The Future Is Now: Robert Morgenstern On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
Utilizing technology, we’ve changed the entire way we operate multifamily real estate, and therefore how our investors and clients interact with the reporting we produce. We have spent the last 18 months designing software that allows a look into the performance of multifamily real estate that helps everyone on the deal team from portfolio to property manager to make meaningful decisions to improve the communities where they own and the performance of these assets.
As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Morgenstern.
Robert is the founder and strategic leader of Canvas Property Group. This full-service property, construction, and asset management firm handles day-to-day operations of the 40 mixed-use assets on its own behalf as well as a growing portfolio of third-party institutional and family office clients. Canvas Property Group prides itself on a new style of reporting that goes well beyond traditional monthly financials. This portfolio includes fully staffed amenity-laden properties and portfolios of tenement assets throughout Manhattan Brooklyn and Queens.
Morgenstern is also the Managing Principal at Morgenstern Capital. Morgenstern leads the firm’s multifamily acquisition and operation efforts. Robert and his firm have built a diverse multifamily portfolio since its May 2015 inception, targeting value-add and core + return profiles in the most vibrant submarkets in New York City. Morgenstern operates direct co-investments with limited partners ranging from closed-end institutional equity to individual high net worth investors. Morgenstern and his partners have acquired approximately 1,500 units valued at $500million.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As is the case with most great stories, my real estate career began… following a girl. After a successful run in my family business with my father in the IT Consulting world, the dot.com bubble created an opportunity for a change. At the time, I was dating my future wife, Sabrina, who was getting her broker’s license to join her family residential brokerage. Wanting to spend as much time as I could with her, I joined her for the classes and got my license as well. When her mother, Michele Kleier, landed the listing for a townhouse on East 87th Street, I helped her out and met an investor who wanted to see some cash-flowing townhomes in Harlem. I was hooked on the investment aspect and the creativity it took to imagine something from nothing. So, a new career and a wife and two kids later, I’m a real estate junkie for life. And having started out in IT with an innate interest in tech, its incorporation into and advancement in my real estate business was a natural evolution.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The best stories, of those I can actually share, generally involve what happens on property tours. I remember walking a portfolio of buildings, and we walked into a unit with the bank and a group of investors with the seller’s representative. On the counter of this occupied, but an empty apartment is an enormous bag of marijuana. As we leave, the seller’s rep says he forgot something, walks back in and takes the bag. The stench flows through the elevator and we all have a light knowing giggle. On the floor below, 2 police officers get onto the elevator and get hit in the face with the smell. The sweat beads are still vivid in my head today.
Can you tell us about the Cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Utilizing technology, we’ve changed the entire way we operate multifamily real estate, and therefore how our investors and clients interact with the reporting we produce. We have spent the last 18 months designing software that allows a look into the performance of multifamily real estate that helps everyone on the deal team from portfolio to the property manager to make meaningful decisions to improve the communities where they own and the performance of these assets.
How do you think this might change the world?
When we make changes, we expect them to change the work-life of people using them. But the beauty of our industry is the decisions we make change the living environment for everyone in our communities. That can be as simple as a deeper understanding of our tenancy and the analytics behind the survey results each occupant gets, which can drive amenity selection or capital expenses. But it’s more likely to change the perspective of an owner to understand the past performance of their real estate to allow them to make meaningful decisions about leverage, operations, and management. 2020 has taught us we need more analytical data to see problems before they blow up into disasters.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
We think a deeper understanding of tenants and their habits has a fine line. We’re very cognizant of making sure all tenant information is kept anonymous. We see big technology and what is happening with our data. But changing real estate operations to affect a much analytical financial and operating report is a pretty far line from a Black Mirror episode.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
COVID-19. We had been working on this software platform and were working it into our operations. But going remote and not seeing team members, while getting demands from investors, lenders, and clients to report on a daily basis in ways we hadn’t considered was the tipping point. I realized we needed to look at data in a whole new way. A collaborative cloud-based platform was the obvious solution, so we leaned into it in a meaningful way in March of 2020.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
We have rolled our technology out to our client partners with great success. This has led to meaningful growth in our management firm. We are developing a SAAS product based loosely on this software and believe it will have explosive growth later in 2021.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We have yet to launch. But with nearly 20 years of real estate experience, I’m going to be starting with my friends in the business, which is a fairly extensive group of decision-makers in the multifamily space.
What are your “Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I wish someone told me to choose your partners carefully.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”. I’m not sure I would have chosen this gem by MLK, Jr. in 2019, but after the year we just endured, I think that I felt this way almost daily while managing my portfolio. COVID impacted so many aspects of the business, as well as the business and safety of our retail and residential tenants; but while we may have slowed to a crawl, we did keep moving and are now about to get back up on our feet to run in 2021!
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
PropTech solutions created by people that have lived the problem for over a decade and are in the weeds to understand why a solution is necessary is more important than any other skillset. Operating and managing $1Billion of multifamily real estate with a technology-focused management firm makes me the right sponsor, we’ll see if the product stands on its own.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’ve made a habit of keeping my personal life offline and generally use LinkedIn to publicize our business. Robert Morgenstern, Linked-in. We also just launched an updated version of our website, http://www.canvaspg.com/.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
The Future Is Now: Robert Morgenstern On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.