for offering that thought about what we’re doing as well, and for us, it’s very much about the last mile. It’s about, how do we connect building operators to their customer and make sure they understand all that they’re thinking, feeling, wanting, and needing? And that’s really where I think our industry has now finally landed on recognizing that we need to be very attuned to what our customer needs and wants.

RZ: You need to be careful there, David, by talking about last mile. Before you know it, you’d be shifting into mobility.

DA: Similar talk. You know, there’s been a lot of commentary around the return to workplace, and some very extreme opinions being expressed, often confrontational, sometimes polarizing. You know, we really believe that now is the time to live and work in the world as it is right now and that the CRE industry and employers, building occupiers, can’t keep projecting to a date in the future, and it’s not about mandating, or it’s not about only remote, it’s about living in a world with a new normal, and that new normal includes COVID. It’s not a world post-COVID, so just curious what your thoughts are, as the world continues to emerge. What do you think this means for commercial real estate, and how can buildings continue to be important for businesses and people today?

RZ: Yeah, and it’s a really good question there, and it’s something that fundamentally, in my prior role at Deloitte, we looked at all the different scenarios of what will happen in a quote, unquote, “post-COVID world” or once things are kind of stabilized, as well as looking a lot into the future of work. The key aspect here is, we don’t look at buildings anymore as assets, but we look at them as environments, and when you look at an environment, especially as your home, you want it to be suited in a way that it enhances wellbeing, enhances happiness, enhances productivity. These are things that were not necessarily a focal point as much before the pandemic other than what was at your desk. So when we think about, you know, when we hear what others are saying, and some are polarizing, of, “You must come back to work, it must be nine to five.” You’re not solving the root cause of the problem of, what was discovered during the pandemic, and during that time period was, having a better environment to work, so it’s really going to test developers to change their environment to entice folks to come in, maybe not 100% of the time, but to have a similar level of productivity that they’ve had at home, to have that as commercial real estate. That’s the only way you’re going to get towards optimizing it.

DA: Right, no, I like your analogy with environment versus just the physicality of the real estate, and I think you’re right. The environment needs to be enticing, needs to be inviting, and needs to be seen as an alternative to perhaps, working 100% remote or working from home. Working from home certainly had its initial appeal and attraction. I met someone just yesterday who has a young child at home now, and he told me that he can’t wait to go to work tomorrow because yeah, his world changed. And now, you know, he’s finding it more difficult, more challenging to be at home exclusively. So, you know, I think we’re going to, we’re entering a time and a place where it’s not one or the other, it’s what’s right on any given day.

RZ: And I think David, another point there to consider is that, it’s no longer a one-size-fits-all solution.

DA: Right.

RZ: I mean, when we see everything that’s happening in different forms of the industry, it’s all changing and morphing to be very unique for certain subsets of working class, you know, production, you know, office based, everything changes. And so, you know, similar to what has happened in the automotive industry where dealerships had to morph and transform with now, electric vehicles, connected vehicles, different types of services and offerings, that seems things going to happen with real estate developers. They need to adapt to the new environment, but most importantly, the companies that are leasing, renting out these buildings also to adapt what’s within them, right? In order to get the optimal use for the building. But at the end of the day, one other point that I need to mention is, we’re all human and we do need to see each other. We do need that human interaction. But I mean, the obvious point is, but do I need to see you every day, right? If we get sick of seeing someone every day, then there is a balance to making that ideal work environment.

DA: Right, you know, I think certainly there’s been many challenges that the pandemic has brought on for commercial real estate, but I also think it’s created opportunities, and I think it’s an opportunity to be more innovative as an industry and not take it for granted. Not just, build it and they will come, but probably have to work a little bit harder in the short-term. But I think the long-term opportunity is to create a more innovative product that will stand the test of time and maybe weather storms like we’ve just been through.

RZ: Yeah, no, I think this is why digital solutions are becoming more apparent is that when you build a property or when you renovate a property, you don’t want to touch it for 10, 15, 20 years, right?

DA: Right.

RZ: You want it to last a long time because it’s expensive, right? And I think that’s the whole concept of ReWyre, Hence we’re rewiring the built environment. We’re rewiring the world so that you think about future-proofing your building so that the base foundation is there. You have the necessary like basic infrastructure, and if you need to change out one door access control system with another, it doesn’t require you gutting the entire building. And I think that’s another thing, you know, attributed to HILO is, you know, the digital aspect that you can modify, enhance, improve, bring in new feature sets without necessarily making any changes to the build environment. And that’s how you’re going to future-proof, you know, what is a physical asset.

DA: Right, so making buildings more flexible and making the way in which they engage and then connect with their customer more flexible as well.

RZ: Exactly, it’s exactly what we saw in the automotive industry and is exactly what will happen in the real estate industry.

DA: Right, well, I think there’s another example of how your previous life, your previous experience is going to lend itself so well to sort of what you’re contributing to now in this legacy, you know, last to be disrupted, largest asset class in the world industry, right?

RZ: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s one differentiation is, we have a lot of people that are seasoned in this industry, might as well throw in a couple of nuts in to shake things up.

DA: I love it, I love it. Listen, the pandemic has certainly recalibrated the market in terms of how we look at buildings. And it used to be very much, again, the physicality, build it and they will come. And I think now we recognize that ultimately, you talked about environment. I like to say, places for people, similar concept, people are the real asset, you know, not just the building. And so as a result, we’re seeing tenant experience, workplace experience, workplace engagement, these themes becoming the new differentiator in real estate. And perhaps more important than those historical determinants such as location and class. People are looking for something, something beyond the office space. And I’m just curious what your thoughts, as you’re looking at all different technologies, how do you think building operators will deliver great customer experience, great tenant experience, now and in the future? And perhaps, you know, the role of technology in all of that?

RZ: It’s a really good point, and I think one of the challenges is that, it’s not an easy place to figure out from the start.

DA: Right.

RZ: It’s, you know, when we look at, there’s more than 8,000 PropTech companies that are out there globally, and it’s not necessarily an industry that has proliferated for many, many years. It’s something that’s just starting now.

DA: Right.

RZ: It’s hard to determine what’s right and what’s not. It’s hard to determine how much and how little to implement from a technology perspective. Obviously, tenant experience is a critical fund-facing component that every developer should consider. There are other components that we have seen with ReWyre that are important. So for example, safety and security is another important attribute that tenants want to have, with remote door access controls, the surveillance systems and so forth. Another component that is also big in the eyes of tenants as well as regulatory perspectives and lenses is climate changes, right? In a sense of, how optimal is your building performing from a climate perspective in order to reduce your carbon impact. So when you look at safety, security, carbon impact, and then improved experiences, those are three main components that we’re seeing out of the 45 plus offerings that we have that constantly comes up. But to your point, where to start? And that was why we built ReWyre. It was really just to kind of say, “Okay, yeah, we can build a lot of different things, “but let’s go down to the basics.” Let’s help a developer or a property manager figure out, what is the right property technology for them to implement. And most importantly, to be able to see who else is implementing what so that they have some baseline versus trying to figure it out on their own. And I think that’s an important piece to kind of start in helping with this transformation.

DA: Right, and then also, I assume then determining how to layer some of these applications or some of these platforms together, either, you know, integrated or supporting each other.

RZ: Yeah, I think that’s the power that we don’t have today, but we will have as more and more transactions happen. Those who are coming on board, our channel partners coming on board to play ball.

DA: Right.

RZ: And to provide that, the APIs, the ability to integrate, the ability to be able to connect with other solutions and other offerings, they’re the ones that are going to be more successful. And it goes back to the concept that I talked about earlier with ecosystems.

DA: Right.

RZ: If you’re going to come and play ball, you’re going to be more attractive to a developer, to a property manager because at the end of the day, it provides more flexibility for them and it future-proofs their building.

DA: Right, I totally agree. Let’s take a short break and we’ll be right back.

Commercial Break

DA: We are back with Rasheq Zarif, co-founder and COO of ReWyre. Again, I’m so glad you could be with today and I’m really enjoying our conversation.

RZ: Likewise, absolutely, let’s do it.

DA: All right, so listen, living through a pandemic has been very challenging for so many. I don’t want to dismiss the fact that it’s had just a huge negative impact on so many people’s lives and businesses. However, we also believe at this point, it is now time to be better, do better, and build something better. COVID can no longer be an excuse. So can you share any details about your business or some part of your business that is now being reimagined to reflect the reality of where we are today?

RZ: It’s actually a really, it’s an interesting insight in the sense of how our business has been reimagined because, you know, our business was formulated in the midst of COVID. So it’s hard to think of a world where ReWyre would’ve been pre-COVID, per se. But if I could, I would talk about the fact of how we’re so nimble of a company where we have folks that are headquartered in New York, but at the same time we have engineers that are based out in Argentina or in Miami, or, you know, myself living in San Francisco. I’m running a company from the other side of the country.

DA: Right.

RZ: And that would’ve not have been even conceivable three years ago.

DA: Yep.

RZ: So I think with respect to the workplace and as we talked about the future of work, it’s happening now. And at the same time, I think culture has changed in the workplace, that I’ve not seen before, in a sense of how people are able to bond both virtually as well as in-person. So yeah, I think that’s the key here. And as for our product, product hasn’t changed. I mean people need PropTech, one way or another.

DA: Right, I know that there’s a lot of work being done in terms of building out your platform and bringing your platform to market. Any, and I know, I think some exciting announcements coming in the near term. Anything you’d like to share with our listeners about the company itself?

RZ: We’re, you know, we started with just safety and security. We’re rolling out, any day now, the full platform with 45 different offerings across six PropTech categories with hundreds and hundreds of channel partners, all signed up, ready to go, HILO being, you know, definitely one on there that has definitely gained traction by our developers.

DA: Yes.

RZ: It’s, there’s, at first, an awesome transaction platform. Makes it easy, seamless for you to be able to get your PropTech solutions quickly, but at the same time, there’s a lot more in store with respect to how we’re analyzing the transaction data, how we’re analyzing who’s getting what PropTech solutions, and then using those analytics to start predicting what is it that you will need, depending on your property type. And that will be a game changer.

DA: For sure, very exciting. Obviously, we’re thrilled to be a part of the ReWyre ecosystem and a partner in this process. So we look forward to continuing to collaborate as well. On a personal level, ’cause we like to know, get to know our guests as well, not just from a business perspective, but sort of how they think and feel as a person. So our closing speed round allows us to do that. Can you share one way in which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life?

RZ: Family first, I think I’ve always been traveling, putting work in front of me, but now my wife and my kids, work can always wait. I’ll figure it out at different hours but family first.

DA: That’s great. And what travel destination do you miss most?

RZ: Oh man, I miss going to Vail, Colorado. The good old days of snowboarding in the Back Bowls. For those who are listening and know what I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about.

DA: Will you be there this Winter, perhaps?

RZ: Not this Winter, I’ll be going up to Tahoe. I mean it’s closer to San Francisco but eventually, I’ll get back there.

DA: Great, great. Anything new on your bucket list that you’d like to experience?

RZ: Yeah, absolutely. Hopefully one day being able to experience weightlessness and space.

DA: Wow, well that’s probably not unlikely so.

RZ: Yep.

DA: I’m not sure I would have the courage to do it though. What is a favorite technology, new in the technology business that is new to your life?

RZ: It’s not something that is new, but something that has been quite useful. It is our Nest Camera. It has been very helpful in knowing what’s going on outside and helping our neighbors out when they’re trying to figure out what happened to their cars or to their homes, so it has been very useful. I think another technology that has been, also, once again, not as new but very helpful is my Apple Watch. I don’t know what I would’ve, where I would be without it.

DA: Right, game changer, right?

RZ: Yep.

DA:  What is your personal choice for days spent in-person with your colleagues versus working from anywhere?

RZ: It’s not one or the other, right? It is a balance of the both. In fact, I would love to spend every day with my work colleagues, but when I ever go to visit them, I think they can only last three days with me before they go back to work. ‘Cause I have so much to tell them and what to do and where to go. So it’s a balance.

DA: Right, I think that’s a great approach and I think that is, again, I don’t like to, you know, just end up in the middle, but I do believe that balance and having the best of both worlds will win the day. So I’m with you on that front. Rasheq, it’s been such a pleasure to bring this conversation to “TEN.” I look forward to continuing to have these conversations, continuing to collaborating with ReWyre. We’ll definitely see you at CREtech in October. And again, thanks for taking the time, and for sharing with our listeners your insights and a little bit of insight into what you’re building.

RZ: Absolutely, David, thank you so much for the opportunity and looking forward to the further collaboration and really bringing PropTech to where it needs to be in the real estate industry. So, thank you.

DA: Okay, my pleasure. Take care now.

RZ: All right, bye.

DA: Bye, bye. I want to thank Rasheq Zarif for joining me on this episode of “TEN” and for contributing to the global conversation around buildings being part of a robust ecosystem that can help to build great companies, that they’re vital in the effort to cultivate and support great people and teams. The future of the workplace will likely take many forms and we will continue to explore what that looks like together. Subscribe to “TEN” for more conversations with leading CRE industry professionals and experts who all have something to say about tenant experience and the future of the workplace. We love hearing from you. So if you enjoyed this episode of “TEN”, please share, add your rating and review us through your preferred podcast provider.

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.

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Rita Tené Ellison | Associate Director | T. Dallas Smith & Company | Putting customers first in CRE

Season 3 / Episode 20 / 22:20
In this episode, Rita explains that access to local amenities is becoming more of a driving factor in real estate decisions, causing smart landlords to become more attentive to tenant needs, and respond with appropriate programming. With a “client-first” mentality, her firm has maintained a consistent approach throughout the pandemic in responding to the evolving needs of its customers.

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Season 3 / Episode 19 / 31:09
In this episode, Jamie shares that in order to attract and retain talent, a big part of the conversation is adding new opportunities to live and play at Kanata North Technology Park, and making new investments to enhance physical workspaces. Jamie is enthusiastic about the role that HILO will play in helping to connect all the partners in the park and promote all of the park’s activities.

Rita Tené Ellison | Associate Director | T. Dallas Smith & Company | Putting customers first in CRE

Season 3 / Episode 20 / 22:20
In this episode, Rita explains that access to local amenities is becoming more of a driving factor in real estate decisions, causing smart landlords to become more attentive to tenant needs, and respond with appropriate programming. With a “client-first” mentality, her firm has maintained a consistent approach throughout the pandemic in responding to the evolving needs of its customers.

Jamie Petten | President & Executive Director | Kanata North Business Association | Connecting the community in Canada’s largest technology park

Season 3 / Episode 19 / 31:09
In this episode, Jamie shares that in order to attract and retain talent, a big part of the conversation is adding new opportunities to live and play at Kanata North Technology Park, and making new investments to enhance physical workspaces. Jamie is enthusiastic about the role that HILO will play in helping to connect all the partners in the park and promote all of the park’s activities.