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Adopting a Vision | Michael Wong from Genea

Michael Wong’s journey to becoming the CEO of Genea isn’t typical. As an investor at a private equity firm, he learned a lot about what makes a company successful, but had no experience running one. And then Genea came across his desk. “Genea was not even a company at the time, it was more of a technology,” he says. “I thought this technology could be morphed into a great company with all those wonderful characteristics.”

It was too small for his firm to invest in, but after diligent research into the struggling company, the board asked him to become their CEO. Having never before stepped into this role, it was not an easy decision.

On this edition of UpTech Report, Michael talks about how he decided to take on this role, and why his experience as an investor told him the company had great potential to succeed.

More information: https://www.getgenea.com/


Michael Wong is President and CEO of Genea, a cloud software and services provider to the commercial real estate industry. Under Michael’s leadership, Genea’s customer base of commercial office properties has grown from 9 million square feet to over  250 million + square feet while maintaining 99% customer retention. Prior to joining Genea, he spent 15 years as a private equity investor mostly at Leonard Green & Partners and The Blackstone Group. 

Genea’s next-generation platform puts property teams and businesses’ needs above all by giving them the control they want and deserve. Our cloud-based software works with most existing hardware to modernize access control, streamline Overtime HVAC management, and automate Submeter Billing.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Michael Wong 0:00
Every month tends to be actually every month is a record breaking month for us. We’ve never had a non record breaking month throughout the history of Jr.

Alexander Ferguson 0:16
Michael, I’m excited to continue our conversation in part one you shared about the your company Genea. Its cloud based software for commercial real estate. And this discussion, I’m excited to dive a little deeper on hearing more about you. Your journey. How did you get to where you are today? Tell me more about your story. You can even start before nine years ago before geneia.

Michael Wong 0:36
Sure. So I graduated from school if college and what if you were to ask me what I want to do with my career day I graduated, I would have told you I want to be a CEO of a company. But as a newly minted undergrad, I was not being given CEO opportunities at the time. So what I chose to do was I went to Wall Street. I spent most of my career as a private equity investor, with some absolute print premier firms very proud of having been part of the Blackstone team in New York and then part of the Lennar Green Team in California. So that’s where I cut my teeth really understanding different businesses, different companies, you know, how companies are valued, what makes certain companies way more valuable and successful than others. And so that was my background, one as an investor. And then we’ll how I got involved with geneia is when I was in my private equity roll, Genea came across my desk, it was way too small to be a Leonard Green Deal, because we’re buying billion dollar companies at the time. But as a lifelong investor, there’s certain characteristics I look for in great companies. And I thought, you know, Genea was not even a company at the time, it was more of a technology, I thought this technology could be morphed into a great company with all those wonderful characteristics. So I did a bunch of diligence. And long story short, it was in the summer of 2011, after the financial crisis, the company was struggling. And they the board basically asked me, Would you make an investment in the business and become the CEO. So having never run a company ever before? It sounded crazy for me to jump from being an investor to actually running the business. But after some soul searching and talking to my wife, a lot, we decided to make that bet. And it’s been a wonderful journey.

Alexander Ferguson 2:24
And then you finally did become the CEO of a company to that fruition. I’m curious, you mentioned there, right there. There were certain criteria you look for, in when you’re investing. And this met that criteria. What What are just a couple of those if you can share?

Michael Wong 2:41
Yeah, so in terms of characteristics of great businesses, one thing that as an investor we would value a lot are businesses that have recurring revenue streams, right. So when you think about Starbucks is a great business, but every day they open their door, and they start with zero revenue. apartment buildings are, you know, viewed as very compelling businesses, because as long as somebody is in a physical apartment building, they’re paying rent every month. So you know, there’s a predictability to it. So I thought that the initial overtime HVAC application that we had, we can chart recurring revenue. And as long as we continue to demonstrate our value proposition, you have a predictability in terms of the revenue base. So with 99%, customer retention, you know, it’s the leaky bucket syndrome, right. So if you have a business that has a very leaky bucket, then you could be adding more customers, but you could be losing more on the back end. For us with 99%. Customer retention, we don’t have much of a leak at all. So every month tends to be actually every month is a record breaking month for us. We’ve never had a non record breaking month throughout the history of genea.

Alexander Ferguson 3:54
When you bought it and started to grow it, how many customers and clients were there at that time?

Michael Wong 4:00
Yeah, great question. There was, when we first when I first took over the business, we had about a dozen buildings around the country using our software, so only about 12. When you fast forward to today, across all our service offerings, were well over 1500 buildings around the country, over 250 million square feet. We’re actually doing business with our access control product in 16 different countries. We actually now span outside of just commercial real estate, with our access control and our visitor management product. We are now doing access control for enterprise customers in their facilities. So if you’re a DoorDash or Instacart, those are a couple of our clients that use us and a global wide basis for their facility management.

Alexander Ferguson 4:51
Going from 12 to 1500 over 1500 or over 1500 That’s quite an accomplishment when it comes to gaining new accounts and clients, and marketing, do you see any common mistakes people doing when it comes to marketing in today’s environment?

Michael Wong 5:11
Yeah, so I would say, I definitely see a lot of mistakes, you know, we’re in Not to disparage Silicon Valley, you know, technology companies. But we’ve taken the anti Silicon Valley model where the so Silicon Valley model has historically in my eyes been a great idea raised a ton of capital, because there’s a ton of capital to be had, through a ton of ideas are out, and hopefully something sticks. And, you know, Blitz the market with marketing. Because I’m a reformed private equity investor, where cash flow is king, we’ve always had to earn our right to make that next investment. So we haven’t had to raise a tremendous amount of capital, we’ve always grown the business. And as soon as we got to a certain level that afforded us the confidence that we can then make that incremental investment. So point being is really understand the marketplace, really understand your customers, and be we are very efficient in making sure that we have a return on our growth investments. So whether that’s hire more salespeople, do more ad spend whatever the case may be, we are very efficient at that.

Alexander Ferguson 6:23
How do you get people’s attention in today’s world where it’s just so overloaded with distractions and other opportunities and staying the status quo? In terms of our customers? Or yeah, when you’re reaching out and be able to get new customers?

Michael Wong 6:37
Yeah, so great. That’s the relationship part, right? Part of the reason why we’ve been so successful is, if you’re a head of asset management, property management engineer, or it for any of our large customers, there are so many different commercial real estate technology companies that have popped up in the last call it half a dozen years, where you don’t have enough time to do your day job, let alone evaluate any of these customers or companies. And so part of the reason why when I referenced the brand, is we have done HVAC submitter billing now access control, because we’ve done a great job. Initially, we’ve proven ourselves. So yeah, we trust Genea, they take care of us they generate value, they it won’t be a mistake for me to to, to do business with them. So as we can help them solve problems, we get their attention. So I’ll give you an example. When we bought the access control company in December, by the first three months of this year, right before, you know, lockdown, we had meetings with 40 of our top real estate customers at the highest level. No other technology company has access to that level of professional within our industry. But we’ve earned the right to do that. Right? We want to say, you know, whatever the next product is, they believe that we have the credibility to listen to us,

Alexander Ferguson 8:02
leading with trust, and that will lead to that credibility and that you can introduce new products and be able to grow your market share. That’s a long term bet. Because it’s not a short term thing to build trust.

Michael Wong 8:16
No companies. I mean, certainly there are plenty of examples of companies that have you know, kind of been overnight successes. Those are far and few between, I think I’m a big believer and companies are built the old fashioned way is you have to kind of earn your reputation, earn, earn your right to do business.

Alexander Ferguson 8:34
Did you find any effective tactics or strategies and mentalities of building that trust early on with a customer that you found have worked?

Michael Wong 8:45
Yeah, excellent. That’s a great question. One of the things that really differentiates us versus any other technology companies in our space is from day one, when I was recruiting the team to basically run genea, you know, going forward, I said, we’re going to create one of the best customer service organizations, not to send software, not just in the space, but in any industry, we are going to take a white glove approach to this. So what does that mean? That means I want to have an emotional connection with our customers where they feel so passionate that we’ve done such a great job for them. And I likened it to the hospitality industry, right? When you look at a hotel, there are all kinds of different hotels, what makes you know, what is a hotel, it’s a building with a bunch of beds. And you know, why one is viewed as a five star hotel versus one is viewed as not, is, you know, certainly the amenities could be a part of it. But in my opinion, a biggest biggest component is a service level is when you go into a five star hotel and they remember your name and the way they treat you in a way to conduct themselves. It creates an emotional connection. And so our customer success organization has that mindset we look for people that have that DNA is how do we take our customers and really make them feel like they’re special. And, and I think that’s something that’s missing with a lot of technology companies, technologies is, technology is only valuable if it’s simple. And so if we’re not just here to sell you technology, and you have to go figure it out, if we are selling you selling you a solution, and we’re here to support you with that solution. Now, we’re not providing a lot of services behind it. But we’re here to guide you through that process on leveraging our technology.

Alexander Ferguson 10:35
Very insightful to hear that it’s the people in the team and the service that can create that sense of trust and credibility early on. That leads us nicely into the next question I want to ask you around, building the team and hiring, what common mistakes do you see are made when it comes to hiring and building a team?

Michael Wong 10:57
Yeah, so having never run a business or even been an operating company before it took over, Genea, I actually leveraged not as much of my experiences in private equity. In running the company, I leveraged more of my experience coaching my kids in basketball. And so when you’re coaching basketball, the whole mindset is you’re leveraging the skill sets the individual skill sets of players, by laying out a game plan, having them making sure they understand the game plan, and then having them work together and communicate with accountability and transparency on executing the game plan. So very much that same mindset existed when I started assembling the team. So when you ask the question, how, what kind of mistakes can you make, do not ever underestimate the power of culture and chemistry. So you can have the most talented, talented individual, but if they don’t work well with others, or if they just have whatever corrosive element that impacts culture in a negative way, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, it’s going to hurt the overall goal. And so once you know, I think that’s where we’ve done a really good job. And probably what I’m most proud of is what we built the team that has an incredible culture to it. And during the middle of the pandemic, as soon as we went into lockdown, everybody’s worked from home, we’ve been incredibly successful, because there’s already that inherent culture and chemistry built in so that we can be working online and still not miss a beat. We don’t have to be physically together.

Alexander Ferguson 12:41
I imagine over time as the team grows, the culture has to maybe evolve and how you address things. How big is the team today?

Michael Wong 12:52
So when I first started, I inherited a team of about 20 people worldwide now. We’re about I would say somewhere between 60 and 70.

Alexander Ferguson 13:04
Gotcha. And if you had to share any insight on lessons learned, as the team has grown, that you found has been effective to make sure that culture stays effective and working. Well, anything you can share.

Michael Wong 13:19
Yeah, look, I think it’s important to be loyal to the people that have gotten you there. But also, everybody on the team has a responsibility to make sure that we have the appropriate team members around us to get to the next level. So you know, I’ve seen this, and I’ve read about it. And I’ve heard a lot of stories how somebody who had had gotten to the company to a certain spot just wasn’t capable of, you know, helping the company get to the next level, which requires a different level of skill. Sometimes people can morph and develop those skills, sometimes they just tap out. And so I think, really understanding people’s capabilities. And one of the things we focus on is putting people in a position to succeed. So it’s not a tenured organization, just because you’ve been a member of the whatever department for the longest period of time doesn’t naturally make you all sudden, but the manager, the department, managing the department versus actually doing all the things that people need to do within the department are two totally different skills. So those are things that we’re constantly monitoring. And we want people to be around for a long time. Let’s put them in a position to succeed.

Alexander Ferguson 14:30
Going forward, what hurdles Do you see you’re going to need to overcome it, whether it’s, we could even look at COVID and and how that’s affected, maybe even your your your customer base. How are you planning on overcoming and moving forward into next year?

Michael Wong 14:48
Yeah, so I think you know, every company has, has had to, you know, pivot the way they operate obviously because a lot down in COVID we are We’re actually very fortunate in that we haven’t really lost lost, you know, customers during this period of time we’ve just had stored, you know, 99 plus percent customer retention. And by now, we define COVID as March 16, the week of March 16. And when we went into lockdown, we’ve signed, it’s now approaching over to close to 200 new contracts. So we’ve grown quite a bit during COVID. In terms of the biggest challenges, you know, the opportunities are very promising for us, you know, going forward, it’s all about execution. And so that’s where I’m spending a lot of my time right now is, you know, executing tab, high net promoter scores and high customer attention, going from where we were nine years ago to now are going to be very different going from where we are now to, you know, becoming that 800 pound gorilla. So make sure that we develop the processes and the systems and we have the talents to make sure that we can replicate that at scale is the biggest challenge that we’re, you know, I’m thinking about right now.

Alexander Ferguson 16:00
Are there any books, audio books, or podcasts that you have enjoyed? And would recommend?

Michael Wong 16:07
I’m a big fan of how I built this. Yeah. Yeah, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s probably what I do most when I’m, like, you know, working out or just want to kind of drown out I just listened to, you know, other entrepreneurs, it’s, it’s, it’s a lot of fun.

Alexander Ferguson 16:27
Last question I have for you, Michael, what kind of technology innovations do you predict we will see in the near term, the next year or two and long term, 510 years from now?

Michael Wong 16:39
Yeah, so we have, obviously, AI is becoming, you know, more and more important, my dog just jumped behind my back happens all the time, my better comfort place. So I would say AI is impacting a lot of different industries, I think certain industries are probably more ready for AI. You know, commercial real estate, I think, is still, you know, a few innings behind other industries in terms of technology evolution. That said, we’re already looking at a bunch of AI strategies to help just bring that much better functionality to the things that we already do. So for example, we have this HVAC application, we have our access control application. And so what we can do with building owner and operator is be predictive in terms of where people are when they need comfort, you know, because we’re plugged into the equipment that gives us that feedback. We know when people are in a building, we know when people leave the building, we know what they’re after our needs are. So there’s a lot of information that we have, because we’re physically plugged into all the different aspects of building where we can really drive a lot of value.

Alexander Ferguson 17:47
I’ve really enjoyed your insight as well as kind of this journey that you’ve been on now you’ve succeeded what you set out to be a CEO. But there’s so much more yet to come. And it sounds interesting to see how AI and other technology will play a role. And thank you again, everyone also for joining us also sponsor today is TeraLeap. If your company wants to learn how to better leverage video to drive sales and marketing, go to TeraLeap.io Thanks again and we’ll see you guys next time. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTechreport.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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