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Mike Zei of TenantBase: “You can’t do it all”

Our company is all about providing a better experience to businesses trying to find their next workspace. The TenantBase platform is designed to provide a fully digital experience for any size business bringing transparency to the market and service to them on demand. There was already a clear product market fit for our platform since […]

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Our company is all about providing a better experience to businesses trying to find their next workspace. The TenantBase platform is designed to provide a fully digital experience for any size business bringing transparency to the market and service to them on demand. There was already a clear product market fit for our platform since founding the business in 2014, but due to COVID, our onsite engagement and tour rates are up over 30%.

Businesses, like consumers, want instant access to information and service. We are providing that and the CRE industry needs technology like this right now to provide the right experience to the modern business and tenant. Currently we are in 13 markets throughout the country, but we have strong, aggressive expansion plans for 2021 and beyond.


As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Zei, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of TenantBase, a seasoned commercial real estate professional known for his strength of leadership and drive. Along with his two co-founders, Mike brings his passion for increasing transparency and trust as a tenant representative for traditionally underserved businesses.

Since co-founding the company in 2013, Mike has helped grow TenantBase to 12 offices in 10 markets across the United States. Prior experience includes serving as an associate at Cassidy Turley in Dallas and a senior associate at Advocate Commercial Real Estate Advisors in Chicago. In addition to industry experience, Mike was a founder and partner of several startups and small businesses in Nashville, Tenn.

Mike earned both a BBA in finance and his MBA from the University of Mississippi and is an MBA Alumni Board Member. In 2020, TenantBase was named among Forbes’ Best Startup Employers and Mike was personally honored with Connect CRE’s National 2020 Next Generation Award.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, my dad was a commercial real estate broker who owned his own firm for 30-plus years. I saw the entrepreneurial way of life at a very young age because of him and always had an interest in pursuing it myself.

I was very familiar with the CRE industry because of my dad and growing up in Dallas where there were many family friends in the industry. The industry is made up of remarkable, hardworking people, but the traditional service model does not always provide a great experience for every client. I’ve always wanted to provide a better experience for those small to medium-sized businesses, and that’s exactly where our brand and mission started.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Within the first few years of TenantBase, I had the opportunity to quickly get involved in supporting a hyper-growth company expanding in Nashville. One afternoon I got a call from a college friend’s brother who wanted me to introduce him to the best local commercial estate brokerage in the Nashville market — unaware we were operating there at the time. I told him we were the best solution for his client due to our tech focus and some recent experience with a similar requirement, and the next morning we were on the phone pitching to a business that has originated over 1 million dollars in fees for our company. Today they are the leading on-demand delivery platform in the country, and we have represented them in three total office leases. This really is the heart of why we started TenantBase — a commercial real estate platform that is designed to provide great service coupled with technology.

Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Our company is all about providing a better experience to businesses trying to find their next workspace. The TenantBase platform is designed to provide a fully digital experience for any size business bringing transparency to the market and service to them on demand. There was already a clear product market fit for our platform since founding the business in 2014, but due to COVID, our onsite engagement and tour rates are up over 30%.

How do you think this might change the world?

Businesses, like consumers, want instant access to information and service. We are providing that and the CRE industry needs technology like this right now to provide the right experience to the modern business and tenant. Currently we are in 13 markets throughout the country, but we have strong, aggressive expansion plans for 2021 and beyond.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I don’t see any drawbacks to this kind of technology — it provides a digital solution to a common problem that a lot of businesses are currently facing. It also gives brokers and salespeople the opportunity to join a company that is revolutionizing an industry that has been around for decades. We are providing a platform designed to provide the best kind of experience for businesses looking to find a lease or purchase a space by allowing technology to improve the incumbent bottlenecks of historically manual processes.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

I essentially decided to leave my job at what was then Cassidy Turley in Dallas to focus on building technology solutions for commercial real estate and other startups. I was working in Nashville when one of my co-founders, Bennett Washabaugh, gave me a call. He and someone we worked with at my old company in Chicago were asking about my views on joining a CRE brokerage company. I was excited to talk but told them I really did not want anything to do with CRE anymore unless it was tech-driven, because I saw the industry heading in that direction.

From there Bennett and I started to talk about the future and what the industry needed next, which led to launching TenantBase. Being tech-driven to provide the best service experience was always the priority.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

There was already a need for this technology to modernize commercial real estate as a whole, but the coronavirus pandemic significantly escalated this need. Our platform is a driver of efficiency, but it also allows people to take steps in the search and leasing process without having to physically go somewhere to obtain it. By using TenantBase to match your company’s needs to qualified available space, you can reduce the number of onsite tours of properties that may not fit your needs. That is always going to be a benefit because it is time efficient, but in a pandemic environment it is also much safer. The leasing community has continued to embrace the platform as we expand to other markets and we are looking for new broker partners to work with us to provide tenant rep services in new markets.

TenantBase is in a very fortunate position because some markets are waiting on a solution like this to emerge.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Our team has been utilizing inbound marketing strategies for the last couple of years, but now that we are preparing for aggressive growth, we are really honing in on what we need to do to get our brand out there. We recently brought on a PR agency, and on social media we are showing off what our brand really stands for and how we serve our brokers and clients.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I will always be grateful to my dad because my entrepreneurial spirit came from him. He established a belief within our family of challenging the status quo, being a fighter and that you do not have to follow a traditional path to be successful. He always showed me that if you think there is a better, faster or smarter way to do something, then you can create that change and control your own circumstances. Because of that I felt confident that if I was willing to do the work, I could build something and drive the results.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We have worked very hard to create a company that is inclusive, transparent and collaborative. I think that is incredibly important and valuable to our employees and clients as we navigate today’s societal challenges.

I’ve also been through the entrepreneurial struggle and journey and know how challenging it can be. Any time I have the chance to be a resource or guide to someone who is going through that, I embrace it. People have stepped up for me many times when I really needed it and that helped carry me forward, even though it was not a formal role.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

I wish someone had told me these five things:

  • Everything takes longer than you think it will. Time is the only thing that is finite.

When we launched TenantBase, we knew we had the right idea and we were poised to revolutionize an industry. We were excited about it, and we expected everything to happen quickly. But starting and building a business takes time, and now that we’re in our seventh year in business, we are really seeing the growth and momentum from our earlier efforts.

  • You can’t do it all.

Having my two co-founders on this journey has shown all of us how important it is to share responsibility and not take everything on yourself. That’s how you become successful as an entrepreneur — you don’t go it alone.

  • Balance is important when you are just starting off in your career or if you are starting a company. Find a balance that works for you, not against you. It looks different for everyone.

Building a new business takes passion and energy, and it is easy to let it completely consume you. While it’s true you will always work harder for yourself than you will anyone else, it’s also true that you have to remain an individual outside of your business and spend time doing other things that are important to you, like prioritizing family time.

  • As you scale and grow your business, create a culture that can transcend distance and a variety of employees.

Especially in a post-COVID world, it can be very challenging to cultivate a camaraderie and culture for your employees while everyone is working remote.

  • If you are launching a tech company, get the product out there. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

We learned early on that we needed feedback from users quickly in order to build the right platform — it wasn’t going to be perfect on day one, and that is okay. You learn so much from just getting something out there and letting your customers or audience tell you what they think. This can help guide your path to realizing your vision for the future.

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 believe it is incredibly important to be open-minded and approach our daily interactions with no preconceived notions or bias. Put aside your privilege and what you have been through personally and professionally and focus on who is in front of you and what they have to offer. I think this can be applied to every relationship in your life — colleagues, supervisors, spouses, friends, parents, etc.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote/motto to live by is, “Win with Service.” My team hears me say this almost daily. I think you can apply it to anything, and I truly believe that if you are service minded in your approach to work, family, personal relationships and anything you are passionate about in life, you are doing more good than you know.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

TenantBase is the new way for businesses to find and lease space. With our trusted tech platform and experience, we are able to connect businesses and the CRE industry in one digital solution. We are building the most trusted tenant facing platform in the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.facebook.com/tenantbase
https://www.linkedin.com/company/tenantbase/
https://www.instagram.com/tenantbaseinc/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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