Interviewed on January 22, 2021
Interviewed by Yingying Zhu
Gabrielle is the co-founder and CEO of Equiem, leading the business from its 2011 inception to become the world’s leading tenant experience platform, used by 175,000+ people across 60 million sq ft of prime commercial real estate worldwide. In the space of just 10 years, she has developed the Equiem team from just two to over 230 employees. Today, Equiem manages a client portfolio of 200+ buildings across Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the USA, leading the firm to be named in Deloitte's Tech Fast 500 (APAC 2016). In 2017, she moved to New York with her family to spearhead the company’s expansion in the USA. Gabrielle was previously Director of Sales & Marketing and Group General Manager of Advance Marketing. She is also a published writer and an accomplished global presenter having studied Business and Communications at Monash University in Melbourne.
What was your goal for Equiem for 2020 and has the pandemic changed it? COVID is a rare attack on our professional life, our personal lifestyle as well as our safety and wellbeing. Last March, Equiem’s goal was to maintain its leading position as a global tenant experience provider and to continue growing Equiem in terms of new customers, new sites and new regions. What changed was the product strategy. Our team took the challenge head-on and turned it into an opportunity to focus on delivering value to our customers. We developed and released a number of initiatives at an unprecedented speed. The biggest shift was the need to deliver services and amenitization that transcended the physical space to reach users in their homes.
Great summary of the past year. Can you talk more about the new products that Equiem released in response to the Covid situation? We released three main initiatives targeting different needs our clients had throughout the pandemic: the Remote by Equiem toolkit, the Return to Work toolkit, and the Analytics Dashboards tool.
The Remote by Equiem toolkit provides a web-based interface that allows landlords to keep tenants engaged with digital communications, virtual amenities and work-from-home services. This was especially important, as office occupancy fell to below 10% across most major markets around the world. It also provides content and services through various partnerships, including live-streamed fitness classes, meditation sessions, cooking lessons, educational tutorials, and a ‘Work From Home’ store to keep landlords’ now-remote communities connected and engaged. We also curated self-service content that is useful and interesting for our end users, about nutrition, mental wellness in lockdowns, home office set-up, and more.
Equiem’s Return to Work toolkit ensures that buildings are safe to come back to. We packaged a suite of tools to manage access and capacity, manage room bookings, and track peak traffic and air quality data though a partnership with Metrikus.
The third major innovation through Covid was an extension of our Analytics Dashboards to incorporate lease expiry data, allowing landlords to be much more focused with their tenant engagement efforts. Upcoming lease expiry and retaining existing tenants is a critical focus for landlords globally. The tenant engagement data we provide becomes much more valuable when contextualizing it around companies, their satisfaction and renewal timing. Equiem can help landlords focus on an individual tenant’s interactions with the building services; seek out and review tenant feedback through polls, surveys, readership, event RSVPs and marketplace transactions; and demonstrate to the tenant how much value the building has provided to the tenant’s employees to help support employee productivity and wellbeing.
“Equiem will change the tenant experience game... If an owner knows a law firm of a certain size typically values X, Y and Z amenities the most—or that a particular tenant’s pattern of behavior is a red flag for renewal—they will be able to create a personalized retention strategy for a specific tenant over, say, the next 12 to 24 months”
Data is obviously an asset that many service providers and landlords are starting to focus on. Where do you envision the future of it? We have been investing in data and analytics heavily since 2017 and have a decade of data in our platform today, across close to half a million employees and over 10,000 companies. Fundamentally however, data is only data. It becomes valuable only when it gives you the insights to improve customer experience, make better investment decisions and build brand loyalty.
Today we are working on building out additional, key data points about the building profile, company profile and user profile. Next up, more benchmarking and an industry-first NPS (Net Promoter Score). Over time, Equiem will change the tenant experience game by delivering predictive analytics to property owners and managers that can identify renewal likelihood and recommend strategies to build satisfaction. If an owner knows a law firm of a certain size typically values X, Y and Z amenities the most—or that a particular tenant’s pattern of behavior is a red flag for renewal—they will be able to create a personalized retention strategy for a specific tenant over, say, the next 12 to 24 months. Equiem can unlock tangible and significant value for landlords by taking full advantage of their tenant engagement data.
What do you see as the ideal relationship between landlords and workplace service and technology providers? Oftentimes, landlords are trying to evaluate many different technologies, without being able to tell the difference between them, or how to make them all work together. A joint education process needs to happen – the different shareholders among the landlords need to share what their pain points are and what goals they are interested in achieving, while we, as a technology provider, need to solve these problems but also to set expectations very clearly about what’s possible and how things work. The good thing is that large landlords are creating teams to lead innovation, digitalization, tech integration and data analytics. It is easier to form a true partnership when there is a shared understanding of where the challenges are, what the best solutions are and how proptech providers like Equiem can help dramatically improve a landlord’s bottom line.
“…tenant engagement has developed a new weight in the success of the real estate industry… ‘Why would I go into the office when I could work from anywhere?’ Equiem’s analytics and survey data can tell the story of what percentage of workers of a particular building or company do enjoy and miss the interaction…”
Many expect the next 12 months to be a slow return to normalcy to be on the optimistic side. Where do you see the growth comes from for Equiem in this environment? Interestingly, demand for our product has increased throughout the outbreak for two reasons. First, landlords are eager to bring people back and therefore want to have a platform that connects them to the end users who are working remotely. They have to create this digital relationship that didn’t exist before to maintain the communication and trust through this period and build confidence to bring people back to offices. The second reason is even more fundamental: tenant engagement has developed a new weight in the success of the real estate industry. After many months of working outside of the office, many tenants and their employees are pondering, ‘Why would I go into the office when I could work from anywhere?’ Equiem’s analytics and survey data can tell the story of what percentage of workers of a particular building or company do enjoy and miss the interaction, inspiration and motivation that happens more in the physical offices.
Great to hear Equiem is uniquely positioned to capture a lot of tailwind in today’s market. What differentiates Equiem from the other workplace service providers, when many took a big hit by the pandemic and had to close locations and lay off employees? The groups that had to lay off employees were often providers of actual real estate and depended on revenue streams that are short term. Equiem is a product company, providing software as a service that helps landlords manage their tenant communication and add value to their portfolio. Our revenues are recurring, long term and stable.
Which part of you has changed as an entrepreneur over the years as the leader of Equiem? So many things have changed, but if I have to pick one thing, it would be the way I spend my days. At the beginning, my days were focused around growing the business and business development. Today, my role day-to-day focuses on thinking further ahead in terms of our strategy, who we partner with, how we attract the best talent and where we invest our capital. I used to lead the team to move full steam ahead at the early stage, because speed is so often key to survival. Now I try to be a little more balanced, often taking the approach of “slow down to speed up” – encouraging the team to make sure we are doing things right before scaling up.
How does being a mother pair with being the CEO of a growth stage technology company? There is no easy way, as my role requires a significant amount of travel to many different markets worldwide (pre-Covid), as well as working long hours. A few years ago I moved my family from Australia to New York to focus on the growth in the US. The role comes with incredible responsibility to devote the best of myself to lead a team of hundreds. That means there is a lot of slack around the house to be picked up by the other partner. I am grateful to have my husband as a great partner who juggles life and both of our careers together with me. Fortunately, we have also managed to raise our two boys to be incredibly independent. My husband and I will participate in their sport and class performance but they never expect lunch to be packed up or things around the house to be done for them.
Please name one female founder/tech professional/tech investor in your network that you think people should know more about. So many wonderful females in my network who are doing great things. In the real estate landscape, you can’t go past Sara Shank at PGIM, Lisa Picard and Mikki Ward at EQ Office who are all leading the charge on transforming real estate to be more customer centric. Shout out to Louisa Dickens from LMRE, who are building an awesome reputation for finding great talent in Proptech; and if we are thinking of tech investors, my mind turns to the all star female cast at Bain Capital: Merritt Hummer and Clelia Peters.
Edited and condensed for clarity.