Convene CEO Ryan Simonetti on Why CRE is on the Cusp of a Major Transformation
Convene, the commercial real estate industry’s first “workplace as a service” platform, is on a mission to help landlords reinvent the human experience by running office buildings and workspaces more like lifestyle hotels.
Founded in 2009, the firm boasts Brookfield Properties as a strategic partner and recently acquired workplace data and analytics firm Beco as the next step in its continued growth.
Convene CEO, Ryan Simonetti, sat down with VTS. On the significant shifts that are currently taking place in commercial real estate, Ryan said: “the industry is at the cusp of a major transformation. Things that don’t make sense get disrupted, and there are a lot of things happening in this industry that don’t make sense for tenants and most importantly the employees that interact with these buildings on a daily basis.”
VTS: Tell us a bit about life before Convene. What were you doing before you founded the company and what led you to start it?
Ryan Simonetti: While it feels like a lifetime ago, I was a Vice President at Gramercy Capital Corp (now Gramercy Investment Trust) leading an investments team and helping build out a special servicing platform. While at Gramercy I spent a lot of time investing in office buildings and hotels which is when I came up with the idea for Convene back in 2008. What if you ran an office building more like a lifestyle boutique hotel? Seems like a relatively common sense idea now but at the time was pretty radical. I saw the opportunity to reinvent the human experience in an office building while simultaneously creating a business model that allows companies to consume real estate in a flexible and agile way that is much more aligned with the realities of their business.
VTS: Convene offers an integrated "workplace as a service" platform. Can you explain what that means in laymen's terms?
Simonetti: Convene partners with the world’s largest commercial landlords to offer in-building tenants and our corporate clients access to a network of premium meeting spaces, flexible workspaces, hospitality amenities, and curated community experiences, all powered by a proprietary mobile technology platform. Put simply, we help landlords run office buildings and workspaces more like lifestyle hotels. We take care of everything so our clients can focus on what’s most important – their people, and doing their best work.
VTS: The pivot from a property to a tenant-focused industry is top of mind for many landlords right now – it's even the overarching theme of Accelerate. When you hear that term, what does it to you?
Simonetti: To me it signifies a major shift in the mindset of the industry that will ultimately transform the way that asset owners design, build, and operate their buildings. Historically, the “customer” for the real estate industry has been the capital markets and not their tenants. It’s pretty amazing, but it wasn’t until recently that landlords even started referring to their “tenants” as “customers.” That shift in wording alone is powerful and signals to me that the industry is at the cusp of a major transformation. Things that don’t make sense get disrupted, and there are a lot of things happening in this industry that don’t make sense for tenants and most importantly the employees that interact with these buildings on a daily basis.
VTS: How does data factor into this pivot to tenant-centricity? What data points are most important for landlords to be tracking as they make the shift?
Simonetti: What can be measured, can be managed. Data when used thoughtfully can provide landlords, tenants, and service providers with valuable insights that will help them design better physical spaces, operate more efficiently, and most importantly deliver better experiences to their clients. The industry pivot to tenant-centricity won’t be possible without technology and the power of the data that it generates. At its core, tenant-centricity is about better anticipating the needs of your clients and delivering the experiences they want, when they want them. None of that is possible without data. Things like space utilization, in-building location data, and customer behavior will all be important data points that landlords will need to track if they want to improve the experience for their tenants.
VTS: You recently acquired workplace data and analytics platform Beco. What was the reasoning behind this move, and how will it contribute to Convene's growth?
Simonetti: With Beco, we acquired a true product visionary in their CEO Tom Zampini, who shares our vision for the future of work and the importance that technology and data will have on shaping the human experience in the workplace. Beco’s technology platform provides Convene with a new software capability that will allow us to better serve our clients and landlord partners. The utilization and location-based data collected from Beco will ultimately help improve the design of our physical spaces and the hospitality experiences that we can deliver to our clients. By bringing our two talented teams together we’ve been able to significantly accelerate our product roadmaps and are working hard for a July release of a new technology solution that we’ll be selling directly to building owners. We view technology as a key pillar of Convene’s offering and a major driver of our future growth strategy in the years ahead.
VTS: You were a speaker at VTS Accelerate – what's the number one reason you think people should come?
Simonetti: To learn. There is such a great a line-up of speakers and companies at Accelerate that are truly pioneers and are shaping the future of our industry. This is such an exciting time to be in the real estate business. Real estate is the largest and most valuable asset class in the world and for the first time in history is being disrupted by technology and technology-enabled businesses. If you think what’s happened in transportation, banking, insurance, and media is fascinating, wait until you see what happens to the real estate industry over the next 20 – 30 years. We’re in the first at bat of the first inning of a major transformation and our industry will never move this slow again.
VTS: What would you be doing if you weren't at Convene or in real estate?
Simonetti: If I wasn’t at Convene or in real estate, I’d either be the founder and CEO of another technology-enabled business or would be campaigning for political office. Outside of my family, my passion in life is building and scaling high growth businesses. There’s honestly nothing else I’d rather be doing. With that said, I am deeply passionate about the public sector and believe that the challenges of our generation require strong leadership in government that we currently do not have. I think more founders and corporate CEOs will need to make their way into public office before we see any meaningful improvement in the way that we govern. At some point, when my business journey is over I’d like to give political office a shot. Just don’t tell my wife!