We’re always happy to learn what our fellow entrepreneurs are doing to promote technology in the CRE industry. The News Funnel is a channel where brokers, landlords, investors and PR professionals publish, curate and read industry news. We spoke with Michael Beckerman, founder of The News Funnel, and a CRE public relations veteran, about the challenges and successes he encountered while building and promoting his startup.
What are the main challenges in launching/promoting a tech company in the CRE industry?
I’ve been in the technology part of CRE for the past four years. I spent the first year and a half building and refining The News Funnel and since then, taking it to market. In the process, I’ve met with as many CRE tech entrepreneurs as possible, and after speaking to them and thinking about my own journey, I think there are three core challenges in the space:
Technology has not been a core component of this industry to date. Historically, during the course of a CRE professional’s career, they did not really have to use technology because success in the industry was more about relationships than technology. It was always "who you knew and what you knew." Technology was never a big part of the equation; it’s just not part of the DNA of the commercial sector.
Historically, the CRE industry has not been transparent. You are taught to eat what you kill, and to hoard information because that's historically been the competitive edge.
Technology never developed in CRE as a cottage industry. There wasn’t a demand or a mandate for it, but of course, it is rapidly changing now.
What has caused the recent proliferation of CRE tech startups?
If you look at residential real estate, Zillow and Trulia grew because their customers were comfortable with technology and embracing it everyday ... and so those were the sites that mandated brokers and service providers needed to be up on all things tech.
In the past two years, we’ve seen a growing momentum of technology in commercial real estate. Literally every day, my team and I are contacted by another new startup that we have not heard of before that wants to promote itself on our platform. It's amazing!
Why? This is because demand is coming from commercial real estate clients and the large national firms. Tenants and institutions are starting to say, “We’re not going to hire you until you understand technology, and prove to us that you can package and present data in the way we’re expecting of you, because that's how we operate at our company.” Show me a small or large company today that isn't using Google, Salesforce or Apple products???
Just look at the new CBRE headquarters office in Los Angeles, which was designed to look like CBRE tenants’ spaces; CBRE wants its brokers to think and communicate like its clients. They completely get it. And JLL, Colliers, Avison Young, Lee & Associates and Cushman & Wakefield are right there too. The days of playing golf, printing out market reports and showing crappy old photos are gone.
Increasingly, brokers are discovering that they can create their own competitive advantage by embracing all of the new tools at their disposal.
What were some specific challenges for The News Funnel?
I created The News Funnel because after working in public relations in the real estate industry for 25 years, I realized the media landscape had become too fragmented and inefficient. A singular, centralized hub for all industry news and content was needed. And, a tool was needed to allow professionals to only get the news that mattered most to them. That's why we built The News Funnel: Thousands of sources of content and everything is customizable.
For us, the major challenge was that industry professionals were not comfortable with technology and not accustomed, therefore, to using tools like ours. I write about this on my blog all the time. There was no website like The News Funnel, and it was difficult to explain the concept. So, my team and I did hundreds of demos to CRE professionals across the country: San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, New York and on and on. We went everywhere we could to demo the site. We got in front of groups as small as a few people, to as large as 100 plus and literally just showed them how to use it.
Another challenge was that thousands of companies in the industry were not used to creating content, and we had to make them comfortable with content marketing and self-publishing. That's another key component to our site. One of the ways to do that was to reach out to thought leaders and fellow bloggers like Coy Davidson, Jon Schultz, Jeremy Neuer, Duke Long, Chris Clark and Allen Buchanan, and others within companies who were early adopters. Our team does countless demos every single day, showing our users how to create content and self-publish.
We also produce a high volume of our own original content to drive traffic and engagement. We recently launched a video channel, where we feature our own videos produced in-house, and we have a very active blogging site as well. Our blog not only houses our own original posts, but we have about 25 industry leaders who contribute regularly. In addition to all of that, we recently acquired The CRE App Review in an effort to continue to encourage the industry to become educated on the latest technological solutions that can make their jobs so much easier.
How has your industry experience helped you promote The News Funnel?
Many of the entrepreneurs who launch CRE tech companies come from within the industry. Having spent so many years in the business, I directly experienced the issues that led me to launch The News Funnel. My clients would tell me that they were overwhelmed with too much news, a high percentage of which was not even relevant to them. Further, when they looked for a place to publish their own news, it was difficult because there were so few news outlets left.
Additionally, I was fortunate to have built many relationships with industry leaders who really helped me move our business forward. For example, I have about 20 individual investors at The News Funnel who are seasoned industry veterans - Steve Siegel, Jon Hanson and Scott Landis - and they add a huge amount of value to me personally, as well as the site.
What advice do you have for tech entrepreneurs?
- Set reasonable expectations. Success is going to take longer than you think, so be patient!
- Go to the marketplace with a basic product and get it out there. You don’t need to start with a Ferrari – just a basic idea that will allow people to kick the tires. People will forgive you if the product is not perfect, as long as you constantly accept critical feedback and get better.
- Make sure you have a loyal group of advisers within the industry that you can continuously call on for real, trustworthy, impartial and critical feedback. Your advisers will provide an outsider’s opinion and will steer you in the right direction. Reach out to as many Michael Mandels, Duke Longs, Nick Romitos and Jason Freedmans as possible.
Michael Beckerman is a 25-year veteran of the public relations industry and author of the Second Time Around blog. Michael was previously the founder and CEO of Beckerman Public Relations, a firm he grew to one of the largest independent agencies in the country.