This series profiles innovative companies and how they are adapting to the challenges of Bay Area Shelter-In-Place orders in the wake of COVID-19.
Juniper Square is the leader in commercial real estate investment management software, raising $75 million in Series C funding last November. Headquartered at 343 Sansome St. in San Francisco, Juniper Square has grown rapidly since its founding in 2014, with a second office in Austin, TX and top-tier clients such as Tishman Speyer, Rockpoint and Beacon Capital. The user-friendly platform offers investors streamlined access to the $16 trillion CRE market that has, and continues to, transform the industry.
Jay Farber, Chief of Staff at Juniper Square, spoke to us about how COVID-19 is transforming the company’s growth strategy, striking so soon after the latest funding round. As many startups wrestle with the same questions: how to hire and train remotely, how to measure productivity and how to plan for life post pandemic, Farber roots his approach in experience and big-picture context.
Valenzuela. As an early stage startup Chief of Staff, you’re forced to take on a dynamic role. What role have you played in supporting the company through changes related to COVID-19?
Farber. Our response to COVID-19 starts with our employees. In the past few months we’ve added a new mental health benefit that is free to employees and their dependents. Every two weeks we do an all-hands meeting followed by a casual coffee mingle where people from different parts of the company get to meet and interact, whether work-related or not. Over the past four or five months we’ve done interest-based groups: quarantine workouts, COVID childcare, “Tiger King” and whatever else is top-of-mind. Other times we divide employees into randomized groups to create more opportunities for spontaneous collisions and learning. We’ve onboarded more than 40 new employees in a fully remote way, and it’s exciting to see the growth, but it’s been important to help people make the connections in this setting. As we go forward, we’ve learned that the role of a manager changes significantly in a remote world, and we’re working to deliver more supports to them as they coach, give feedback and guide employees’ career development.
Valenzuela. We’ve seen some layoffs throughout the Bay Area technology sector and a large available talent pool can lead to strategic hiring. What are some of the strategies you and your team are using to recruit and retain top talent?
Farber. We’re still hiring aggressively and we’re not the only company out there doing that. The distribution of other companies we’re competing with has changed a bit, but it’s still a very competitive marketplace. Given our hiring bar, candidates we hire are still being pursued by many other companies. So in that sense, not much has changed.
However, there’s an extra layer that is part of everyone’s job search process, which is: what does this company look like in a post-COVID world? Am I going to be taken care of? Is this a company that’s going to continue to grow? Luckily, we have a really strong story in that we’re still growing quickly both in terms of employees and revenue. It’s our team’s job to convey that to potential employees in a thoughtful, transparent and authentic way.
Valenzuela. Balancing new hires and COVID-19, do you have any thoughts on how your footprint in terms of physical office space might change going forward?
Farber. That’s an ongoing discussion. We’ve surveyed our employees and 55-60% of our employee base feels as productive or more productive working from home as working in the office. It’s our job from a People-Function perspective to free people to be as productive as we can, while also making sure that we take care of the minority of folks who have extra challenges. This could be people who are dealing with childcare or even mental health issues exacerbated by our current environment. For what that means in terms of our office space, I think it’s too early to tell. We don’t have a strong desire to be the first mover back into the office and even when we do open the office in some form, we don’t expect meetings with many people in a small conference room to happen anytime soon.
We’ve officially committed to operating remote-first at least through the end of this year, so we’ll learn a lot about people’s long-term preferences in that time.
Surveys of current employees only tell part of the story, though. What’s much less common in the national conversation about remote work is that onboarding remotely is a significant extra challenge and introduces much more risk that the new hire won’t feel included and stimulated. Those employees face different challenges than someone who has worked for a company for a while and knows their team well. Think about their first day of work – during their first break they are alone in their house rather than casually getting to know their coworkers. We try to lower that barrier and open that line of communication, but no technology solution we’ve seen today solves for the social benefit of side conversations around the office.
Valenzuela. What’s the feedback you’ve gotten from the team about what they miss most at the office? How about something they realized they could live without?
Farber. Because we are a values-driven company, the type of people we hire fundamentally get along and they like each other. As a result, I think what people miss most is the social connection. What’s also difficult is the lack of distinct environment for your work versus your personal time. It’s much harder to disconnect work from the rest of your life if your computer setup is on your kitchen table, like it is for me. What people don’t miss is the long commute. For example, I have a 45-minute commute and if you multiply that by 10, I’m saving seven and a half hours every week. There are a lot of people who are exercising more consistently and using this time to cook more or plan camping trips. It’s great that folks are taking on new activities as a result of that gift of time.
Valenzuela. Do you think your hiring criteria might change in terms of geography?
Farber. Our long-term vision from a geography perspective has always been to have offices in a variety of locations, and even going into the pandemic, more than 10% of our company was already remote. There are some companies who are saying, “Okay, we’re remote first, going totally remote as a result of this.” I don’t know where we will land, but I think this is a question that has both company-level elements and role-by-role tradeoffs for accessing a broader range of talent, giving people more flexibility about where they live – and at the same time, making sure that there’s collaboration and that social nature of work that a lot of people look for.
Valenzuela. How has the way in which your executive team looks at spending changed since your last raise? Any messaging from investors?
Farber. The message that we’ve received from our investors is that the market will value growth efficiency over the next few years as a primary metric. They understand that the business performance in terms of growth will probably look different than it would prior to COVID-19. You can’t project the same way, but what you can say is, “Hey, this company raised X dollars from venture capital investors and those X dollars turned into Y dollars in revenue growth.” The capital efficiency then becomes dollars of annual returning revenue (ARR) per dollar of capital that you burn. We’ve always been a capital-efficient company relative to the stage of our business and our revenue base, so we expect to benefit from this. However, as our industry has settled into this new way of work, it’s clear that software-as-a-service companies like ours still have the ability to grow quickly. In our case, there are parts of our business that are actually countercyclical, so we are increasing investment in those areas. It’s much less of a change for us than it is for a lot of companies that rely heavily on venture dollars to fund their business.
Valenzuela. What are some cultural shifts you see happening that may become bound behaviors and shift how companies use office space in the future?
Farber. I think in times of stress, people often struggle to put things in a larger historical context. Forecasting a massive shift in how work gets done forms a more compelling story, but I believe that a few years after this pandemic ends, much less will have changed than what you hear in the news. Remote work is not the default today and I expect that to stay true, even if experimenting with remote work becomes more common in a few specific sectors. As I mentioned earlier, a large percentage of our team is comfortable with remote work, but most still want to come back to the office at some point.
Victor Valenzuela is a Vice President at Transwestern, focusing on the Oakland market. He represents tenants from the finance, technology, legal, and healthcare industries by helping them evaluate their office facilities strategy on a local and national level. He and his team also provide strategic commercial real estate services for owners on East Bay projects. Throughout his career, Victor has been involved in over 120 leasing and disposition transactions with an aggregate deal value of over $113 million.
About Transwestern Real Estate Services
Transwestern Real Estate Services (TRS) adds value for investors, owners and occupiers of all commercial property types through a comprehensive perspective and by providing solutions grounded in sound market intelligence. Part of the Transwestern companies, the firm applies a consultative approach to Agency Leasing, Asset Services, Occupier Solutions, Capital Markets, and Research & Investment Analytics.
The privately held Transwestern companies have been delivering a higher level of personalized service and innovative real estate solutions since 1978. An integrated approach formed from fresh ideas drives value for clients across commercial real estate services, development, investment management and opportunistic programs for high-net-worth investors. The firm operates through 34 U.S. offices and global alliances with BNP Paribas Real Estate and Devencore.
About Juniper Square
Founded in 2014, Juniper Square is transforming the private funds industry with easy-to-use software that streamlines fundraising, investment operations and investor reporting. Designed specifically for real estate, Juniper Square is trusted by hundreds of investment sponsors to manage more than $1 trillion in real estate investments.
By using Juniper Square, clients such as Tishman Speyer, Rockpoint and Beacon Capital improve investor satisfaction boost fundraising productivity and save time and money on investment administration. Juniper Square is based in San Francisco and Austin, Texas, and has quickly become the leader in commercial real estate investment management software.