Origin Stories: CoCreations’ Rajdeep Gahir On Startup Culture And The Harsh Nature Of Commercial Real Estate
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
Rajdeep Gahir did not come in to commercial property via the traditional route — a coworking startup you may have heard of was her bridgehead to the sector, and the place where she first experienced the tension between the speed at which things move in commercial real estate and the speed at which startups typically operate.
That experience naturally segued into establishing her own businesses, in fields as diverse as startup and incubator consultancy business CoCreations, co-living firm Vivahouse and e-commerce platform Wing It Cosmetics. The crash course in real estate risk, intensity and the occasionally harsh nature of the business has served her well.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Gahir: Through a venture capitalist friend who recommended I check out a cool proptech company to join at the time (it was 2013 so it was ahead of the curve of the proptech phenomenon) … that company was called WeWork, which again was an unknown name in 2014. How things change!
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?
Gahir: Joining WeWork in 2014 to head up their European expansion. Honestly I didn't even think of myself in the CRE industry, I thought of myself in a fast growing startup where we were just setting up cool offices at the speed of lightning! I was previously working for myself through my own consulting company with corporate clients (doing pretty well for my early 20s) so I actually took a bit of a pay cut, as I was more incentivised by the learning experience and a 100% travel contract. I spent time in NYC, Boston, Washington, D.C., London and Amsterdam opening sites.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Gahir: Nothing, I learnt everything on the job … and I’m still learning. I have a degree from [The London School of Economics and Political Science] in economics and had spent time in investment banking, so that gave me the intuitive commercial and numerical understanding, which has been critical to be able to structure and push deals.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Gahir: I think spending time as an analyst in a real estate company may have helped with the grounding for modelling and deals as well as just the basics like knowing a good quantity surveyor and basic planning law etc. I skipped that part and so had to self educate myself with the basics on the go through finding experts, asking a lot of questions and burning the midnight oil on figuring out my financial models!
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?
Gahir: I started my career in finance but quickly moved to working in tech startups and starting my own innovation consulting business.
Bisnow: If you changed careers, did you bring anything with you from your past career that has helped you thrive in CRE, or, on the flip side, anything you had to unlearn in order to succeed here?
Gahir: Yes, 100%. I brought in an understanding and experience of the application of technology to the largest and last industry to be disrupted by it, exactly at a time when the tide was changing. Having my own consulting business and having done sales jobs in my early career also helped as success in the industry is a lot about proactive business development, relationship building and being able to sell yourself and a deal. If anything I needed to unlearn my lack of patience and being accustomed to things moving quickly!
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting?
Gahir: I think I’ve constantly thought about the need to adapt, change my strategy or pause and try a new approach. That’s the only way to keep going and grow, especially in what has been a challenging few years. I’m not one to think of quitting, but have certainly had many episodes of real frustration over the sheer time things take, or feeling let down on a deal that didn’t go through, or from others I’ve been reliant on. Unless you’re very lucky, it’s very hard to pull off things single handedly, you need investors, partners, surveyors, solicitors, etc., that you can trust. I’ve dealt with this frustration by counterbalancing. I now also have an e-commerce business (Wing it Cosmetics) that’s self funded, super fast and is B-to-C [business to consumer] vs. B-to-B [business to business], which removes a lot of the “human capital” risk and reliance. When I have a frustrating day, it calms me down to look at sales happening themselves online! Having a “fast” stream for income (e-commerce) and a “slower” stream for value (real estate) is a happy place.
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Gahir: Early impressions from a fast growth tech startup was that it's super exciting. Comparatively when I got out and started exploring the CRE industry on a more grassroots level it seemed a little slow and antiquated. There was a lot of old money where you needed to be “in the know.” I’ve taken combining the best of both worlds as a positive opportunity.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Gahir: I wish! I'm still looking if anyone wants to be my door opening mentor. ;) In all honesty, a lack of this has made it a lot more challenging, however I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some great and genuinely supportive people along the way.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Gahir: That you should never expect any favours in business, regardless of if you’re friends or have payed it forward. Risk and gain is black and white and people will always protect their own interests first whatever the cost is on others. I have definitely learnt this the hard way.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Gahir: It’s an industry where there is a combination of large amounts of money and large amounts of risk — that makes it naturally harsh and intense. You need grit to do well. So be real with yourself and if you can hack it. It’s also 1,000 times harder if you don’t come from money and are relying on strangers to back you; it will take a lot longer to get into the more exciting aspects of the industry/building things yourself.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Gahir: Nothing, it's been a colourful learning ride!