Interviewed on August 13, 2020
Interviewed by Yingying Zhu
Shannon Ford is the Director of Customer Success at Northspyre, a cloud-based intelligence platform that empowers real estate professionals to make proactive, data-driven decisions on development, capital and asset projects across real estate project types. Before that, she spent eight years managing projects as a Senior Project Manager at WeWork and a Project Manager at Gardiner & Theobald and JLL. She has a demonstrated history of leading teams through the design and construction process for clients in Transportation, Finance, Healthcare, Technology, and Retail. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Howard University, and is an associate member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and CoreNet.
Congratulations on Northspyre’s Series A closing! Can you let us know what Northspyre does?
Northspyre’s modern technology is dedicated to helping teams deliver even the most complex project or portfolio on-time and on-budget. We created Northspyre specifically to meet the needs of real estate owners, developers, owner’s representatives, and internal real estate teams. Northspyre leverages the power of automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence to help teams achieve easier, more predictable outcomes. Today, owners, developers and project management firms are often forced to rely on either static spreadsheets or inflexible construction software. Northspyre provides the project “budget holders'' with access to real-time data, visibility across their portfolios, and the ability to make proactive, cost-saving decisions based on data. We’re upending the status quo and giving real estate professionals the tools and insights they need to succeed with ease.
What’s your role at Northspyre? I am the Director of Customer Success at Northspyre. My top priority is to ensure that our customers are fully supported from day one. I make sure project teams are trained and onboarded properly and have the best user experience. We see our team as an extension of our customers’ and want to grow with them, so I make sure they are taking full advantage of everything Northspyre has to offer. Their success is my success.
Who are your clients and why do they choose Northspyre? Northspyre leverages automation to eliminate data entry and other tedious administrative tasks related to budget tracking and project delivery. Our clients range from developers getting started with some of their firsts projects, to established organizations that have delivered buildings around the world. Typically teams save at least 30 percent of their time annually, which can instead be spent on more pressing tasks, like the strategic direction of their project or portfolio. And, with real-time access to critical project data, teams can make proactive, informed decisions that were traditionally made based on gut instinct. Northspyre users see anywhere between 2-8 percent savings on overall project costs.
“The pandemic challenged a traditionally hand-to-hand industry to work remotely... Northspyre has been delivering to its clients … a flexible, cloud-based platform that maintains continuity in project delivery and provides a collaborative hub no matter where the team works… (and) serves as a centralized repository for institutional knowledge”
What’s the impact of the pandemic on Northspyre? The pandemic challenged a traditionally hand-to-hand industry to work remotely. It also required real estate development teams to pivot quickly, which has included adding new budget lines to all types of projects, shifting priorities and timelines, and collaborating digitally. These “new” needs are what Northspyre has been delivering to its clients all along – a flexible, cloud-based platform that maintains continuity in project delivery and provides a collaborative hub no matter where the team works. Another benefit of Northspyre in this situation is that it serves as a centralized repository for institutional knowledge to ensure teams never lose critical information – especially during times of transition and physical separation. These pain points apply to many estate players, large and small.
You were a trained architect, worked as a project manager for traditional real estate consulting firms, then joined WeWork and now Northspyre. How did you navigate your career path and what is the overarching theme? The spaces we experience on a daily basis influence our moods and our decisions. I studied architecture because I wanted to create spaces that would make people feel good, and have a positive impact on their lives. While studying architecture, I saw that much of the design and construction process was driven by the owner and project manager, so I decided to pursue project management. I realized that while being well-organized allowed the team to have the time they needed to design and make the most out of the owner's budget, it was difficult to be proactive when it came to cost management. That’s how I landed at Northspyre. My goal hasn’t changed – I still want to have a positive impact on people’s lives – but instead of designing a room that may serve a few people, I give project teams the tools they need to be more proactive and cost-effective when creating spaces that may serve millions of people. My hope is that some of the resources that our clients save using Northspyre will be spent on the project’s creative direction, something that’s often sacrificed in the interest of time and money. My advice to people who are early on in their real estate careers is don’t lose sight of your goals. Rarely does life go according to plan, but experiences often lead to great lessons. If you use those lessons to keep you motivated, even the toughest days will feel intentional.
How does your experience in WeWork prepare you for the challenges today? I learned how valuable it is to maintain a strong work ethic and treat people well. I still have good relationships with many of my former colleagues, clients, and vendors. Real estate is all about forming meaningful bonds and maintaining a good reputation. I never lost sight of that, even under the most unconventional circumstances. I wouldn’t do anything differently. I met a lot of amazing people, delivered projects in the US, LATAM, EMEA, and APAC, and grew an appreciation for working within a startup. Northspyre experienced many similar challenges when pursuing growth. It wasn’t always easy, but it was insightful.
As an architect by training and a long-time project manager, what is your take on the future workplace strategy post pandemic? Architecture is about solving problems while elevating space. I don’t believe there’s a name for what will be the new standard, but I envision it being centered around circulation and flexibility. Remote working one or more days a week will be factored in the way spaces are designed and built too. Instead of moving everyone back into individual offices, I see there being greater success in teams with dedicated areas in the office to work (from a computer, host meetings, hop on private calls, etc.) and increasing working from home frequency to reduce density.
“Instead of looking at someone like me and assuming what challenges may come, I want the industry to look at someone like me and be excited for the impact that could be made.”
As a minority female professional who has worked hard to advance your career as much as you have, which part of the system is broken and how would you suggest to fix it? The playing field is broken. Prior to Northspyre, I was told that I couldn’t join a team because there was already someone on it who looked like me. I was told that I couldn’t be promoted because the role had already been promised to a friend of a friend — but it would be great if I could train that person. Also, during an interview, I was asked if I would be looking to start a family anytime soon and how that might impact my work-life balance. Instead of looking at someone like me and assuming what challenges may come, I want the industry to look at someone like me and be excited for the impact that could be made. Innovation is the product of different perspectives coming together to develop something new. You can really tell the difference between a company, product, or service that ignores this and one that doesn’t.
What do you do outside of work? What do those roles mean for you? In my spare time, I play sports — flag football and ultimate frisbee — and volunteer. I especially love volunteering with America Needs You (ANY). It’s a two-year mentor program for first-generation college students. As a first-generation college student myself, it’s been a great opportunity for me to help young adults avoid a lot of the mistakes I made during college and enjoy what the experience has to offer. College is where many of us learn to network, advocate for ourselves, and live on our own. The experience is even better when you aren’t fumbling over things like how to complete your FAFSA forms, maintain a budget, or find good organizations to join. I was fortunate enough to figure out a lot of that on my own, but I also missed out on a lot in the process.
Edited and condensed for clarity.