The Immediate Impact of CRE Tech – Q/A with Jackson Slavik

We had a chance to sit down with Jackson Slavik, Innovation Lead for Veritas Investments to discuss new technologies as it relates to their portfolio and what’s on the horizon for the industry. Jackson is not only responsible for leading innovation initiatives for Veritas but has established the corporate venture arm and is spearheading their early stage tech venture investment strategy with many initial investments underway.

How are you prioritizing technology implementation throughout the Veritas portfolio vs. internal operations?

Our first priority is always to our residents. San Francisco is a competitive market with residents who expect a lot from us, as well they should, and we work every day to deliver better service and more offerings to them. Sometimes, that means implementing something directly resident-facing, sometimes that means making an internal operation a little bit better which has a follow-on effect on our residents.

But at the core of what we do is always putting our residents first and foremost.

In what vertical do you see technology making the most immediate impact as it relates to Veritas?

A central thesis of mine is that Multifamily is a consumer product category hijacked by finance folks. So, if you’ll allow me to tweak your question a little bit, I see tech trending and impacting the customer relationship between the owner/operator and resident in a multitude of really positive ways for us at Veritas and for the industry at large.

The first bucket I think about here is communication. Having a fluid and connected communication stack is crucial to your relationship with your residents. The tool we’re leaning on most heavily and most excited about in this area is Aptly. It gives us the ability to more quickly, efficiently, and accurately communicate with our residents while also providing us insight into data/trends that to date management has never been able to analyze. The insights it gives us directly affect our thinking and even if our Residents don’t see it themselves, I know they appreciate the capabilities it gives us, as it improves communication and therefore, responsiveness to their needs. To me, good communication is table-stakes for operational success and Aptly gives us that and much more.

The second category is ancillary services of the consumer product/service variety. The owner/operator and resident relationship is one of the most robust and sticky customer relationships in the world and we, as an industry, should be delivering a lot more to our residents than just 4 walls and a roof. That means cleaners, dog walkers, mobility, delivery, and everything in between.

I understand why to the untrained eye those might not look like technology solutions but they very much are. Ask the engineers at Amenify who have built a mobile-first tech amenities platform or at Pillow Homes which allows multifamily owners to transparently and securely turn on Airbnb for their residents or at Envoy which enables community based shared mobility or Latch which allows the secure, flexible, and remotely manageable access to the buildings that each of the above-mentioned products/services relies on.

These teams look more like Google than Greystar but they are each squarely in the Multifamily category and very much focused on the Consumer experience.

What technology are you most excited to see developed in the future or mature in the market?

I am really bullish on the potential of blockchain to unlock powerful new opportunities in real estate investing.

Blockchain is still in its early days but I believe it will be a positive, transformational technology, particularly in the private capital markets. Folks who have followed crypto speculation and written off the whole industry as a result are missing the point in my opinoin. The real value there is in the underlying technology called blockchain which can be applied to much more than just bitcoin. .

It will bring the cost of capital way down by making it faster, cheaper, and easier to fractionalize ownership down to the individual asset level and syndicate amongst a broader base of investors. It will also create real liquidity in secondary markets for limited partners. I think Harbor is doing by far the best work in this area.

We’re working through a few strategies I hope to announce later this year that I’m incredibly excited about and which I hope will shed some light on the tech for our industry.

How should companies trying to implement tech/Innovations strategy start?

Great question. I think it’s culture, culture, culture. There is a massive culture gap between the tech and real estate worlds and any steward in the real estate space needs to take a hard look in the mirror and decide whether they really want to innovate because it does not come without its challenges.

Internally, many companies need to consider making a hire whose sole focus is on sourcing, due diligence, and implementation and, from what I’ve seen, it’s best to find someone who is more tech than real estate and then teach them your business and asset class. It’s not an issue of hiring someone with knowledge or experience, it’s an issue of hiring an attitude and way of thinking that just isn’t quite prevalent enough in much of our world real estate world at the moment.

Then, give them room for risk and uncertainty. Folks in our world are used to calculating down to the single basis point and want to fully understand all the risks but that’s just not possible when implementing and investing in the newest opportunities. It can be a gut feeling about an innovation or company’s founder in that space, and sometimes it’s as much art as science.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, start to evaluate tech background, skills, and culture when hiring across your organization. An Innovations leader or department is a good start but it takes buy-in across departments to accomplish what you want. Stakeholders who are open to and excited about tech are incredibly valuable. A head recruiter who incorporates this into his/her thinking in the hiring process is a huge boon to a company looking to innovate.

How do you see your role evolving in the 5 years?

Personally, I know four things make me excited to come work at Veritas every day:

1 – Having a positive impact on our residents’ lives
2 – Investing in and working with early-stage real estate tech founders
3 – Finding inefficiencies and implementing tech solutions internally that directly affect the bottom line
4 – The new and unknown

So, I hope to be doubling down in each of those first three areas and can’t wait to learn what’s in the fourth!

More broadly, I think we’ll see my role become more common across the industry. I’m fortunate to have an incredibly forward-thinking senior management team, of which there are only a few others across the country who have a person or group leading ‘Innovations’ . Soone enough I think we’ll see more owner/operators following suit and picking up people with ‘Innovations’ skillset and thinking.

Beyond that five year horizon, I think the C-suites of the largest real estate companies will emphasize technology and consumer DNA as much, if not more, than finance.

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We look forward to hearing more from Jackson at the 3rd Annual DisruptCRE San Francisco on Thursday, September 13th 12PM-6PM at 333 Bush Street.