Origin Stories: Vero Co-Founder Joe Ben-Zvi On How Getting Unlucky Changed His Career
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
Vero Leasing co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Joe Ben-Zvi had a couple of stepping stones on his route to the CRE career that fits just right. After getting a bachelor's degree in arts and science from New York University, he started working for a small investor flipping homes on Long Island. But it seemed like the real estate agents who showed those homes were making more money, so he got his real estate license and became a broker.
He started in CRE in 2000, showing multifamily units for lease in Manhattan. It didn't work out for him right away — he didn't close many deals that first year. But he stuck with it and three years later began running a brokerage of his own. Then, the recession hit, everything fell apart and he had to make an even bigger change.
He landed in proptech and fell in love. He is now the chief operating officer of Vero Leasing, a software company he co-founded in 2019 that automates residential applicant screening and leasing.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Ben-Zvi: When I was 22, I worked for a small investor who was flipping homes in Montauk, Long Island. We were always interviewing Realtors to market the properties we redeveloped. I was intrigued by how much these Realtors were clearing in commissions on a $4M sale. At the end of that summer, I enrolled in a real estate licensing course at Long Island University and was licensed within four weeks.
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE? How much did you make?
Ben-Zvi: My first job in CRE was as a rental agent working as a shower for property owners who owned many of the chic studios and lofts in and around SoHo and the West Village in NYC.
I wasn’t very good at it, I only made $23K my first year. It was a 100% commission role, and I wasn’t great at convincing people to rent a 150 SF apartment.
Bisnow: Was it your first choice?
Ben-Zvi: I turned down a role working for CIBC as a trader. I sometimes think [about] where I'd be if I had taken that role.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE?
Ben-Zvi: Other than a real estate license granted by the good people at the Department of State in New York — NONE.
Bisnow: How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Ben-Zvi: Well, it’s kind of a requisite — you can’t transact without a license. The courses themselves weren’t very helpful, at least not for selling and deal-making, which were skills that not many 22-year-olds have.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Ben-Zvi: I wish I was more outgoing.
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?
Ben-Zvi: Flipping homes with a developer in Montauk. There weren’t many transferable skills between that role and my new career. One was focused on operations and highly technical, the other was based entirely on market dynamics and customer loyalty.
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you?
Ben-Zvi: During the Great Recession of 2009, as the CRE market was melting down, I was the owner of a 6-year-old company specializing in brokerage. Our income dried up in six months, and it became all too clear it was time to close my company. I took three months off and traveled to Europe. When I got back, I decided to join a software company that specialized in real estate data. I never had a desk job before and knew very little about SaaS companies, but those trying times ultimately worked out in my favor.
Bisnow: Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?
Ben-Zvi: No, I was a natural at the role. In fact, that career pivot is how I got to where I am today.
Having worked in both CRE development and brokerage, my insights into the industry were extremely unique and valuable. I was able to build relationships and grow our business by partnering with real estate professionals. My real estate experience is what helped me build trust with my new client base.
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Ben-Zvi: The first CRE company I worked for had a fantastic mentorship program. I'm still friends with some of the people I met while I was there. I quickly learned that this industry is built on relationships and the importance of managing those relationships.
After all of these years in the industry, my belief in the importance of relationships has only been reaffirmed.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Ben-Zvi: My first mentor was the top producer in the office for three years running. I was 22 and he was 30, and it seemed like he knew everything I was trying to learn. It was a natural fit, and that relationship is still going strong today. Over the last 10 years, I've had several sponsors, almost all from the real estate sector, who have been instrumental in my career.
I was taught how to trust and how to have empathy, how to overlook minor obstacles and focus on higher achievement. Also, when you are comfortable letting your guard down around someone, you benefit from more direct and honest feedback. It also lets you get to know yourself better personally and professionally. My mentors and sponsors have allowed me to see who I am and also discover who I want to be.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Ben-Zvi: Trust your gut about people. I’ve been told that I'm a very trusting person, and it hasn’t always worked out for the best or me. Another lesson I learned was to move quickly and make decisions with confidence — it's always better than no decision.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Ben-Zvi: It's not easy, but you learn to love it. I also suggest taking time to build and curate relationships. You’ll be happier with a network that supports your career development and hopefully more successful as a result.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Ben-Zvi: I’d wish for more luck.