People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.
So go the lyrics of the famous Barbara Streisand song. It was also a theme at a future of cities panel at Disrupt today, where the discussion came back and time again to community as a competitive advantage particularly when it comes to startups that are trying to shake up the long-staid but quickly evolving $200 trillion real estate industry.
Featuring Brad Hargreaves, the CEO of theco-living startup called Common;Shruti Merchant, the CEO of a the co-living startup HubHausthat more recently launched in Mountain View, Ca.; and Stonly Baptiste, an investor with aNew York-based seed-stage venture firm Urban Us thats focused on addressing climate change through smarter cities, all three argued thebusiness case for renting rooms at a premium in exchange for amenities that were once found only at hotels. (Think furnishings, weekly cleanings, and commercial-grade WiFi among them.)
Common and HubHaus, for example, are part of a growing spate of companies thatdont acquire buildings but instead act as property managers Common in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.; and HubHaus in a dozen California cities.
Merchant said her startupwas born of herown experience, living in a seven-bedroom house that had so much energy, an eighthtenant asked to live in the garage.
Hargreaves, whod earlier cofounded theadult education school General Assembly, said he started Common because he knew that from students and instructors that the housing supply in urban centersis a problem poised to grow even more extreme.
Baptiste, meanwhile, said hehas backed another differentcommunity home startup, Starcity, in keeping with hisinterest in backing founders looking to disrupttransportation, built environments, utilities, and other massive industries that are ripe for tech-driven changes.
The three painted a rosy picture of the benefits of co-living community being first and foremost, given that itsbecome a scarce commodity in todays day and and age. Yet moderator Jon Shieber pushed back several times, asking if the lifestyle being sold is really for everyone. How much does the average tenant make in salary, he asked, and do the companies worry that theyre burnishing the already obnoxious stereotype of the wealthy techie?
Hargreaves and Shruti shot back that their community spaces are diverse in terms of the industries, ages, and backgrounds of the tenants who live in them. Baptiste took the opportunity to mention a new partnership between his venture firm and Urban X, a startup accelerator thats co-run by BMW andfocused on reimagining city life around the world not just in U.S. city centers.
Baptiste further addedthat co-living spaces will also likely appeal to a growing population of elderly Americans, who may be looking to share the burden of aging together. (The type ofamenities offered by many co-living spaces could certainly be attractivefor older populations, too.)
In the end, argued Hargreaves, both the way people live, and the people overseeing the buildings where people live, areboth in dire need of a refresh, and startups like Common would be foolish not to pursue that opportunity.
You still need to build something [that] a bank is willing to tolerate [as a lending prospect], but you can do that in a friendlier and more convenient way.
Hargreaves added (to laughter from the crowd) that one of the reasons hes particularly excited to be a founder in real estate is that its the last bastion of family businesses business where the patriarch has two sons, and the smart one does the acquisitions, and the stupid one does the property management.
Its also one of the very few industrieswhere Google and Facebook and Amazon (and technology, more generally) havent already staked a claim, he said.Real estate is one of the last industries where someone is running that business just because theyre related to the guy who ran it before.