Apr 17, 2020

The Real Market With Chris Rising – Ep. 40 Gabrielle McMillan

Welcome to another episode of The Real Market Podcast! In this episode, we are thrilled to have Gabrielle, the founding CEO of Equiem, as our guest. With over 15 years of experience in leading and growing organizations, Gabrielle has transformed Equiem into the world's leading tenant experience platform, serving over 165,000 people across 60 million sq ft of prime commercial real estate worldwide. Her exceptional leadership skills and commercial acumen have propelled Equiem's rapid expansion, managing a client portfolio of 145+ buildings across Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the USA. Join us as Gabrielle shares her insights and expertise in revolutionizing the tenant experience in the real estate industry.
Episode Transcript

Chris Rising (00:50): Welcome to the Real Market with Chris Rising. I’m here with Gabrielle McMillan, the CEO of Equiem. I’m so excited to have her on. It’s kind of interesting that we’d be having this discussion in a world that is shut down. I try to remind people the date, it’s April 9th, 2020, and New York City is on lockdown, State of California is as well, but yet we all think that this will pass and we will get back to work. So issues around prop tech in the future are really interesting. But Gabrielle, how are you doing, and how’s your family going through all this? You all doing okay?

Gabrielle McMillan (01:29): We are doing well, Chris, under the circumstances. I’m in New York but in Westchester. So we bunk it down, and our Equiem New York team has been bunked down now for… We’re in week five. But things are pretty grim here in New York, and it’s deeply worrying from a personal perspective, and a lot of people are under a lot of professional pressure as well. But all in all, our spirits are high. Morale is good, and the team are in a really good place. So we feel pretty blessed right now in terms of the position we’re in, both from a health perspective, but also the health of our business as well, because a lot of folks are doing it pretty tough.

Chris Rising (02:17): Well, I appreciate that, and that’s terrific. I think back on March 10th, I was at the New York Stock Exchange giving a talk about where our business was headed and raising funds. I remember when I flew there, I was like, “I don’t know if this feels okay. But come on, you can’t panic. Just be careful.” So we did all those things. I have not gotten COVID-19. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been okay. But I just really think that that mentality that I had that I think so many people had is going to be totally different in the days past going forward. When we get through this crisis, people are going to think things so much differently. One of the things they’re going to think about differently is their office space.

Chris Rising (03:06): I mean, there’s some people out there saying that work from home is the new future. I personally don’t agree with that. But how they use office is going to be looked at in great detail. You happen to run a company that does a particular bit of software that had a lot to do with that. So why don’t you tell our audience a little bit about Equiem and the product and what you all do?

Gabrielle McMillan (03:30): Sure. So Equiem is a global leader in tenant experience software. We started out of Melbourne, Australia, you could probably tell by my accent, back in 2011. We’re not a lot of people really. At that point, we are talking about data and analytics and tenant experience. It was quite a foreign concept. But my co-founder Lorenz Grollo, he’s a property developer, third-generation property developer, and he was managing an asset in Melbourne, a million square foot asset, second tallest office tower in Melbourne. Really, he was the brains trust behind Equiem. As a landlord, he really wanted to understand who was in his building, how he could service them better and how he could connect them using a digital platform. That was really the inception of Equiem.

Gabrielle McMillan (04:24): We’ve now, over the last eight years, scaled the platform across more than 230 buildings. We have about 170,000 users on the platform across 9,000 companies. We operate in Australia obviously, but also now the US, the UK, and Ireland. So you’re right Chris. When COVID-19 broke, it was a pretty interesting time for us, firstly because our us team have been absolutely on fire, and the demand for our product here is insane. Just in a year and a half of operating here, we’ve scaled into I think 13 cities and 11 states. We’re in the middle of one of the big periods of rollout that the team had done. It’s quite a small team here in New York.

Gabrielle McMillan (05:16): So they were flying from Dallas to Nashville to Seattle to Portland right as this was breaking. It was almost surreal how quickly, for me personally anyway, it went from something that I felt reasonably relaxed about to something that I was deeply concerned about them. We made the decision to ground the team I think early enough because none of them have got sick. But I was worried because they’d been on planes, almost living on planes and living out of hotels in the weeks leading up to these and exposed to a bunch of communities because as we launched a product into a building, we literally activating a lobby, talking to users, registering them for the app.

Gabrielle McMillan (06:02): So that’s been interesting. Now, kind of looking at these sort of few phases, and think we’ve got an interesting perspective on it because we’ve got 170,000 users and 9,000 companies on the platform. So we’re starting to try and measure sentiment. We’re starting to try and understand what work from home is like for a lot of people. A couple of very early and interesting insights for us have been… Usage of the platform is actually increased. So we saw a 30% increase from February to March as people actually transitioned out of their office buildings and into this kind of remote work lifestyle. We’re seeing a lot more desktop usage than an app usage at the moment. So it’s almost 80% desktop. People aren’t using their phones as much work from home.

Gabrielle McMillan (06:52): One of the things that uses… We’re actually seeing an increase in uptake or interest in things around community engagement. We always did plenty of networking events and community connecting events in office buildings. But I think right now when people isolated, there’s a heightened need almost to remain connected. So we’re doing some really interesting things. We’ve done happy hours. We’ve done trivia nights. We did a virtual bingo last Friday in the UK that had 90 people attend. We’re getting really positive feedback from users.

Chris Rising (07:31): Well, let’s take a step back and just really explain to our audience what this tenant engagement saw a platform means. For our buildings, we’ve been searching and searching, going back to about 2011, to how we can engage our tenants digitally so that the phone can get them through security, can get them through their doors, can be the one portal. We’re lucky to find you all through your team’s persistence, and we sign you all up. But I don’t think I’ve done a good job of explaining exactly what that platform means. So I want to give you the microphone on that [crosstalk 00:08:14]-

Gabrielle McMillan (08:14): No worries, Chris. It’s become such a hot topic in the US, especially in the real estate tech world that sometimes forget that not everyone knows what tech experience software means. So it’s a mobile app and a desktop app that’s basically designed to connect every single occupant in a building or in a community. So think about an office building that might have multiple tenants in that building. Every single staff member or employee, of course, every single tenancy is connected to the one piece of technology. It’s branded for the building in most cases or occasionally for the landlord. That’s quite important because that’s about driving these brand equity and loyalty directly from consumer, the end user of your building product to you as a landlord.

Gabrielle McMillan (09:00): In terms of what is on the platform, our particular app is pretty full featured. So there’s a bunch of different things that you would do. But think of it like a remote control for your building. So you mentioned using it to access the building. But you’re also receiving building communications announcements, connecting with events that might be on an RSVP into those. You are ordering from retailers. So you would fully integrate it, say the lobby cafe or the wellness center and using it as well to book share amenity spaces. Most buildings, and particularly groups like yourself, Chris, at Rising, who really creating [inaudible 00:09:42] and that are very experiential, and they’re very amenitized and very hospitality forward. That’s where our app becomes even more important because you actually need a tool to run all of this and to operationalize all of these amenities.

Gabrielle McMillan (10:00): So that’s probably a good summary. At the back end, there’s this kind of data and analytics peace, which is really important. So for the landlords, what they’re really getting as well as more satisfied tenants is really deep insights on who’s using what, how satisfied tenants are, how occupied the building is and a method of communicating with them, which frankly, as you know, has been pretty difficult in real estate over the years [inaudible 00:10:28].

Chris Rising (10:29): Well, I think part of it was by design. I think that some of the years I spent on the principal side at Big Reed that owned 30 million-plus square feet. I mean, the customer service was really designed to be like an insurance company, say no three times and hope they don’t come back. I think coming out of the great recession, people started to realize, “Hey, we need to engage differently.” But there hadn’t been a product out there. There was a whole lot. One of the things about WeWork that I think is most disappointing, there’s a lot of things disappointing about how that has turned out and the way they’ve acted. But they tended to give the impression they had this great tech that was so special.

Chris Rising (11:08): Once the curtains opened, they didn’t. I think going forward, the demands on this kind of technology is going to be even more important. I think people will expect that for the last six weeks they’ve ordered GrubHub, and they like it. Why can’t I do that to my office building? They’re not going to put up with the excuses because the leverage is going to change again, right? I mean, in most markets, occupancy is going to go down, not up, and tenants are going to have more options. We talk all the time at our company. We really have three legs of a stool that sits on top of technology, and that’s carbon reduction, health and wellness, and social engagement. Our feeling has been last year, it was leading with carbon reduction, and we no longer think that. We think it’s really important piece of it. It’s going to be leading with health and wellness and social engagement.

Chris Rising (12:00): Some of the things that your product does, I think you did a good job explaining it. But I just want our audience to understand is the way the system in a building has been set up for years has been, if you’re cold on your floor, you pick up the phone, you call the property manager, the property manager then hopefully gets an engineer there, and they decide, can they turn it up or turn it down? But your software allows for real tenant engagement to say immediately, “This is a problem. I need help with it.” And measuring the time from when the call… So it does some really amazing things, and it gives more control of the experience to the tenant.

Gabrielle McMillan (12:40): I know that [crosstalk 00:12:42]-

Chris Rising (12:42): Is there anything I’m missing about. I mean… Go on.

Gabrielle McMillan (12:44): Not only the tenant but the actual individual because the example that you used is a really good one. But what a lot of property managers don’t realize is the problem is actually further back than that. So what’s actually happening in the classic company or office is that someone’s going up. The light’s flickering, and then it’s kind of like, “John, the light’s flickering. Do you remember who’s in charge of that?” So in the company itself, it’s like, “Oh, I think it’s Mary.” So there’s five conversations and three emails before inside the organization. It gets to the person who actually has the login to the whatever, works request.

Gabrielle McMillan (13:25): Of course, that person logs in once every six months. So they don’t remember their login. So what they really do is they just ring the maintenance guy who writes it on a sticky note. It’s completely broken. So what our software does is it connects every single person in the building to the ability to interact to have that connectivity but to let the landlord know directly or the property manager know directly when something’s wrong. That’s a game changer because from a data and insights perspective, and you mentioned, as lease terms are shortening and the demand for flexible space is increasing, a couple of things happen. One of them is that loyalty is much more important, right, and retention is much more important. If you tenants are only there for a year, not 10 years, you can’t afford to just say no three times and hope everything will be okay.

Chris Rising (14:19): That’s right.

Gabrielle McMillan (14:20): You have to service your customers, and you can’t service your customers well unless you really understand them and can measure sentiment and measure the experience that they’re having. The second thing with lease time shortening in my view is that the building itself needs to take more responsibility for providing the workplace services or the hospitality type services. Because in that environment, where everything kind of needs to come on tap if I’m only signing, I don’t know, a one month lease or even a one to three-year lease. So I want, actually, the building to almost look after the wellbeing of my employees in many ways. So it’s kind of like landlord meets HR department. Then that’s something we see as a big aspect of our platform, for sure.

Chris Rising (15:10): I’ve had Dror Poleg who’s written a new book on technology and real estate on the podcast. I just recently recorded one with [inaudible 00:15:16]. That is their theme, and it’s one that we agree with. For office to survive in a post-COVID pandemic world, people have to feel safe. The way you feel safe is you communicate ways. You over-communicate. I take a software like Equiem as one of the few out there that can provide that. Let’s talk a little bit about why. I mean, we looked long and hard, and we spent money, and we’ve lost money on platforms that haven’t worked in the past. We are firmly committed to Equiem because we think you all can deliver. Walk us through the struggles to start the business and how you got into a product that really is a functional product for people.

Gabrielle McMillan (16:05): Oh, this could take a while. Walk you through the struggles. Well, if I go back to where we started, I think one thing we had going for us from the very beginning is we were kind of deeply rooted in real estate. So the idea came from a landlord. The idea came from someone probably a lot like you, Chris. It’s been living and breathing real estate and hospitality their entire life, and it’s been their family. So Lorenz really was very passionate about how he could connect better with the people in his building, how he could create a community within these building , and how he could deliver hospitality.

Gabrielle McMillan (16:43): So I think that from the get-go, we were able to deeply understand landlords. We went to some tech company coming up with some idea in a garage and trying to pitch it to a landlord. We were actually solving a problem that a landlord had. So I think that’s a good starting point. In terms of early learnings, when we were building a product from the get-go after we’d looked around and realized kind of no one else was doing this, we connected him with one of the biggest tenants in that building at the time, which was MinterEllison. They’re a large law firm. We actually used them for six-month beta program. So they came on a journey with us, and they’ve remained one of our biggest advocates and best uses over the years now in multiple buildings.

Gabrielle McMillan (17:27): So I think being able to really work closely with tenants as you’re developing a product like this is key because at the end of the day, your buyer might be the landlord [inaudible 00:17:37] is the worker and the tenant. We definitely made some mistakes. It took us six months to get through a beta period at Realtor. What we started with, what we white-boarded was nothing like where we ended up. We had the initial platform, had a whole concierge page. We thought people would make restaurant bookings, and they really don’t. So there’s all these little tweaks that we made as we really learned what users wanted.

Gabrielle McMillan (18:05): Then we went through the first… I think the second, say Realtor launched in March of 2012. We launched our second building in November of 2012 and our third building of July, 2013. So it literally took eight months just to get three buildings off the ground. Then we rolled out our first portfolio. So by the end of 2013, we had about 19 buildings, but across Australia, which is pretty big geographically. So you’ve got different states and times zone. Then that became really problematic. One of our key learnings at that point was that some buildings were performing really well and others were not. That was probably the aha moment for me around just how important, not only a great technology platform is, but actually the secret to this thing is the content, the events, the integration with retailers, the activations and the community aspect of it. That kind of has to be curated for each building.

Gabrielle McMillan (19:02): so in February of 2014, we launched something which we called Equiem on site, and it was effectively providing concierge or community managers to buildings so that you could have someone on the ground really implementing this platform. That business exploded in Australia to the point where we’ve now got 200 of them. But what that has allowed us to do is really work out what is it about the programming and about the activations and about the content that really works. Now I think that’s how we’ve been able to scale that aspect of the product into something that we now call engaged services, which instead of providing the head count, we were able to provide that as a service.

Gabrielle McMillan (19:47): But look, there have been a lot of challenges of scaling into the US and the UK and then into Ireland, growing the teams. It’s been an interesting journey. But in some ways it feels, especially here in the US, like we’re only just beginning.

Chris Rising (20:05): Well, I do want to get into how you manage a global workforce. But just one thing that I think would be interesting for people to understand is the technology behind building management system has been unbelievably slow. I think by 2020 now, most people have some sort of digital interface with a building management system. It’s always been so proprietary though, even the Johnson controls and some of the other big vendors have never wanted to allow APIs to access. It feels like the demand is so strong that all of them are changing. But can you talk a little bit about… It’s one thing to get landlords on board and make the investment. But the critical that you need to talk to, you had to have some sort of interaction with those companies to get access via API so that you could make your software work. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Gabrielle McMillan (20:58): Yeah. I mean, that’s been an interesting journey because a lot of… I got to be honest, Chris. There’ve been a big gap for a long period of time in terms of what landlords want and what is desirable in terms of this kind of fully integrated platform and what is actually possible. You’ve hit the nail on the head, which is pretty much up until just very recently, most of those solutions, a lot of them not even cloud-based, that legacy software that you can’t integrate with, that you can’t pull data with. So that’s been a real problem, and it’s really been probably some of the smaller companies, some of the next generation companies that we’ve had more success integrating with. But you’re absolutely right. Those bigger systems and those bigger organizations that… I’m thinking of Honeywell for instance, who were doing a huge rebuild and a huge… They’re just turning everything on its head and creating a completely open platform.

Gabrielle McMillan (21:58): HID, similar scenario. They’ve had to rebuild. I mean, we’ve been working with them now for eight, nine months, and our CTO calls it bleeding edge because they’re literally rebuilding their APIs as we’re trying to connect to them because they’re realizing in various iterations that what they’ve done in the past isn’t going to work where things need to go next. But these bigger companies are evolving and adapting. They’re going to be slower at doing it than the smaller, nimble companies, but they’ve got a huge footprint. So I think ultimately… Yeah. Sorry, you go.

Chris Rising (22:36): No. I was going to say they control a lot of market share on their long-term deals. So that’s what people I think get frustrated and they don’t understand is even if I bought a building a day and I wanted to bring all this stuff in, I’m still buying the legacy equipment and the legacy software. So it’s not that easy. I think the classic or the elevator companies who you buy their stuff, you sign a 10-year service contract. When I go buy that building, I have to accept that contract. My experience is the elevator companies because they rightly so say, “Hey, we got life safety here.” They’re the hardest to crack when it comes to any of this technology and any partnership and any API. So-

Gabrielle McMillan (23:19): Amazing.

Chris Rising (23:20): Yeah. You’re just depending on that contract coming up to be able to say, “Hey, no, I insist that you have an open source of some sort.” Let me ask you this. So you are the quintessential global company trying to work in a COVID world, but also just not really with office space, but yet you service office users. What are things that you’re doing to manage your workforce? What are some protocols you have in place to allow work from home but really mobile work. I don’t like this work from home term. I think we should be talking about mobile versus stationary than work from home because that’s what I think is going to be. But what do you do to activate, engage, and appropriately drive a mobile workforce?

Gabrielle McMillan (24:11): In our organizational or for our-

Chris Rising (24:13): Yes. Within-

Gabrielle McMillan (24:14): … [crosstalk 00:24:14].

Chris Rising (24:14): No, within your own organization. Yeah.

Gabrielle McMillan (24:16): Yeah. Well, we’re trialing a lot of things at the moment. But I guess being a tech company admittedly and being a tech company that was global, we were kind of pretty digitally native. Changing to remote working or mobile working really was hardly a blip. I mean, I think the isolation aspect or the lack of choice is still not ideal. But in terms of being able to work, we were all working from wherever, whenever, anyway, for the vast majority of organizations. So I’d say that transition was really easy. I think the challenge has been really staying connected as a team and making sure that people have got what they need. So one of the first problems that we faced is that even though we’ve got this mobile workforce that can work from home, working from home permanently is a whole different thing.

Gabrielle McMillan (25:09): So one of the first things we did was basically send out a survey effectively to find out, “Well, what’s your work from home setup like?” That’s when we realized, which is good news I think for landlords, I mean, most people’s work from home setup is not that great. I know in my New York… I mean, think about New York. We’ve got multiple people now in studio apartments with their partners, both on calls, both on computers, no monitors. I think my head of content and engagement is literally standing up at his kitchen bench and could be for months, I keep saying. You can’t even order monitors and desks, let alone put them into an apartment.

Gabrielle McMillan (25:45): So those things are challenges, and we’ve got other team members that have housemates. So that’s a real issue and one that I think will drive a lot of people back to the office as soon as it’s safe to do that. Other than that, we’re doing the things that I’m sure a lot of companies are doing. So we’re having virtual drinking hours instead of real ones. In fact, I have one after this in a couple of hours. So team drinks continues. Today we played Easter bunny and shipped… We had Drizly deliver a little gift chair, everyone at their houses as well as Hotel [inaudible 00:26:25] which is one of our partners as well deliver Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. Just trying to do little kind of care packages for people.

Gabrielle McMillan (26:34): The managers are all checking in regularly. We’ve probably increased the number of team meetings and team check-ins. Yeah. I’m starting to try and have little one-on-ones. Yesterday I had six 15-minute calls with kind of team members that I wouldn’t usually connect with just across the organization just to try and check in on the pulse.

Chris Rising (26:59): Yeah. A little points about the 15-minute. One of the things that I think that has jumped out to people is the standard default. We’re going to schedule a meeting. It’s an hour. That does not work in a Zoom world. You’ve got to keep things short and to the point. I find that the meetings are better if there’s an agenda that’s on the screen that everybody shares. I also find that as I’m running a meeting, I’m looking at people’s face and trying to engage them because it’s not anybody’s fault, but there’s 18 other things on their computer. There’s kids or dogs running through their house. I think you have to really do these things in small engaged doses and then give people a break from it. So it sounds like you’re going through the same thing. Yeah.

Gabrielle McMillan (27:37): Look, I mean, there’s no right or wrong. I was saying earlier, we were also trying to have our video on. I think kind of get to be relentless after 16 meetings. But I think it’s pretty crucial at the moment, and my team is certainly saying they’re finding it’s making a big difference. I keep saying it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got any makeup on, doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad hair day. Put a hat on, I don’t care. It’s nice just to look into each other’s faces, right?

Chris Rising (28:03): I agree with you. I think it’s interesting. We’ve been using Zoom really since I found… We started with GoTo, and we used WebEx. We’ve been using Zoom for five years. It’s set up all conference calls and all that. We’re finally getting people to agree to be on the screen. I think that’s what’s going to make this mobile workforce effective work. You can have Zoom meetings with people, those introductory meetings that used to be a flight, hotel room. You start there. I mean, I still don’t think anyone’s going to… I don’t think anyone’s going to give me a hundred million dollars to invest if they haven’t met me and shook my hand and all of that. So I don’t think that part is going away. We’re not day traders.

Chris Rising (28:42): But one of the things I do also want to point out, and I don’t know if people have thought about it, and you hit it. In this pandemic and this crisis, we’re all working from home. I think we’re holding our nose and closing our eyes and hoping we don’t have the security threat. But I just don’t see how teams can say we’re not going to go to an office. We’re going to have everybody work from home because the amount of investment it takes. I know in my home, as a CEO and the fact that there’s money that can be transferred, I’ve probably spent $10,000 making sure that my security of my Wi-Fi and everything so I can’t get hacked.

Chris Rising (29:21): I mean, when I hear that these hedge funds are at home and some of those people, “Oh yeah, it’s no big deal. We’re at home.” I mean, I just have this image of these hackers driving down their street going, “Oh my God. The simplest thing to do is to get into someone’s Wi-Fis and their computer.” So you hit on it. But I don’t the office is going away. I think what’s happening is your software is going to be what determines whether someone wants to lease space. It’s the experience, and your software is a big piece of that. What do you think when you look at the future of where Equiem is headed? What do you think this experience with mobile work with a global workforce, what ideas are being driven? Do you think we’re going to see reflected in your software over the next couple of years because of this experience?

Gabrielle McMillan (30:08): Well, it’s a good question. We just started work, shopping the other day, I think as COVID hit. The first part is all this crisis management basically. But we pretty rapidly launched a product which we’re calling Remote by Equiem. So what we’ve done is taken out our platform and immediately made updates to it, but importantly taken all of our programming and our engagement and turned it virtual so that it’s suitable and provides value to a workforce, which is now no longer in the building. So we’ve got virtual fitness classes, meditation. Then one-on-one, you can book it and pay for a chef lesson or a dance class or a personal training lesson but also these connection moments. So that was like first response, which was done really quickly, credit to the team, and now we’re kind of watching how people are using it, which is more than that. We’re using it in the office, which is also interesting.

Gabrielle McMillan (31:09): Now we’re trying to go, “Okay. What does the future look like?” We’ re describing it in three phases. One, which is locked down, two, which is return to work transition, and three, which is the new normal. So lockdown is where we are now, and I think, for us, we’ll continue iterating on this remote product and remote programming. We think that that can be not only provided to landlords but also to companies because one of the things that’s come out of this that’s being really kind of an aha moment for us is that the HR teams right now are under an enormous amount of pressure, and they need an enormous amount of help.

Gabrielle McMillan (31:46): So there’s two opportunities for us. One is to provide Equiem Remote for companies. The other though is for landlords to have this amazing connection with HR managers at this time and be really valuable to them because that’s going to drive them back to your building when this is all over. In the transition phase, we’re trying to work that out now, and we’re looking to China for clues. I think that event and amenities spaces, I think we’re going to expect a lengthy transition. I think people will come back to the office, but they’re going to be nervous about grouping and gathering. They’re going to be nervous about meeting rooms. There’ll be a lot of additional cleaning. So we’re trying to map that out now. I think mobile access becomes more important. Mobile visitor management becomes more important because we’re going to be nervous about touching surfaces and things for a while.

Gabrielle McMillan (32:39): Then at the other side, when we think about the new normal, I mean, there’s going to be more vacancy. So we’re thinking about ways in which we can really arm landlords with things that differentiate their building. Like you say, it’s got to be better experience. It’s got to be better services. But I think those services need to be quite thoughtful. But I think, as well, there’s going to be a huge demand for flexible space off the back of these. I’m not quite sure in terms of some of the flex space operators, what that market’s going to look like because obviously, they’ve been hit really hard. So maybe landlords have to step into that gap.

Gabrielle McMillan (33:18): So we’re also looking at our… We’ve got a space bookings aspect to our product, but we’re also looking at, what, if anything, do we need to upgrade there to make sure that that is fully ready so that if a landlord wants to start running their own WeWork, we’ve got that ready to go. So they’re the things we’re thinking about so far. But I mean, Chris, the future is pretty gray at the moment. It’s really hard to know what’s going to happen.

Chris Rising (33:51): Well, let me ask you this, kind of a broader question. I have two 15-year-old daughters, fraternal twins who I think are spectacular. At 15, they’re starting to talk about what they may want to do with their lives. I said, “You don’t have to really go into business with me, but I think you really should look at the real estate business or the technology business.” Those are areas that are heavily dominated by men, and they’re just prime to be disrupted. Now I’m talking to a woman CEO of a prop tech company. Can you give us a little background on how you found your way towards the technology real estate world and what your career path has been?

Gabrielle McMillan (34:30): Sure. Before Equiem, I ran another business for 13 years. Between that and Equiem, that kind of makes up the vast majority of my career. Certainly, that’s worth talking about. That other business was a sales and marketing business, and it had aspects of technology to it. But we did a lot of work actually in a health and wellness sector, which is why I’m so passionate about health and fitness and wellness today. So yeah. I studied business communications, and I think I’ve always had probably a sales and marketing bench. But running that business, which we scaled over almost 13 years was kind of where I cut my teeth.

Gabrielle McMillan (35:20): Then I knew I wanted to do something different. I knew I wanted to do something in the technology space. I hadn’t really contemplated real estate. A mutual friend introduced me to Lorenz. So Realtor was just the most extraordinary building. It really is a beautiful building. I mean, the building has 4,000 people working there every day. That’s a bigger community than the town I grew up in as a kid. So I was just fascinated by this idea that all of these buildings exist and all of them have villages in them and all of them have all these services and amenities and retailers, but it’s all really disconnected. The opportunity to build a product that would connect all of that was pretty exciting to me.

Gabrielle McMillan (36:06): I didn’t think about the gender thing a lot. But I mean, it is true that both the technology industries and the real estate industries is so male dominated. So yeah. It is kind of ironic. But I describe myself, Chris, as gender blind, which I think has been a blessing. I can happily sit in a boardroom and I am the only woman, and I won’t even notice. Sometimes people point it out to me, but I don’t know, maybe it’s my upbringing. I just am very comfortable.

Chris Rising (36:38): I went to a meeting, they got together, a bunch of landlords. I won’t name the company. But a friend of mine is a prominent broker at that company was hosting this thing down the desert. I walked in, and I haven’t worn suits in a long time, and I have a whole story on that. But anyway, I walk in kind of my casual lululemon pants with a pullover top and such. I look, and there’s 300 mostly white men wearing gray slacks and a blue jacket. This is not the world we live in, and this was maybe six months ago. So the real estate world was pretty good.

Chris Rising (37:18): I keep this image in my head is coming out of this, that’s going to get blown up. It just is. Not that I’m a white male, but we don’t have a place in it. But there’s just going to be so much opportunity because we have too much office product. We have too much product that doesn’t meet the needs, and it’s not going to care what your sex or race is. The market’s not going to care. They just going to want things delivered to them. For a long time, I’ve been talking about flexible space and saying, “Well, it’s the lenders that make us do this.” I think we’re going to see a whole shift where the landlord starts to act like a residential landlord saying, “This is the product I have for you. You can specialize it a little bit, but this is it. But in return for that, you get all these services.” Those services aren’t meant to just be geared towards white males, everybody. So it got to diversify real estate in my opinion. It just has to.

Gabrielle McMillan (38:20): I think it will. I think that it’s like any industry, right. Until there’s a real threat and real need for change, there won’t be. People always said to me, “Why do you think real estate has kind of lacked innovation?” I’m like, “Well, because it’s so much money to be made without having to innovate.” I mean, that’s how I see it, not coming from real estate. I mean, the capacity to make enormous amounts of money from brokerage and transactions by just doing the same thing the same way it was done 30 years ago, there’s no need for change, but there will be now, and I think some of the trends that we’ve already been saying will just get fast tracked.

Chris Rising (38:58): Yeah. Yeah. So one of the things I always like to ask, you run a global business. What kind of technology are you using? Our company, we’re a Google back business. We have pretty formal rules about email. Email is really just for communicating with the outside world. We use Asana as a project manager. We use Zoom. That’s obviously something. We use Yardi at our property level. But we had our team call on Holy Thursday here, and we said, “Let’s get everybody on.” That worked great. Asana has been wonderful for us to keep people accountable. Tell us about how you run your digital platform for a mobile business?

Gabrielle McMillan (39:41): Yeah. We have a lot of tools, almost too many. It’s been one of the things I think as a digital business full of kind of young people, to be honest. It’s like the people are just very quick and eager to adopt tools. So it’s actually been a case where we’ve had to control it almost and get a bit old school and say, “No neutrals are being introduced.” Right? Because it’s impossible to onboard people because they’ve got to learn 40 new things on their first day. But we have Google as well and have been for a long time, and we use Mac and Apple products in terms of the computers. But everything’s on Google. So we use Google Chat and Google Hangouts. We use Zoom as well, but not as often as we use Google Chat and the Hangout video links.

Gabrielle McMillan (40:31): We use monday.com for project management, and we use that for all sorts of things across the business. Then we use Jira for our product development, project management, which is more of a specialized kind of engineering project management tool. We love Trello. Do you guys Trello?

Chris Rising (40:56): We don’t use Trello, but it’s really because what you said, we’re trying not to introduce anything new at this point.

Gabrielle McMillan (41:03): It’s too much.

Chris Rising (41:04): So do you use Slack? We don’t use Slack.

Gabrielle McMillan (41:07): We don’t use Slack. We probably should. Because we’re nine-year-old business, I think Slack probably took off in the middle, and we’ve not changed. But I’ve heard Slack’s great. But we do try and discourage email and encourage Chat and Hangouts as kind of ways you communicate. I’m literally looking here at my desktop to see what other tools we’re using all the time. I mean, we have a lot of security related tools as well because of the amount of data that we’re handling. So [crosstalk 00:41:46]-

Chris Rising (41:46): Do you use Google Drive, or do you use Box or Dropbox?

Gabrielle McMillan (41:51): We use Google Drive.

Chris Rising (41:53): Drive.

Gabrielle McMillan (41:54): Yeah. I better not talk badly of Google Drive.

Chris Rising (41:58): Well, we have [inaudible 00:41:59] because… We use Box because all of our [inaudible 00:42:03] we’re trying to get audited Box passes that test, and it was founded by a guy who went to Duke, and I’m a big Duke guy, so I feel proud that we use Box,. But then when you use Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, that all get saved in Google Drive. So we’ve had some issues with that. I think what’s exciting for anybody who’s a tech geek like [inaudible 00:42:28] is that all of the choke points we’re seeing right now in this mobile workplace, there are people, really smart people trying to address them. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Zoom gets acquired and brought into something, the way Microsoft did with Skype and all that.

Chris Rising (42:45): My wife works at Gensler, and there, everything is Microsoft, and she tells me all the time how great Microsoft is. I’m an Apple person from the beginning, so I find that very hard to believe. But when I get frustrated over things, I’m like, “Well, maybe Microsoft might have some [inaudible 00:43:00] that I’m not giving them credit for it.”

Gabrielle McMillan (43:03): Microsoft have really improved a lot. When I first went to Google, I couldn’t believe how amazing it was and the collaboration, everything. But Microsoft have been on the charge for a while playing big catch-up. I don’t use it regularly, but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. Yeah. What do you use for CRM?

Chris Rising (43:23): So we use Copper. Copper is a CRM that’s tied to Google. We like it. We don’t love it. We had some disasters trying to do Salesforce stuff, and I’m not talking ill of Salesforce. I just think Salesforce works better if you have deeper pockets. I don’t think it works well. I also, whether I’m right or wrong, have this view that it has to be off-the-shelf because I believe off-the-shelf will tailor faster than if I pay $50,000, $100,000 out of Salesforce come in. They just won’t, or their competitors, they just won’t change the software as quickly as the market demand will.

Chris Rising (44:00): My big thing that I’m talking about all the time right now is security. I think it’s great that some of these businesses are run in the cloud and they’re encrypted. But the majority of our tenants, they still are using their own server, and somebody’s at home trying to connect over a Wi-Fi to a server. I think it’s disaster written all over it. So I think BPMs and telecom out of this is going to be very big and being able to get into whatever service you use, your Asana or anything else. We can tell, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but between Zoom and Asana, they’ve gone down more in the last couple of weeks that they ever have. So clearly, a whole new generation is finding these digital platforms.

Gabrielle McMillan (44:45): Yeah. Well, I know that Zoom has started getting used more right now business not just because it’s got some good tools where you can… With Google Hangouts, whoever’s talking, they have the face in the middle of the screen. Whereas with Zoom, you layer it. Zoom is also got… Actually, we’ve been using Zoom to run some of the virtual experiences as well because you can do cool things, like sending people off into groups, have got sub-rooms. So you can run a whole virtual experience in Zoom, which is really cool.

Gabrielle McMillan (45:19): Security wise though, they’ve been coming onto the pump. So we’ve got some pretty vertical voices in our business that are anti Zoom as well. But I’m sure now with the increase in demand, they’ll make sure they get that sorted.

Chris Rising (45:31): Yeah. But it would be hard to stay one step. I think that’s going to be the challenge when we all come back to life is I think there’s going to be a lot of people who falsely thought, “Oh, hey, maybe I don’t need that office space.” When these [inaudible 00:45:46] occur, and they’re going to happen in a big way. I hate to tell people that it’s almost like the virus. It’s just going to explode if you’re not ready to protect yourself. The mobile world would be not having a security guard in an office building. I mean, you just going to get attacked. But it’s-

Gabrielle McMillan (46:04): It’s a big point.

Chris Rising (46:05): One of the things, so we just talked a whole lot about how we can always be on. I just have to ask you, are you feeling the Zoom drain as I thought, whereby, the end of the day, it feels like I’ve worked much harder than when I’m in the office physically with people, where this kind of engagement is draining. Then what are you doing to protect your mental health, your family’s health just around a digital world?

Gabrielle McMillan (46:30): Mainly gym, Chris. Mainly gym. [crosstalk 00:46:35]- Chris Rising (46:35): Works. Yeah. I’m a more [crosstalk 00:46:36]-

Gabrielle McMillan (46:38): Yeah. I agree, It is draining. I think at the moment, most people in our roles are fighting numerous fires. Right? I mean, Equiem is really lucky, but you’re dealing with a world pandemic. You’ve got teams everywhere. So we’ve got an emergency management committee, and then we’ve got this huge innovation piece, this Remote, which is just… I mean, we’re 24/7 on this thing, which is equally exciting and exhausting. So because we’ve got a global team, I’m finding myself working the New York day and then working the Australia day. So I’m in this office until two, three o’clock in the morning at the moment, which is not good and clearly not sustainable. But it’s just one of those times where you’ve got a window of opportunity to do something cool, and you have to make sure that you hit that window.

Gabrielle McMillan (47:31): But what am I doing? I have no trouble walk-in meetings. That’s one thing. Actually, we’ve put them in for the team daily next week, just half an hour walk-in meetings for whoever wants to join to try and get it out in the sunshine. Then we’ve been exercising together as a family because it’s like no one else hang out with. My husband, and I’ve got two little boys, we’ve been doing these Sunday sessions, Sunday circuits. But yeah. We’re playing board games. We ordered some Lego. My youngest son’s been making for. So there are some… Not in a million years would you ever wish for anything like this to happen, and the consequences are horrible, but there are some little silver linings. It is bringing people together and making things, more entities, bringing families together in ways that we weren’t before. So we’re grateful for that.

Chris Rising (48:32): We are too. We feel the same way. So our audience, it’s pretty a millennial and gen Z audience. I know they’d love to follow you on social media. What social media platforms are you on, and what are your handles?

Gabrielle McMillan (48:44): I’m mainly just on LinkedIn. I do have a Twitter account, but I rarely use it. I’m pretty sure it’s just at Gabrielle McMillan on LinkedIn. I don’t even know, Chris.

Chris Rising (48:54): Okay. Terrific. Yeah. I sent you an invite on that. Then in terms of the push that you see coming out, let’s just kind of say the world goes back to normal in the summer, what do you think for Equiem or the strategic cities you’re going to see growth in? Assuming the world comes back, just so that our audience can know to look for you?

Gabrielle McMillan (49:18): Well, look, we were doing a lot of business on the West Coast leading into this thing, and I mean, Texas as well. We’re doing a lot of roll-outs at the moment in Dallas and right throughout the West Coast. We’re not in Chicago yet, but we’re making a major push into Chicago at the moment because we think… In fact, New York and Chicago, I mean, it’s anyone’s guess, right? But maybe New York is in lockdown for longer. So we think this remote product is perfect right now for New York landlords. We’re offering that on a really flexible basis so people get to switch it off if it’s not working or switch it off if they don’t like it at the end of this.

Gabrielle McMillan (49:59): But yeah, look, Chris, our goal is to pretty much be in every state and every city as quickly as possible across the US. We’ve slowed down for us at the moment. There were a couple of weeks where everyone was in a state of chaos. But right now, we’re hearing landlords say, “Look, I wish we’d already rolled you out. We need a lifeline to our tenants right now, and we need to know what they want in terms of, as they return to work, what’s our strategy?”

Chris Rising (50:34): I know we’re spending a lot of time on what that’s going to look like. It’s a balance. I’ve seen Cushman & Wakefield come out with a few things that I think they come from the best of intentions. But I don’t think that we’re going to live in a world where we’re six feet away from everyone all the time. I think we’re going to have to- Gabrielle McMillan (50:53): That was an interesting. That was an interesting thing.

Chris Rising (50:54): Did you-

Gabrielle McMillan (50:54): I saw that last night, and I saw [inaudible 00:50:56] comment on it, which made me giggle. Then someone said it’s an April Fools’ joke. So was it or wasn’t it? I don’t know.

Chris Rising (51:03): Yeah. It was not.

Gabrielle McMillan (51:06): It’s a bit nuts. It’s a bit nuts.

Chris Rising (51:08): I think we are going to have an interesting world that we’ll be go back into. But I think part of it’s going to be driven by the fact that we aren’t going to drive back into it unless we feel safe. So it’ll be interesting to see. I do want the audience to know a website or where they can find information on Equiem. What would be the best place? Where should we send people?

Gabrielle McMillan (51:34): Just go to getequiem.com.

Chris Rising (51:37): Okay, great. That’s important because I have a feeling that a few of my competitor friends out there are going to be picking up the phone and trying to get ahold of you or [crosstalk 00:51:47] digital.

Gabrielle McMillan (51:47): We’ll make sure all of your buildings launch first, Chris.

Chris Rising (51:51): Well, thank you so much. This has been such a great conversation. I’m inspired, and I’m really excited as hard as things are that we’re all thinking about, okay, what happens when we come back? I think Equiem is going to play an important role in all of the rising projects. But I think a lot of our colleagues out there who already are using it convinced me we need it, and I think you’re going to come out doing great stuff. So thank you so much for being on the Real Market. Gabrielle McMillan (52:20): Thank you so much for having me, Chris. It’s been really nice to chat. Appreciate it.

Chris Rising (52:25): Wonderful.

Where you can find us

Rising Realty Partners

601 W 5th Street, Suite 215, Los Angeles, CA 90071