Real estate disruption has focused largely on how we market, search for, buy, operate and sell physical property. Now disruption is coming to people. The gig economy, best illustrated by short-term job websites Upwork and Freelancer, has now arrived in the real estate sector thanks to US-based startup StealthForce which promises ‘curated real estate talent on demand’.
Given the project based nature of real estate development and the need to up-size / downsize teams depending on deal flow, this is a logical step for the industry. While it’s early days for StealthForce, the platform has the potential to change the way large developers manage headcount and could open up a world of new possibilities for real estate professionals. We spoke to the team to find out more:
When did you launch and what was the process leading up to launch?
Our founder Poonam Mathis spent over 10 years in real estate prior to launching StealthForce in early 2016. The idea was a result of having felt a certain gap in expertise and insight while investing and doing business in real estate. We began by canvassing the universe of potential clients to confirm the size of the need. It turns out that based on feedback, real estate stakeholders large and small needed a more efficient way to access flexible expertise and support. The next step was to establish a basic site in order to outline the mission and invite consultants to join (as a way of testing demand from the other side of the two-sided marketplace, which is the consultants seeking gigs). That also proved fruitful. Thereafter, with a test base of interested clients and willing consultants, we raised some pre-seed money, and since then focused on really understanding our product market fit.
Tell us more about that gap in the market?
Poonam Mathis had worked early in her career after graduating Harvard, at GLG (Gerson Lehrman Group), where she was employee number 13 (they now have over 800, and are valued at over US 1 billion dollars), where she helped build their expert network; that’s where she understood the power of networks of professionals. Then she went into real estate, which was a lifelong passion and the family business. After graduate school at Wharton, she went into real estate, and worked on both ends of the investment spectrum: first working for a small developer who was understaffed like most and then working for a global real estate private equity firm which was staffed with expensive generalists. She noticed the gaps in talent were pervasive across the industry – and there was no efficient solution. So she decided to build a team to create one.
Can you help to explain the business model?
Put simply, clients order reports/deliverables or consultants, and we search our network. We invite the top matches confidentially to consider the project (outlined in a project brief). They opt-in or opt-out, based on availability and conflict checks. Some 60% of consultants are employed full-time, just moonlighting with StealthForce. The other 40% are independent, or between jobs, or very senior and semi-retired. If they opt-in, we curate the top 2 or 3 to deliver to the client, typically within 48 hours. They consider, call, interview, and select their preferred consultant, and launch the project. We track milestones, manage payments and get feedback from both parties along the way.
Here’s a useful summary video.
What is your typical client? (eg. large developer, boutique investor)?
Our clients are all real estate stakeholders. Small developers may use us for financial analyst support, mid-size funds may use us for quick appraisals or feasibility studies in new markets, corporate real estate teams may use us for outsourced talent to manage hiring, global organisations may use us for board placements or even for test-drives for permanent roles (to reduce turnover). Even accounting firms have used us for real estate specific CPA support during times of peak demand.
How long is the typical engagement?
Scoped projects can be as short as 4 hours or as long as a year. Lately we are seeing a lot of roles with a 4 week time frame.
How do you manage conflicts between moonlighting and existing employers?
We send the consultant the Project Brief with the client name in advance of sharing any project information. Per the terms of their membership in our network, they agree not to accept any projects contrary to any other agreements (including employment agreements) to which they are a party. In addition, we can complete background checks and additional reviews based on client requests, or even omit consultants with connections to specific companies from our candidate list. Since we’re a tech-enabled platform, this is easy to do.
Are you operating globally or just in the US?
We are a global platform, with a core focus in the US. Another strong market for us is Asia.
How do you approach business development?
Various methods have been used, but word of mouth is always the best. In addition, we employ content marketing, referral programs, and direct outreach.
What is the technology behind the platform and how has the development side been?
Our CTO (former head of the Mortgage Marketplace at Trulia/Zillow) is working on our project management and consultant search system which is a version 2.0 of our current system, likely to be launched in Q2 2017. Later this year we anticipate building a proprietary matching system employing our own methods to make the process even faster and more precise.
What is the longer term vision for the business?
The long-term vision is about resourcing. The industry is inefficient, not just when it comes to talent and insight, but to make core components of real estate valuable. We aim to democratise the lack of transparency. Imagine how a level playing field would change the game.
What is the early feedback from clients?
Feedback is positive, and informative. What we have learned so far is that in concept, most potential clients can see a need for this sort of disruption to the human capital portion of the real estate investment equation. Where we need to get stronger is on productisation and the creation of urgency to tap into our resources. Sometimes its about relationship building, though, and we are always more than happy to do that. The better we understand our client, the more we can do for them, and for the industry, overall.