Be a man of your word — i.e. Do what you say you’re going to do, don’t say anything you won’t say to someone’s face.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chase Garbarino.
Chase Garbarino is co-founder and CEO of HqO, the leading tenant experience software platform for commercial real estate. Prior to HqO, Chase was co-founder and CEO of AmericanInno (formerly Streetwise Media) where he helped build a local media network for the innovation economies in over a dozen cities in the US. The company was purchased in 2012 by ACBJ, a subsidiary of Advance Publications which owns Conde Nast and is a shareholder of Reddit, Discovery and a number of other media properties.
In his free time, Chase is an avid Boston sports fan and runner. He enjoys spending time with his wife Jess, son Dash, and newborn Grayson. Chase holds a B.A. from Hamilton College.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
When I was in fifth grade, there was a game called Pogs where kids would hit these little cardboard stacks with a “slammer.” It was all the rage in elementary school. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in playing them, I was interested in selling them. My mother used to take me to buy Pogs at wholesale, and then I’d sell them to kids at school. I’ve always enjoyed selling things and building businesses. I had a few businesses in high school and college as well, and I enjoyed that more than classroom work. Both my father and grandfather were entrepreneurs, so I guess it’s something that just runs in my family.
I went to Hamilton College, where I co-founded and was President of the Entrepreneurship club. There, my co-founder Kevin McCarthy and I started an online publication. We’d become interested in digital media, mostly around the software piece of user-generated content. While we were watching Youtube’s growth and CollegeHumor’s growth, we weren’t particularly interested in their content production, rather more about how their software was scaling content from non-professional content producers.
We had created a site — called The Campus Word — where students all over the country could post content. In 2004–2005, online advertising was not particularly sophisticated. There was an ad network called AdBrite where you’d get flat fees of payment for a link ad, and it was pretty easy to make money if you had decent traffic. We learned a lot and made some good money for college students, and then when we graduated in 2007, we were hooked on startups and we wanted to continue doing that. So, we moved to Boston and tried to dive into the tech startup scene here.
Soon after we started a tech publication focused on the Boston area called BostInno. It eventually became Streetwise Media, a digital media company focused on local innovation economies. We then sold AmericanInno — the parent company to BostInno — to the American City Business Journal in 2012, a subsidiary of Advance Publications, which owns Conde Nast and is a shareholder of Reddit, Discovery, and a number of other media properties. After leaving the company in 2016 — and taking a bit of a winding road to figure out what was next — we landed on HqO.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Desirability in commercial real estate has been predicated on the principle of location for physical assets, as it has typically been the best indicator of how people will value the product. Digital technologies have changed many physical asset businesses through what Ben Thompson coined “aggregation theory,” in which the experience and demand of a physical asset is aggregated through software shifting value from physical ownership of supply to controlling demand through technology. Companies like Netflix and Uber leveraged data to create new business models centered around users (demand) rather than products (supply), controlling demand and taking the lead in what has now been dubbed the experience economy.
It makes sense — commercial buildings are only valuable if there are people in them. At HqO, we help commercial office owners create value in the experience economy by arming them with technology that engages with the people who occupy their buildings, using data to create the most value for their assets. This change proves fundamental to the value equation for commercial real estate.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Picking just one mistake will be difficult, but I’ll try to pick the funniest one. When I was right out of college — about 22 or 23 years old — my co-founders and I were scheduled to pitch a VC firm for the first time. We didn’t have a ton of money and mostly worked in t-shirts and jeans out of our apartment, but we figured we needed to spruce up a bit for a fancy firm. So, we decided to wear button-down shirts and khakis. We should have coordinated more closely, because we all wore the exact same color shirts and pants, which made the VC firm think we were mocking them. It was a tough pitch and ultimately they didn’t invest…
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I remember dating back to middle school, my father would constantly tell me stories about different entrepreneurs who built businesses. He’s been my informal coach from a young age. At one point, I watched my father run a furniture business that had IPO’d and then got crushed on the public market — so he made it work for a little bit, until it came down. I also watched him work his ass off while I was in high school to build an occupational healthcare business. He would always travel during weeks, at times living in different locations during the week. Now in his late 60s, I’m watching him build other healthcare businesses and still working hard. He and I trade war stories, and I’ve been fortunate to watch somebody constantly working to try to build something. I received an early education from him, just by osmosis and experiencing his growth.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption is a sexy concept in Silicon Valley — but it isn’t always a good thing. I think a prime example of this is how social media has disrupted the news. It hasn’t been good for the media’s business model in a lot of ways, and it has had some ill side-effects such as misinformation, tribalism, etc.
Disruption can be good though. For example, much of what fintech is disrupting is bringing more financial opportunity to the masses. With regards to HqO and commercial real estate, we’re working hard to enable CRE owners to evolve and become more nimble to better handle many of the growing challenges cities face, which have a big impact on a lot of people.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I actually have four principals I try to hold myself accountable to (some based off of the book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, which you can find on Amazon):
- Be a man of your word — i.e. Do what you say you’re going to do, don’t say anything you won’t say to someone’s face.
- Don’t make assumptions — i.e. Don’t assume you know what people are thinking, ask questions.
- Don’t take things personally — i.e. Most people don’t think about you as much as you think about you.
- Do your best — i.e. Only we know what our true best effort is, don’t short the man in the mirror.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
HqO is building a software layer for the places people work and live, so our product roadmap is in the service of enabling technologies for how we experience the physical world. We’ve been talking about making cities smarter for a long time, and we don’t believe we’ve made enough progress. We think property owners are our best chance to deploy technologies that can make our cities better, so we’re excited about the launch of HqOS — an end-to-end operating system for buildings — and how it will enable a new wave of technologies for the physical environment.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Too many! But to pick one that I think is timely, I recently finished re-reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. I think it’d be good for society if we all revisited how Lincoln built teams, handled adversaries, and showed grace and courage under fire. He was the ultimate leader.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not sure they are quotes, but I have a few life goals that I measure myself on each week, which include:
- Put family first — I try to put my wife and two sons before everything else. I try to block time at the beginning of each week to make sure I’m there for them as a husband and dad, as well as a friend, son, sibling to my extended family.
- Build a world leading organization — Oftentimes, entrepreneurs are asked what their “exit plan” is. I’m not really motivated by the “exit,” but rather am motivated by building something that can be defined as a category leader. I’d love for HqO to be the world’s best/biggest tenant experience company for a very long time.
- Help veterans — I was raised to be very appreciative of the freedoms we are afforded here in the US, which we owe to the members of our military first and foremost. I hope to make meaningful contributions to the lives of veterans at some point in my life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have always been driven to be of service to my country, and today I value more and more focusing locally. I believe our real worlds — the people in our local communities, the people we work and spend time with every day — are a much better reflection of what we can be as a society than what we tend to see on social media. My work through HqO touches this by building technology that brings people together in the real world, rather than keeping us isolated. If I could inspire people outside of HqO, I would love to start a civic movement focused on bringing people together in real life to unite us in healthy, positive, and kind ways.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me on Twitter @cgarb, or connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chasegarbarino/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!