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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Common Founder/CEO Brad Hargreaves

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.

In the four years since Common debuted its first building in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, the co-living industry has exploded in terms of its reach and diversity. 

Though the competition means that Common founder and CEO Brad Hargreaves is forced to innovate (such as with new ventures like family-focused apartment concept Kin), it also means that his idea turned out to be prescient and his timing nearly perfect — a far cry from one of Hargreaves' earliest ventures.

Common's Brad Hargreaves

Hargreaves discussed the fits and starts of his early career as an entrepreneur, as well as his concerns about the state of commercial real estate.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Hargreaves: We design and run apartments that make living in cities easier, more affordable and more fun.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Hargreaves: Before starting Common, I co-founded and built General Assembly, a global education provider teaching skills in technology, design and business. We educated over 70,000 students worldwide before selling the company to Adecco Group in 2018 for $412M. I am still incredibly passionate about skills-based education and job training — it’s a huge need in the United States and throughout the world.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Hargreaves: While in college I worked part time at a local biotechnology company doing sales. They made genome sequencers. Since I was the part-time college kid with no pull whatsoever, they put me on APAC [Asian Pacific] accounts. I spent a lot of time on the phone pitching $50K sequencers to Japanese scientists at 3 a.m. Eastern time. I did manage to sell a few.

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Hargreaves: They were all big deals when they happened! So at Common, it’d probably be our very first home, Common Pacific in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It’s a small building — 19 rooms in total — but it proved out the co-living concept and led to much bigger deals down the road.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Hargreaves: In 2007, I was running a game development studio. We raised venture money right before the downturn hit. Our burn rate was too high, we hadn’t figured out a revenue model for the games and we ran the company into the ground. I was only 23 at the time, but it was a brutal experience.

Co-living executives Ollie CEO Chris Bledsoe and Common CEO Brad Hargreaves in 2016

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?

Hargreaves: A residential developer once told me he “builds what the bank wants, not what the tenant wants.” Unfortunately, this sentiment is pervasive in the industry and is a real barrier to innovation, good design and a better renter experience.

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Hargreaves: NIMBYs, particularly rich ones who already got theirs and have effectively closed cities with lots of economic opportunity to new entrants due to high housing costs and a lack of construction.

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?

Hargreaves: My grandfather was a lifelong entrepreneur and has always been an inspiration to me. He is an extraordinarily hard worker and built a successful business from nothing.

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?

Hargreaves: The best? It’s never as good as it seems, nor as bad.

The worst? Unit economics don’t matter, just grab market share.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Hargreaves: My extravagances are all time sinks, not money sinks. Video games — particularly slow multiplayer strategy games — are still my guilty pleasure.

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Hargreaves: Nopa in San Francisco.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?

Hargreaves: LOL, no comment on that

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Hargreaves: In 2011, we decided to raise outside capital for General Assembly. It wasn’t an obvious choice, as the company was growing rapidly and could’ve been profitable on its own. But we brought on a great capital partner in Maveron and we were a better company for it. I now have a great relationship with Jason Stoffer there, and he went on to write the first check into Common as well in 2015.

Common CEO Brad Hargreaves

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?

Hargreaves: I grew up in a 1,500-person town in rural southern Arkansas. There wasn’t much going on, but my father worked for a paper company that owned a lot outside of town that was scattered with heavy machinery and lots of dogs. I enjoyed going there.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Hargreaves: Quantitative easing. Trump. Whatever deal I’m working on right then. An 8-month-old baby boy. Some combination of all the above.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Hargreaves: Our two awesome kids, Julian (2) and Milan (8 months).

CORRECTION, JUNE 4 12 P.M. ET: A previous version of this article misstated the location of Common's first location. This article has been updated.