Origin Stories: 3 Years Into CRE, Mint House Founder Will Lucas Is Glad He Studied Finance, Wishes He'd Studied Construction
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
Will Lucas is on job No. 1 in the commercial real estate industry. After spending several years in the finance world, the serial entrepreneur founded Mint House, which describes itself as an Airbnb-style startup for business travelers, in 2017. The company provides contactless, aparthotel accommodations with the high-end amenities and finishes that business travelers prefer in urban locations throughout the U.S.
Lucas co-founded First Help Financial, a financial services company in the auto space, after graduating from Duke University in 2006 with a bachelor's in economics, marketing and management. He followed that up with an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012, and then spent years working in private equity. He also served as a principal at Prompt Growth, where he focused on working with and investing in digital businesses.
Though he had no formal real estate training or education, Lucas has found the skills and knowledge he gained elsewhere, especially in analytics, modeling, finances and fundraising, have served him well, though he wishes he'd known a bit more about construction before entering the industry.
He has just embarked on an even more exciting journey — he and his wife, Anne, welcomed their first child, Molly, on July 27.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Lucas: I was introduced to CRE through my journey at Mint House, where we are building the hospitality company model of the future.
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?
Lucas: My first job in CRE was at Mint House. I had been an entrepreneur for my whole career and saw an opportunity to build a new type of hospitality company.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Lucas: I have a B.S. degree in economics from Duke University and an MBA with a major in finance and entrepreneurship from Wharton. While I did take some CRE classes at Wharton, these degrees taught me the fundamental principles that are important in CRE, rather than giving me direct training.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Lucas: I think having some understanding of the construction process would be a very useful skill and I wish I had more of that coming into CRE.
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?
Lucas: I was an entrepreneur in the consumer space before getting into CRE.
Bisnow: If you changed careers, did you bring anything with you from your past career that has helped you thrive in CRE, or, on the flip side, anything you had to unlearn in order to succeed here?
Lucas: It’s important to have strong analytical and modeling skills to be able to analyze a deal properly. I also feel it’s important to be able to synthesize the result of the modeling into a marketable deck, which can then be used to raise capital. I brought these skills from my prior career, which have been really helpful.
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?
Lucas: It can be frustrating when you work on a deal for months only to have someone change their mind which scuttles the whole project. There have been a few times where it's caused me great frustration but as long as you have the right expectations that these sort of things happen then you should be able to manage.
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Lucas: It’s a very relationship-based and deal-centric industry. Nothing gets off the ground unless you can move all of the parties involved along in a transaction and provide the trust needed for everyone to get comfortable and to move.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Lucas: I have a mentor who was one of the top people at a multibillion-dollar REIT. He’s been instrumental in opening doors and making introductions, and also for very high-level macro market type discussions.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Lucas: I have learned that a deal is never a sure thing until the final document is signed and the money has been wired. Even if it feels like things are close, people have a funny way of changing their mind at the last second.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Lucas: That deals take much longer than you might expect. So if you are someone that needs instant rewards for your work then this likely won’t be a great industry for you.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Lucas: I would think about joining a management consulting firm or investment bank immediately after college as it’s a quick path to the well-rounded set of skills for a successful career.