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Origin Stories: Switching From Tech To CRE Taught Cherre CEO L.D. Salmanson Patience

This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.

Coming from a background in private equity and technology, Cherre CEO and co-founder L.D. Salmanson's adjustment to commercial real estate's slow pace hasn't been easy.

“Real estate, for the most part, is not a fast-moving industry, and it forces you to be more patient and supportive of long-term initiatives,” Salmanson said. “I am not very patient by nature — I love to see instant results, so it’s something with which I constantly struggle.”

Salmanson founded data management software company Cherre in 2016 with Ben Hizak, his first foray into commercial real estate. Though he has some background in the industry — his father is a real estate owner and developer, and Salmanson became involved in the Zell/Lurie Real Estate Center when he was getting an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania — his professional experience has been in the faster-paced world of founding, advising and investing in private technology companies. He was a principal in Knight Capital Group's private equity fund and co-founded Greencrest Capital, which enabled pre-IPO transactions in large tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Uber. 

Cherre CEO and co-founder L.D. Salmanson

Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE? 

Salmanson: My family has owned and developed real estate for many years, so in a sense, I was sort of born into it, even though I didn’t spend much time professionally in the industry until later in life.

Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?

Salmanson: Cherre is my first real job in the industry. I’ve spent my entire career in the technology industry — building and financing successful companies, predominantly around data. When we [Salmanson and Hizak] started Cherre we didn’t draw a salary, and even after we raised our first round, we continued to draw a minimum-wage salary (just enough to be eligible for medical insurance). I knew that each dollar I spent on new employees would yield more ultimately. 

Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?

Salmanson: I studied finance [as an] undergrad and later went to law school, so I was able to get a pretty rounded education around real estate financing and transactions. During my MBA at Wharton I also became very involved with the Zell Real Estate Center, which not only contributed greatly to my understanding of the industry but opened many doors that would become extremely valuable a decade later. 

Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE? 

Salmanson: Real estate, for the most part, is not a fast-moving industry, and it forces you to be more patient and supportive of long-term initiatives. I am not very patient by nature — I love to see instant results, so it’s something with which I constantly struggle. 

Cherre CEO and co-founder L.D. Salmanson

Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?

Salmanson: I led a private equity group for one of the largest investment banks in the world, focused on pre-IPO technology companies.

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?

Salmanson: I spent the previous years before starting Cherre working on private equity markets, and real estate is very much in that ballpark of assets. Many of the things we did previously are being replicated in our company today for real estate.

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? 

Salmanson: No … we’ve turned down offers to sell the company, and it’s not because we have some grand illusion of not being able to fail. On the contrary, we’ve done this before, so we know the odds. It’s that we made a conscious decision that we are really passionate about solving this problem and are willing to bet everything on making that a reality.

Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?

Salmanson: My impressions haven’t really changed. The industry has surely evolved a bit over the time we’ve been in it. 

Cherre CEO and co-founder L.D. Salmanson

Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE? 

Salmanson: Many — I’m fortunate to have a pretty deep bench of coaches and mentors that I speak with very regularly! I can’t imagine trying to do it without them. 

Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?

Salmanson: Focus on making people happy. People optimize for many things, either consciously or subconsciously, and I choose to optimize for happiness. Not just mine, but rather for everyone around me as well. Happy people work harder. Happy people buy more products. Happy people help you grow together. Make people happy, and you will succeed a little more at everything. 

Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?

Salmanson: I warn people that CRE is slow-moving and to be patient.  

Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?

Salmanson: I never really had a "career," so to speak, so I wouldn't even know what it is that I did to do all over again. I see life as opportunities — small, fleeting windows of optionality narrowing down to a path that looks good. The end is never clear — too many permutations to play out. However, the path is suddenly obvious. Magical, really. I follow those paths when I see them. My greatest regrets are the paths I forwent out of fear of getting lost.