May
21
2019
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FlareAgent, a platform that automates real estate transactions, launches out of YC

The real estate industry is experiencing a bit of a rejuvenation. After years resisting the influence of tech, the industry is now feeling the entrance of e-buyers, as well as a variety of software to streamline the process. One such tech company looking to infiltrate real estate is FlareAgent, which launches today out of Y Combinator.

FlareAgent was founded by Abhi CVK and Rashid Aziz. The duo, who just graduated out of NYU, first built FlareAgent when Rashid’s dad, a real estate agent, was asked by his boss (Mr. Brown) about finding software that might speed up the process of completing a transaction.

Abhi and Rashid built something that ended up helping grow the real estate firm from 20 deals per month to more than 100 deals/month. How?

FlareAgent lets all parties collaborate on a transaction from the comfort of their own home or office. From purchase offers to escrow documents to the closing agreement, FlareAgent allows brokers and clients to view and interact with various documents to speed up the time to close.

This used to be done manually by brokers, who’d have to fax or mail or hand-deliver documents to and from various parties in the transaction. If changes take place to the paperwork, this process may start over from scratch.

With FlareAgent, all the time spent changing and sharing documents manually can be done online.

To be clear, a transaction doesn’t actually go through FlareAgent. In other words, the money changing hands from buyer to seller doesn’t flow through the FlareAgent platform. But all the documents that need to be reviewed, amended and signed can be handled on FlareAgent.

To make money, the company charges a monthly subscription to brokers using the platform.

Thus far, FlareAgent says it has around 100 active agents on the platform and has processed more than 2,500 transactions (worth $550 million in property value) since its inception.

May
14
2019
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Beyond costs, what else can we do to make housing affordable?

This week on Extra Crunch, I am exploring innovations in inclusive housing, looking at how 200+ companies are creating more access and affordability. Yesterday, I focused on startups trying to lower the costs of housing, from property acquisition to management and operations.

Today, I want to focus on innovations that improve housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation, and mental rehabilitation. These include social impact-focused interventions, interventions that increase income and mobility, and ecosystem-builders in housing innovation.

Nonprofits and social enterprises lead many of these innovations. Yet because these areas are perceived to be not as lucrative, fewer technologists and other professionals have entered them. New business models and technologies have the opportunity to scale many of these alternative institutions — and create tremendous social value. Social impact is increasingly important to millennials, with brands like Patagonia having created loyal fan bases through purpose-driven leadership.

While each of these sections could be their own market map, this overall market map serves as an initial guide to each of these spaces.

Social impact innovations

These innovations address:

May
13
2019
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Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.

May
13
2019
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Innovations in inclusive housing

Housing is big money. The industry has trillions under management and hundreds of billions under development.

And investors have noticed the potential. Opendoor raised nearly $1.3 billion to help homeowners buy and sell houses more quickly. Katerra raised $1.2 billion to optimize building development and construction, and Compass raised the same amount to help brokers sell real estate better. Even Amazon and Airbnb have entered the fray with high-profile investments.

Amidst this frenetic growth is the seed of the next wave of innovation in the sector. The housing industry — and its affordability problem — is only likely to balloon. By 2030, 84% of the population of developed countries will live in cities.

Yet innovation in housing lags compared to other industries. In construction, a major aspect of housing development, players spend less than 1% of their revenues on research and development. Technology companies, like the Amazons of the world, spend nearly 10% on average.

Innovations in older, highly regulated industries, like housing and real estate, are part of what Steve Case calls the “third wave” of technology. VCs like Case’s Revolution Fund and the SoftBank Vision Fund are investing billions into what they believe is the future.

These innovations are far from silver bullets, especially if they lack involvement from underrepresented communities, avoid policy and ignore distributive questions about who gets to benefit from more housing.

Yet there are hundreds of interventions reworking housing that cannot be ignored. To help entrepreneurs, investors and job seekers interested in creating better housing, I mapped these innovations in this package of articles.

To make sense of this broad field, I categorize innovations into two main groups, which I detail in two separate pieces on Extra Crunch. The first (Part 1) identifies the key phases of developing and managing housing. The second (Part 2) section identifies interventions that contribute to housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation and mental rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, many of these tools don’t guarantee more affordability. Lowering acquisition costs, for instance, doesn’t mean that renters or homeowners will necessarily benefit from those savings. As a result, some tools likely need to be paired with others to ensure cost savings that benefit end users — and promote long-term affordability. I detail efforts here so that mission-driven advocates as well as startup founders can adopt them for their own efforts.


Topics We Explore

Today:

Coming Tomorrow:

  • Part 2. Other contributions to housing affordability
    • Social Impact Innovations
    • Landlord-Tenant Tools
    • Innovations that Increase Income
    • Innovations that Increase Transit Accessibility and Reduce Parking
    • Innovations that Improve the Ability to Regulate Housing
    • Organizations that Support the Housing Innovation Ecosystem
    • This Is Just the Beginning
    • I’m Personally Closely Watching the Following Initiatives
    • The Limitations of Technology
    • Move Fast and Protect People


Please feel free to let me know what else is exciting by adding a note to your LinkedIn invite here.

If you’re excited about this topic, feel free to subscribe to my future of inclusive housing newsletter by viewing a past issue here.

Apr
24
2019
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Managed by Q launches a new task management feature for office managers

Managed by Q, the office management platform recently acquired by WeWork, has today announced the launch of Task Management.

The feature comes to Managed by Q by way of Hivy, a startup acquired by MBQ back in 2017, that focuses on connecting a company’s employees to the office manager that handles their requests.

Pre-Hivy, collecting requests and tracking projects across a large number of employees was a tedious, fragmented process. Hivy created a dashboard that organizes all those requests in a single place.

Since the acquisition, Managed by Q and Hivy have been working to integrate their respective platforms. Where Managed by Q connects office managers to the right vendor or MBQ operator to handle the job, the new Task Management system will connect office managers with the employees making the requests in the first place, essentially putting the entire pipeline in a single place.

Obviously, the path to full integration was a long one.

“What I think matters most,” said Hivy co-founder Pauline Tordeur, speaking about the process of intertwining two separate products, “is that we knew why we were doing this and what the future would look like when we integrate. Having this vision and outlook from the very beginning is important.”

The timing is interesting in that this is the first product announcement Managed by Q has made since it was acquired by WeWork.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling,” said Managed by Q co-founder and CEO Dan Teran of being acquired by The We Company. “There is a perception of WeWork from the outside, but since I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to learn the business firsthand, I think there is just so much potential.”

He noted that Managed by Q is indeed setting out to integrate with WeWork in a way that’s similar to the process Q just finished with Hivy.

“We set out to build the operating system for space, and one of the biggest things we missed is the space itself,” said Teran. “That’s actually the hardest part for most people. So now that becomes another ingredient we can deliver to our customers.”

Apr
05
2019
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Peter Kraus dishes on the market

During my recent conversation with Peter Kraus, which was supposed to be focused on Aperture and its launch of the Aperture New World Opportunities Fund, I couldn’t help veering off into tangents about the market in general. Below is Kraus’ take on the availability of alpha generation, the Fed, inflation versus Amazon, housing, the cross-ownership of U.S. equities by a few huge funds and high-frequency trading.

Gregg Schoenberg: Will alpha be more available over the next five years than it has been over the last five?

To think that at some point equities won’t become more volatile and decline 20% to 30%… I think it’s crazy.

Peter Kraus: Do I think it’s more available in the next five years than it was in the last five years? No. Do I think people will pay more attention to it? Yes, because when markets are up to 30 percent, if you get another five, it doesn’t matter. When markets are down 30 percent and I save you five by being 25 percent down, you care.

GS: Is the Fed’s next move up or down?

PK: I think the Fed does zero, nothing. In terms of its next interest rate move, in my judgment, there’s a higher probability that it’s down versus up.

Apr
03
2019
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WeWork acquires Managed by Q

Managed by Q, the office management platform based out of New York, has today been acquired by The We Company, formerly known as WeWork.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The WSJ reports that it was a cash and stock deal. Managed by Q, which has 500 employees, will remain as a wholly owned separate entity and CEO Dan Teran will remain following the acquisition to join WeWork leadership.

Upon its latest financing in January, Managed by Q was valued at $249 million, according to PitchBook.

Here’s what Teran had to say in a prepared statement:

We are excited for this incredible opportunity to deepen our commitment to realizing our ambitious vision of building an operating system for the built world. WeWork is uniquely positioned to invest in workplace technology and services, and I look forward to partnering with their team to build more robust products for our clients and create a global platform to help companies push the bounds on our collective potential.

Managed by Q was founded in 2014 with a plan to change the way that offices run. The platform allowed office managers and other decision-makers to handle supply stocking, cleaning, IT support and other non-work related tasks in the office by simply using the Managed by Q dashboard. Managed by Q serves the demand through a combination of in-house operators and third-party vendors and service providers.

Notably, Managed by Q took a different tack than most other logistics companies, employing their operators as W2 workers instead of 1099 contractors. Moreover, Managed by Q offered a stock option plan to operators that gives 5 percent of the company back to those employees.

The company has raised a total of $128.25 million since launch from investors such as GV, RRE and Kapor Capital. Managed by Q currently serves the markets of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Silicon Valley, with plans to aggressively expand following the acquisition, according to the WSJ.

Not only has Managed by Q swiftly matured into a big player in the NY tech scene and Future of Work space, but it has also fostered interesting competition and consolidation within the space. Managed by Q has itself made several acquisitions, including the purchase of NVS (an office space planning and project management service) and Hivy (an internal comms tool to let employees tell office managers what they need).

Feb
27
2019
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Compass acquires Contactually, a CRM provider to the real estate industry

Compass, the real estate tech platform that is now worth $4.4 billion, has made an acquisition to give its agents a boost when it comes to looking for good leads on properties to sell. It is acquiring Contactually, an AI-based CRM platform designed specifically for the industry, which includes features like linking up a list of homes sold by a brokerage with records of sales in the area and other property indexes to determine which properties might be good targets to tap for future listings.

Contactually had already been powering Compass’s own CRM service that it launched last year, so there is already a degree of integration between the two.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Crunchbase notes that Contactually had raised around $18 million from VCs that included Rally Ventures, Grotech and Point Nine Capital, and it was last valued at around $30 million in 2016, according to PitchBook. From what I understand, the startup had strong penetration in the market, so it’s likely that the price was a bit higher than this previous valuation.

The plan is to bring over all of Contactually’s team of 32 employees, led by Zvi Band, the co-founder and CEO, to integrate the company’s product into Compass’s platform completely. They will report to CTO Joseph Sirosh and head of product Eytan Seidman. It will also mean a bigger operation for Compass in Washington, DC, which is where Contactually had been based.

“The Contactually team has worked for the past 8 years to build a best-in-class CRM that aggregates relationships and automatically documents every touchpoint,” said Band in a statement “We are proud that our investment into machine learning has resulted in new features like Best Time to Email and other data-driven, follow-up recommendations which help agents be more effective in their day-to-day. After working extensively with the Compass team, it was apparent that joining forces would accelerate our missions of building the future of the industry.”

For the time being, customers who are already using the product — and a large number of real estate brokers and agents in the U.S. already were, at prices that ranged from $59/month to $399/month depending on the level of service — will continue their contracts as before.

I suspect that the longer-term plan, however, will be a little different: You have to wonder if agents who compete against Compass would be happy to use a service where their data is being processed by it, and for Compass itself. I would suspect that having this tech for itself would give it an edge over the others.

Compass, I understand from sources, is on track to make $2 billion in revenues in 2019 (its 2018 targets were $1 billion on $34 billion in property sales, and it had previously said it would be doubling that this year). Now in 100 cities, it’s come a long way from its founding in 2012 by Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin.

The bigger picture beyond real estate is that, as with many other analog industries, those who are tackling them with tech-first approaches are sweeping up not only existing business, but in many cases helping the whole market to expand. Contactually, as a tool that can help source potential properties for sale that owners hadn’t previously considered putting on the market, could end up serving that very end for Compass.

The focus on using tech to storm into a legacy industry is also coming at an interesting time. As we’ve pointed out before, the housing market is predicted to cool this year, and that will put the squeeze on agents who do not have strong networks of clients and the tools to maximise whatever opportunities there are out there to list and sell properties.

The likes of Opendoor — which appears to be raising money and inching closer to Compass in terms of valuation — is also trying out a different model, which essentially involves becoming a middle part in the chain, buying properties from sellers and selling them on to buyers, to speed up the process and cut out some of the expenses for the end users. That approach underscores the fact that, while the infusion of technology is an inevitable trend, there will be multiple ways of applying that.

This appears to be Compass’s first full acquisition of a tech startup, although it has made partial acqui-hires in the past.

Feb
15
2019
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As GE and Amazon move on, Google expands presence in Boston and NYC

NYC and Boston were handed huge setbacks this week when Amazon and GE decided to bail on their commitments to build headquarters in the respective cities on the same day. But it’s worth pointing out that while these large tech organizations were pulling out, Google was expanding in both locations.

Yesterday, upon hearing about Amazon’s decision to scrap its HQ2 plans in Long Island City, New York City Mayor de Blasio had this to say: “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can’t recognize what that’s worth, its competitors will.” One of them already has. Google had already announced a billion-dollar expansion in Hudson Square at the end of last year.

In fact, the company is pouring billions into NYC real estate, with plans to double its 7,000-person workforce over the next 10 years. As TechCrunch’s Jon Russell reported, “Our investment in New York is a huge part of our commitment to grow and invest in U.S. facilities, offices and jobs. In fact, we’re growing faster outside the Bay Area than within it, and this year opened new offices and data centers in locations like Detroit, Boulder, Los Angeles, Tennessee and Alabama, wrote Google CFO Ruth Porat.”

Just this week, as GE was making its announcement, Google was announcing a major expansion in Cambridge, the city across the river from Boston that is home to Harvard and MIT. Kendall Square is also home to offices from Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Akamai, DigitalOcean and a plethora of startups.

Google will be moving into a brand new building that currently is home to the MIT Coop bookstore. It plans to grab 365,000 square feet of the new building when it’s completed, and, as in NYC, will be adding hundreds of new jobs to the 1,500 already in place. Brian Cusack, Google Cambridge Site lead points out the company began operations in Cambridge back in 2003 and has been working on Search, Android, Cloud, YouTube, Google Play, Research, Ads and more.

“This new space will provide room for future growth and further cements our commitment to the Cambridge community. We’re proud to call this city home and will continue to support its vibrant nonprofit and growing business community,” he said in a statement.

As we learned this week, big company commitments can vanish just as quickly as they are announced, but for now at least, it appears that Google is serious about its commitment to New York and Boston and will be expanding office space and employment to the tune of thousands of jobs over the next decade.

Jan
17
2019
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On-demand workspace platform Breather taps new CEO

Breather’s new CEO Bryan Murphy / Breather Press Kit

Breather, the platform that provides on-demand private workspace, announced today that it has appointed Bryan Murphy as its new CEO.

Before joining Breather, Murphy was the founder and president of direct-to-consumer mattress startup, Tomorrow Sleep. Prior to Tomorrow Sleep, Murphy held posts as an advisor to investment firms and as an executive at eBay after the company acquired his previous company, WHI Solutions — an e-commerce platform for aftermarket auto parts — where Murphy was the co-founder and CEO.

Breather believes Murphy’s extensive background scaling e-commerce and SaaS platforms, as well as his experience working with incumbents across a number of traditional industries, can help it execute through its next stage of global growth.

Murphy is filling the vacancy left by co-founder and former CEO Julien Smith, who stepped down as chief executive this past September, just three months after the company completed its $45 million Series C round, which was led by Menlo Ventures and saw participation from RRE Ventures, Temasek Holdings, Ascendas-Singbridge and Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec.

In a past statement on his transition, Smith said: “As I reflect on my strengths and consider what it will take for the company to reach its full potential, I realize bringing on an executive with experience scaling a company through the next level of growth is the best thing for the business.”

Smith, who remains with the company as chairman of the board, believes Murphy more than fits the bill. “Bryan’s record of scaling brands in competitive markets makes him an ideal leader to support this momentum, and I’m excited to see where he takes us next,” Smith said.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Murphy explained that Breather’s next growth phase will ultimately come down to its ability to continue the global expansion of its network of locations and partner landlords while striking the optimal balance between rental economics and employee utility, productivity and performance. With new spaces and ramped marketing efforts, Murphy and the company expect 2019 to be a big year for Breather — “I think this year, you’re going to start hearing a lot about Breather and it really being in a leadership role for the industry.”

Breather’s workspace at 900 Broadway in New York City is one of 500+ network locations accessible to users.

On Breather’s platform, users are currently able to access a network of more than 500 private workspaces across 10 major cities around the world, which can be booked as meeting space or short-term private office space.

Meeting spaces can be reserved for as little as two hours, while office space can be booked on a month-to-month basis, providing businesses with financial flexibility, private and more spacious alternatives to co-working options, and the ability to easily change offices as they grow. For landlords, Breather allows property owners to generate value from underutilized space by providing a turnkey digital booking system, as well as expertise in the short-term rental space.

Murphy explained to TechCrunch that part of what excited him most about his new role was his belief in Breather’s significant product-market fit and the immense addressable market that he sees for flexible workspaces longer-term. With limited penetration to date, Murphy feels the commercial office space industry is in just the third inning of significant transformation. 

Murphy believes that long-term growth for Breather and other flexible space providers will be driven by a heightened focus on employee flexibility and wellness, a growing number of currently underserved companies whose needs fall between co-working and traditional direct leasing, and the need for landlords to support a wider variety of office space options as workforce demographics and behaviors shift. 

Murphy believes that the ease, flexibility and unlocked value Breather provides puts the platform in a great position to win market share.

“Breather has built a remarkable commercial real estate e-commerce and services platform that offers one-click access to over 500 workspaces around the world,” said Murphy in a press release. “To our customers, having access to workspace that is turnkey, affordable, beautiful, productive and that can flex up and down based on needs is a total game changer.”

To date, Breather has served more than 500,000 customers and has raised more than $120 million in investment.

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