Real estate has historically been lagging behind from a technology perspective. Anyone who has ever bought or sold a home knows how frustrating the process is. There is friction at every step of the transaction, which not only creates fear for customers but also increases the amount of administrative work that agents have to complete for each deal. A true end-to-end solution still doesn’t exist, so agents have to use several disparate systems to move from the prospecting phase to the closing phase. Fortunately, a significant amount of capital flows into this space, and several companies claim to have nearly one platform to streamline the entire buying and selling process. Among all vertically integrated iBuyers such as Open door and Offer sheet, the major franchise platforms such as Keller Williams’ Keller Cloud and Realogy’s Productivity Hub, major independent brokerage platforms such as Compass’s Technology offer and @Properties pl@tform, and pure software players like TreeTown and Skyslope, the real estate brokerage has made real progress towards modernization. There’s still a long way to go (as Fifth Wall’s Vik Chawla recently told me, “This is just the beginning of PropTech’s growth”), but we’re getting closer every day. While the real estate industry is really starting to embrace the technology, commercial real estate brokers (particularly the sale of investments) have not done the same.

the change agent

Mike James was a legendary broker at one of the largest commercial real estate investment firms in North America. He had a rapid rise in success thanks to his unparalleled work ethic and drive. While Mike continued to see his production grow, he grew frustrated with the archaic systems and tools the brokerage world offered. While technology cannot replace hard work and determination, it can play a huge role in creating efficiencies in the business. He knew that technology could save countless hours of time each deal needed, help bring more deals to each broker, and ultimately improve the customer experience. In 2018 Mike left to start his own company. He was determined to build a better brokerage. 4 years later, James Capital Advisors (JCA) growing by 110% year over year. They are just named after the Commercial Real Estate Executive List of Top 20 Most Powerful Real Estate Agents and they continue to recruit top talent.

I first met Mike in October 2020. I immediately recognized that his view of the industry was very different from anyone else I had met in this space. During our first conversation, he constantly emphasized the important role technology played in the industry. While his production at his previous company continued to grow, he was hampered by the lack of integrated systems and tools available to him, so he decided to build a better brokerage on his own. He hired technology and marketing experts and launched JCA. I was really intrigued when he said he built his platform on Salesforce. Although Salesforce is the leading CRM platform in the world, you usually find tech companies and large enterprises as customers. I recently had the privilege of speaking with Mike to better understand what makes JCA so special. Below the interview:

Before we discuss technology, let me understand what set you apart from other brokers. Many people join this industry, but few reach your level of success, and even fewer do it as quickly as you. What was your secret sauce?

I have a strong work ethic, but so do hundreds of brokers at competing companies. I realized early on that I also had to work more effectively to achieve my goals. For example, after 18 months in the industry, I hired an administrator to take over routine tasks and was able to nearly double the time I spent prospecting each week. My income quadrupled over the next 2 years and by my 6th year in brokerage, I was ranked fourth in the nation for net leased transaction volumes primarily by spending maximum time building relationships, evaluating complex portfolios and prospecting .

You have built a very successful career at a renowned traditional brokerage firm. What was it that frustrated you about traditional brokerage? What did you think was broken and what did you want to fix with your new company?

I learned a lot working for a traditional brokerage and the experience was invaluable, but I became frustrated that the company didn’t know who the clients were – their unique perspectives, values, goals and experiences. I saw hundreds of brokers independently calling the same prospects on the same day, with no idea what those other calls were about. As a real estate agent, it stifles cooperation if you have to be constantly on your guard, fearing that a colleague will try to steal your client or keep you out of a transaction. The clients usually don’t understand why hundreds of brokers from the same company contact them and that reduces the chances of hiring the company or any particular agent at that company. I knew we could better serve customers by freely sharing information and insights. Our company would know who the customer is and provide value to all its products and services. This particular value proposition becomes increasingly valuable as those products and services grow, an area we are currently focusing on.

And of course I saw a similar inefficiency in the disjointed technology at the big companies. I found myself spending too much time entering duplicate information because the six systems we were using were not communicating with each other. Other companies have different technologies that don’t talk to each other, which are generally archaic and don’t offer enough value in the first place. Our company operates on one cloud-based platform that houses everything from a cold call to a marketing package. The tech stack is best in class and we have been approached by several companies to license and sell it.

The real estate industry has historically been slow to embrace technology, and CRE has been even slower. How did you approach building your tech stack when you started with JCA? What were the must-have features that you had to provide?

We designed our platform to address both of the main shortcomings I’d observed that hindered performance at other real estate companies: their isolated systems and the lack of a cohesive, collaborative culture. Instead of using five or six programs, our agents use a single cloud-based system to manage everything. Automated reporting and processes enable our agents to search for customers, prepare documents, request marketing support and access other services in one central place. It is the most efficient platform in brokerage and it allows our agents to spend more of their time on what matters most.

The platform is built for collaboration with full transparency between agents. Warranties provide a unique customer experience, for example preventing a broker from contacting a customer about an opportunity they are already discussing with another of our agents. By publicizing everyone’s activity, the collaboration arises spontaneously and builds on itself.

If you were sitting in front of an established broker and they were trying to decide whether to join JCA or another brokerage, what reasons would you give them to join JCA?

I would like to show them that senior agents who leave another company to join JCA generate an average of 25% or more in additional gross revenue within 18 months of joining the company. We just got an agent with 4 years of experience from a major brokerage firm where they made $375,000 in gross revenue in 2020. They track towards $1.5 million, possibly $2 million this year, and they appreciate our marketing team, our tech stack, and our partnership for their success.

What’s next for JCA? Do you want to double your existing markets or do you want to open offices in new markets? Are you planning to expand into other segments of the industry?

We will add various products and services. We’ve added Capital Markets and a Cannabis division so far this year and expect to add one more product type by the end of the year.

You have been working on this new journey for 4 years. What did you learn? What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to start a business?

Building a strong culture is extremely difficult. Get the right people on the bus and burn your boat already!!!

Is there anything else you would like to share in this article?

I would like to acknowledge and thank the clients and colleagues who have supported me throughout my career and who continue to grow with our office today. Relationships are at the heart of this business and are the foundation on which we continue to build.

If you want to know more about James Capital Advisors, you can contact them directly here.

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