Four years ago, Nick Romito and Ryan Masiello noticed a need for a platform to help owners and brokers streamline their workflows and lease space faster. They formed VTS and in 2012 launched the industry’s first leasing and asset-management focused platform. Since then, with the help of co-founder and CTO Karl Baum, the VTS platform has become a comprehensive ecosystem where owners and brokers can manage deal activity, identify trends and quantify portfolio performance all from one dashboard. Premier Office Magazine Editor Phil Diment had an opportunity to interview VTS CEO Nick Romito about this groundbreaking technology.
Premier Office Magazine: How did VTS get started?
Nick Romito: VTS started when my co-founder, Ryan Masiello, and I, who were both working as commercial real estate brokers, saw an industry defined by tedious, manual processes that acted like a vacuum on resources and produced outdated reports based on static data. Ryan and I shared a vision to fundamentally change the way landlords, brokers, tenant representatives and asset managers work by streamlining reporting, access to data and accelerating deal velocity with technology. As a result, we created VTS as a data platform that incorporates leasing pipelines, stacking plans, team collaboration, market data like TIMs and comps, and reporting. Over time, we added additional products to the platform, including Tenant Relationship Management, business intelligence tools like Premium Custom Reporting and Premium Portfolio Analytics and VTS Retail. Today, eight of the top 10 commercial real estate management firms in the world manage their portfolios on VTS.
POM: How are you changing the game for tenant reps?
Romito: For tenant reps, building lasting relationships and closing deals are the name of the game. In developing VTS Tenant Rep, we worked closely with tenant reps from the world’s top brokerage firms. VTS Tenant Rep centralizes everything tenant reps need for their end-to-end research, prospecting and deal execution workflows into one, easy-to-use platform. It enables them to stay on top of their tasks, build better relationships with clients and close more deals faster. It becomes the one place where they can collaborate with their teams at the deal level.
POM: If I am a new tenant rep facing the challenge of breaking into a well-entrenched market, how would VTS give me an edge?
Romito: VTS Tenant Rep helps you organize the flood of day-to-day tasks you need to tackle, enabling you to focus on the activities and prospects that are most important right now, giving you that much-needed edge. It also allows you to collaborate with your team on tasks in real time. There’s no better way to stay organized if you’re someone new to the business.
POM: How about the agency broker side of VTS?
Romito: One of the most important components of VTS is our ecosystem — the connections between the different players in commercial real estate. It’s this network that allows all parties involved in a transaction to work together more efficiently. The agency broker is a huge part of that ecosystem — VTS is the only platform they need to track day-to-day leasing activity, market spaces, manage deals, create reports for clients and collaborate with their teams. With our smartphone app, they can do this on the go from wherever they are.
POM: How does an agency firm get all of their critical property data onto VTS?
Romito: It’s pretty simple. We have an internal team dedicated to getting them onboarded as quickly as possible. We give the firm an Excel template to fill out where they can input everything from marketing flyers and photos to any datasets about their spaces and clients. We even upload past activity reports so that all their current leasing information is live inside the platform ready to go. We do all the heavy lifting and get them set up.
POM: Once this data is available, how can the brokers within that agency benefit from it?
Romito: With VTS, all the information agency brokers need to do their jobs is on a single screen. Typically, brokers manage important information in numerous formats, like Excel spreadsheets or their email inboxes. This is inefficient and time-consuming, and makes it difficult to collaborate on tasks, capture information in real time and then act quickly to close deals. With VTS, brokers can access all of their most important information in one place, either via mobile or desktop. Having such real-time access can be the difference between setting tenants up with exactly the space they need or missing out on a perfect deal.
POM: Can you speak to the collaboration aspect of VTS?
Romito: Within VTS, brokers can share updates like a new deal term with clients and team members. This limits the amount of revised contracts and backlog of paperwork. Brokers can also create custom reports for their clients so they get exactly the information they want.
POM: How important was mobile device compatibility when building this product?
Romito: In commercial real estate, you make your living on the go, making relationships and signing deals, not sitting at a desk. VTS’ iPhone and iPad apps are made for these scenarios when you need to answer questions about your portfolio or connect to teams in real time. This 24/7 access to critical data could be the difference between signing a deal and having to close a meeting with open-ended questions.
POM: Can you speak to the issue of empirical data versus “gut instinct” and how VTS can provide reliable data for decision making?
It' this network that allows all parties involved in a transaction to work together more effeciently.
Romito: Traditionally, landlords and brokers have based their recommendations and decisions on what their experience and instinct are telling them, largely because the real-time data was just not available — it took weeks, if not months, to aggregate. With VTS, users can leverage empirical data to support their actions, ultimately making smarter decisions more quickly.
A real-world example — one of the biggest names in real estate, Blackstone. Upon acquiring Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, Jonathan Gray, Blackstone’s Global Head of Real Estate, and his team used VTS to track tenant demand and rental rates, among other data, in real-time. Seeing strong demand and net effective rental rates rising on a real time basis, the team realized the strength of the market and quickly moved to purchase nearby River North Point for $378 million.
POM: What does the reporting aspect of VTS look like?
Romito: Most brokers are used to the time-intensive effort it takes to prepare reports for clients. With VTS, you can export custom Excel or PDF reports containing real-time data with the click of a button. While we’ve really taken the market from “paper” to a platform, the need for reporting definitely isn’t going anywhere, so we’ll continue to invest in that part of the product.
POM: How much of the U.S. brokerage market is using VTS today?
Romito: Our broker adoption is massive, and we have thousands that log in every day to manage their book of business. More than 3 billion square feet of real estate are managed on the platform, including more than 17,600 buildings and 13,000 real estate investors and brokers. Our customers include Blackstone, CBRE, Hines, TIAA CREF, Boston Properties, JLL, CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield and more.
POM: What accolades have you received, and have you had good funding partners?
Romito: VTS was just ranked 34 on Fortune’s Best Medium Workplaces list. We have seven offices, including our headquarters in New York City and London. We’re the most well-funded company in commercial real estate technology with $84 million in capital. In May 2016, we raised commercial real estate technology’s largest round ever with a $55 million Series C led by New York-based venture capital and private equity firm Insight Venture Partners.
POM: Nick, thank you for your time and for creating a remarkable solution for our industry.
Romito: My pleasure. We will continue to work with our customers to bring new products to the market that create the most value, and continue with our global expansion. Lots of exciting things coming down the pipe!