The FORT Podcast: Bennett Washabaugh & Mike Zei

In this episode of The FORT Podcast, Chris is sitting down with Bennett Washabaugh (CEO / Co-Founder) and Mike Zei (COO / Co-Founder) of TenantBase. TenantBase’s team has come together from the commercial real estate and technology industries for a single purpose—helping clients find a home for their startup or small business. Their free online service allows business owners to be paired with local brokers to find the best deal for office needs. Chris, Bennett, and Mike discuss the journey of their hypergrowth company, trying to solve every problem at once, raising capital, and determining roles to find the best path to success.

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01:57 — What are your roles? How did TenantBase come to be?
03:13 — What was the moment that you decided to attack this opportunity?
06:46 — How different is building software versus building a traditional business?
08:29 — How are your products shipped before the masses see them?
09:13 — What were the core issues when you were getting started?
11:16 — Was there a moment when you decided to focus on solving a few things and not everything?
13:16 — If I was a tenant entering the market, what are some things I would experience had I not worked with TenantBase?
16:00 — Is there a fundamental reason why someone would decide not to sign a lease?
17:42 — For office tenants, does access to amenities play a major factor in their decision to lease?
18:44 — Has anything that has happened with WeWork in the past few months affected your business?
20:52 — How do you get started in a new city? How do you identify new markets?
24:28 — How do you keep a consistent culture as you open up this quickly in different cities?
25:48 — Raising Capital Early On
28:50 — What’s it like having a board?
31:43 — How critical was going through an incubator in this journey?
35:04 — Is there someone along the way you read or listened to that helped you become great leaders?
37:13 — What is your ten-year prediction for this space?
38:59 — What are tenants asking for today that has changed recently?
42:18 — Are tenants needing space so quickly because of their failure to forecast growth, or is it because of a problem in the industry?
43:27 — How did you transition from doing the same thing to finding different things for each of you to focus on?
47:08 — What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Episode Summary

Bennett Washabaugh and Mike Zei began their venture with a clear mission: to address the inefficiencies in tenant representation and bring a wave of innovation to the real estate industry. They emphasized the necessity of balancing technology with the indispensable human element of brokerage services, ensuring a personalized and efficient experience for tenants. Their platform, Tenant Base, stands as a testament to their commitment, providing tenants with unprecedented access to information and resources, thereby facilitating informed decision-making.

The early days of Tenant Base were characterized by a steep learning curve, as Bennett and Mike navigated the challenges of integrating technology into an industry steeped in tradition. They underscored the importance of patience and adaptability, sharing anecdotes of their initial attempts to solve multiple problems simultaneously and the subsequent realization of the need to streamline their focus. The iterative nature of software development and the value of having a technical co-founder were highlighted, shedding light on the pivotal role of Andy Kish in bringing their vision to fruition.

As Tenant Base grew, Bennett and Mike delved into their expansion strategies, elucidating their approach to entering new markets and the critical role of local market leaders. They emphasized the significance of service in their business model, ensuring that the quality of their brokerage services remained unparalleled, irrespective of the market. The discussion also touched upon their recruitment strategies, underscoring the importance of finding individuals who resonate with the company’s culture and values.

The podcast explored the changing dynamics of workspace, noting a trend towards flexibility and the increasing preference for move-in-ready spaces. Bennett and Mike anticipated this shift to permeate larger enterprises, ultimately benefiting the entire ecosystem. They also addressed the challenges faced by smaller tenants in the real estate market, highlighting Tenant Base’s role in educating tenants and setting realistic expectations.

The impact of technology on the commercial real estate industry was a focal point of the conversation. Bennett and Mike stressed the role of technology in enhancing efficiency and transparency, while also ensuring the human element remained central to the transaction process. They envisioned a future where technology continues to play a significant role in real estate, fostering a market that is more accessible and efficient.

The partnership dynamics between Bennett and Mike were explored, with the duo sharing insights into how their complementary skill sets and roles have evolved over time. They highlighted the importance of mentorship, adaptability, and the ability to thrive amidst the challenges of building a business from the ground up. The role of their board and the balance between real estate and technology expertise were also discussed, shedding light on the accountability and diverse perspectives that have contributed to Tenant Base’s success.

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