Our Q&A series is an opportunity for our North American team to discuss all things Built Environment, Start-ups, and Career with different founders from across the region. Each week we will ask Built Environment innovators burning questions and quiz them about their products. We hope you find it insightful and enjoy getting to know the founders as much as we have.
TULU is an in-building smart platform that provides tenants with on-demand access to appliances, grocery staples, micro-mobility devices, and much more.
How did you find yourself in the Built Environment sector?
The inception of TULU was at the beginning of 2018-2019 when I met my co-founder, Yishai Lehavi, at an accelerator called OGS, which is part of the MITdesignX track.
Yishai was an architect by profession with an extensive background in technology from his Army Service and I come from a background of environmental science and environmental entrepreneurship. I have always been interested in optimizing urban resources and have led a few different ventures in the field.
With our combined background; my approach to alternative consumption and his approach to the built environment, TULU was formed.
We saw a unique intersection between real estate, millennials, and consumption. We knew we wanted to put our units in buildings where people work, live, and play, which includes residential buildings, student housing, office buildings, and hotels.
How have you seen the Real Estate industry change around the inception of TULU?
When COVID started it was clear in areas like New York that there was a major shift in the market. A lot of people temporarily left their apartments and the demand for additional in-house amenities was becoming more prevalent.
Living somewhere wasn’t just about the rent price. More questioned rose to the suface – “why should I stay here? What does my building offer me? How can I feel more connected? But also, how can I get more out of my building, what amenities could be included?
We saw a spike in landlords reaching out to us and saying that TULU is an amenity that people will use and will make them feel more connected. TULU is something that will be a day-to-day benefit.
Often, while discussing TULU with landlords, the main topics were how residents can save money, enjoy a convenient lifestyle, and get access to many high-quality products. From that, there was a deepening in the value, and landlords started saying “This is not just a nice amenity to have, but people are going to need it as the city is shutting down.”
Ever since that we’ve been growing and growing.
What was the mission of the company from the early start? And what is unique about your business vs competitors?
We are building a platform that’s accelerating a new type of economy, and what we refer to as “the usage economy platform”.
We believe that with the right technology and design, it is possible for people to get access to the products they need and not have to buy them.
There are many issues with the buying, linear economy. Our generation (millennials) and the younger generation (Gen Z’s) are living a more dynamic lifestyle, looking for more affordable and sustainable solutions.Today’s generation isn’t in one place too long, moving from apartment to apartment within a year or two of moving in. With access to services like Uber and Airbnb it’s easy to see the benefits in rentals. TULU is really a part of a fundamental shift from “I want something, therefore I buy it” into the equation of “I need something, therefore I use it”.
The vision is to make that access extremely convenient, user friendly and data-driven by technology.We have created a solution that makes it fast and personalized for people to rent products. We’re able to know what products to offer in every location we’re in, and we’re able to work with our partners to bring the best products to residents.
TULU exists because it doesn’t make sense for people to own the majority of the products they own compared to how often they use it. TULU is the responsible thing to do for the environment, but it’s also the responsible thing to do for our generation.By doing this with our partners in real estate, we have expanded our offerings, therefore centralizing the demands of people in a building.
What are some challenges you have faced within the Built Environment sector?
Firstly, we’re a Series A startup.We’re growing fast.We must grow fast, and I think that’s been a challenge in terms of what makes TULU. While we deal with hardware, logistics, and spaces, we also have a deep desire to deliver on perfect customer experience for every single transaction. I’d like to think it’s easier for a software-only business to do that (Smiling).
Some more challenges include balancing the scale-to-local spectrum in the sense of growing fast without compromising on customer standards and choosing the right buildings that are going to be successful.
In terms of buildings, there are great buildings in Connecticut, Phoenix, and New York, but not every single building is going to see the same result as the building next door.
We have crafted a model in which we insert data about the building: How far away it is from the subway? How many units? When was it built? What other amenities does the building offer? What are the competitive amenities that the building has? We’re using that data to make sure we’re choosing the right clients for us and not just going with anyone who wants to. I think that was something we had to learn along the way.
What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the Built Environment sector?
I came to this world from the environmental science sector, and I think that recruiting and collaborating with real estate partners is crucial to many industries.Whether it’s the sustainability industry, e-commerce,, food tech, or ad tech, there are so many innovations that can be done by partnering with landlords and commercial real estate developers.
I would recommend to people who are not familiar with the built environment to research the sector and see how they can collaborate with those in it.
People have been building and buying real estate for decades, but at the same time, I think the 21st-century landlords are very open-minded and they understand the power they hold and they’re very open to innovation.The landlords are very open to working with startups, and I think startups shouldn’t overlook that.
On a personal note, I think starting a company can be one of one of the most rewarding things someone can do.It’s very challenging and demanding.I would recommend choosing an industry you’re passionate about and building something that you would want to use yourself.
Build and recruit the right partners. There’s never a good time to build something and there’s such a supportive ecosystem in New York City and specifically in the PropTech market of people who want to help each other, so do it now.
What does the coming year hold for your company? What are your extension plans?
There are three verticals we work at, expanding to more buildings, increasing engagement on our platform, and adding new partners in the world of manufacturers and retail brands.
There is an amazing opportunity for brands to tag along with us, as we believe the value of TULU is becoming more and more clear through our partnerships with landlords and the residents themselves.
The usage economy is here to stay, and brands should adapt to it. By doing so retailers can build new pricing models. We’re also expanding to new markets, such as hotels, offices and shopping centers.
Tell us about your approach to talent acquisition and how it has changed over the past few years?
One example that comes to mind is In terms of our sales team, we’re looking for people who are local to the markets. For example, in Europe, our head of sales is Dutch and really speaks the “Sales language” in Europe which is relationship-driven.
As we continue building the team, we consider all the verticals we work with such as retail, real estate, e-commerce, and B2C.Our marketing and product hires are people who come from different backgrounds and can contribute to what we’re building. In the past, we would look for people with more PropTech-specific experience, but now in some of our roles, we are very open to bringing on people from big consumer brands or from hospitality and the food sector.
I think one of the things that helped me and my co-founder as we’re looking into talent is to also look at other fast-growing startups like DoorDash and Uber and how they grew their talent. Another main source of talent has been organic growth.We have been utilizing our investors, partners, and of course our members.
What have been your learnings when it comes to attracting and hiring the right talent?
I can already think about more than five people who have been with TULU for years who found out about us from an article or from a press release about a raise we completed.
We have gotten some cool LinkedIn messages and I really recommend that founders read those types of messages and reply/set up time with someone who has taken the extra step to reach out. Those candidates made an effort and chose you, that goes a long way. Organic growth has been huge for us and people have heard about us from a friend who had to be in the building and found a way to reach out to us.
Can you please share your predictions for the talent in North American Built Environment Sector?
I think connecting the built environment to the greater mission is what will lead to more success.
That mission is its positive influence on our life on earth, our lifestyle, and the cities we live in. I think employees want to know that their contribution matters and more and more people see workplaces that stand for something. A big contributor to our success is hiring people who believe in the mission of TULU. Bringing on inspiring leadership and people that can pave the path can help build the best companies of the future. And of course, collaborations and partnerships between companies and buildings and landlords is what’s going to be a major contribution to the success of the future nationwide and worldwide.
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