Q&A With TheSquareFoot CEO: We're Just In The First Inning Of The Real Estate Tech Boom
If you've been following Bisnow's Q&As recently (or the insane funding rounds), you may have picked up that real estate tech is, well, booming. While some say the tech explosion might go the way of the dot-com bubble, Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO of TheSquareFoot, sees a whole lot more to come in the real estate tech sphere. Bisnow sat down with him for his take on the newly burgeoning sector.
Bisnow: You just moved TheSquareFoot from Houston to NYC—what about the Manhattan market made the move successful?
Jonathan Wasserstrum: It was two things. One, the company is a commercial real estate tech company, and obviously NYC is the commercial real estate capital of the country and for lots of intents and purposes the world. It just made a lot of sense to move our businesses here.
Bisnow: Tell me a bit about TheSquareFoot.
Jonathan Wasserstrum: We’re an online marketplace for commercial real estate leasing. It starts with the transparency of the online platform and goes through the transactional process, and at every step we use tech to make the process more enjoyable and efficient for both brokers and clients.
Bisnow: Do you think at some point a market like, say, Houston would be more ready for TheSquareFoot?
Jonathan Wasserstrum: Well, we're trying to build out our operations, but we’re trying to hire the best tech people, the best marketing people, the best product people—and you’ll find all of those in NYC. From the real estate transaction side, we’ll have those people all around the country.
Bisnow: What was it that made you switch from commercial real estate to the tech sphere?
Jonathan Wasserstrum: Right now I spend half of my time doing tech stuff and half doing startup stuff, so I’m in both. But the impetus for starting the business was a friend of mine looking for space for his last company and struggling with the process. So me, him and his friend from college started the company to try to fix that. It was a natural growth coming from the real estate industry, we were just trying to bring tech and efficiency to that leasing process.
Bisnow: It does seem like commercial real estate has been slower to adapt to tech than other sectors, why is that?
Jonathan Wasserstrum: Commercial real estate isn’t a consumer-driven business. The people making decisions on the tenant side are business owners, and the people making the decisions on the landlord side are obviously business owners as well—and businesses in general are slower to adopt tech. You see that in every sphere. On the travel side for example, Kayak is a relatively consumer-facing company—it’s only relatively recently that you see people trying to bring efficiency to the business travel space.
I think similar things are going on in real estate. On the residential side of real estate, consumers are on both sides of the transaction—if you’re buying a house or selling a house you’re doing it as a consumer, and you’re used to a certain type of experience as a consumer.
Bisnow: What are some further innovations in commercial real estate tech you see coming?
Jonathan Wasserstrum: When we started this business like five years ago, it’s amazing how little tech landlords and tenants used, but in the last five years we’ve seen a whole lot of adoption on both sides of the industry, but we’re still in the first, maybe second inning. Especially, again, when you compare commercial with residential real estate. We’re just slower to adopt—and for all of the right reasons, actually. On the commercial side, Floored is doing cool stuff with floor plans and 3D imaging, Reonomy’s doing interesting things on the data side, groups like VTS and Hightower are bringing a tremendous amount of ease to the process.