“In the really hard times of uncertainty, you have to believe that the world should be a certain way, and it's worth it to go through the abyss in order to make it happen.”
Justin Bedecarre is the Co-Founder and CEO of Raise Commercial Real Estate, a technology powered commercial real estate brokerage, working with companies like Palantir, Notion, and Brex to make searching and managing their workplace seamless and intelligent. Raise is backed by Point72, Founders Fund, and Initialized Capital. Prior to Raise, Justin was the Co-Founder of 42Floors and a broker at Cushman & Wakefield.
Tell us about your background and how Raise started?
Raise is my life’s work. It’s the culmination of years being a broker and building my first company. I started as a broker in San Francisco at Cushman & Wakefield in 2009, when the world was reeling from the Great Recession. It was literally the bottom of the market. And I fell in love with the business - the dynamic of working with companies as they scaled, being a part of the fabric of the best cities in the world. But I also felt there should be a better way to do the job, to serve clients, to collaborate with the people I worked with.
That led me to co-found my first company, 42Floors, with some amazing entrepreneurs. We set out to be the Zillow of commercial real estate. I saw firsthand how technology can impact the experience of finding office space. I learned so much about building teams and products, and running a company from the early stages.
I learned while building 42Floors that in order to make a significant impact on how companies find, build and manage workplaces, we needed to have a high-touch and high-tech solution. I had the idea to combine both of these experiences and build a full stack company to solve this problem. That is when we decided to start Raise.
Raise is a tech enabled service company – what does that mean and how is it different from building a service only or tech only business?
We believe that when people do what they are best in the world at, and software does what it’s best at - the combination of the two is better than either on their own.
Our thesis is that the experts who advise their clients in commercial real estate like brokers, project managers and workplace strategists, will always play an instrumental role in this industry. They will never be replaced...for good reason. However the industry has mostly stagnated, and we believe technology is the critical missing piece to provide a 10x better experience for the experts in the industry and the clients they serve.
What does Raise’s software do?
We build our software for our experts who serve our clients and of course our clients themselves.
Our software makes our brokers more efficient and arms them with real-time intelligence, two things that only technology can solve at scale. This allows them to produce better results and spend more time on the things that they uniquely do well like serving clients, negotiating, recognizing patterns, and building relationships.
We set out to reimagine the entire client experience, giving them real-time data they can’t get anywhere else, helping them collaborate both internally and with our unified team of experts, and make faster and smarter decisions across the entire life cycle of finding, building and managing their workplaces.
You’ve got a dream team of investors in Point72, Founders Fund, Initialized Capital, SaaStr, SV Angel, Founder Collective, The House Fund, Liquid2 Ventures, and many others. How did you get so many great investors involved and what do you think it was that made them invest and believe in Raise’s potential?
I have a great relationship with every one of our investors. I care a lot about who we bring onto the cap table and help build this company. Our investors have been enormously helpful in growing Raise. We originally bootstrapped the company. It was really tough, but we wanted to prove that this could be a real business. Our initial customers were really our original investors. We generated 7-figure revenues before raising our first outside dollar, which was from Initialized and then Founders Fund. Alexis and Garry have been supporters from day 0. They were some of the first people I ever talked to about this idea to build a technology powered brokerage to reimagine commercial real estate.
In our Series A, we were growing really fast, had a roster of amazing clients and successfully launched our second market. When I met Sri from Point72 Ventures, he was the perfect partner for us - ridiculously smart, loves tech-enabled businesses and sees the massive potential to scale Raise. Even when the pandemic was well underway and most companies were forced out of their offices, our Series A was way oversubscribed, and every dollar that our investors committed was wired.
2020 was tougher that we had imagined. Now, 18 months later, we are having the best year we’ve ever had by far, on every metric from revenue, clients served, etc. We learned how much resiliency our team has to come out of this pandemic in a stronger position, but we also saw every single investor support us during this tough time. Investors matter a lot, and we have some of the world’s best.
A lot has been discussed about the future of work - what’s Raise’s role in the return to the workplace as well as the future of work?
We are at the epicenter of one of the most important inflection points in human history where everything around how and where people work, live, and play is being questioned. Just about every company in the world is asking these questions, and we are here to provide those answers. We work with many of the most iconic brands that every company, big and small, will be watching to see what they do to return their teams in-person work. It’s incredibly exciting!
Despite the challenges, Raise has expanded in two markets since the pandemic started – what do you put that down too?
The pandemic was incredibly hard on us. It could have killed us. But what ended up happening was it made us stronger. I believe that came down to the conviction we have on our mission and the resiliency of our team. We knew that the world would come back together and would want to work together at least some of the time. We predicted early on that the majority of companies would be hybrid. We also took a bet, despite the narrative to the contrary, that cities would come back in full force.
All great companies go through one or two periods in their history that test them to the brink of failure - black swan events, competition, internal culture, macro market forces. You have to fight through them beyond what you thought possible. But if you can survive, or even better yet become relatively stronger, you can carry that strength and a belief that whatever you face, you can overcome. You become a cockroach, hard to kill, and put yourself in positions to win.
In the really hard times of uncertainty, you have to believe that the world should be a certain way, and it's worth it to go through the abyss in order to make it happen.
One of Raise’s values is “Win as a team.” How has Raise built such a collaborative culture as a distributed company?
We knew early on that we would be a distributed company the more successful we got because the very nature of our business is local. So we embraced that, and built a hybrid office culture years before the pandemic. Everything we do is team oriented. Every client is served by a team, no one works alone. Our company works so well because we are cross-functional and every person at the company, whether they are in office, hybrid, or remote-first as first class citizens.
We want every person at the company to be informed and thus empowered to think about ideas that could 10x our company and have the confidence and resources to build them. We do this through regular All Hands, AMAs with key leaders including myself, regular onsites and offsites, and documentation and playbooks when we will need a repeatable workflow. I share our board deck every quarter and walk the entire company through our strategy, “the why” behind decisions we make, and where we want to go.
To win as a team means you have to believe in your team, not just through words but through your actions. I try to be less prescriptive on exactly how we get there, but rather be aligned on where we need to go and let our team chart the course. The more informed the team is and the more bought into the mission, the more empowered they are to deliver outsized impact. That’s what we mean when we say win as a team.
What’s your ultimate vision for Raise?
Our vision is to reimagine commercial real estate brokerage at the biggest stage. We want to build a generational company that is a platform for change and empowerment to this industry and the clients we serve, bringing the best people and technology together to accomplish more than either of them can on their own. I want Raise to be known for our culture as much as our innovation in technology and services.
Do you have a favorite book?
Hard to pick one! I will recommend two that have had outsized impacts on me and Raise.
The Score Takes Care of Itself, about the legendary head coach of the 49ers Bill Walsh and his philosophy on leadership, walks you through how to focus on building a high standard of excellence in your culture by focusing on the details of the inputs of a company and letting the results fall into place from there.
The second book I recommend to everyone is The Upside of Stress, how the right kind of stress and the right perspective on stress can turn something that society generally tries to avoid and flips it to embrace stress and understand it more to use to your advantage.
My favorite quote is by Steve Jobs and has inspired me so much in starting and building Raise.
“Everything around you that you call 'life' was made up by people who were no smarter than you.
And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
Any parting advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
“The team you build is the company you build - more than any strategy or product. Choose wisely.” This is a philosophy first articulated by Vinod Khosla. Building a team that has a high density of extremely talented people is the most important thing you can do to be successful.