Customer Sprints: How to Accelerate Business Development for PropTech and Construction Tech Startups
Why the team at Dreamit UrbanTech Created an Ecosystem of Over 50 Corporate Real Estate Customers and Pilot Partners
Startups selling into real estate, construction, and other areas of the built environment face unique challenges.
These industries are dominated by massive, bureaucratic, decades-old firms. Industry incumbents have traditionally moved slowly in adopting new technology and have been hesitant to entrust startups with their data, which is often a key competitive advantage they keep close to the chest. It’s difficult for founders to identify the corporates who are willing to take a risk to adopt new tech (rather than just talk about it). And it’s difficult to find internal champions at these organizations who will engage meaningfully and regularly about the product.
Our team at Dreamit designed Customer Sprints to help startups overcome some of those challenges. We have partnered with over 50 “startup-ready” corporates that are eager to purchase and pilot early-stage technologies from pre-Series A founders.
Founders do “dev sprints.” The UrbanTech program gives founders the chance to do “customer sprints.”
During week-long Customer Sprints in multiple cities, UrbanTech founders present to C-suite executives, innovation leads, and SVP-level decision makers from our Customer Network (see below). These intimate meetings with executives allow founders to initiate partnerships, propose pilot programs, and, most importantly, gain new customers. In other words, Customer Sprints help founders accelerate the sales process by months.
Our secret to ensuring successful Customer Sprints for founders is getting the right people in the room so that founders can meet their “internal champions” right out of the gate. As UrbanTech Managing Director Andrew Ackerman likes to say, “If a startup isn’t presenting to someone with the knowledge and authority to buy their product, what’s the point? If you ever hear someone say, ‘I have to run this by my boss,’ you are talking to the wrong guy.”
In Customer Sprints, startup teams meet with the people who are making decisions about purchasing tech solutions and have the authority to get others in their organizations to use the product in their workflows. A typical positive interaction during a Customer Sprint might involve an executive saying, “This looks like something we need ASAP. My team will spend a month diving deep into this opportunity and fast-track it for a potential pilot.”
Every organization is different. And in some cases, the most innovative groups within a corporate are not in the corporate headquarters but in regional offices or in the field. In these cases, you can make faster progress talking to the heads of the regional offices who are authorized to make these kinds of purchasing decisions. A land and expand strategy might be a better approach in these cases. During the UrbanTech program, founders build go-to-market strategies based on how their specific product fits within the Customer Network.
“If a startup isn’t presenting to someone with the knowledge and authority to buy their product, what’s the point?”
We have seen firsthand the impact of Customer Sprints. Accelerating business development is critical for founders in real estate and construction because it gives the startup momentum, both for gaining new customers and for gaining leverage for future fundraising. Having solid, referenceable customers is the best way for a startup to demonstrate product-market fit.
The members of the Dreamit Customer Network are not arbitrary; they are the most recognizable names in the industry. Working with these organizations, whether as customers or as pilot partners, can help a startup prove its maturity and relevancy. These marquee customers can exert a huge impact on future growth, business strategy, and fundraising.
Leading Construction firms
Skanska: The fifth largest construction and development company in the world
Turner: One of the largest construction management companies in the United States of America, with a construction volume of over $10 billion
Suffolk: One of the largest contractors in the United States
IMC Construction: One of the most progressive contractors and a leader in LEED/sustainable construction
Whiting-Turner: This Baltimore-based firm is one of the nation’s largest construction management and general contracting companies.
Beck: This firm is a leader in architecture and construction, with a portfolio spanning all property types.
Coastal Construction: Florida-based Coastal construction is one of the top 100 contractors in the United States.
Creative Contractors: One of the largest contractors in Florida and experts in construction management, design-build, and conventional contracting.
ABC FL: The Florida Gulf Coast chapter of the Associated Builders & Contractors
The Largest Owners, Developers, and Property Managers
Greystar: A leading, fully integrated multifamily real estate company with over $31 billion in gross assets under management and offering expertise in investment management, development and property management of rental housing properties.
Strategic Property Partners: Led by Jeff Vinik, SPP is developing over 9,000,000 square feet of new commercial, residential, educational, entertainment, cultural and retail space in downtown Tampa, with a total investment exceeding $3 billion.
Related Companies: One of the largest privately owned real estate developers with over 8,000 luxury units in NYC and over $50B in AUM.
Brandywine Realty: One of the largest full-service, integrated real estate companies (REIT, owner, manager, developer) in the United States, with over 185 properties containing 25.3 million net rentable square feet.
Rudin Management Company: One of the premier commercial real estate owners, builders, and managers in New York City.
UDR: A publicly-traded real estate investment trust that invests in apartments and has ownership interests in 127 apartment communities containing 39,998 apartment units.
Silverstein: A family held, full-service real estate developer, investor, and property manager based in New York City. Silverstein develops, owns, or manages more than 40 million square feet in New York City.
ZOM Living: One of the largest luxury multifamily developers in the United States that has developed over 18,500 apartment units nationwide with an aggregate value of nearly $3.5 billion.
Rubenstein Partners: This real estate investment firm has managed and invested in over 10 million square feet of office properties since its founding in 2005.
Kilroy Realty: Publicly traded REIT known for owning, developing, acquiring and managing real estate assets in West Coast real estate markets.
BNE Real Estate Group: A national developer of over tens of thousands of luxury homes and more than 1 million square feet of commercial space, and a property manager of nearly 8,000 apartments.
Berman Enterprises: A leading owner and property manager, with more than 9 million square feet of commercial office, retail, industrial/flex and residential properties in states along the East Coast.
Keystone Property Group: A real estate investment firm specializing in acquiring, developing, and managing commercial real estate in office, flex, mixed-use, and industrial sectors.
Pearl Properties: Philadelphia’s most prolific luxury developer with a full-service construction management company dedicated to Pearl Property projects.
Hersha: This hospitality trust owns and operates 49 hotels and nearly 8,000 rooms in New York, DC, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Orsid Realty: One of the largest property managers in NYC, this property manager has over 13,000 units in 118 buildings.
Odin Properties: One of the largest investors, owners, and operators in Philadelphia.
Garden Homes: This New Jersey-based real estate development company owns and manages over 50,000 apartments and over 25 million square feet of retail, office and hotel space.
Exeter Property Group: A real estate investment manager focused on industrial properties and portfolios, with over 140 million square feet of industrial properties under management.
Major Architecture and Engineering Firms
Gensler: The largest architecture and design firm in the United States.
Gerdau: A Sao Paulo-based firm is the largest producer of steel in the Americas and a key player in large infrastructure projects and civil engineering.
KPF: One of the largest architecture firms in the world, with projects across all property types and a reputation for large-scale restoration and renovation work.
Cookfox: An award-winning firm known for buildings that include responsive, environmentally friendly elements.
Brokerage, Advisory, and Commercial Real Estate Services
Newmark Knight Frank: One of the world’s leading commercial real estate brokerage and advisory firms.
Savills Studley: The largest commercial real estate firm in NYC that focuses solely on tenant representation.
Liberty Property Trust: A leader in commercial real estate with a portfolio of over 101 million square feet including more than 700 properties and a focus on development, acquisition, ownership, and management.
Leaders in Smart Cities and Technology
for the Built Environment
Sidewalk Labs: Alphabet’s urban innovation organization, responsible for investing in technology and real estate projects that improve cities.
Cemex: This Mexico-based multinational building materials company is the second largest building materials company worldwide.
First American: A leading provider of title insurance, settlement services and risk solutions for real estate transactions with nearly $6 billion in revenue.
Amalie Arena: This venue in Tampa, Florida is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning and is a premier venue for concerts, conventions, championship events in multiple sports, and more.
Ferguson: One of the largest wholesalers and distributors of HVAC equipment, waterworks and fire protection products, industrial pipes, valves, and fittings.
By Charles LaCalle (@charleslacalle)