Industry Insights

“Disruption is not a dirty word in CRE”: Buildout CEO Vishu Ramanathan weighs in at the NAR Expo

November 23, 2016

Buildout is committed to innovating in the world of commercial real estate tech. An active player in industry conversations, CEO and co-founder Vishu Ramanathan recently participated in the panel “Disruption is not a dirty word in CRE” at the NAR Conference & Expo. He provided insights on how CRE tech has evolved and where it’s going, addressed the challenges of integration in an industry of proprietary information, and talked about the influence of millennials and the “new way” to develop software that solves brokerages’ problems. If you weren’t in attendance, you can catch some of his key insights here.

How do you define disruption and how do you make it sound appealing as opposed to a threat?
My definition of disruption is something that completely changes the market. For example, think about what Craigslist did to newspapers. They took a billion-dollar classified market and turned it into a million-dollar classified market by offering a more effective, free platform. That’s disruption. There’s no point in being afraid of disruption because it’ll happen whether you’re afraid or not. It’s how we find better solutions to outdated ideas and systems.

In commercial real estate specifically, disruption isn’t yet part of the conversation because we’re still trying to evolve. You often hear that brokers and other CRE professionals don’t like technology or are slow to adopt it, but I don’t think that’s true. I think the technology available simply hasn’t been worth adopting, so the onus is on us as tech providers to develop something that is really needed.

How do you ensure you’re attracting millennials to work with you?
Everyone in my office is a millennial and here’s what is interesting about them compared to me: I was ahead of the curve because I had a computer when I was 10 years old, but millennials have all grown up with technology. They have a different attitude toward how they learn and use it. In the 80s, we carefully read the manual and proceeded with caution out of fear of breaking something.

Today, I try to foster that millennial attitude of just clicking around and learning through trial and error, and we try to embrace that attitude in how we design our product. But I think it’s dangerous to frame attitudes about technology by age. While there is something to be said about being a digital native, some of the most technologically sophisticated and intelligent people I’ve known were older than I am.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in CRE tech over the last few years?
Integration has been the biggest change over the past couple years in CRE, and Buildout has been participating in a big way. We’ve integrated with ClientLook and continue to explore integrations with other platforms on a regular basis. But it’s interesting to talk about integration in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry that trades in facts. How are you going to share proprietary information? Practically speaking, it’s very easy to move data that you own between applications, but getting into the boundaries of data that you don’t own is where we’re just starting to see some movement.

You shouldn’t be worried that the broker down the street has the same facts as you, because this industry is built on more than facts. A broker’s success relies on attitude, hustle and personality and we should keep that in mind as the industry continues to evolve.

What do you recommend your audience do when they are choosing a new technology? What should their criteria be?
One of the fundamentals I live by in my own life is that before I make a decision, I stop to make sure I understand what I’m doing. When you’re considering implementing a new technology, take a careful look to make sure you understand it’s capabilities before pulling the trigger. I’ve seen eyes glaze over as a person looks at a piece of software and watched people make assumptions about the problems they hope a tool will solve. Then six months down the line, they discover that it’s not exactly what they were hoping it would be.

How do you engage with users before you build and as you build to make your product worthwhile?
Buildout’s story is an example of developing software the new way. The old way was to spend years building in a vacuum, then releasing it and hoping for the best. I have a background as a software developer, but before we got started on Buildout, my partner and I decided to first find an industry where we could be useful. We discovered the need for technology integration in the CRE industry and began working with brokers directly to solve their problems with our new technology, little by little.

Eventually, we had a full suite of tools that fit right into the hands of marketing administrators. We learned that the way to get honest, effective feedback is to first convince users to pay for your products and services as you develop.

What disruptive technology in other industries do you think could affect the CRE world?
Self-driving cars and virtual reality have the potential to completely change the industry. On the topic of virtual reality, my partner asked me, “If VR is so good, why would you have to go to the office?” It’s true that location might one day become an unimportant factor in CRE. But we’re barely beginning to see the impact these technologies could have on the world and we don’t yet know how much things will change.

At the conference, Vishu also spoke with Michael Bull of The Commercial Real Estate Show about Buildout’s high-quality marketing document automation and integration capabilities. Watch the interview here and contact us if you have questions about integrating technology at your brokerage.

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