ULI San Francisco Blog

Recruit and Retain: How to Create a Successful Real Estate Start-Up

WLI Recruit Retain or Die

In the Bay Area, when one hears the term “start-up,” there tends to be an automatic association with tech. However, this term has not always been wedded to a single industry. As innovation gets tied tighter and tighter with tech, how does Bay Area’s real estate industry maintain its entrepreneurial spirit and recruit teams built for success?

A crowd of 40 had the opportunity to join a conversation between our moderator and four panelists, each bringing a different perspective on how to build and maintain teams. Elizabeth Kauchak, Vice President and Market Officer at Prologis, joined us from the perspective of attracting talent to an established real estate company. Diane Olmstead, co-founder of the boutique investing firm W3 Partners*, talked about the unique challenges of recruiting for an unestablished company and finding the right fit for both the company and the recruit. Like Diane, Michael Strogoff started his own company, Strogoff Consulting focusing on design consulting, and delved into his experiences of retaining and recruiting talent for a smaller company. Sebastiaan Verhaar provided the panel’s counter perspective, elaborating on building up Google Fiber, a Google branch focused on partnering with CRE firms to build internet capabilities alongside new development. Sebastiaan discussed the differences of his company’s ability to hire across disciplines, recruiting from both real estate and tech backgrounds. Amanda Monchamp from the law firm Holland & Knight directed the conversation.

How does one build a winning team in a competitive employee market? Of course, the answer is not as simple as providing a La Croix filled fridge and nap pods. Rather, it is a combination of workplace mission, company culture, benefits packages, location, and salary. To balance these often conflicting factors into one recruitment strategy, our panelists described how they highlight what is unique and compelling in what their companies can offer. Although Diane’s young firm could not provide competitive salaries, they were able to offer their employees a piece of the company. The balance shifts for a larger company like Prologis. Elizabeth cannot offer pieces of the company, but instead is able to personalize the salary and benefits package for each person. The differences in these models will help someone land at the company that they are more suited for based on which benefits package they are most attracted to.

How do you get recruited to one of these teams? The panelists were united in this answer: persistence and fit. For Sebastiaan, one of the key factors he looks for is “Googliness.” Although this type of tech rewording was alien and somewhat comical to the rest of the panel, they agreed with the sentiment. Elizabeth noted that she would rather have a position open for months than try and squeeze someone into a role that they do not have the right fit for. In the end, this would benefit the entire team even if they have to take on more work during an elongated recruitment process. Diane uses persistence as her barometer of fit. If someone applied for a job at W3, they better have done the due diligence to know to put her name on the cover letter instead of “to whom it may concern.” Although each panelist had different ways of determining the right “fit”, their answers point to a drive for that position at that company as the key to obtaining the job offer.

Thank you to the WLI Committee for putting together this panel of experts! And a special thank you to Thornton Tomasetti for hosting us at their beautiful 650 California office space!

*Since the panel, Diane has been announced as CIO of BRIDGE Housing.

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