CrowdStreet is the premium provider of online commercial real estate (CRE) investment offerings, technology, and services in the country. Their innovative online public marketplace gives investors direct access to a broad range of institutional-quality commercial real estate assets to diversify their portfolios. Previously these institutional quality investments were inaccessible for the majority of investors, but the CrowdStreet platform creates a centralized marketplace that increases access, transparency and wealth for all. Additionally, the CrowdStreet platform serves large CRE firms in two ways. They can use CrowdStreet technology to manage their own investors through a private portal and fundraise for their own offerings. Secondarily, they can post their offerings on the CrowdStreet marketplace, gaining access to new sources of capital through their investor community.
Now for the Q & A...
Thank you for being a part of our spotlight series Molly, can you tell us what you do for CrowdStreet?
I run the marketing organization for CrowdStreet spanning all elements from go-to-market, brand, PR and communications, product marketing, digital and demand generation, and customer experience.
How did you get your start in marketing?
I started my career in sales which taught me how to be focused, tenacious and can also be very humbling. Moving into marketing from sales was a natural progression for me. I was finding that I wasn’t being served by my marketing organization well and began building my own content for customer personas and then began sharing those with my colleagues. From there I made the leap. Having had sales experience has served me very well as a marketer. It taught me to always keep the customer and their needs top of mind as you develop and execute on marketing initiatives. I also like to think that it has made me a better partner to sales by having been in their shoes, and understanding what drives them. My goal is to provide sales with a constant flow of new tools to make them successful in their jobs delivering revenue for the business.
What trends are you seeing in the financial technology industry and how does that affect your job day-to-day?
A: Fintech funding continues to break records, so it is clearly a very hot industry to be in. The commercial real estate industry we are in has historically been very slow to adopt technology. Our investor customers, however, have high expectations regarding the ability to use online tools to manage their investments. So, we are highly focused as a business on user experience and are continually adding product enhancements in order to meet our customer’s needs. The goal is a simple, intuitive yet powerful toolset that provides a rich experience. Additionally, we are seeing that our users want a way to feel connected to each other, despite their geographical differences. We are consistently working to roll-out new ways to enable our investors to share information, best practices, trends in CRE investing and lessons learned. Finally, we are seeing broader adoption in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology that could very well impact our future. We are in a wait-and-see mode to determine whether there will be demand from our customers for this new trend.
What are the marketing trends that you’re most excited about?
For our business, we are maniacal about tracking data in order to understand our customers needs and what is trending. I am most excited about how we can apply artificial intelligence and data analytics to modeling our business and finding trends in the data that the average human can’t see. We also have opportunities for more automation to drive operational efficiency and augment productivity. All of this will help lead us to improved decision making and make us more nimble while enabling our human capital to focus on important and revenue-enhancing initiatives.
What has been one of your biggest wins for you at CrowdStreet, and what did you gain or learn from it?
I’ve been with the company for about 7 months now, and the first project I had the fortune to take on with my team was a complete company rebrand including new logo, tagline, messaging and website. The only thing we didn’t touch was the company name. I am lucky enough that the entire executive leadership and board of directors were completely supportive of the rebrand and in doing it the “right” way. We started the project by interviewing our customers to really determine what the CrowdStreet brand means to them. At a high level, what we heard is that CrowdStreet is a premium, yet approachable brand—that we provide premium products, technology and customer experience. From there we developed our brand architecture, value propositions, core messaging and competitive differentiators. This became the building blocks from which we then built our new brand identity and design. Our design very much reflects our company and the direction we are headed; it has a premium, yet modern design and is reflective of the industry we are in although not overtly so. Finally, with our incredible website design and development firm Harlo Interactive, we launched a brand new website. We took the opportunity to reconsider the overall user experience and then we applied the final touches to make it not just functional, but beautiful as well. Post rebrand, what we hear from customers is that CrowdStreet’s brand identity now reflects the company they always thought we were. There’s no better stamp of approval than that.
The process of creating a brand is somewhat similar to that of architecting a building—a fitting analogy for a company whose mission is to help investors and CRE firms build wealth with commercial real estate. You have to start with a strong foundation, and for us, that foundation has always been a deep understanding of our customers and their needs.
What marketing goals do you have for CrowdStreet in 2018?
What goals don’t I have! There is just a lot to be done, and there are almost no bad ideas (for those I have a “suggestion box” next to my desk). In all seriousness, we are still in a bit of a start-up phase as an organization. So there are a lot of new programs that need to be developed, and existing initiatives need to be built to scale with new martech tools. Key themes are around sales enablement and customer experience goals. Also, content is king in this industry as this is a new space and needs a lot of definition, and education is a constant demand from our customer base.
What is your opinion on fails, do you think they are important?
Of course! Early in my career I was so afraid of failing and looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. There has been such a shift in marketing over the past several years with a new category of marketing tools being launched what feels like every quarter. It’s impossible to keep up and “know” everything now, and marketing roles require more specialization. Although marketing teams have made a lot of strides in being able to measure and report on most initiatives, marketing is still an art and a science so there are still things that you have to just try and see if they work, and it’s fairly typical for some things to fail. I always tell people who are considering a career in marketing that they better have thick skin. Get ready for literally EVERYONE to have an opinion on your work, and if you do fail, be ready for everyone to know! Luckily I haven’t had any catastrophic fails in my career—knock on wood.
Technology startups are known for their fast-paced environments—what are 3 rules you live by that help you thrive in this type of environment?
First and foremost, be ready and okay with fairly constant change. Although I’m in a company that luckily doesn’t change for change sake (been there, done that), it is still the nature of the beast in technology. To help offset the natural impact of change, I do what I can to always anticipate what might happen and have a plan B, that way I’m not caught flat-footed. Secondly, I think it is critically important to share your quarterly plans internally with your core constituents and partners in the business. That way everyone is clear on your goals and understands that net new requests can be added but only at the risk of other projects. Also, if you don’t communicate your plan, be ready for a constant barrage of requests that usually mean you end up delivering on a bunch of tactical things that don’t move the needle. Finally, be open to suggestions! Often some of the best ideas can come from people where you least expect it.
How do you help CrowdStreet win the hearts of its customers?
At CrowdStreet, we have a pretty heady mission in helping our customers build wealth through commercial real estate, and we are forging new ground by democratizing access to these previously unavailable investment opportunities. In our business, our customers are exploring these new avenues for investing and we don’t take it lightly that they are entrusting us with their hard-earned money. So above all, we need to deliver on our customer commitments. We are highly focused on providing a premium customer experience at every touchpoint, and we receive constant accolades regarding our responsiveness. It goes without saying that you need to have an above average platform and products to serve your customer, but you compete and win by continually exceeding customer expectations.
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