Focal Proptech: The 32 NYC Leaders You Need To Know

As investors in many of them, we're clearly excited about proptech. To take a look at sector-wide insights and trends, we round up the most notable founders in the field.

Focal Proptech: The 32 NYC Leaders You Need To KnowFocal Proptech: The 32 NYC Leaders You Need To Know

No matter the chatter around extended WFH schedules or metaverses, there’s no denying that the real estate industry broadly and proptech startups more specifically are doing just fine. In fact proptech startups have had a banner year, with over $21 billion raised globally, Crunchbase calculates, and no signs of slowing in 2022.

We’re certainly seeing the strength of this sector in our own portfolio, whether that’s through Latch’s IPO, Realm’s big nod on the TIME best inventions of 2021 list, Reonomy’s sale to Altus, Squarefoot’s continued strength in bookings, or Virtual Facility’s strong early signal with major institutions. And there are so many founders beyond our immediate circle who we see being generous with their time and expertise, building inspiring products, and pushing this whole local ecosystem forward.

Below you’ll find 32 profiles of the founders (or cofounding teams) behind what we see as the city’s most standout proptech companies. These are leaders who have big vision, breathtaking execution, and the ability to rally standout teams. Some have IPOed or sold companies; some are fresher faces. While we’re sure there area few great founders we missed, we made a point to tap the perspectives of acclaimed investors like Camber Creek’s Jeffrey Berman, Alpaca’s Ryan Freedman, and Lerer Hippeau’s Isabelle Phelps, and we recruited Chirag Chotalia of Threshold and Merritt Hummer of Bain Capital Ventures to help judge.

So without further ado, join us in celebrating an outstanding class of New York City builders—and of course get in touch with us, Jason Shuman and Lia Zhang, if you’re a proptech founder seeking seed-stage backing.

Liz Young, Founder and CEO of Realm

Realm is a data platform offering homeowners actionable, unbiased advice to inform decisions on home improvement projects that truly add value. It aggregates tax, zoning, and user data for over 70 million single-family homes to inform the ROI a homeowner would get on projects like remodels, additions, or yard upgrades. TIME hailed it as one of the best inventions of 2021 and GGV offered a Series A term sheet within two days of meeting Founder Liz Young. In 2021 she rounded up a total of $15 million from that firm as well as seed-stage backers Primary, Lerer Hippeau, and Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures. Threshold’s Chirag Chotalia says, “Realm's product is a game changer for consumers, enabling them to make decisions about their largest asset with data.”

Luke Schoenfelder, Brian Jones, Thomas Meyerhoffer, Cofounders of Latch

Latch’s SPAC IPO with Tishman Speyer Properties was a proptech highlight of 2021. The listing raised $453 million at a $1.5 billion valuation. The smart lock company’s technology is in more than 30% of new apartment buildings across the U.S. With fresh funding, the team is working on expansion into Europe and commercial space solutions.

“When we met with Luke in 2016, the enthusiasm for bringing technology into Real Estate Access was clear,” says Alpaca’s Ryan Freedman. “Today, LatchOS is a full-building operating system of software, products, and services designed to make real estate smarter and simpler.”

Primary Partner Jason Shuman says, “Since Day 1, the Latch team has executed on everything they’ve said they would do and then some. Following their journey from seed to a now publicly traded company has been one of the highlights of my career, and they are without a doubt leaders in the NYC proptech scene.”

Michael Martin, Cofounder of Avenue 8

Avenue 8 is a mobile-first residential brokerage that launched just before COVID touched down in the U.S., but has already grown to a team of well over 200 agents and employees and secured $14 million in Series A financing this spring. While Justin Fichelson CEOs from San Francisco (he also appears on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing San Francisco) his Cofounder Michael Martin holds down the fort from New York. Michael was previously Managing Partner at Code and Theory, the iconic product design and marketing agency that helped redefine the digital expression of Vogue, Bloomberg, NBC Olympics, Adidas, and many other publications and brands. He was also an investor at Apollo Global Management when it owned Realogy, one of the largest real estate brokerages in the world. Threshold’s Chirag Chotalia says, “Avenue 8 is a true win-win for consumers and agents, empowering agents with the best digital technology that buyers and sellers benefit from without the bloated cost structure of traditional brokerages. The company has taken the market by storm in SF and LA, and I'm thrilled to see what they do in NYC.” Bain Capital Ventures’ Merritt Hummer says, “Michael and the team at Avenue 8 have a keen understanding of where residential brokerage is going. Avenue 8 is building the residential brokerage for modern agents.”

Mark Prewett and Reed Berinato, Cofounders of Virtual Facility

Virtual Facility connects accurate, real-time, data-driven intelligence to operational workflows to keep institutional operations accurate, safe, and lean. Prior to founding Virtual Facility, cofounders Mark Prewett and Reed Berinato have worked together since 2008 as professional engineers and experts on building automation, HVAC infrastructure, energy conservation, and operational improvement projects. The team raised a seed round from Primary at the very end of 2020.

Primary Partner Brad Svrluga says, “When I dream about vertical SaaS plays (which I often do!), the best-case scenario looks much like this unfairly talented team headed by Mark Prewett and Reed Berinato, who worked together for over a decade in building automation consulting and engineering, becoming amongst the most sought-after experts in the field. Now evolved into a product business, there are surely no founders with a deeper understanding of this huge, complex market, and the early success of their first product among name brands like Northwell Health, Bloomberg, and Columbia University is evidence of their ability to turn unique market insights into products that make a difference. And this is one of those plays that will only get better as the customer base and product footprint expand.”

Abbey Wemimo and Samir Goel, Cofounders and Co-CEOs of Esusu

Abbey Wemimo and Samir Goel each cofounded nonprofits before starting Esusu in 2018. The decision to create this company was informed by their experiences in immigrant families that struggled to build credit scores and financial identities when they came to America. Esusu solves for this by partnering with credit bureaus to report rent payments to count towards boosting credit scores. This creates an incentive for renters; in turn, property managers are seeing an increase in on-time payments. Through partnerships with the National Multifamily Housing Council, Goldman Sachs, and Related Affordable, the service touches more than two million households across the U.S. Its $10 million Series A in August was led by Motley Fool Ventures with participation from Serena Williams, through Serena Ventures. Primary Partner Jason Shuman says, “Abbey is one of those founders that walks into a room and his presence grabs everyone’s attention. His thoughtfulness, work ethic, and social impact focus make him stand out to me in the crowded field of real estate tech founders in NYC. Both founders are leading this fintech with a mission to bridge the racial wealth gap and unlock financial and credit opportunities for millions nationwide.”

Jonathan Wasserstrum, Cofounder and CEO of SquareFoot

SquareFoot simplifies commercial real estate leasing—think comprehensive listings, in house brokerage, and technology at every step of the way that makes the process easy, enjoyable, and efficient. The platform has helped thousands of companies from high growth startups to the Fortune 50, and Cofounder Jonathan Wasserstrum is maybe Twitter’s most active troll of remote work.

Patrick Burns and Andrew Weisgall, Cofounders of Spruce Holdings

Spruce Holdings offers end-to-end title and closing services, through a combination of automated technology and on-call experts. Its frictionless, customized closing process for lenders, investors, and proptech companies helps players in this space deliver the best customer experiences at scale—it claims that its platform can reduce transaction times by up to 25% and saves homeowners as much as 20% on their closing costs. Cofounders Patrick Burns and Andrew Weisgall previously worked together at NYC-based unicorn Betterment, and in June the pair raised a $60 million Series C, led by Zigg Capital and with ongoing support from earlier investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Scale Venture Partners. Merritt Hummer of Bain Capital Ventures says, “Perhaps the hottest area in all of proptech last year was innovation in transaction workflows. Spruce is at the center of that ecosystem, having built a leading tech-enabled platform for title insurance that can easily expand into other services over time.”

Nick Romito, Founder and CEO of VTS

VTS is an all-in-one solution for centralized real estate operations, digital marketing, and intelligent investing. More than 45,000 CRE professionals in 38 countries use it to manage over $200 billion in leasing transactions. The company, valued at over a billion, claims to help office, retail, and industrial landlords and brokers transform their leasing processes and convert leads to leases 41% more efficiently. The company’s focus this year appears to be return-to-office trends—in March it paid $100 million to acquire office tracking startup Rise; in October it spent $200 million on office access startup Lane Technologies.

Richard Sarkis, Charlie Oshman, Cofounders of Reonomy

Reonomy’s AI-powered data platform solves for the fragmented, disparate nature of real estate information. It holds specs on at least 50 million commercial buildings, which it turns into insights for investors and developers such as CBRE and Brookfield. Late last year, industry software provider ​​Altus Group acquired the company to strengthen its CRE data and analytics capabilities.

Nora Apsel and Adam Rothblatt, Cofounders of Morty

Morty allows homebuyers to shop, compare, and obtain a mortgage online from a wide range of leading lenders. Its $25 million Series B this summer—led by March Capital with contributions from Thrive Capital, Lerer Hippeau, Prudence Holdings, FJ Labs, Metaprop, and Rethink Impact—brought the company valuation to $150 million, Cofounder and CEO Nora Apsel told Forbes.

“Nora is a phenomenal leader, has a ton of grit, and has built an awesome team around her,” Alpaca’s Ryan Freedman says. “The transactions cycle of a new home with its many associated costs and stakeholders has always been ripe for disruption. With today’s scorching hot market, the need for innovation and change in the transactions process is in even more demand. Morty’s tech-enabled solution makes the process seamless, integrated, and most of all, consumer-friendly.”

John Meadows and Noah Isaacs, Cofounders and Co-CEOs of Bowery Valuation

Bowery Valuation helps appraisers work smarter: Using its combination of tech and human experts, it delivers faster, higher-quality reports on any type or size of real estate asset. The company announced $35 million in Series B funding this past June, led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management’s Growth Equity business and with participation from Capital One Ventures, Builders VC, Fika Ventures, Navitas Capital, Camber Creek, Nine Four Ventures, Greenspring Associates, and Alpaca VC. Total funding sits at $66 million. Camber Creek’s Jeffrey Berman says, “Aside from successfully founding the world’s first end-to-end tech-enabled appraisal software and successfully navigating such as not only cofounders but co-CEOs, John and Noah were also among the first to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in Bowery’s company culture.”

Ben Hizak and L.D. Salmanson, Cofounders of Cherre

Cherre is a real estate data management and analytics platform that streamlines and simplifies portfolio and asset management, acquisitions and financing, and leasing and property management. Cofounders Ben Hizak and L.D. Salmanson have been friends since the fourth grade and business partners since junior high. They launched Cherre in 2018, announced a $16 million Series A in 2020 and a $50 Million Growth Funding Round in 2021, and received several awards for CRE tech and AI along the way.

Alex Chatzieleftheriou and Aneesa Arshad, Cofounders of Blueground

Blueground offers short-term and longer-term leases of luxury pre-furnished homes, a helpful solution for those who must move frequently for work or just prefer nomadic lifestyles. The service is already live with more than 5,000 apartments across 15 cities in 7 countries. CEO Alex Chatzieleftheriou says he’s aiming for 30,000 by 2025. ​​In September the company raised $140 million in Series C equity financing and $40 million of debt, bringing the valuation to $750 million. The round was led by Laurence Tosi’s WestCap Group and included Geolo Capital (John Pritzker’s family office), Prime Ventures, and VentureFriends, with debt from Silicon Valley Bank.

Gregory Morrison and Martin Kay, Cofounders of Entera

Entera helps clients ideate, transact, and operate single-family homes across 24 markets. Powered by machine-learning and 100% online, Entera’s end-to-end residential real estate platform modernizes the real estate buying process to help our clients access and evaluate more properties, scale their operations, make data-driven investment decisions, and win more often. Many of the largest real estate investors in the world use Entera’s marketplace daily. Entera’s annual transaction run rate is over $3.6 billion across 24 markets since its launch in 2018. Entera has raised $40 million of venture capital since inception and recently raised a $32 million Series A led by Goldman Sachs, also including Bullpen Capital, Craft Ventures, and Valuestream Ventures.

Ankur Jain, Paraag Sarva, Bryan Woods, Cofounders of Rhino

Rhino is “charging into the real estate space to unlock over $45 billion in cash security deposits.” Products like its affordable insurance policy aim to put money back in renters'​ pockets and make renting easier and more affordable for 110 million Americans. Ankur Jain’s Kairos venture studio launched the company in 2017; Paraag Sarva, a multifamily owner-operator managing over $100 million in assets, serves as CEO; Kairos Operating Partner Bryan Woods serves as CTO. And we have this one on IPO watch: early last year it announced a $95 million round led by Tiger Global, at a valuation of just under $500 million.

Ankur Jain, Founder and CEO of Bilt Rewards

You know that friend who always wants to put dinner on her card to rack up points? Bilt Rewards makes it possible to earn no-fee loyalty points on one of the biggest expenses New Yorkers pay each month: rent. This is another Ankur Jain joint, launched this past June, and by September it raised $60 million in growth funding, placing the company valuation at $350 million. Investors included Wells Fargo, Mastercard, The Blackstone Group, AvalonBay Communities, Douglas Elliman, Equity Residential, GID-Windsor Communities, LENx, The Moinian Group, Morgan Properties, Starwood Capital Group, and Related.

Jarred Kessler, Founder and CEO of EasyKnock

EasyKnock gives homeowners liquidity and flexibility via proprietary sale-leaseback programs. So that might look like EasyKnock purchasing your home, you staying in that home as a renter while you pay off debt or fund a life event like sending a kid to college, and then you can keep open the option to buy your home back later. EasyKnock also offers bridge solutions for people moving homes or looking solely for cash without a need to repurchase. According to Crunchbase, the company raised a Series B of an undisclosed amount this past summer, with total funding just under $345 million.

Cyril Berdugo and and Tom Petit, Cofounders of Landis

Landis is a mission-driven company that helps first-time homebuyers reach homeownership. Landis buys a home you’d like to own. You move in and pay them rent while you get ready to get a mortgage. The company pairs you with a financial coach to support that process, and sells the home to you when you’re ready to get a mortgage. The founders, Cyril and Tom, started the company to serve as many low-to-moderate income Americans as possible. Cyril developed his passion for promoting paths to homeownership because his father’s family were Moroccan immigrants to France and benefited from the subsidies of the French government to reach homeownership; Tom brings an interest in education and financial literacy through his experience as a high school teacher and education and tech consultant. Cyril simultaneously serves as Managing Partner at real estate firm Berd Industries and a Venture Partner at Stanford-focused VC firm Spike Ventures; Tom brings data science and strategy expertise from past roles at HelloFresh and Airbnb. The pair are best friends, and raised a $165 million in debt and Series A equity in July, from lead investors Sequoia Capital as well as Jay Z’s Roc Nation, Will Smith’s Dreamers VC, and previous backer Signia Venture Partners.

Omri Stern and Michael Rudman, Cofounders of Jones

Jones is a compliance network for the built environment. It collects and audits insurance certificates, helps tenants find pre-approved vendors for service needs, and automates the full life cycle of insurance operations. Admins report tasks like getting a vendor’s COI verified and compliant takes 75% less time and first-time compliance rates improve 3X. The tech serves hundreds of commercial properties and processes thousands of transactions every day. In July the team nabbed a $12.5 million Series A led by JLL Spark and Khosla Ventures, along with Camber Creek, Rudin Management, DivcoWest, and Sage Realty. Merritt Hummer of Bain Capital Ventures says, “Jones is tackling one of the most painful processes building managers face: processing certificates of insurance. By building seamless workflow around COIs and becoming essential software, there are numerous ancillary workflows and problems Jones can build next.”

Andrew Wang, Eric Chiang, and Jon Hsu, Cofounders of Valon Technologies

Valon Technologies is mortgage management made modern. It allows users to view, pay down, and manage their loans digitally, on-demand, and with solid security. Cofounders Andrew Wang, Eric Chiang, and Jon Hsu bring experience from Soros Fund Management, Goldman Sachs, Google, Amazon, and Twilio. The team announced its $50 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz this past February, and also shared that Fannie Mae approved them to service government-sponsored home loans. Andreessen Horowitz’s General Partner Angela Strange and Blend President and ex-Fannie Mae CEO Tim Mayopoulos joined Valon’s Board of Directors.

Yaakov James Zar, Founder and CEO of Lev

Lev is a commercial mortgage marketplace. It brings together experts and technology to help owners and investors get the best financing, financing partners, and transactions. Its July Series A funding of $30 million, at a valuation of $130 million, brought in Greenspring Associates and First American Title to join previous (and ongoing) backers NFX, Canaan Partners, JLL Spark, Animo Ventures, and Ludlow Ventures.

Primary Partner Jason Shuman says, “Yaakov is incredible. A true serial entrepreneur with a great combination of hustle and intelligence that investors dream about. I remember the first time meeting him thinking within five minutes that this guy is a winner.”

Ryan Williams, Cofounder and CEO of Cadre

Ryan Williams offers individual and institutional investors online access to frictionless, fractional stakes in commercial and multifamily real estate. The vision has so far won backing from Goldman Sachs, Peter Thiel, Mark Cuban, Harvard Management Company, and Vinod Khosla, and a 2019 valuation of about $800 million. As of November, Cadre has helped over 34,000 people open accounts, investing about $3.5 billion in more than 40 properties. In a recent sale of three properties for $300 billion, Ryan told Fortune one of those properties, in Orlando, represents the “single largest real estate property ever bought, managed, and sold digitally.”

Robert Reffkin and Ori Allon, Cofounders of Compass

Compass, the brand-forward digital brokerage that IPOed last year, is a story of mixed results. The company raised $1.5 billion from the likes of Softbank, Founders Fund, and Dragoneer Investment Group. It also has lost about $1 billion and hasn't had a single profitable year. But this team is undeniably top-tier and a pioneer in the space.

“A name synonymous with today’s real estate brokerage landscape, we joined Compass’ journey during their Seed round back in 2012,” says Alpaca investor Ryan Freedman. “Today, Compass (NYS: COMP) works with 25,000 agents and operates in more than 60 U.S. markets. Through its tech-enabled platform, Compass modernized traditional brokerage by using an integrated suite of cloud-based software for customer relationship management, marketing, client service, and other critical functions, all custom-built for the real estate industry to enable core brokerage services. As early-stage investors, watching Robert and the Compass team truly transform an industry has been one of our great accomplishments as investors.”

Brad Hargreaves, Founder and CEO of Common

After he and his cofounders sold General Assembly for more than $400 million, Brad Hargreaves probably didn’t need to live with roommates. But he was nevertheless inspired to go on to create Common, an all-inclusive residential brand for renters in big, unaffordable cities (think pre-furnished rooms, pre-scheduled cleaning, pre-planned social events). With over 22,000 units signed and under development, the company is the largest community-driven  operator across the U.S. and Canada as it also expands globally. A $50 million Series D in 2020 brought total venture funding to $115 million.

“Brad’s one of the OG New York tech founders,” says Primary Partner Jason Shuman. “I’m not even sure what number startup Common is for him, but I’ve been incredibly impressed by his ability to enter new markets with little to no experience in them and build great companies. Common paved the path and really brought the coliving conversation into the limelight, which is in large part because of Brad. Additionally, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is grateful for how giving he is of his time and knowledge.”

Shragie Lichtenstein and YeTong Shao, Cofounders of Flex

Flex pays renters’ full rent on time each month and lets them pay Flex on their own schedule throughout the month. This lower-stress arrangement, which landlords of course appreciate because it means being paid on a regular schedule, also helps renters build credit scores and avoid late fees. The team has so far raised $5.8 million in funding.

Koda Wang and T. Luke Sherwin, Cofounders of Block Renovation

Luke previously cofounded Casper; Koda was in the C suite at Rent The Runway and Huffpost. With Block Renovation, the pair is helping simplify home remodeling—and, after “doubling and tripling” growth metrics last year, picked up a $50 million Series C in November 2021. “Luke Sherwin and Koda Wang have simplified and streamlined what’s chaotic and costly about home renovation—for both homeowners and contractors,” says Isabelle Phelps, Partner at Lerer Hippeau. “Block brings design, sourcing, and contracting under one roof and uses technology and data to make renovations easy and affordable.”

Robyn Beavers, CEO and Cofounder of Blueprint Power

Blueprint Power acts as a technology partner to help real estate owners access to energy marketplaces and transforms the built environment into a flexible power network—i.e. it’s connected up 13 megawatts of combined-heat-and-power systems, solar panels, and flexible loads like HVAC and lighting to existing energy markets and other new revenue streams. Robyn Beavers is a long-time leader in the space, overseeing Google’s first big rooftop solar installation in 2006, founding Station A to launch NRG's first microgrid design and engineering team, and leading technology investment for Lennar, a major American homebuilder. This year she sold Blueprint to BP and joined its Launchpad portfolio.

Drew Sterrett, Dean Sterrett, and Jesse Daugherty, Cofounders of LEX

LEX takes buildings public and gives investors a new way to access the wealth creation opportunities of Commercial Real Estate. Through LEX, investors of all types—accredited and non—can buy equity shares of high quality assets and trade them without lockup periods, like any traditional equity stock. LEX launched its first public offering last November, expanding access to the financial markets for its more than 12,000 users and bringing a new investment opportunity in Harlem to market. Greycroft led the seed round, along with others including former Brookfield Chairman Ric Clark, NFL star DeAndre Hopkins, Two Lanterns Venture Partners, and Gaingels.

Keith Gilvar and Stephen Carroll, Cofounders of Findigs

Stephen was previously Cofounder and COO of Seated; Keith was Head of Business Product. Now they’re building Findigs, a platform that streamlines rental applications and payments and offers transparent, fraud-proof tenant screening for landlords. This past year it’s quietly raised $12 million.

Lauren Salz and Andy Frank, Cofounders of Sealed

Sealed home retrofits optimize heating and cooling systems and help houses get off fossil fuels, all made more seamless through partnerships with energy providers and top contractors. The team announced a $16 million Series B this June, including real estate firm Fifth Wall’s first lead investment out of its Climate Technology Fund, Robert Downey Jr.’s FootPrint Coalition Ventures, and returning backers Cyrus Capital and CityRock Ventures.

Ryan Gottfried, Johnny Zhu, and Jason Kwait, Cofounders of UtilizeCore

UtilizeCore, put plainly, makes it a lot easier to get a plumber to your apartment. Large property managers often employ service management companies to coordinate landscapers, HVAC technicians, electricians, and all the other contractors buildings need. This team built a software company to streamline projects, proposals, invoices, payments, inventory management, and more. They raised a $5.3 million venture round in June.

Erez Cohen, Guy Yoshpe,  Cofounder and CEO of Knock

Knock was founded by Erez Cohen (CEO) and Guy Yoshpe (CTO), who bring over a decade of cyber security experience into the Proptech space. Knock allows users to tour rental listings without scheduling an appointment or coordinating with an on-site agent. It uses remote access technology, such as the smart locks made by fellow Focal Proptech listee Latch, to let prospective renters in and out of available units, bringing down the average time between initial inquiry and an in-person visit to 16 hours, according to Knock. In August, the company raised $5 million from co-lead investors Accomplice and Boston Seed Capital. Since its last pre-seed round, the company has raised a total of $8 million.