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Democratising real estate for the individual investor. With Benjamin Miller and Alison Staloch

2.3.22

In episode 8 of season 8 of the Propcast, Louisa is joined by Benjamin Miller, CEO and Co-Founder and Alison Staloch, CFO of Fundrise. They talk about their journey in PropTech and how they built the Fundrise product to make high-quality real estate investments available to everyone at a low cost. They also discuss the benefits to the everyday user and how they’ve grown since they launched in 2012. A key takeaway from this episode is that most financial products are built for institutions, so how can we democratise private market real estate for individuals? 

Resources: 

Companies Mentioned: 

Shout Outs: 

Key Insights From This Episode:  

  • Consumer products are built for people but most financial products are built for institutions. – Benjamin 
  • Most people invest in stocks but that is only half of the investment world. The other half is the private investments; venture capital, real estate, private credit and private equity. – Benjamin 
  • Good investment performance is usually a long undertaking and the outcome is a result of years of work and many people’s contributions. – Benjamin 
  • I dream about disrupting the old-fashioned institutions. If we could tear down the system and rebuild it from scratch, we would all be better off. – Benjamin  
  • Two reasons which have accelerated our ability to find the right team members over the last year are; we’ve moved to being a remote-first company and we’re focused on expanding our source of talent in order to continue to increase the diversity of our team. – Alison  
  • As the business scales; the CFO needs to be thinking about what resources we need, what capital we need so that we can continue to innovate, to pivot and to find breakthroughs. – Alison 

About Our Guests:

Benjamin Miller is Co-Founder and CEO of Fundrise, the largest direct-to-investor real estate investment platform.

Fundrise’s mission is to use technology to build a better financial system for the individual, one that is simpler, more reliable, lower cost, and transparent. Since launching America’s first online real estate investment in 2012, Fundrise has become the largest direct-to-investor real estate investment platform with more than 1.2 million users, more than $2.4 billion worth of equity under management, and $7 billion worth of real estate transacted, including over 18,000 residential units. Thanks to their robust proprietary technology and vertically integrated  infrastructure, they’ve continued to democratize private market real estate for everyone.

Prior to Fundrise, Ben has decades of experience in real estate and finance. As Managing Partner of WestMill Capital Partners and President of Western Development Corporation, Ben was responsible for acquiring, developing, and financing more than $500 million worth of property.

Alison Staloch, CFO at Fundrise. Alison joined Fundrise in April 2021, she characterises her workload as typical of a late-stage company. She’s focused on accounting and reporting, alongside more strategic work, like improving revenue models and managing diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Prior to joining our Fundrise, she served as the Chief Accountant of the Division of Investment Management at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from December 2017 to April 2021, and before that, served as Assistant Chief Accountant from November 2015 to November 2017. From 2005 to 2015, she was with KPMG LLP in the Asset Management practice. Alison has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Miami University and received a Master of Accounting from the Ohio State University.

 

About Our Host 

Louisa Dickins 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisa-dickins-ab065392/ 

Louisa started her career in property working at a well-known estate agency in London. Realising her people skills, she moved over to Lloyd May to pursue a career in recruitment. She now is a Director at LMRE, who are a specialist recruitment firm driven by PropTech and recruitment professionals, and Louisa oversees their 5 core areas. Louisa co-founded LMRE and provides a constructive recruitment platform to the new disruptors in real estate. Louisa is also on the board of Directors at UK PropTech Association (UKPA). 

About LMRE 

www.lmre.tech 

LMRE believe there is a better way to recruit. LMRE focus on a more comprehensive, client led focus delivering exceptional talent to the place at the time. They are passionate about the industry and passionate about people’s careers. LMRE spend time with each client to become and an extension of the business, and their transparency and core values help them grow with the sector. LMRE simplify recruitment and innovate with our clients and evolve the people driven, PropTech community. 

Timestamps: 

[02:15] TO BEN: Prior to Fundrise, you were managing partner of WestMill Capital Partners and President of Western Development Corp. Can you tell us about your journey and how you ended up founding Fundrise?  

  • I have been in real estate for 20 years but the first half of my career was very different to the second half. My first half was the ‘normal’ real estate, development and investment.  
  • When the financial crisis of 2008 happened, it changed how I viewed the industry. I was not happy with the system and wanted to come up with a solution and Fundrise was born.  
  • Most people invest in stocks but that is only half of the investment world. The other half is the private investments; venture capital, real estate, private credit and private equity.  
  • It was strange to me that individuals were excluded from the private investment industry so we started a mission to go about trying to break down that barrier.  

[05:35] TO ALISON: What’s the transition been like going from the traditional capital markets investments zone into a fast-growth tech company?  

  • My entire professional life has been in investor protection roles as either a regulator or as an auditor. The investor-centric mission at Fundrise resonated with me as well as that mission focused on building what’s best for the individual.  
  • A CFO role obviously encompasses much more than my previous roles. 
  • At Fundrise, our business encompasses much more than in a normal CFO role because we’re a real estate operator, we’re an asset manager and we’re a software technology company. 

[08:45] When you say the ‘normal investor’, can you describe that profile?  

  • In any of the private world investments, the normalinvestor in that world is somebody with a billion-plus dollars and if not, you’re not served, you’re not a customer of those institutions. 
  • If you have tens of millions, maybe they made a little sleeve for you, but you’re not really their core customer. 

[09:55] What is the profile of someone who uses Fundrise?  

  • A person uses our product. Institutions use places like Blackstone, Starwood or Sequoia.  
  • We have investors who have tens of millions of dollars and we have investors who have tens of dollars.  

[11:50] Fundrise announced that the average annual return for all Fundrise clients’ accounts was 22.99% for the year, can you tell us how you made that happen?  

  • Good investment performance is usually a long undertaking and the outcome is a result of years of work and many people’s contributions.  
  • We pursue two strategies; a fixed income strategy and a high growth strategy in real estate.  
  • Under those two strategies, we have two main parts; structural technology advantage and teams of people who are doing the work to drive great results. 

[13:40] How have you gone about growing the team and attracting people from all other industries to Fundrise?  

  • We have doubled our team since I joined in April 2021 and hiring is a daily effort for our entire team.  
  • We’re looking for smart people with a strong work ethic, low ego and who really care about the individual investor. 
  • Two reasons which have accelerated our ability to find the right team members over the last year are; we’ve moved to being a remote first company and we’re focused on expanding our source of talent in order to continue to increase the diversity of our team.  

[16:40] What is next for the whole sector as well as Fundrise?  

  • One thing that I didn’t expect as we achieve scaleis that we can do so much more than I imagine, so we now have new initiatives underway that are distinct from the original idea. 
  • The goal is to change how investment analysis and operations are done in real estate and finance. 

[17:50] From the CFO point of view, as the business scales, there are lots of extra bits of structure you’re putting in as well to make sure the business can continue to grow and make money. 

  • We need to continue to build out our resources, to support all of that growth including from a financial perspective and as portions of the business continue to mature. 
  • Thinking about what resources we need, what capital we need so that we can continue to innovate, to pivot and to find these breakthroughs.  

[19:15] The ‘LMRE’ part, Louisa asks the guests to talk about: 

1.Lessons learned in your career 

  • Ben: One of the operating principles is; you have to build your business on bedrock. You have to keep asking why until you get to bedrock.  

2. Mention a person, product or service 

  • Alison: My Whoop 

3. Rewarding parts of working in the space:  

  • Alison: It’s such a nascent part of the tech industry and then being able to see all of the unique and innovative ideas at this stage. 

4.What are you most Excited about for the future of the space?:   

  • Ben:  I dream about disrupting the old-fashioned institutions. If we could tear down the system and rebuild it from scratch, we would all be better off. 

Launch Your Own Podcast 

Kopus.com is the leading podcast production and strategic content company for brands, organisations, institutions, individuals, and entrepreneurs. Our team sets you up with the right strategy, equipment, training, and guidance and content to ensure you sound amazing while speaking to your niche audience and networking with your perfect clients. Get in touch jason@kopus.com 

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