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The Most Influential Women in PropTech
After decades of sluggish advancements, Real Estate technology is finally experiencing its moment in the spotlight. Other large industries have experienced their digital metamorphosis many years earlier, but somehow real estate has remained in the dark ages. Part of the reason was by design. Data is power, and without open data sharing agreements and open APIs, the largest real estate brokers were reluctant to embrace new technologies that would loosen the grip that they yielded, even at the expense of customer experience. The second challenge was that there were no universal data standards. Every system ran on its own disparate database, which made it almost impossible for software developers to create technology at scale. Custom connections needed to be created for every integration, and the cost of doing so typically outweighed the benefit. But I would argue that those were not the only reasons. Technology advancements require insane levels of innovation and critical thinking, yet the industry was suppressing some of the greatest minds of our time. The chart below tells the story:
I cannot explain why women have been marginalized in this industry (or most industries), but they have been. I have zero doubt that much of the recent innovation that the industry is experiencing directly correlates with the fact that the industry is finally waking up and giving amazing women the respect that they deserve and the latitude and resources to even the playing field. We still have a long way to go.
One of the most influential trade organizations in the industry, T360, publishes an annual report called the Swanepoel Power 200 which celebrates the top 200 influential executives in residential real estate. Although they focus on 200 executives, they sometimes recognize multiple people in the same company, so this year's report included 217 professionals. Out of the top 217 leaders, only 21.6% (47) were women. Commercial Real Estate numbers are most likely worse. This is a highly respectable organization, and I do not blame T360 for this enormous disparity between men and women. They are simply reporting on the state of the industry. I have been equally guilty. Last year, I published an article on the 13 Most Influential Leaders in PropTech, and I am embarrassed to say that not a single woman was included. I will never make that mistake again.
I decided to write an article focused solely on the Most Influential Women in PropTech. As I was preparing the article, I was excited to see the entrepreneurial achievements and recognition of women across every sector in the industry including Commercial, Residential, Retail, Brokerage, Technology, and Franchising. Below is the list (in no particular order).
Hines is one of the largest and most well respected real estate investment, development, and management firms in the world. With 4,300 employees, $90.3B in assets under management, and a portfolio of assets and properties that they represent totaling more than 230M SF, Hines has been a leading force in the real estate industry since 1957. Laura is the Co-CEO of Hines where she plays a critical role in shaping the company’s global strategy where they currently have presence in 285 cities across 28 countries. She earned a BA in Economics and Art History from Duke, and an MBA from Harvard.
What has always impressed me with Hines extends way beyond their massive size. They have been a leader in the real estate space when it comes to deploying industry leading technology to drive their foundational commitment to ESG initiatives, delivering an unprecedented level of tenant/resident experience, and continuously providing impressive returns to their investors. As Laura grew through the ranks of Hines, the company continued to experience significant growth, but with her now at the helm, I anticipate that their future will only continue to get brighter and move transformative as a leader in this space.
Jess Beck and Marcela Sapone (Alfred)
Alfred (originally named Hello Alfred), was founded in 2015 as a complete resident experience and tenant engagement platform. With operations in 52 cities across 2 countries, they currently support over 300,000 residents through strategic partnerships with top real estate firms including KRE, Brookfield, Greystar, Related, and RXR. Alfred is the largest, most advanced residential technology and management platform, specializing in a single-stop solution to maximize asset value. Alfred’s Operating System (AOS) provides a full stack platform with customizable modules, integrating with over 50 additional PropTech solutions, including digital leasing and touring, remote access, and IoT. Owners and operators have found the technology allows them to be more proactive with operations and build stronger relationships with their communities.
Since its launch, Alfred has been focused on elevating the resident experience. Providing properties with a perspective on how to physically run a building from every job standpoint, and a unique understanding of what residents are looking for and how to earn their trust has uniquely positioned them to tackle the challenges that property owners and operators face. The Alfred Resident App serves as a remote control for buildings, where renters can book amenity spaces, pay their rent, manage packages, easily submit maintenance requests, and connect with other residents within their community. To integrate the resident journey, the app also acts as a personal sidekick to help with everything from home cleanings, onsite car washes, pet care, and access to national offers. Alfred continues to expand their offerings to provide a resident-first experience that makes a material difference to a resident’s quality of life. In May 2021, Alfred acquired HOM, a wellness and events platform that offers user-engaged programming such as fitness classes and social events, that is managed from a centralized platform and creates a community of like-minded residents that live in the same building or neighborhood.
After years of impressive growth, Alfred made two huge announcements on March 8th of this year. In addition to closing a funding round of $125M, they announced the acquisition of RKW Residential, a residential property management company comprising 30,000 single-family and multi-family rentals throughout the Southeast US. Adding these units to Alfred’s current customer base, the company now serves over 173,000 units, and that number is growing quickly.
Both Jessica and Marcela have earned MBAs from Harvard Business School, while growing the Alfred business from their apartment. Together they have proven that women led companies can not only thrive, but also dominate in this industry. Alfred has quickly grown into the largest technology provider in the residential space.
Corcoran is a household name thanks to their eponymous founder Barbara Corcoran. Barbara sold her company to Realogy in September 2001. At that time, the company had 11 offices and approx. 600 agents. After the acquisition closed, Pamela Liebman, who started with Corcoran as an agent in 1984, took the helm as CEO.
Over the years, Corcoran continued to dominate in what many would consider the toughest market in the country - NYC. They expanded to the Hamptons and Florida and completed acquisitions which included Citi Habitats (the largest Rental company in NYC). Corcoran continued to recruit top performing agents and outperform many of their competitors, but that was just the beginning. In 2020, Corcoran announced that they were going to begin franchising their award winning brand.
Franchising a real estate company is difficult, but Pamela and her team made it look easy. In 2 short years, they had over 160 offices, 5,700+ agents, and were just named the #1 fastest growing franchise brand based on year-over-year sales volume by T3 Sixty’s Real Estate Almanac. I anticipate that Corcoran signs will appear in front yards across every major market in the very near future.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I often write about Tenant Experience Apps. Although we have seen consolidation in this space over the past few months, there are still a number of players that are fiercely competing for market share. I first met Thru (Cohesion’s CEO and Cofounder) while I was researching an article in 2021. She invited me to a product demo, and I was blown away by what I saw. While they offered some similar features that other tenant apps provide, their focus on tools for smart building operations, autonomous building optimization, and data analytics is the most comprehensive offering that I have seen. Cohesion has the only Indoor Air Quality optimization program that increases fresh air into spaces by commanding the BAS when elevated pollutants are detected, providing for a healthy building experience. In addition, they released an ESG building level report last year that takes data from multiple sources and gives owners first-of-its-kind transparency. I also like that their User Interface is super clean and user friendly with new features added continuously.
Although I was very impressed with Cohesion’s platform, I was equally impressed with Thru. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign with an MBA from Kellogg, her vision for the future of smart building SaaS is second to none. Thru’s ability to communicate with all stakeholders and execute on her strategy, is a big reason why I expect Cohesion to continue to scale and grab market share.
To say that Nikki Greenberg is busy would be an understatement. She is currently the Head of Technology Strategy at QIC Real Estate, Founder & Global Ambassador of Women in PropTech, and Founder of Real Estate of the Future. Woman in PropTech was founded in 2018, with a mission of promoting thought leadership, tackling diversity issues, and connecting brilliant individuals working in PropTech globally. Women in PropTech has chapters in New York, Toronto, and London, with plans to expand into other cities in the near future.
Nikki has a distinguished career in the real estate industry creating award-winning transformative mixed-use real estate developments for global organizations. Along with her many valuable contributions to the industry, one of things that has always impressed me with her is her vast knowledge of so many different facets of PropTech. Her prior speaking engagements have covered subjects ranging from innovation, technology, disruption, design, robots, sustainability, architecture, and the future of smart buildings.
Nikki has been recognized for her work and has achieved impressive recognitions including: Top 100 Real Estate Executive, Top 25 CRE Innovator, and Top 10 Futurist Keynote Speaker.
Mikki Ward (EQ Office / a Blackstone company)
Blackstone, a Fortune 500 Company, is one of the largest investment firms on the planet. They began investing in Real Estate in 1991, and have grown their real estate portfolio to become the largest owner of commercial real estate globally. They own and operate assets across every major geography and sector, including logistics, housing, life science, office, content creation, and hospitality.
EQ Office (originally named Equity Office) was founded by Sam Zell in 1976. In 2007, Blackstone acquired EQ Office for $39B. The company currently owns and operates 80 buildings comprising roughly 40M SF. With a real estate portfolio this vast, and backed by the enormous resources of Blackstone, EQ Office is leveraging technology to provide game-changing services to support the changing needs of the workforce, while continuing to provide an industry-leading level of tenant experience. This is where Mikki Ward comes in.
Mikki is the VP of Technology for EQ Office where she is tasked with evaluating, piloting, and developing new technologies that enhance the relationship with the customer. Her approach is unique, as she views tech as a partnership opportunity to help evolve tools to best suit occupier and property management needs. Her responsibilities include advancing EQ Office’s use of AI, automation and data analytics with a focus on customer/tenant services, automatizing for the future of work, security & access control, data acquisitions & monetization, multimedia, and experience design. Mikki joined Blackstone in May 2019, and has had an outsized impact on the success of the company. Blackstone’s leadership in the real estate industry often sets the standard that other companies strive for, so her influence extends across the entire real estate industry.
EDENS is one of the largest private developers, owners, and operators of retail real estate, with assets valued at roughly $6.5B. After joining the company as Chief Investment Officer in 1997, Jodie was named President in 2002, and then took the helm at EDENS in 2015 when she was named CEO. Over the course of her career, Jodie has been responsible for the development, redevelopment, acquisitions, and disposition of more than $20B in retail assets.
Technology has played an ever more increasing role in the retail sector. EDENS harnesses technology for many different initiatives, but none that resonate with me as much as their commitment to sustainability and a cleaner environment. Below is a sample of some of the amazing achievements that EDENS accomplished.
Jodie’s influence extends beyond EDENS. She sits on the board of directors for one of largest Real Estate Services Companies in the world: Cushman & Wakefield. Additionally, she serves on the boards of The Real Estate Round Table, Wofford College and Milhaus.
Caryn Seidman-Becker (CLEAR)
Most companies aim to improve the lives of their customers in some way, but every once in a while a company offers a solution which is truly life changing. For me, one of those companies is CLEAR. I travel often for work, and typically find myself running through airports to make sure I can catch my flight. My sprints usually come to a screeching halt when I get to security. All too common is the never ending line of passengers crisscrossing back and forth between the rope dividers, waiting for their turn to present their identification. The minutes seem to evaporate as my departure times grow closer and closer, yet the line moves at a snail’s pace. And then I discovered CLEAR.
CLEAR has lanes at airports all across the country. After a one-time enrollment process (it takes about 5 minutes), passengers never need to wait in a line again, nor do they need to worry about taking out their ID (which is not easy to do when your arms are filled with luggage). With CLEAR, passengers verify their identity by looking into the kiosk (the kiosks utilize readers that scan your iris), and then re-enter the queue right at the metal detectors. CLEAR has 100+ lanes available at over 40 airports across the U.S.
Now you may wonder what CLEAR has to do with PropTech. In addition to their kiosks, CLEAR has rolled out a product called Health Pass. CLEAR Health Pass provides a solution to companies to allow employees and visitors to seamlessly upload proof of vaccination, negative COVID-19 tests, and fill out health surveys. Health Pass is fully customizable so companies can decide what requirements must be completed for entry from their employees and visitors. And it's not just for offices. This technology is available for sporting arenas, concert halls, and just about any place where people gather.
As the Cofounder and CEO of CLEAR, Caryn has overseen the company where she leads a team of over 2,000 employees as they continue to remove friction and add efficiencies as their customers travel, work, and play.