Q&A: Nick Romito, Brandon Weber On How VTS, Hightower's $300M Deal Came Together
When asked how he's been able to remain friends with Hightower CEO Brandon Weber after years of direct competition, VTS CEO Nick Romito says, "that's easy: if you take Brandon’s height and my hair, you have the perfect human."
The two became co-workers yesterday after a surprising merger that will see Nick retain his CEO title and Brandon become the chief product officer of the three-year-old, 275-person consolidated company.
"Nick is a surfer from Jersey, and I’m a climber from Alaska," Brandon adds. "It’s perfect. A match made in heaven."
Now, the combined company not only has to create the "best of both worlds" with its unified platform, offices and employees, but it has to figure out what technological advances and market moves it needs to make to keep innovating and clients happy.
Pictured, from left, are VTS CTO Karl Baum, Hightower CPO Donald DeSantis, VTS CEO Nick Romito, Hightower CEO Brandon Weber, VTS CRO Ryan Masiello and Hightower CTO Niall Smart.
Bisnow: How did this all come together?
Nick Romito: Brandon and I often had conversations about the market and where we thought it should go. Enough of those conversations led to the idea that we could get ahead faster if we worked together.
Brandon Weber: We would also get feedback from customers asking us about [a merger] because they liked a capability of the other platform, but didn’t like logging into both systems.
Bisnow: What are some things you admired about each other’s companies before the merge?
Nick: Hightower has an eye for user experience and design, and did a beautiful job of keeping the interface simple and easy to use. Bringing that into the VTS recipe is exciting.
Brandon: VTS has done a great job of building tools to help users effectively market space.
Bisnow: Was there anything about the current market that made now the best time to merge?
Brandon: I can’t think of any external drivers on our minds as we talked. It was more centered around the realization we had the same vision of the future we wanted to make for commercial real estate. It also became clear a merger would dramatically improve the product experience. Who knows when the exact right time is, but it felt right.
Bisnow: The company is now united under the VTS name. How was that decision made?
Nick: It was a tough one. They’re both great names and products, but we had to pick. VTS is a little bit bigger in terms of square footage, and we felt it was a stronger name.
Bisnow: Brandon, how does it feel to let go of the name you spent all this time to build?
Brandon: The notion of Hightower as an entity going away is obviously not easy, but it’s the right thing. We’ll see. The Hightower brand may peek its way out as we think about the platform going forward.
Bisnow: Was there any consideration of a new name or a combination of the two?
Nick: There was, but we’ve spent so much time building brand equity. To start from scratch felt like adding challenges to already challenging deals.
Bisnow: As former competitors, how were you able to maintain a good relationship so a merger could be possible?
Nick: If you admire someone’s work and share the same dream, it’s hard not to get along.
Brandon: Luckily for Nick and I, we both played sports and were in commercial real estate brokerage before starting our companies. We come from a world where you compete your butt off during the day, but then can go grab beers with your competitor. It also didn’t hurt that we immediately liked each other as human beings.
Bisnow: What are the first things you’re planning to work on?
Brandon: Over the next six to 12 months, we’re going to be taking the best capabilities from both platforms. We’re also thinking about the leaps we can take together from an ambitious technology standpoint. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about that, so stay tuned.
Nick: Another thing we’re focused on is the integration of all these people meeting for the first time and making sure everyone meshes quickly.
Bisnow: Are you planning to get a singular office, or have workers shift around between your current HQs?
Nick: We’re going to be in two spaces for about two months. And then, while we were doing our search for new space, the floor below us became available and we jumped on it. Our footprint will be about 32k SF.
Bisnow: MetaProp NYC’s Zach Aarons said the merger was the “tip of the iceberg” of future acquisitions. Is that in the cards?
Nick: Both of us were looking at things before, and I don’t think that’s going to change.
Brandon: We’re always looking. I can’t speak to anything now, but the rules are pretty simple: if there’s an opportunity to deliver obvious, near-term value to our clients, we’ll build it, acquire it or partner with it.
Bisnow: VTS now covers 5.5B SF of commercial space across the US and UK. Are you looking at any other markets?
Brandon: Hightower and VTS service more than 15 countries through our existing client base. Right now, we’re laser-focused on making sure our UK clients get the kind of service we’ve become known for in North America.