By Jack Stubbs
In the current era of commercial real estate tech, many online platforms are striving to streamline the way that brokers and their clients engage with each other and their assets. Apto, a company based in Denver, Colorado and founded in 2012, is one such platform looking to simplify the deal-making process for professionals at all levels of the transaction by allowing users to visualize their properties on the platform and track, manage and finalize deals.
We recently spoke with Tanner McGraw, founder and chief strategy officer of Apto, about the platform, how it hopes to impact the commercial real estate market and how technology is increasingly changing the landscape of the traditional brokerage industry.
What can you tell me about Apto (where and when the company was founded, current objectives of the company, etc.)?
Apto was an idea I had following my own frustrations with the lack of sufficient [customer relationship management] software and other CRE-focused technologies available to brokers. That idea came to fruition with the founding of the company in 2012 in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston. We moved to Denver in 2015, eager to be a part of the city’s booming startup scene. Currently, we are seeking to grow our company and enhance the functionality of the product while also simplifying the user experience…ease of use is the name of the game!
Where does the company operate, both demographically and geographically? What are some of the day-to-day services that the platform provides and what are some of its key features? Who are some of the company’s clients?
Nearly 10,000 commercial real estate brokers across North America and beyond rely on our software to cultivate more profitable client relationships and make smarter business decisions. We believe that a broker’s customer relationship management should be much more than just a place to store their contact and property data. With our latest enhancements, Apto now incorporates sales and workflow tools that truly boost broker productivity and streamline the whole process of finding, winning and executing deals.
Can you elaborate on the importance of data visualization when it comes to keeping track of deals? In the current era of CRE (commercial real estate) tech, what is the importance of being able to visualize this data in a more interactive, holistic way?
Apto invests heavily in user experience and design to bring a broker’s business together in one place because that’s where we can make the biggest difference. Our latest product innovation provides brokers with an interactive kanban-style deal tracking board that allows them to see the stage of every deal at a glance. Our new mapping functionality helps brokers prospect and win deals by providing visual, interactive tools to analyze their market.
Even with the increasing prevalence of tech-based platforms in the commercial real estate market, this is still largely an industry that depends on developing and nurturing face-to-face relationships though personal interactions—how does Apto strike this balance, and is technology overshadowing this more interpersonal aspect of the industry?
A broker’s network is his or her most valuable asset. Of course, no technology can replace human interaction and relationships, but it can make it easier to remember to contact people at the right time —and reach out consistently with the context you need. What’s more, it can help brokers be significantly more efficient in their outreach efforts by automating frequent tasks and streamlining their prospecting and nurturing processes.
How is Apto seeking to disrupt the traditional brokerage industry? How has this sector of the commercial real estate market been changing over the last few years, and what do you foresee over the next few years?
In some of the more commoditized areas of the brokerage business, we’re seeing high levels of fee compression. To help brokers survive and thrive, we’re trying to simplify their lives by chipping away at workflow and data problems and inefficiencies…so they can take some assignments at lesser fees but increase deal volume (enabled by tech) to maintain and grow their income.
Also, looking ahead, the rise of the specialized teams we’ve seen in recent years will accelerate as greater expertise is required to get deals done. Relationship and market expertise will return as the core value propositions of a broker to their client.
There are many platforms that seek to provide the same or similar services as Apto. How will Apto ensure that it is implementing the most up-to-date technology into its software moving forward?
Not only do we invest heavily in our product development team, we [also] invest heavily in customer collaboration. Our product managers are constantly in the field talking to brokers—both Apto users and non-users. No competitors can match our talent and numbers in terms of product development, and our deep industry expertise means that we’re focused on what brokers care about.
What are some of the older methodologies in the brokerage community does Apto hope to replace and build upon? What is next for the industry that sits at a crossroads?
It’s a relationship-based business, and most brokers still manage with Excel and sometimes just paper. We want to help keep brokers focused on relationships, but it needs to be easier to connect with their network. You should never lose a deal because you forgot to call that one client you haven’t seen in six months (and that happens all the time). We’re automating and organizing the tedious aspects of workflow and enabling brokers to be more efficient. We’re also trying to improve transaction management, as deals are complex and involve a million moving pieces. Brokers need more than post-it notes to keep it all straight, and in fact the younger players are demanding more and more from tech.
Is there a steep learning curve associated with the product? How scalable is the platform across different devices and contexts?
I’d say the steepness of the learning curve depends on how tech forward the broker is who will be using Apto. Each innovation to the product has been aimed at simplifying the user experience, so regardless of age or comfort level with technology, the time to get up and running is decreasing. We have extensive training resources (both online and in-person) to help users get familiar with the system and realize value from day one. Apto is also mobile friendly, so updates can be made to a user’s deals from the field. The mobile app is extremely user friendly, and we’re always making improvements.