Data-Driven CRE is Shaping the Future: A Conversation with CompStak and Blooma
If you’re in the world of commercial real estate (CRE), you’re no stranger to data. As a matter of fact, you’re probably swimming in it – or, drowning if you haven’t yet got a handle on your strategy. Between 3rd party providers and the mountains of data generated internally, CRE firms are sitting on an unimaginable amount of information. Information that can mean the difference between getting a competitive edge, or in today’s unpredictable market, provide powerful insights to mitigate risk. The tricky part lies in doing this well, and it’s precisely the reason why data & analytics provider, CompStak, and workflow automation platform, Blooma, have been working together over the past year to help players in the CRE space get their hands on the best data out there and make it work for them.
Today, we’re sitting down with Blooma COO, Tal Almog, and CompStak Co-Founder and CEO, Michael Mandel, to learn more about the partnership and how these two companies are helping CRE firms become data-driven.
First thing’s first, can you tell us how you two got involved and what inspired the partnership?
Tal: We were discussing some gaps we had in our core data set with one of our board members, Mark Almedia (former President, Moody’s Analytics), and he said, ‘you’ve got to meet Michael [Mandel] at CompStak’. I’d heard about them because they’ve really made a name for themselves as providing some of the best lease comps in CRE. Mark made the introduction, and we grew from there.
That’s really been our partnership strategy all along: we want to work with the best of the best to help our clients put together the perfect CRE tech stack – whatever that looks like for them. Partnering with CompStak was a no-brainer for us.
Michael, as a data provider, and considering how competitive the industry is, what is CompStak’s vision? How are you setting yourselves apart from other providers?
Michael: For us, our cause is about bringing transparency to the commercial real estate sector as a whole, with the belief that transparency creates fairness and brings efficiency to deal-making. There’s a saying that, ‘information wants to be free’ and we work under the assumption that this is the direction in which things are moving, but we also want to be a part of that movement – to be a part of positive change. We’re really hyper-focused on partnerships that help enable this transparency and ultimately help our customers make better decisions.
You don’t have to look very hard to find examples of providers out there taking a much different approach, where do you think that comes from?
Michael: It’s understandable that when you’re an industry leader and you’ve got a lot of data, one of your primary concerns is going to be protecting it – the problem is, that this often comes at the cost of ease for customers. It’s unconventional for sure, but at CompStak, we really feel like there’s room to be an industry leader while also making our customers’ lives easier. Yeah, we’re a data company, and we’re certainly protective of our data, but I’d like to think we’re also reasonable and fair. We often go into it with an ethos of ‘how are things being done today, and is there way that we can do this differently?’
On that note, it sounds like striking up these types of partnerships might be really challenging. Tal, what have been some of the biggest challenges in securing data partnerships for Blooma?
Tal: We have customers right now who have purchased and are using data but the agreements are so restrictive that the data doesn’t fit into their workflows. There’s a lot of frustration surrounding the fact that they pay for the data but can’t get it to go where they need it in order to make it actionable.
This is what sets CompStak apart from others because they really are working to make information as free as it can be and that’s huge for our customers. A great way to think about this is with Netflix as an example. When you purchase a subscription, you don’t want to only be able to watch it on the living room TV in your home…The expectation is that you can take it with you and watch from your account anywhere you go. That’s the mindset that our customers have, too, and it’s really the way that we should be thinking about the flow of data.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about data and technology for commercial real estate today?
Michael: Most CRE firms underestimate the size of the challenge pretty universally. Some think they’ll be able to build things in-house that they really shouldn’t…Some think they can make sense of their own data, but don’t realize how unstructured it is. We’ve definitely moved past the old trope that CRE is behind the times when it comes to data and technology, but in the stage we’re at now, there’s still a lack of understanding about how difficult it is to do it right.
That said, every tech provider out there wants to go in with the attitude of ‘don’t do it in-house!’ but there are some very big companies who actually can – and I don’t blame them for that. The point is that they need to commit to doing it the right way and oftentimes that takes a lot more time, work and money than they’re willing to commit.
Tal: Companies, especially lenders and brokers, aren’t utilizing enough of their own data today. What I’ve seen time and time again from clients is that they’re sitting on a gold mine of information, but then they go pay a small fortune to a 3rd party for more generic data instead. It’s a major missed opportunity.
Michael: Right. I think now, more and more companies are working to harness their own data and they’re thinking ‘okay, we’ve got all our stuff and we’re going to put it into a data lake or mart or warehouse…’ but it’s still not enough. The sweet spot really lies in juxtaposing your internal data against the market – what you’ve done compared to what’s happening in a larger context. It’s also really important to remember that you can be skewed by your own data. If you’re only looking in your own backyard, you could be identifying trends that might be steering you wrong. That mix of internal-external is really the Holy Grail.
Between the challenges in getting the strategy right, to the growing number of providers out there, what recommendations do you have when it comes to choosing 3rd party providers?
Tal: From our perspective, it’s about working with partners that are willing to be part of that ‘perfect tech stack’ I mentioned before. Providers that play nice with others. This is a green flag because it says that these companies are putting the customers first by being flexible.
Michael: It’s really a function of specialization. If you’re looking to transport the most people for the longest amount of time, you’re going to buy an RV. If you’re looking to drive the fastest, you get a Ferrari. You have to really understand what your specific use case is. What asset classes are you investing in? Not everybody is the best at everything, and if you go with a provider who claims this, you can be sure that it’s not true.
That said, maybe you go with a provider who’s trying to do it all because you want everything in one place. You just have to be willing to compromise elsewhere and that’s probably going to be on the quality of the data. It’s about building a solution of specialist data providers. In fairness, I’ll say that going about it this way, and choosing several individual providers, also has its setbacks. It means you might have to bring in another tool to help you consolidate and streamline everything. That’s really what Blooma is doing here. They’re doing the due diligence for their customers by creating this network of partners. They’re finding the best of the best for you so you don’t have to.
How does all of this fit into what’s going on in the market right now?
Michael: When the market is going up exponentially, you can be really stupid and look really smart — ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. In a tough market, the margin for error is really small. Your mistakes will be uncovered. You need to be more intentional, more specific, and more strategic. You’ve got to be looking at more decimal places.
Tal: We have several clients that are local and regional lenders and they know their corner of the market really really well. But when things are this crazy, you can’t trust that colloquial knowledge as blindly anymore because it’s so easy to make mistakes. Within the span of a month, things can change tremendously, which we’re seeing right now. The more the market is changing, the more you’ve got to lean on that external data to check yourself.
Michael: For lenders, I’d say it’s even more acute than for investors because the incentives are so different. If you’re getting comped on volume, you’ve got to move quickly and that means a lot of the time you’re relying on assumptions. On the PM side, to review market data for a high volume of loans is also really challenging. You really need to automate this to do it well.
On a final note, where do the both of you see the industry going? Are there any trends you can call out, or predictions you can make?
Tal: I really believe that the future for CRE looks a lot more connected than it is right now. The winning solutions are not going to be ‘one-size-fits-all’, but instead will be the providers that find and own their niche while leaning into the flexibility to connect with other tools. This idea of a ‘walled garden’ just isn’t compatible with where the industry needs to be in order to drive things forward.
Even when we think about CompStak, there are so many other avenues you could take, but you concentrate on commercial – and you’re one of the best. When you learned that your customers needed residential, too, you partnered with other companies versus trying to do it all.
Michael: I think at the end of the day, it’s around what serves your customers best. That’s really what we’re optimizing for. To your point, we partnered with RealPage on multifamily because we felt they were the best in that area. We’re also not building a pre-flight lending solution, but if that’s what our clients want we’re going to partner with you to do that, which is what we’ve done. What’s best for the customer changes over time and we’ve got to change and adapt with them.
Tal is COO & Head of Product at Blooma, a lending automation software company for the commercial real estate industry.
Michael is the CEO and Co-Founder of CompStak, a commercial real estate data and analytics platform.