Hightower: The System of Record for Real Estate

A few years ago, Brandon Weber, CEO and Cofounder of Hightower, and I were catching up over a casual dinner in Brooklyn. We had met ten years earlier when we started our careers at Microsoft and quickly became friends.  A few months before our dinner, Brandon left the commercial real estate (CRE) brokerage powerhouse CBRE, where we was a Vice President, to start Hightower because he saw that the industry was broken. He explained in fine detail the great paradox facing the industry. Despite CRE being a fifteen trillion dollar market and highly data intensive, many of the processes were manual and relied heavily on paper, excel and email.  Additionally, existing industry standard solutions such as Yardi, MRI and Argus were siloed and 20 years old. Brandon explained that he and his cofounders, Donald and Niall, were starting Hightower to solve these problems.

I was initially skeptical because I had seen dozens of real estate tech startups and many of them struggled to gain adoption with institutional landlords and brokers. CRE remained one of the major industries that hadn’t embraced the cloud and mobile.  My gut told me there was a huge opportunity because at some point in the near future “software would eat” CRE. After spending more time with Brandon and his cofounders, they convinced me the time had come and they were the right team to back.  They argued the market was ready because brokers and landlords were using iPhones, Google, Facebook and other cloud-based tools in their personal lives.  These customers now wanted and expected the same quality of tools at work.  As we dug deeper, it became obvious that Brandon, Donald and Niall were the right team to invest in because they had the unique blend of domain expertise and world-class product experience. A few months later, RRE Ventures was lucky to invest in Hightower’s seed round along with strategic investors Thrive, Bessemer, The Box Group, and Red Swan among others.

Read More

Shuddle: Scheduled Rides for Busy Families

When I was a kid my mom always used to complain how she had to schlep us around town. Often times she had to be in three places at once and finding alternative transportation wasn’t easy.  Not much has changed twenty years later. Talk with any parent today. Many will admit that safe and reliable transportation is one of their biggest challenges. The reality is households are busier than ever and the stay-at-home mom is a relic of the past.  

Last October I stumbled across an article in Recode that featured a new startup called Shuddle. The piece described Shuddle as “Uber for kids.” It occurred to me that Shuddle was trying to solve the transportation problem that has haunted families for decades. Several hours later, the article was emailed around the firm because the idea of providing safe and reliable transportation for kids resonated with the group. Everyone agreed that we had to meet this company.    

The following month, Rebecca Kaden of Maveron introduced me to Nick Allen, Shuddle’s Founder and CEO. Prior to starting the company, Nick co-founded Sidecar, a popular ride sharing application. At Sidecar, he observed many families were using Sidecar to transport their kids. Upon further research, he discovered that traditional ride sharing companies aren’t built to handle that customer segment.  They typically don’t have the right insurance and it’s against their terms of service since passengers must be at least 18 years old. In discussions with many parents, he discovered they don’t trust the existing brands since safety isn’t built into their products. While Nick isn’t a parent, it was clear to me after the first meeting that he was going to build the safest and most reliable transportation product in the world. 

Read More

New Investment: theSkimm

About three years ago when I was at Lerer Ventures, I first met Carly Zakin, Co-Founder of theSkimm, through my friend Rob Fishman. At the time, she was working at NBC News as a Producer and wrestling with her next career move. We discussed a number of her options including joining a startup or building one from scratch. Later that winter, Carly was back in my office explaining that she was hours away from quitting her job to start a media company with her best friend Danielle Weisberg. Carly and Danielle ultimately launched theSkimm because they could not ignore a huge void in the market — they saw that their friends, who are intelligent and super busy, were not engaging with news in a way they enjoyed, fit into their routine, or made them keep coming back for more. 

theSkimm is the first company that has been able to transform news and information into a lifestyle brand.  The team is obsessed with making it easier to be smarter and finding ways information can be streamlined into their audiences routines. Their first product, the Daily Skimm, is an email newsletter that arrives in your inbox every morning and provides all the news you need to know for the day. In essence, theSkimm is recreating what morning television means for their target audience. The numbers prove that Carly and Danielle are on to something big. theSkimm now boasts more than one million active readers, thousands of volunteer Skimm’bassadors in more than twenty cities, and an authentic voice that its readers trust. 

Read More

New Investment: Breather

Two years ago I was introduced to Julien Smith, Founder / CEO of Montreal and NYC-based Breather, by my good friend Taylor Davidson. Taylor explained that Breather was building a new type of private cafe that could be accessed via mobile app. I thought the concept sounded crazy and unique at the same time so I agreed to take a meeting with Julien. When I first met Julien and he explained the concept to me, I believed he was absolutely nuts. For those of you who haven’t heard of Breather, it’s a network of private spaces you can access by the hour through an iPhone and Android app. Think of Breather as productive and private space on demand. 

Breather quietly launched in NYC earlier this year and Julien encouraged me to give it a shot. I believe I was one of their first customers. In fact, I was so pleasantly surprised by the experience I decided to write a detailed post about what it’s like to work in a Breather space. I had never experienced anything quite like it. The company created a “full stack” experience that felt like magic. Pull out my phone. Activate the Breather app. Pick a location. Reserve a time slot. Invite colleagues. Turn by turn directions to the space. Arrive at the door. Access the space via the Breather app. And presto! I now have private space all to myself. Here’s where Breather is different: they own the end-to-end experience from the app all the way down to the look and feel of the spaces. The experience is carefully crafted and consistent throughout the network. You can tell the team deeply cares about the user experience. A well-known investor used the service after I encouraged him to give it a try. He texted me immediately afterwards and simply wrote, “It was flawless.”  

Read More

Tinybop: Educating Kids In Every Country

Several years ago when I was at Lerer Ventures, Sam Gerstenzang, our summer intern, recommended  that I meet with Raul Gutierrez, Founder CEO of a Brooklyn-based creative studio called Tinybop.  When Sam explained that Tinybop was building educational apps for kids, I was immediately skeptical because I’ve seen hundreds of companies in the space and my identical twin brother founded a children’s media studio, CloudKid.  After some back and forth with Sam, I begrudgingly agreed to meet with Raul but promised that I would keep an open mind. Over the course of the next two years, Raul and I spent countless hours talking about the future of children’s media and his vision for building the next great education brand.  To Raul’s credit, he was able to transform me from a skeptic to a believer.  Despite the space being hyper competitive with thousands of app publishers, I truly believe that Tinybop is the one percent of the one percent.  That’s why I’m incredibly excited and proud to announce that RRE has led Tinybop’s Series A Financing with participation from TwoSigma, KEC, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures and Kapor Capital.  

Read More