Luke Morris is a Cofounder and Sr. Product Manager at Crexi. Luke has over a decade of experience in the commercial real estate sector, working both in CRETech and CRE investment sales.
Prior to founding Crexi, Luke was Vice President of Sales at Auction.com. He oversaw over $1B in commercial real estate transactions conducted digitally on behalf of institutions, private equity firms and private individuals.
Luke earned his Bachelor’s in Real Estate Development from the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. Luke was also a student athlete, earning a varsity letter each of his four years at USC.
We sat with Luke to talk about the product origins of Crexi, what strategies drove Crexi to where it is today, and how Luke sees the CRETech shaping the future of commercial real estate.
Crexi: As one of Crexi’s founders, what strategy went into building a commercial real estate technology platform from the ground up?
Luke Morris: While this has less to do with commercial real estate, the founder of any startup must be committed. Ready to roll up your sleeves, slog through 14-hour days, sleep in the office and grind it out. We actually have “Enjoy the Grind” as one of Crexi’s core values, and we were fortunate our founders had the willingness to commit, despite many things stacked against us.
From day one, we knew that there was a lack of CRE technology on the market that streamlined the transaction process. However, we didn’t have any data or users early on to inform our decisions. Instead, we listened to our gut and relied on the experience from big brokers and investors who were gracious enough to listen to our ideas and advise accordingly. We kept an open mind about what that platform needed to be, were willing to accept input, and weighed that input against what was best for the industry.
As we were designing Crexi, too, we intentionally pulled inspiration from other successful companies both within and outside of the commercial industry. Simplicity, ease of use, and beautiful user experience all mattered to us. We looked to companies like Salesforce, Uber, Airbnb, and Hubspot to aggregate some of the best user experiences out there.
Time passed, and the one idea we began with morphed Crexi into what it is today: an A-Z suite of commercial real estate services and a flexible transaction platform. I’m proud to say that through feedback and continual learning, we shaped Crexi into a robust marketplace.
Crexi: How important was having a pulse on the industry and collecting broker feedback in the development of Crexi? How did your background in commercial real estate play into its development?
LM: I’m thankful for my experience in the online commercial real estate space prior to building Crexi, as it greatly informed what was possible. In my previous role — and Mike [DeGiorgio]’s too, since we worked together — we witnessed hundreds of deals flowing through various stages of the CRE pipeline. And unlike a traditional brokerage, we were exposed to the national commercial real estate market across asset classes, regions, and values.
Our experience also connected us with brokers, investors, and wealthy individuals, all while learning how different market nuances affected different asset classes and — of course — learning how to best transact commercial real estate online in the first place.
When Mike and I started in the industry, brokers and owners never believed commercial real estate would be sold digitally. We proved that to be wrong: the online auction environment we worked in traded $50 million deals with large institutions clicking and bidding behind the scenes. We carried that proof into the creation of Crexi: we now knew CRE transactions could happen entirely online.
Crexi: In what ways has Crexi grown today? How does data help prioritize and drive decision-making as Crexi’s products improve and expand?
LM: Early on, we were confident in our ideas, gathered useful qualitative feedback, and turned around new features really quickly. These features weren’t perfect, but they were out there, and we could easily collect feedback and data on them, if only in limited amounts. As Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
We were willing to and unafraid of making mistakes: I would personally get on the phone with clients, let them vent about features, and call them back once they were fixed. Of course, this methodology only worked because of the people behind it — I’m entirely grateful for Crexi’s agile engineering team, and for hiring the right individuals to build out processes and products!
As time passed and we started collecting more quantifiable data, Crexi became more KPI (key performance indicator) focused, and we remain so to this day. We build our KPIs around our users, with metrics that help us improve our listings, boost engagement of buyers, etc. We clearly define these KPIs and ensure they’re understood both company-wide and on a department level. Continually monitoring these metrics allow us to improve Crexi and provide the best possible user experience.
Crexi: Can you speak to the importance of organization, collaboration, and KPIs across Crexi’s design, product, and engineering teams? How do they work together to make valuable commercial real estate tech products?
LM: In Crexi’s early days, many people wore many hats, especially across the product and engineering teams. It wasn’t ideal. Today, we’ve become much more organized (thanks to Hans, our CPO, and Eugene, our VP of Engineering) and divided Crexi’s products into different disciplines and groups who oversee these verticals.
Our marketplace, PRO membership, Intelligence (our data subscription), and transactional services: each has a product manager, designer, engineers, technical lead. They now act as mini-companies within Crexi at large and are devoted to particular KPIs each sprint.
When we break our suite of products down into these disciplines, we become much more agile. We’re able to continue working, get feedback, pivot and adjust without stumbling over bureaucratic roadblocks.
Crexi: How do you foresee brokers taking advantage of CRETech to accelerate the commercial real estate industry? Buyers, tenants?
LM: The concern I hear from brokers most often is about intermediation. They think, “You’re not going to need me in the future.” I don’t believe that. I believe brokers add incredible value to the commercial real estate process, and if they use Crexi appropriately, they will only gain more business and cut costs.
If brokers use Crexi’s current and future tools, it’ll only make them more efficient and cost-effective. We’re not a brokerage: we’ve created a seamless solution for the existing experts, enabling them exponentially increase their performance by leveraging our platform.
Too, buyers are more proactive than ever before in commercial real estate: they want to take charge of their buying experience. The goal of Crexi on the demand side is to ensure they’re buying/selling with confidence. Intelligence is one of those offerings to boost confidence, and no other listing platform has the same amount of information. Crexi has due diligence, collaborative listing boards, photos, virtual tours, OMs, 3D Matterport video tours, and the ability to submit an offer online.
Particularly in the wake of COVID-19, buyers are using the internet to search for properties from home. There’s plentiful dry powder on the sidelines, and while COVID may have delayed buyer confidence, people still want to make investments. We make it easier for buyers to find their next one.