Create a culture in which people can thrive — It’s essential to build a team that consistently performs at a high level, a team you can trust. You do that by investing in your people and creating a space in which they aren’t afraid to spread their wings and test out new ideas.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Krashakova, CEO of Smart Capital Center.
Laura was obsessed with numbers as a child and now uses patterns and variables to make sense of the world. She founded Smart Capital Center, which invented the world’s first real-time valuation and mortgage platform for commercial real estate investors, making property analysis and capital available at a fraction of the time and cost required previously. Its software is used by leading institutional lenders and investors, including Pacific Life Insurance and JLL. Now, Smart Capital Center made its technology accessible to first-time investors and small property owners. It aims to empower them with the knowledge they need to make smart decisions in commercial real estate and access to affordable capital.
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?
I’m a math geek. I love it. There’s a certainty in mathematics that very few things can match, if at all. And it’s always the same, wherever you go — it’s grounding, that certainty. I pursued a master’s degree in math with a focus on the theory of probability. Patterns are everywhere, and math helps you recognize and make sense of those patterns — and when you get to know them well enough, you can even get a glimpse into the future.
My love for mathematics led me from Russia to New York City and from Wall Street banking to the Silicon Valley tech startup scene. I started Smart Capital Center because I saw first-hand that there was a need that had to be filled. I’ve seen how access to data, technology, and capital can make or break a venture. I recognized that the current system underserved a large sector of entrepreneurs in the commercial real estate space, and I took it upon myself to build a solution.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
we’re democratizing the commercial real estate space. To play in the field, you need to have access to accurate and up-to-date information and affordable capital, and that may be very hard to come by. Say, for example, you are an investor looking for a property to buy. Brokers may feed you biased information to get a quick sale, or you may be unaware of certain data that would affect a property’s value. You may end up paying much more than a property is worth or encounter problems in the future that you didn’t bargain for. Our technology keeps that from happening because we provide real-time, accurate, and unbiased valuation and property analysis. Our AI-powered, big-data platform can spot trends by looking at a property’s 20-year history and its surrounding locale. It also pulls millions of data points from standard and alternative data streams to give users a holistic view of a property.
Or if you’re a business owner and you’re looking to expand your business or finance your operations. Many small business owners own real estate, e.g., a property occupied by their business, like a bakeshop or hair salon. (Majority of commercial real estate is small — 75% of CRE is valued at 3 million dollars or under.) These entrepreneurs can get a mortgage and use the additional capital to expand their business — a real-estate backed loan is several times cheaper than a small business loan. However, due to lack of information and a cumbersome process, business owners usually get more expensive loans, which erodes profits.
Not everyone has a large pool of cash to draw from. For most of these investors and business owners, these investments are their way of securing a better future for themselves and their families. Smart Capital Center provides access to real-time, unbiased, and affordable data and capital all in one platform. This is a game-changer and especially critical now when the economy and small businesses are under severe strain.
These are just some of the ways we are upending the way the commercial real estate space works. Our technology lends itself well to many use cases and continues to grow and evolve according to our users’ needs.
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?
It’s funny to me now, because looking back I think it’s so simple, how could I have missed it? It happened during a big demo conference. At the time, because we were just starting out, we were trying to save money where we could. The team and I decided that I will attend the conference on my own, and one of our engineers will help with the demo remotely. We’re a tech company, so why not make the most of the tech already available? It seemed simple enough.
The plan was that he would connect to my computer remotely while I was doing the presentation on stage. He will run the demo and take his cue by listening to what I was saying. All I had to do was put my phone on speaker so he could hear me. The thing is, I was nervous and excited, and it completely slipped my mind. He couldn’t hear what I was saying at all so he couldn’t follow me. I had to adjust quickly while on stage and ended up doing the demo myself — all because I forgot to push a button. The devil is indeed in the details.
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?
There’s this book by Joseph Campbell, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, and it’s basically how the hero’s journey follows the same cycle, and embedded in the journey is finding a mentor — someone who lights the way, provides training and inspiration, all the things necessary for the hero’s success. We’re all heroes of our own lives, and in my journey, I’ve been privileged to have found several mentors, and I expect I will continue to meet them. Here is the thing though — I believe they don’t always come to you. You have to seek them out, and if you can’t access them personally, you draw inspiration from the way they live their lives.
My parents instilled in me an appreciation of hard work; I’ve seen them overcome obstacles by virtue of their grit and determination. They were my first mentors, and I learned from them that anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the work.
There is a story that always comes back to me when I think about hard work and grit. There’s a Bay Area entrepreneur and successful real estate investor whose first venture was a pizza shop in Oakland. He rented a retail space, baked the pizzas himself and sold it. At that time, Oakland was considered an unsafe area and it wasn’t unusual for him to hear gunshots in the evening. He didn’t let outside forces deter him however and he kept on working and striving and now he owns 10,000 apartment rental units. He built his empire from that one pizza place.
I’ve seen this same formula repeated time and again — regular people starting their businesses with the hope of providing a better future for their families and succeeding tremendously in that endeavor. Their stories inspire me and keep me motivated to work harder to level the playing field for smaller property investors. There’s nothing more inspiring than working with people on a journey to make their dreams come true.
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?
There has been very little disruption in commercial real estate, and the established processes weren’t allowing much opportunity for small property owners to flourish. Large institutions have significant advantages in the market due to access to data and capital, and it’s hard to shake such deeply rooted foundations. It was harming not only the average entrepreneur and property owner, but it’s also bad for the economy as a whole, as it is built on small businesses. You can’t have all the control and advantage concentrated at the top. That’s why we at Smart Capital Center have made it our mission to disrupt the current system and empower all the players with the information and resources they need to make the best deals.
However, that does not mean that all disruption is good — sometimes they come at a cost. For example, online shopping has become such a huge trend nowadays, it’s very convenient, and I myself am a fan. But I was really sad to see Barnes and Noble close their store in NYC. I used to spend hours there. Many local and even national retail chains that have shut down because they couldn’t compete with Amazon. Change always comes at a cost; it’s up to us to determine if the exchange is worth it.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Create a culture in which people can thrive — It’s essential to build a team that consistently performs at a high level, a team you can trust. You do that by investing in your people and creating a space in which they aren’t afraid to spread their wings and test out new ideas. There is no need for constant surveillance and micromanaging if you know the people in your team have a sense of accountability, and all of you are working towards achieving the same vision. If you take the time to cultivate a culture of growth, accountability, creativity, and openness, the returns will be unbelievable. You’re a team working towards the same vision — you don’t work your team until they have nothing left to give, you nurture them so that they grow and become pillars that support your common dreams.
There is no finish line when seeking success — The meaning of success is fluid and in constant flux. When you’re engaged in business, it’s a continuous evolution, you keep abreast of the trends, and every goal met becomes a stepping stone to even more significant achievements. You’re always moving forward and bettering yourself, your team, your company. That’s why it’s important to celebrate each milestone and triumph, they mark how far you’ve come on your journey.
Don’t work all the time — Make room for rest and recreation. Rest — take care of your mind and your body. Build strong relationships. Not working all the time may seem strange, especially when you’re busy chasing your dreams, but it’s important not to get too caught up in that chase that you forget to take care of yourself. Even purely from a business standpoint, it’s important to rest because being tired all the time affects your efficiency. And life experiences don’t just happen in a vacuum; they may even inspire you or become the catalyst for a breakthrough in a problem you’re working on. Learn to take a step back, working while fatigued is detrimental and won’t help anyone. And what is success really, without pleasure? Without relationships? Without your health?
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We’re going to take things global. It’s going to require a lot of work, but that’s the plan. We’ve already spoken to a number of customers from overseas who are interested in our technology and what it can do.
From the perspective of someone in Hong Kong looking to invest in a property abroad, let’s say a multifamily in the U.S., imagine how powerful it is to have all the hyperlocal information you need at your fingertips, real-time, all without leaving the convenience of your own home. Fast, accurate, unbiased information, valuation, and analysis that take into account property and location history.
That’s just one scenario. Our technology is capable of so many things, and with the input we’re getting from our customers, it continues to evolve, becoming more comprehensive, robust, and powerful.
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?
There’s a Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth called “Grit: the power of passion and perseverance.” In it, she discusses how success isn’t necessarily measured by how smart or gifted you are — it all boils down to determination and perseverance. You need to work hard to achieve your goals, not just for the short-term but for the long haul. During her talk, she also mentions the growth mindset by Carol Dweck, which is about failure not being a permanent condition. Failure does not mean you aren’t smart enough or talented enough — it means you’re learning and evolving. These ideas can be applied in school, in the business world, and in all sorts of scenarios because they are fundamentally about humanity’s potential and how we have the power to actualize our dreams.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.” -Tolstoy
There is a certain high that comes with making the right decisions; when you see the plans that you’ve laid out come to fruition. It’s akin to the gamification of life; there is pleasure in being right. The problem is when you let yourself slide over from confidence in your ability to conceit. When that happens, you get blinded by your own ego. You don’t play smart; you get stuck. Once you begin to think too highly of yourself, that spells your downfall. No one can do everything perfectly. That’s why it’s essential to build a good team. They augment your abilities and take over where you fall short. That quote is a reminder never to think too highly of one’s self. You diminish yourself and your potential when you do. If you’re a person in a leadership role, conceit not only negates all the hard work you’ve put in, it also has the potential to cancel out all the work of those around you. It must be avoided at all costs.
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’m a great believer in education. If there’s a movement I can inspire, I’d like to make quality education more accessible, especially to children in emerging countries. I myself have experienced how empowering education can be, how transformative. I’d like those same opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to have be made available to everyone.
How can our readers follow you online?
Most of my time on social media I spend on our Smart Capital Center Facebook Group where we share a ton of advice and engage with small property owners and professional investors. We’re building a purpose-driven community with a growth mindset geared towards helping each other succeed. Nothing breeds success better than surrounding yourself with insightful people willing to share their knowledge and experience, and of course you need to pay that forward and pave the path for others who come after.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!