Interview with Mark Hurst
Mark is CEO of HurstX Solutions (HXS), an advisory and consulting firm specialised in helping startups drive adoption of new technologies by all stakeholders in the built environment. He is also a Mentor for REACH as well as being an Advisor at Housing Lab, a company motivated by lowering the cost of housing, and an Advisor at Plug and Play Tech Center, an early stage investor and corporate innovation platform. Mark is the host of popular podcast ‘PropTech Espresso’ where he discusses the digital transformation of the real estate sector with experts of the field. Mark is an incredibly successful and accomplished entrepreneur and we are delighted to have had the opportunity to interview him.
From graduating in Mathematics from MIT, to investment banking, management consultancy and tech executive, your trajectory is truly impressive. Can you highlight 3 challenges you faced along the way?
There have been three macro market challenges that have significantly impacted my career: the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s, the global financial crisis of the late 2000s, and the COVID pandemic we are currently experiencing. Each of these events forced me to confront environments of rapid change resulting in considerable professional stress. What I understand now looking back on these times is that in each case, after the initial wave of fear and uncertainty passes, new opportunities present themselves. These opportunities will allow you to reinvent yourself and set you up to be on the leading edge of new emerging trends.
You have worked with a such a range of tech companies from sports and music, to consultancy and investment. What has been your favourite venture so far and why?
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in a variety of different sectors and with a diverse set of companies. It’s hard to choose a favourite amongst many great companies, as I’ve learned a lot from each and they all have some memorable highlights. Across all of these I’m particularly grateful for the many friendships that I’ve formed, something I consider invaluable and wouldn’t trade for anything. One theme that does stand out is that I have had the opportunity to work with a number of friends from college, some multiple times. Mixing professional and personal life has worked out well for me, deepening and strengthening these friendships. I hope that I will have similar opportunities in the future to mix friendships with work opportunities and am actively looking to make this happen.
What were your motivations for founding HurstX Solutions?
- I knew from the onset of HurstX Solutions that I wanted to focus on working with early stage startups. While I’ve worked with companies at all different stages of their lifecycle, by far what I have enjoyed the most is working in and around early stage startups.
- Secondly, I’ve built up skills and experienced repeatedly business growth situations that are pivotal decision points for founders. The ability to detect pattern recognition and then to share insights from my past, helping these startups avoid issues that have plagued organisations I worked at, is really satisfying.
- Finally, I was at a point in my career where I was looking to take control of my life in a way I hadn’t in the past. Striking out on my own to found HurstX Solutions afforded me the opportunity to be in full control for the first time. This control also allowed me to bet on myself and see where I could take this which is really invigorating.
Let’s discuss the impact of SaaS solutions currently disrupting the industry. What are your thoughts in terms of their viability and longevity? Do you believe this is the new way forward for service-driven markets?
There are obviously tremendous benefits with SaaS solutions, both for the buyer and the seller. Cost predictability is of huge importance when selling to enterprises, and on the flip side the recurring nature of revenue is a driver of higher valuations for vendor businesses. I do think we have entirely moved on from the model of massive one-time payments and subscriptions models are in vogue at the moment. That said, I expect new payment models to certainly be introduced, but expect the SaaS model to be the dominant model for the next 10+ years. Ultimately you still need to have a great product that solves a pain point and is differentiated in order to have long term success in any market. If a business delivers this with a new business model, as long as there is measurable ROI buyers will adopt this.
You have a wealth of experience in Business Development and Strategy. What advice would give to someone in these roles?
Business Development can cover a range of responsibilities depending on the organisation, but core to this role is being able to develop an idea that addresses a complex issue. Convincing two organisations to buy into this vision and commit is what makes business development so rewarding. Success in business development largely comes down to establishing trust which is not a quick thing to be earned. To successfully gain trust, you need to deeply understand the partner organisation you are courting and this takes a tremendous amount of research. Foundationally, you also need to be great at storytelling and communication so work on fine tuning these skills.
Speaking as a Mentor for Reach, how important is it for you to share your knowledge with young professionals? Can you highlight an example case which stands out for you?
- One of the great things about the companies that come through the NAR Reach program is that they are a mix of young entrepreneurs, experienced execs, and everything in between. The needs of a company when they are participating in NAR Reach are unique to the organisation at that specific time in their lifecycle.
- I’ve worked with many great organisations during my association with the NAR Reach program, but if I had to highlight one particular organisation it would be Earnnest. Working alongside Earnnest’s CEO Rick Altizer and now their CRO Russell Smith has been a fun and rewarding journey. Earnnest is rapidly growing and I like to think the advice I shared with them helped contribute to this.
I can see that one of your longest ventures was at Deem Inc, a leading corporate transportation technology platform. Tell us about the latest developments of the transportation tech industry. Have you come across any exciting new solutions?
Corporate travel has obviously been hit hard by COVID and is unlikely to bounce back to the historical levels we have seen in the past. This in turn has had a direct impact on the hospitality industry given its correlation with business travel. What we are seeing is that with people not travelling as frequently for business you have sustained hotel occupancy rate declines, and thus unused capacity particularly during the week. So the question many owners and operators are faced with is what can you do with this unused capacity? This opportunity favours innovators who seek to take advantage of the situation and reinvent their businesses, exploring the likes of co-living, flex work spaces, and permanent housing to name a few. If you don’t evolve, these can be painful times since we are not going back to the way things were.
We recently included PropTech Espresso in our top 5 PropTech Podcasts to listen to. What effect has podcasting had on the PropTech world? Can it be used as a business tool?
- It was quite the unexpected honour to be included on Floorfy’s Top 5 PropTech Podcast list so I want to thank you for that and hope to continue to provide episodes that are interesting and informative to my listeners.
- Podcasting is in its early infancy and I think in many ways, there remains a lot to figure out on how to make it an effective business tool. For me specifically, what I’ve been fascinated to learn and appreciate is how global podcasting truly is. While you intellectually know that something you release on the internet is accessible to anyone in the world, it’s another thing entirely when you start to engage with this audience. For instance, I’ve had the chance to talk with people in India who have used my podcast to get a better sense of the US proptech market. I still find this wild and look forward to more of these listener interactions.
This is the most exciting time in the history of PropTech. Capital in the sector is booming, with private investment hitting $32B in 2021, a 28% increase from 2020. Do you believe this to be a sustainable model, or is the market perhaps overheated?
While continued investment at this pace seems improbable, real estate has a couple of factors working in its favour to persist this trend. Firstly, the almost incomparable size of real estate as an asset class provides continued upside opportunity. Pair this with the fact that historically real estate has been a technology laggard, I think the investment surge will likely continue for quite a while. Furthermore, real estate also has a lifecycle which is significantly longer than almost any other sector, providing another unique attribute that will fuel the continued investment pace for the foreseeable future.
Finally, do you have any Predictions for PropTech in 2022? 2027?
While I have no doubt there will be plenty of innovation in PropTech around the convergence of real estate, block chain, crypto, and the Metaverse, in the next couple of years where I would like to see material change, is around increased homeownership for disenfranchised groups as well as increased affordable and attainable housing. The follow-on societal impacts of addressing these issues are immense but too often overshadowed by the glitz of new tech. Thankfully we have incredibly smart and passionate people working on this so I am optimistic that we will see material progress here. The nature of these housing challenges means this won’t be solved over the next few years, this will be a long term challenge and will require multiple solutions to emerge as there is no single silver bullet.
Links of interest:
Top 5 Proptech Podcasts and the Benefits of Starting One
LinkedIn: FLOORFY UK
Youtube: Floorfy in 30 Seconds