What value do I bring to the startup?
Last week I shared my startup history, what I learned, and where I want to go next. To quickly recap, I’m blogging my way to a technical cofounder by sharing everything about my idea and the work that I’ve done thus far. Next week I plan to start speaking in detail about the idea, but first I thought it would be important to share a little bit about myself and the value that, I think, I bring to the startup.
This is important because this entire proposition (blogging my way a technical cofounder) is as much about what I can do for the project, as it is what you (potential technical cofounder) can do for the project.
Ironically enough, I started University as a Computer Science student. I’ve always been a tech geek (building computers, overclocking them for the fun of it, etc.) and so CompSci seemed like a perfectly logical choice. After a year and half of it though, I had had enough. Coding wasn’t for me. I dropped all my Computer Science classes and constructed my own custom schedule entailing courses like the Philosophy of Aesthetics, Urbanization of Ancient Cities, French Literature and other seemingly unrelated courses. I loved technology and science, but I also loved design, cities, business, art and other topics that programming wasn’t satiating.
Eventually, I transferred schools and majored in architecture. For me, I saw it as the perfect combination of technology/science and art/design. It was awesome. But I very quickly realized that architects were not the “master builders” they once were. They were also not the entrepreneurs who were truly shaping our cities. Sure, celebrity “starchitects” have a lot more design freedom, but for the large majority of working architects they’re implementing a client’s vision and that client is a real estate developer.
In the architectural community, development is referred to as this alternate and evil universe — the dark side. It’s a world where design purity is sacrificed for financial gain. But is it better to critique the establishment from afar or to try and change the establishment from within? I chose the latter and went on to do my Masters in both Architecture and Real Estate Development at the University of Pennsylvania. Since then I’ve worked exclusively in the real estate industry.
The Startup Itch
At the same time, I’ve had this nagging itch that the real estate industry is prime for disruption: It’s slow moving, fragmented, archaic, local, controlled by few players, and protectionist. Yes, real estate startups are common, but the majority are focused on listings and agents. Real estate is much more complicated than that. Popularise is a really interesting concept; essentially crowd-sourced real estate development. This is the kind of thinking that will change the industry (more discussion on this in subsequent posts).
To further synthesize the above, here’s what I’m proposing as my value-add:
- I like pitching. Architecture school is just like working on a startup. You start with an idea, work on it day and night, and then pitch it to a panel of jurors who try and rip you apart. Clarity of the idea and how you present it matters.
- I’m a designer. I spent 7 years developing a design sensibility and playing around in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, AutoCAD, Rhino3D, etc. I’ll tackle the front-end work.
- I bring industry knowledge and contacts. How does that old saying go: Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly? To disrupt the industry, we should know how it works and we should know the major players (think strategic partnerships). I’m also proposing that the target market be real estate professionals, so this is critical.
- I’m ambitious. I’m not going to stop until we discover the next thing for the real estate industry. Even if we have to sell Hope in a Bowl. What I have right now may not be it. In all likelihood it isn’t. But with a passionate and committed team, I have no doubt that we’ll eventually discover it.
- I’m not afraid of getting technical. In fact, I contemplated just learning to code myself (I do have a base). However, I believe in core competencies and I believe in the power of a solid team. A single founder is a tough starting point.
- I have experience running complex projects. Building buildings has taught me how to bring together large groups of diverse people. It’s also taught me how to manage an array of different stakeholders (municipalities, communities, tenants, etc.), while at the same time jumping between the details (where should this elevator go?) and the big picture (how will the macro economy impact my leasing?).
- I know I don’t know everything. I have a diverse background, but I’m certainly not deluded enough to think I have all the answers. Even if you know nothing about real estate, I’m going to value your opinion. I want to reiterate that, even though I’ve been working to refine the vision, this is not about you building my idea. To be successful, it needs be us building our vision.
Next post: The Idea