We recently announced the appointment of Sara Shank, Managing Director and Head of Portfolio Management of Beacon Capital Partners, a leading office investor, to Comfy’s Board of Advisors. As a respected leader in commercial real estate, we asked Sara to share her perspective on real estate technology, her vision for the future of the industry, and her goals as part the Comfy team. Check out some highlights from our conversation below.
1. What interests you about real estate technology?
I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs who were always interested in the latest inventions and creations. So my interest in emerging tech is sort of inherent. I’ve also been working in real estate for over 20 years and it’s fun to learn new things. Getting involved in real estate tech, working with companies that are disrupting legacy systems and processes is exciting and not only allows me to stretch my brain in a new way but also benefits our tenants and investors.
2. In your opinion, how has Commercial Real Estate's approach to technology changed in the last decade?
Change is hard, especially in an industry like commercial real estate where there hasn’t been much change in... well, as long as I can remember! Traditionally, the industry has not been driven by early adopters of new technology. But more and more landlords and big players in CRE are both open to and starting to really focus on technology because they realize the advantage it can provide. The reality is, if you’re willing to try something new and it works better than what you had before, you will benefit. I’m very focused on delivering tenant satisfaction, so anything that can help improve the tenant experience is hugely important.
3. What was your first impression of Comfy and how has it evolved?
The biggest complaint in any building is hot and cold calls…it's always hot and cold calls. And it's not that a building isn’t performing well, it's that people just prefer different temperatures. So, when I first heard about Comfy, my first instinct was...there’s no way this can work. Temperature has been a problem since the dawn of time and it's never been solved. I guess you could call that “healthy skepticism,” but once I dug in a little deeper and saw first-hand that you could actually solve this problem I was a proponent.
The moment that really converted me was last year, sitting in a room with other Comfy customers. One corporate real estate director explained, "When we move into a new space, the first thing my employees ask is, 'Will there be a barista?' and second is 'Will there be Comfy?" It was such a big demand from employees that signing a lease was contingent upon it having Comfy.
4. What are you hoping to accomplish as part of the advisory board?
One of the reasons it is an honor to join the advisory board is to have a voice and a place to express my opinion as they continue to deploy this platform. A landlord’s goals are a bit different than those of enterprise clients, and I think it’s beneficial for everyone to hear those different perspectives. What Comfy has that no one else does (that I know of) is direct engagement with 60-70% of occupants. As landlords, it's hard enough to get in contact with the head of the office, much less the mass of individual occupants. The ability to interact more directly and quickly with the tenants about what they want out of the building—temperature and beyond—is hugely valuable. I'm really excited to be part of this larger dialogue.
5. Based on what you see resonating in the market today, what do you think is the most promising direction for the future of tech in CRE?
It comes back to creating a space that’s attractive to tenants. I do think that virtual and augmented reality is going to have some impact on real estate, but I'm not exactly sure how. Will people come into the office less? At the end of the day, people still want to be with each other—at least some of the time—so anything you can do to attract people to the office to “compete” with the alternative of working remotely will be increasingly important.
6. What can you geek out on for hours?
The thing that really fascinates me at the moment is autonomous vehicles...I could read and talk about it forever and ever; how will it work? What will happen to our parking garages, our sidewalks, our truck delivery systems? Just think about the potential impact it will have on real estate, specifically regarding location. Today, being within the central business district of a city is still very important. But as it comes easier and easier for people to get around, having amenities and a “coolness” factor to your building sets it apart. The reality is—now and in the future—regardless of location, having compelling amenities in your building that occupants love is very important, and that’s where I think Comfy stands out. It’s an exciting company with interesting technology, and a great team in place to pull it off. I’m very excited to join the advisory board and look forward to what we can accomplish together.