WeWork’s approach to proptech startups
Ryan Salvas will join the “New Age of Tech Enabled Real Estate” panel at Shadow Summit in Atlanta this September. Ryan works in Product Strategy at WeWork and has 15+ years of experience implementing and applying cutting edge technologies in the built environment, spanning the worlds of design, construction, and commercial development.
We interviewed Ryan to learn more about WeWork’s approach to innovation in commercial real estate, including which technology he’d create to transform the workplace if we gave him a magic wand (anybody have an extra?).
What’s your day-to-day role like at WeWork?
WeWork has an internal software team called REDtech and we focus on developing tools to help our entire workflow, from real estate and lease acquisition all the way through construction, design, and occupy. There are a whole suite of tools we develop in-house because our process is so expansive, and everything has to talk to each other through the whole process.
I sit within product strategy so I’m looking at real estate, development, construction, design, financials — and then trying to understand what technologies are currently available on the market and making sure we’re both matching parity (creating best-in-class tools for the people we work with) and opportunities to partner.
The problem we run into is we find a software off the shelf that fits what we need, but it falls flat connecting with the rest of our business. We also do a lot through acquisition — then we can integrate and evolve them to work with us.
Which commercial real estate companies are you excited about?
Companies that help to make the workday easier, with less friction. Like making it easier to get a conference in your office space; that’s a huge win. Have a building owner trying to contract carpet cleaning? How do you make that 10 step process into 3 steps? Some of these small steps have an incremental impact. Companies like Managed by Q, VTS, and Truss are all trying to figure out the patterns of the future of real estate uptake.
How do you predict the industry will evolve in the next 5 years?
There will be a shift away from an asset-centric approach (how the building is performing, who’s taking up the majority of your leases) to focusing on the needs of the actual people in the building.
CEOs and CFOs know the key to their livelihood is attracting and retaining talent, as every company turns into a technology company in some regard. As a bank, how do you attract the same talent Google is attracting? It comes down to listening to your people and keeping up with their needs.
I see real estate going into the ability to use AI to understand all the data around where people are aggregating, how they’re working — all of it is trying to create amenities for people to stay at work and enjoy it.
What we’re trying to do is get away from having 12 tools that people have to jump through in order to do their work.
What do you see early-stage tech companies get wrong in proptech?
A lot of tools are very pointed: they solve one problem. What we’re trying to do [at WeWork] is get away from having 12 tools that people have to jump through and between in order to do their work. We’re trying to keep people in as few environments as possible. That’s the challenge we run into. These proptech companies are geared for a specific user — a landlord solution, or a construction proptech solution — and our business is so expansive there’s hardly ever a solution that resonates. We are just a different animal than they’re used to dealing with.
I would also say I understand the role of marketing, but it seems like it takes longer and longer to vet the real meat of a product because marketing has a hard time giving up on the pitch.
If you had a magic wand, what technology would you create in the built environment?
As commutes get longer, as urban centers get more congested, as the cost of housing becomes more burdensome, the move to remote working will continue to grow. I’d like to change the connectedness remote workers have: tools to help people feel engaged, part of a team, like they’re adding value. There are so many tools with the goal of bringing us closer, but a lot of them aren’t really doing the connection part; the personable part that makes going to work enticing. Creating workplace culture continues to be a challenge. It’s an ambiguous goal.
Want more insights from the game-changers in commercial real estate? Then you’ve gotta come to Summit. Grab your ticket.