Crexi Q&A: Hans Ku and CRETech’s Journey

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Hans leads Crexi‘s product team with a decades-long career and impressive pedigree of technology experience. Hans joined Crexi as Chief Product Officer in 2019 following his departure from Weedmaps, where he also served as Chief Product Officer. 

Prior, Hans led product at Flipagram, acquired by ByteDance in 2017, and co-founded PTCH, acquired by Yahoo in 2013, where he led video products such as Yahoo Originals and Yahoo Live. Hans earned his BS in Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering from UCLA and his MBA from USC’s Marshall School of Business.

We sat with Hans to discuss the current state of CRETech, its trajectory over the next ten years, and how it might transform commercial real estate for the better.

Crexi: What is the state of CRETech today, and what is its current trajectory? 

HK: Commercial real estate has largely experienced a gap in tech adoption. Commercial real estate differs from its residential counterpart, where the buying and selling homes lies in the hands of the consumer. That’s a common aspect of tech tools we see today: we must make everything usable by the end-consumer.

However, we’re starting to see a closure of that gap, in ways that surpass consumer interfaces into building better tools for the industry. The role that large corporations, funds, or REIT investors play in this market is on a larger scale than homebuyers. We’ve learned you CAN consumerize CRE, but you must consumerize the professional side — the seller side — of CRE too. The idea of consumerization in commercial real estate centers around equipping both buyers and sellers with the tools to make buying and selling accessible. Therefore, CRETech must combine tool education with ease of use, ease of adoption, and visible value. 

With machine learning technology, buyers can incorporate a vast amount of economy and market data into making investment decisions. However, CRE hasn’t yet fully applied the potential of machine learning to risk assessment and valuation. 

Crexi: What challenges do you anticipate — when creating and distributing innovative CRETech — in getting commercial real estate professionals to embrace its use?

HK: Sometimes, when people talk about the future, they think about AI, robotics, and a complete transformation of industries. While this is true, the change doesn’t happen in five years. I’ve been involved in the internet since its early days at UCLA — practically since the beginning of the Web. I witnessed the rise of Hypertext and Mosaic and marveled at how those developments allowed all of us — suddenly — to be no more than a click away from each other. No matter what we want to hear, say, or do, the World Wide Web made that communication immediate. 

The transformation was astounding, and many industries worried about what it would do to businesses. For example, I used to work in Hollywood. People predicted the death of the music industry, Hollywood, etc., and now we use the internet to consume music and film daily. Pre-COVID, those industries were the healthiest they’ve ever been. 

Technology changed the entertainment industry by accelerating the growth of that industry exponentially. Everything’s online, and CRE properties are headed the same direction. Where buyers would’ve once sat in a broker’s office to browse properties, they can now go online and see what’s available as soon as it’s available. Buyers or tenants can now easily browse through investment options because technology has aggregated that information for their perusal.

Current CRETech also connects buyers to brokers faster than ever before. In-office visits and even phone calls to an extent are no longer necessary. Consumers can easily indicate interest by sending a message or even just clicking a “Learn More” button. 

In turn, brokers can now reach a broader pool of buyers and manage their listings more efficiently. The client now approaches a broker when they’ve narrowed it down to a few properties. This allows brokers to leverage their expertise in a very specific way. By the time they connect with a buyer, brokers know that their properties are on the buyer’s shortlist, increasing the likelihood of a close.

Crexi: Ten years from now, what do you think the commercial real estate industry will look like? How will CRETech shape that future?

HK: Tech is all about building solutions and delivering them to everyone at scale. Unit cost and the marginal cost of delivering functionality is tiny when you distribute on the internet. A massive machine-learning system, chewing through millions of dollars’ worth of data and dividing that information amongst millions of users, is much cheaper than an office of ten data analysts.

We are trending towards data democratization: through aggregation, we can chip away at the wall surrounding existing data. As time goes on, Crexi aims to provide the most accurate data without requiring thousands of researchers to collect it manually. It’ll happen as an artifact of Crexi having a robust marketplace.

Ten years from now, if you’re a broker, your world will have been transformed. You have a much greater reach than before the internet. You can use technologies to manage your inventory, offer services, market, and reach consumers with better relevance. CRETech gets your offerings in front of people who LIKE your stuff, rather than disseminating to everyone, hoping someone will bite. 

We’ll see these transformations in CRE: aggregation, timeliness, simplicity, relevance. These changes will make barriers to entry lower, liquidity higher (as properties achieve better value), and transactions move faster through simplified processes, communication, and discovery. 

Crexi: How do you see technology playing a role in the wake of COVID-19’s shakeup of traditional CRE interactions, in both the short and long term? 

HK: It’s clear that it was convenient to tour properties virtually in the past. Now it’s a necessity — the only way to evaluate a property that’s almost as close as being physically present. After COVID-19, I suspect virtual tours are here to stay. It’s far more convenient, to the point where you can narrow down what places you want to visit physically.

I also think virtual broker interactions between buyers and brokers will stick. It’s another example of the consumer experience developing first. The way you Facetime or Zoom call with friends is the same way you’ll Facetime with your broker. You don’t have to visit their office to have a conversation. Its application to CRE is more valuable and quick. While face-to-face consultations will have their place, video calls are here to stay. 

Crexi: You’ve worked at a series of successful start-ups and tech companies, including leading through acquisitions. How do you keep your product teams motivated and inspired by the vision of what could be, regardless of industry?

HK: The key to a successful product team are product leaders that understand and empathize with both our users and our team members. It starts by hiring people with a positive mindset that believe all problems can be overcome — people that share a perspective of technology and innovation and how it can change the world with one of humanity’s most fundamental assets: commercial real estate.

I find that when you have a team composed of people with that mindset, you’re far more likely to have a successful outcome as a company.

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Shanti Ryle
Shanti Ryle

Content Marketing Manager

Shanti leads Crexi's content marketing strategies with 7+ years of content development experience, creating everything from blog posts to award-winning podcasts. Previously, she worked on content teams at Snapchat, Weedmaps, and HopSkipDrive as well as developed copy, articles, and media for freelance publications.

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