Get insights into founding teams as they navigate their own growth journey. There are several stages of success on every scale-up journey before the elusive unicorn status, we are focussing on those different stages with our Founder Spotlights.
In this spotlight, we speak to Kevin Shtofman, COO of NavigatorCRE who talks about sales, hiring, working with large corporates and how process is necessary to achieve scale.
Tell us about yourself, name, role company, location?
Kevin Shtofman, COO, based in Dallas, Texas. Headquarters for the company is Seattle, Washington and we have additional offices in Hermosa Beach, just outside of Los Angeles and London, which we opened this past October '21.
Talk about your own journey at NavigatorCRE?
I joined September 2019. At the time, I was employee number ten and I oversaw sales, operations and fundraising. Now we are 52 employees and we've raised about £17 million. Our most recent round was at twelve and a half million pounds this past July '21 from an institutional partner in the US. Now we've grown, overseeing fundraising has passed duties to our head of UK, and I run sales and operations.
What problem are NavigatorCRE trying to solve?
Navigator is a patented cloud based business intelligence platform that rapidly ingests data, integrates systems and visualizes information to deliver critical insights with speed and accuracy. What once took months, now happens in minutes.
We are purely focused on commercial real estate. It's our only industry. We were all real estate people before we started this company. Our main target markets are enterprise owners, operators and investors of commercial real estate across all of the property types in North America and the UK, currently.
What has been your biggest challenge to scaling in the past twelve months?
You know, what worked at ten employees, and you can get away with, does not work at 50 employees. It really is more about process.
When you're a small company trying to get product market fit, most of the time you just say yes to any customer request because you don't know how much effort it takes to satisfy that request when you're a young company. So we said yes to everything.
Now fast forward to today. We have almost 60 clients and we've learned which data sets are truly valuable for an owner or an operator or an investor or a manager or even an Occupier. We've also learned what data sets are easier to integrate into our platform versus harder. And it's really determining level of effort versus value delivered to the client. That's been the biggest lesson learned of the many lessons I've learned over the last three years.
"it's really determining level of effort versus value delivered to the client. That's been the biggest lesson learned of the many lessons"
You joined the GrowthBuilders programme in January 2021 - twelve months ago, what success has your company seen since then?
2021 was quite the year. We raised our first institutional round of capital. We doubled the size of our employee base, and we doubled our revenue base as well, and added some pretty marquee names. We hired our first employee in the UK and have launched our first UK based pilot. Not allowed to say who yet. It won't be public until April, but we're hoping to talk about it at the MIPIM conference in Cannes.
How did the programme contribute to your growth?
I think it accelerated the need of creating processes around our business but also the results of these process we put in place. Putting all of our opportunity records into a CRM, tracking all of our projects with strict programme management software, defining milestones at various stages in the sales cycle and the deployment cycle.
These were things we did, and we talked about, but we had not formalised before the Scale programme, and we found that we were getting a lot of introductions to large institutions that required that rigorous process. We're glad that we spent a lot of time with a lot of experts in the programme learning what works and does not work when trying to scale.
"we found that we were getting a lot of introductions to large institutions that required that rigorous process."
What does rigorous process actually mean for you and how does it help client opportunities?
When we were a younger company, we used to only advertise speed. Speed to process data, speed to visualise data, speed to get them up and running. And what we've learned with large companies is the bar is fairly low on speed. Legacy processes are fairly nightmarish.
So what we instead do now is spend a lot more time on process of discovering their needs, designing a road map around implementing those needs, making sure the resulting visuals and data models and use cases are tested with the right audience before they're released to a wider group of people so that the client retains a lot more control. Basically, as much control as they would have if they built this themselves, but with a much faster and less expensive deployment.
Doing that de-risks the process in the client's mind, and that's really what you have to do as a startup is de-risk the idea of a client accepting you, either as the first in their vertical, or as an early adopter in their vertical. When they find out that other companies just like them, their peers, are already using us, that helps. Then showing them why, with good process, typically seals the deal.
"that de-risks the process in the client's mind, and that's really what you have to do as a startup is de-risk the idea of a client accepting you, either as the first in their vertical, or as an early adopter in their vertical."
What keeps you up at night when running NavigatorCRE?
What keeps me up at night is probably what keeps a lot of proptech executives up at night, and that is the ability to hire the right talent in a market that is massively favouring job seekers instead of job creators. For a lot of reasons, right? And I've gotten a lot of advice -not just from the scale programme, but also from many other mentors- that a bad hire costs you a lot. A lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of emotional stress, and so getting the process right around hiring is really hard and it's super important.
"a bad hire costs you a lot. A lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of emotional stress, and so getting the process right around hiring is really hard and it's super important."
Have you done anything to get your hiring process right?
We engaged an outside recruiting firm to assist. We tried not to do that for a while. We had an in-house recruiter and she could handle most of what we needed, and now we're growing at such a pace where we needed some help. So having a trusted outside recruiter helped a lot, especially one that knows the commercial real estate industry, because they're looking for specific titles and skill sets and system knowledge.
Secondly, we have a personality test. I don't know if I should be endorsing this particular one, because there's a lot of great ones out there, but we utilise it across our entire employee base, current employees and people that are interviewing, to see where their personality traits will fit in and how they would mesh with the current department they're applying for. And that's become really important in a hybrid environment where you're not always going to be talking to each other face to face, where you need to build relationships face to face and virtually. And we want to make sure that people are comfortable doing that.
we have, like, a personality test... that's become really important in a hybrid environment where you're not always going to be talking to each other face to face, where you need to build relationships face to face and virtually. And we want to make sure that people are comfortable doing that.
What made you join the Scale Programme and what did you want to achieve?
Up through the first five years of the company's existence, we'd had a lot of success in North America and began to grow our employee base. And when the idea of expanding into the EMEA region and specifically the UK first, there was a question on, could we really afford to hire a large team ahead of a lot of paying clients and product market fit in the region?
We thought a great way to test whether the market would value a platform like ours was to go through a Scale Programme. That allowed us to learn more about the local market. It allowed us to connect with experts in the market that knew the client base. It also allowed us to get some media attention and some marketing and some initial meetings with these prospects to determine whether it was worth raising some capital and opening up an office there, which we ultimately ended up doing this past October.
What advice would you give to a company that's looking to join a programme like Scale PropTech?
Worry less about business development, who that programme is going to introduce you to, and instead worry about securing time and learning from experts who've been there before.
The more you can accelerate learning a scalable sales process, deployment process, culture evaluation process so that you can more efficiently hire and grow, those are all things that are going to be valuable no matter whether you stick with your current go to market strategy, or you completely have to pivot your business. Like, having understanding around what it takes to sell and know your customer and deliver and market and do that all over again is really valuable, and a Scale Programme should be able to teach you things in all three of those buckets.
"The more you can accelerate learning a scalable sales process, deployment process, culture evaluation process so that you can more efficiently hire and grow, those are all things that are going to be valuable no matter whether you stick with your current go to market strategy, or you completely have to pivot your business."
What's a valuable piece of advice that you’ve learned about growing your business that you would like to pass on?
Think really really big long-term, and really really small short-term. You know, you have a long-term vision, you have a current reality, there's a large gap in between. Create a lot of incremental goals and milestones in between, so that you stay encouraged. You stay optimistic and use any setback as a learned lesson, not a reason to get defensive or retrench.
"Think really really big long-term, and really really small short-term... ..Create a lot of incremental goals and milestones in between, so that you stay encouraged. You stay optimistic and use any setback as a learned lesson, not a reason to get defensive or retrench."
What would you say your long term goal for Navigator is?
My personal goal in the next 24 months would be to expand in the EMEA region to become the dominant platform in North America, and to test the waters in the AsiaPacific region. And that would be across owners, operators, managers and occupiers of commercial real estate.
Finally, what do you love about working for a scale-up?
Every day is exciting. I know there are so many cliches that you could mention about startups, but you really do not have support networks inside of the company when you build a new company, right? There is no marketing Department or legal Department or sales Department or Ops Department or HR.
You have to build it from the ground up, and the exciting thing about doing that is you're not hamstrung by any legacy practises. You have a Greenfield chance to produce something new and bring the lessons you've learned from past experiences and that is always exciting.
If you'd like to learn more about any of the above then get in touch with the GrowthBuilders team, or apply for one of our programmes here.