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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With HqO CEO And Co-Founder Chase Garbarino

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

Chase Garbarino founded HqO in 2018 as his previous tech company was running out of funds. Boston-based HqO, a tenant experience platform, is his first foray into the commercial real estate world, but the app has taken off quickly. It is used across about 90M SF of CRE in North America, the UK and France, including by Blackstone's EQ Office at Willis Tower in Chicago. The app connects tenants to food and wellness options, provides access to conveniences like dry cleaning, and streamlines building access control and management tasks like conference room booking.

Garbarino, an avid Boston sports fan, doesn't have his head buried totally in the proptech space: He hopes to write children's books one day.

HqO CEO and co-founder Chase Garbarino

Bisnow: What is your favorite part of your job?

Garbarino: It's a tie between helping my HqO teammates develop personally and working directly with our customers to transform their real estate businesses to become much more customer-oriented through technology.  

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Garbarino: I had to file paperwork for an accounts receivable team at a healthcare business when I was in middle school. It was torture. At the same company, I had cleaning duties which I liked much better.

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

Garbarino: I'd either build another technology product for an industry that needs solutions to become more customer-focused, or I would go into the entertainment business. I love movies and storytelling. 

Bisnow: What deal are you proudest of? 

Garbarino: We have never lost a customer at HqO, so it is hard to pick just one, but in 2019 I would have to say our deal with Blackstone at the Willis Tower. It's an amazing asset with an amazing team at EQ Office. We're really just getting started on using our technology to transform the tenant experience there.

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

Garbarino: HqO is only two years old so I can't point to any major failures yet.

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Garbarino: Lack of basic business etiquette. Little things like how to ask for a meeting, how to make a proper introduction, who goes to whose office depending on the context of the meeting. Saying thank you, etc.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Garbarino: Fitness spending, far and away. I don't spend a lot of money on "things," but I spend on Barry's Bootcamp and the Peloton Treadmill.

Bisnow: What motivates you? 

Garbarino: I am driven to build an organization that is viewed as the platinum standard in its category. People think about Disney in entertainment and Blackstone in private equity. The tenant experience category is obviously a smaller space right now, but it has the potential to impact the lives of millions of people in addition to boosting corporate productivity. It’s something that I’m really passionate about, and my goal is to build a company that is top in its class. 

I would add that my general life goal is to be of service to my country. Whether through job creation by starting companies, creating employment opportunities for veterans, or simply being a good husband and father, I hope to be a net positive for America.

HqO CEO and co-founder Chase Garbarino

Bisnow: What advice do you wish you got when you started in CRE? 

Garbarino: I came into CRE through technology and have never worked in a traditional CRE business, so I am in a bit of a unique situation. Advice that I did get (luckily) was to really understand the finance of CRE before trying to create a tech solution to sell to landlords. It was the best advice I could have received, as it has pushed us at HqO to create a culture where all of our people truly understand our clients’ bottom line needs.

Bisnow: What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Garbarino: Prior to HqO, our business was called VentureApp, and it was an online B2B marketplace. The business wasn't scalable and the unit economics were terrible. We were running out of money when we ultimately identified the opportunity that would become HqO. 

It’s very risky to completely pivot a business and go into what is seen as an old-school industry that doesn't adopt technology, especially when you don't come from that industry. We had less than four months of runway and had to decide whether to go all-in on saving our existing business — VentureApp — or pursue this new opportunity. Luckily, we burned boats, as we say at HqO, and went all-in on creating the tenant experience software category. It turned out to be the right move.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Garbarino: Landlords hiring the wrong people — particularly third-party "consultants" — to advise them on their technology strategy. There is so much hype in proptech that there are a lot of people making a quick buck advising landlords when they really don't know enough about proptech to set landlords up for success.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit?

Garbarino: Sanibel Island in Florida.

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

Garbarino: My wife, Jess, and my [18]-month-old son Dash. A distant second is Boston sports.

Bisnow: What CRE trend do you think will have the most impact over the next few years?

Garbarino: Technology changing CRE. Technology is going to put owners in a position to be much closer to their customers and much more customer-oriented. I expect landlords’ ability to collect rich data on how people use their buildings to really have a tremendous impact.

Bisnow: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Garbarino: I love Harry Potter and want to write a fictional kids series of books some day.

Bisnow: What do you want your legacy to be? 

Garbarino: I put family first, built a world-leading organization and helped veterans that served our country.