Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Hello Alfred Co-Founder/CEO Marcela Sapone
This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.
Looking to make residents in your apartment building happier? Call up Marcela Sapone.
Sapone is the CEO of Hello Alfred, a “resident experience platform” she co-founded with Jess Beck in 2014 with a big goal: change the way people are living in cities, and free up their time to devote to something meaningful. Alfred Home Managers take care of menial tasks for residents, like grocery shopping (including unloading them into your fridge) or tidying up while residents are at work. Hospitality Managers, who are more like concierges, arrange for tech help or finding a birthday cake for delivery. Residents request services through an app.
The platform is being used in multifamily projects in 20 states by giants like Greystar and Related, which pay for the service and provide them to residents as a built-in amenity.
The company has been snapping up accolades, including being named one of Fast Company's 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World in 2018. It has been growing rapidly, and in May it acquired Bixby, a property management software company.
Sapone grew up abroad and met Beck while attending Harvard Business School. They started the company in Boston and have relocated its HQ to New York.
Bisnow: What is your favorite part of your job?
Sapone: Sending offer letters for people to join our team. Creating great jobs is the most rewarding thing you can do as a business owner.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
Sapone: Things that seem tough in the moment tend to be where you learn the most. Even my first job working at an iconic French restaurant while in school taught me more about people than any of my degrees.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
Sapone: Buying struggling retail and heritage brands and turning them around for the modern consumer.
Bisnow: What deal are you proudest of?
Sapone: We were the first company — ever — to do a national deal with Related, the company behind some of the country’s best residential buildings, Hudson Yards and co-owner of SoulCycle and Equinox. They pride themselves on the highest service standards, so having us push the market standard with them to include Alfred in-home hospitality was a landmark deal.
Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?
Sapone: Not giving myself permission to poach the best people from any industry, at any time, earlier. Now that we are confident we are going to set the standard for residential city living, we unabashedly recruit the best people in the world.
Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Sapone: People who don’t leave places better than they found it.
Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?
Sapone: Giving myself time — especially alone time.
Bisnow: What motivates you?
Sapone: Making cities better places for everyone to live. Making urban economies work for as many people as possible by looking back on what has worked and nurturing that, while adjusting what doesn’t work.
Bisnow: What advice do you wish you got when you started in CRE?
Sapone: Every real estate company and developer is a different ballgame. How people think about their work, make decisions and get things done varies wildly.
Bisnow: What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Sapone: The biggest risk was one I didn’t even take. When I was 12, my father moved our family to Copenhagen and later to Paris. It was my first time out of the country and I didn’t come back until college. He took a huge bet on what my life could be.
Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?
Sapone: People not working up to their potential.
Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit?
Sapone: Japan, especially a mix of Tokyo followed by taking the bullet train into the mountains.
Bisnow: Outside of work, what are you most passionate about?
Sapone: I have an old-school, daily yoga practice. I study under some of the best living yogis out there.
Bisnow: What CRE trend do you think will have the most impact over the next few years?
Sapone: It’s about the future of how we buy and consume. Our current version of retail is going out of business and has to be transformed to make online and offline work together. E-commerce needs to be better for the planet and allow for more sustainable delivery of the things we really need. Stores need [to] be more about experiences, services and creating local community. Ultimately it should be expanding the pie, not shrinking it.
Bisnow: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Sapone: I need Alfred more than anyone!
Bisnow: What do you want your legacy to be?
Sapone: I speak for my co-founder, Jess, and myself when I say that we hope we’re paving the way for a new kind of conscious company-building; one that serves the public and looks not only at itself but at the entire ecosystem. We think about this mission as a movement: to help save local business, create better jobs and lower waste. The idea of making money without purpose bores me, but creating a company that helps people and is built on trust is a legacy I can get behind.