Preserving Knowledge, Preventing Disaster | Daniel Cunningham from Leonardo247

Daniel Cunningham was running a property management company in Los Angeles when a boiler in one of his buildings overheated and caught fire. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the residents lost hot water, rent credits had to be given to over 300 people, and the new boiler could only be installed via helicopter.

The community managers simply didn’t know that vendors needed to be maintaining the equipment. Now they knew—but for how long? Managing a building is more than just maintaining heating and plumbing, it’s about maintaining institutional knowledge.

Buildings are made up of exceedingly complex systems and components that require an in-depth understanding that is easily lost from one manager to the next. And it’s not just the inner workings of a building that need to be understood—it’s marketing, real estate law, finance, and more.

Daniel’s first thought was to author a book on the subject. His better thought was to start a new company, Leonardo247.

In this edition of UpTech Report, Daniel tells the story of Leonardo247’s inspiration, and how it’s helping companies avoid the next disaster.

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Daniel Cunningham is a technologist, author, and recognized thought-leader in the field of institutional real estate management. A Civil Engineer by education, Cunningham has used his passion for process and innovation to bring new ideas to real estate development and management ever since he co-founded LivingHomes (now Plant Prefab), the first environmentally-focused modular homebuilder in the country which, in 2006, built the first LEED Platinum home in the world.

Later, building on his experience as Director of Asset Management for AIMCO and then as the Founder of Landmark Property Management Group in 2008, Cunningham introduced the “Nested Action Cycle” approach to property operations through his book 365 Days of Property Management. The principles expressed in this book became the basis of the software company Leonardo247 which launched it’s first beta product in 2014 and has become one of the fastest-growing software companies in the multifamily industry.

As the real estate industry’s first Performance Management software, Leonardo247 automates all of the processes, workflows, policies and procedures that underpin the best practices in real estate management and gives daily guidance to the on-site management teams in areas such as risk management, preventative maintenance, marketing, and training.

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!

Daniel Cunningham 0:00
People say this all the time. But every everything takes twice as long and cost twice as much as you think it does.

Alexander Ferguson 0:12
Welcome, everyone to UpTech Report. This is our Applied Tech seires. UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Today, I’m very excited to be joined by my guest, Daniel Cunningham, who is based in Redondo Beach, California. He’s the CEO of Leonardo, Leonardo 24/7. Welcome, Daniel. Good, everyone.

Daniel Cunningham 0:35
Great to be here. Thank you. Good morning.

Alexander Ferguson 0:37
There, your product is an integrated workplace management system. So it’s really all around automating policies, procedures, mitigating risk with the focus on real estate. So if you’re out there, maybe a Director of Operations, a CEO of a residential or commercial real estate, is could be an intriguing platform for you want to check out? Now, Daniel, on your site, you already stated consistency, transparency, accountability. I’m curious, like the problem that you originally discovered. And you set out to solve what was that? And how has it changed over the years?

Daniel Cunningham 1:12
Well, you know, about 15 years ago, I was director of asset management for AIMCO, which was still as a large national multifamily REIT. And, you know, as asset managers, we would perform site audits, and find that many of our policies and procedures, and you know, things from our big binder that we put together on how probably shouldn’t they just weren’t being followed. They forget about more esoteric things like risk mitigation or preventative maintenance, but but just you blocking and tackling like rents were being raised on time, people weren’t be set for being sent to collections. And so then, later on, I came to start a property management company for a developer here in Los Angeles. And, and what we discovered is that really, once I was working directly with community managers, it became clear that we were expecting them to be experts across a wide number of topics, including marketing and maintenance and risk management and real estate law and finance. And nobody is an expert in all those things. There was just no way they could speak really no at all. Wasn’t Yes.

Alexander Ferguson 2:25
is asking too much from from one individual to have to know all that. Yeah.

Daniel Cunningham 2:29
Yeah. And and, you know, there, there wasn’t, you know, in the industry, there’s, there’s not a ton of a great training to support those individuals to kind of learn those things. And even to the extent that there is, it’s a business with a 50% annual turnover rate. So, you know, you have, even if you get somebody who understands everything this was doing in 18 months, they’re probably gone. And so, it really hit home one day, we had a property in that we have property in downtown Los Angeles, which was a 12 storey high rise building, and, and we lost, we lost hot water one day to the entire building. And what had happened was, the boiler on the roof had had literally melted on the inside, there are these ceramic tiles on the inside. One had cracked and fire had gone through and actually melted. Part of the boiler. Yeah, it was a big deal. And we in so we were giving rent credits to 322 people. We were, we had to have a one a boiler manufactured and flown helicopter to the roof, which was scenery prices going up going. Yeah, it was an expensive day. And the owner called me in this was about about 1112 years ago, and owner called me in and he said, How did this happen? And I said, Well, you know, a community manager doesn’t know anything about maintaining a boiler, we rely on the vendors for that. And he said, Well, you need to make sure this never happens again. And I said, Okay, well, we can tell everybody not to let’s not to do this. But he would that turnover, we lose that institutional knowledge eventually. So that was really where it all sort of came together. And I said, Look, there’s really, there’s too much for everybody to know, we’ve got to codify this in some way. And so I actually start out the process of writing a book. So I wrote a book that was intended to outline all that it was called 365 days of property management. So it was meant to capture over the course of the year, everything you really need to be doing to be a good steward of that asset across all these different little verticals, that like the maintenance and preventive maintenance and risk management, management, all that stuff. And then I think wisely, what I realized was like the book would have been, yeah, a riveting read, I’m sure. But it really worked much better in as the idea of the seed corn of the software product to take that idea of of making an application, a piece of software, the expert and then asking the software To give daily guidance as to what people should be doing, and then just just enabling people to execute. And that was that was the brain

Alexander Ferguson 5:11
computers, computers are great remembering everything they need to and just telling people to do something when they need to do it or look at something when they need to. It’s a great use case of technology effectively.

Daniel Cunningham 5:20
Yeah, I think so. And you know, you could it would have mitigated is well, number of things, but but one of them is, you know, this, this, what level of knowledge is the person on site hat? Right? What did they know? And that no longer became relevant. So you could, you could, you could, you could hire people, and they could immediately hit the ground running, because because we were kind of their, there’s their buddy, their expert, to help them. We knew what had happened, we knew the next thing that needed to happen, we knew how to do it. And we could just, you know, be there like your right hand man saying, hey, it’s time to do this thing. And here’s the form you need or the process, you need to follow the inspection you need to do?

Alexander Ferguson 5:58
Would you say a good analogy is almost like that. It’s like once you get to shadow someone who’s been on the job for years, and years and years, and they’re just showing you how to do everything. Now instead, you just have that same individual, but it’s a on a virtual computer assistant that’s telling you how to do it all the time. Yeah.

Daniel Cunningham 6:15
Yeah, I think that’s a great way. But

Alexander Ferguson 6:18
it’s interesting then that both experiencing that problem that the led to a book then to okay, no technology, assisted to assist humans. And then they don’t have to memorize and read a giant book. I’m really fascinated to hear that entire journey and story because it was eight, nine years ago, you set out on this journey. And about six years ago, you built the software. And our second part, for those that want to hear more of Daniels story, definitely, definitely stick around for our second part of our interview, but to give a taste. What’s what’s one thing you wish you had known eight, nine years ago that you that you know now?

Daniel Cunningham 6:53
Well, this is me people say this all the time. But every everything takes twice as long and cost twice as much as you think it does. If I’d known, obviously, we’ve had a great outcome, and the company’s grown really well. You know, we’ve grown over 100% year on year for several years in a row now. But if you if I didn’t know that side of it, and you just told me what the execution side would look like, how long would take to get here and to this point, I would have I probably would have been very reticent to take to start the journey. I think about my early financial models and how naive we were and yeah, that and you know, a part of Yeah, exactly. Part of what makes it difficult for us is, and this I think we were also naive about is we weren’t, we weren’t building just a better widget. We weren’t, we weren’t building something that we could say, oh, you know, it’s just like this other thing, but it does this thing a little better. This is really a brand new product category. This idea of taking processes and automating them. Of of, you know, providing best practices in a form that weren’t a binder sitting on a shelf was brand new, it still is new, the industry, people are just now coming around to this idea. There’s a light bulb moment for sure. When you’re talking to somebody when we’re pitching this idea. There’s there’s there’s not been one time in the last six years when we’ve been actively, you know, talking about the product to potential clients. It’s not that one time when somebody says, we got this, we got this covered. Thank you. Thank you were good here. I mean, for everybody, it’s, you know, some mix of where has this been all my life. And this is this is, you know, something we should really consider because we don’t have this covered.

Alexander Ferguson 8:49
Definitely challenge when it comes to an unknown, like they don’t even know it exists of a product category, that you can’t make that immediate connection and say, Oh, I see why I need that with it within a matter of five seconds, you need a bit longer conversation and digging into that, which I’d love to hear more of the lessons learned when we get into that second part of our interview to hear your story, coming back to to the product itself. Can you give us a use case then, let’s dive a little bit deeper of how the technology works. In the typical day of the life, what are your customers maybe you can highlight one of your customers on how they use it.

Daniel Cunningham 9:29
Well, there’s so there’s, there’s a number of components that that together provide a complete platform to automate onsite processes. So there’s the the platform includes things like task management, workflow management, work orders, process workflow, inspections, document management, messaging, and and you need all of these components to be able to tackle you know, any kind of problem, but But few problems use them all. But some obvious cases are Using our customizable inspection forms and workflow to create an incident report process that captures data from incidents notifies effective parties maybe sends a copy to the insurance company automatically tracks the follow up. So that’s, that’s a good in fact, by the way, that’s that’s when we never intended Leo to be use for our clients came up with that methodology. Another example is is you enter property characteristics, equipment amenities, geographic location, and then you we instantly generate a year’s worth of permitted maintenance activities that get pushed out to that property at the right time with the right process they should follow. Or you could use our performing inspection during due diligence. So when you requiring an apartment building, there’s there’s some specific kinds of inspections that are run that do 100 state unit audits are these file audits. Those can be performed in our system. But also, because of the work work flow management, you can actually generate out of that inspection, maintenance items, deferred maintenance items that need to be addressed after the close. So we would automatically create this this workflow or work orders to be addressed once the sale has been closed. And that that kind of process is unique to us, because we have this this very broad operations platform.

Alexander Ferguson 11:24
This development and listening to the obvious your clients, you’re probably finding new solutions and new use cases to be able to add in how is the overall this just again, different from a mindset that they’re probably already in? Because I know we already mentioned, this is like a whole new shift for them. But what’s the change that needs to happen within the company to say, Okay, let’s start using a product or solution like this.

Daniel Cunningham 11:50
Well, the, you know, the standard right now, so we’re competing against most of the time we’re competing against Excel or clipboards or nothing. So the industry has, has certainly recognized there’s great operational risk, but the way they’ve been addressing it is through training, or you know, there’s an entire layer of of often cut times called, you know, regional property managers who are out there traveling all the time. I mean, these are real road warriors, and they’re going properties of property. And, and largely Their function is to make sure that people on site are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And, and a big piece of that is the minutia that we that we take care of. So rather than spending time with on site asking, you know, did you change the filters and the HVAC system? Did you walk the property and look for trip hazards? Let’s look at the model unit, make sure it’s rather than spending that time in that minutia, we track all that we we give guidance to make sure that’s happening. So that they can have higher level conversations in ways that that make the money like talk about Mark, talk about marketing, talk about occupancy, talk about, you know, maximizing rents, and let us handle the minutiae. And that shift is significant. In fact, you know, one of the things that, that we learned along the way, and I’ll try to share as much as for the learnings part, but one of the things we learned along the way is there’s a change management piece. So getting people to change their mindset, from, you know, this very in person oriented to a technical platform takes a real commitment at the, at the, at the senior levels of the company, and we don’t even we don’t even consider clients unless they will unless they’re ready to roll this out across their entire platform. Because you can’t you can’t automate half of the company you can’t have half of a company doing things in a new and better way and have half of the company doing things the old way isn’t everybody has to do it. You know, two ways.

Alexander Ferguson 14:02
The if we dig into the the technology itself a little bit deeper. Can you share just anything unique about the technology or features that maybe you launched recently and are excited about? Are this coming up?

Daniel Cunningham 14:16
Yeah. Well, one of the things that really sets us apart is that, you know, we we’ve been talking about, you know, automating procedures and our company’s policies and procedures, those all get automated do Leo, but there was another source of of compliance or requirements for real estate operators, and that is what municipal codes have to say about, you know, city state county, and is because what they have to say about real estate operations, and there’s, there are requirements buried in those codes, that if you’re a conscientious real estate operator you need to know about need to be monitoring those. And it’s really difficult. You know, community managers are not reading municipal codes. It’s just it’s theirs. A lot to wade through. So we’ve built a machine learning algorithm that can go out and read Municipal Code, and identify which parts of those codes contain compliance items that affect real estate operators. And then that gets extracted, and then it gets rolled into the list of of tasks and workflows that come out to the clients that are affected by those municipal code. So we have machinery out, and it’s doing that r&d on our behalf. We’ve processed and then over 15 million fragments of municipal codes. So far, and everyday gets better. And that’s something that really sets us apart, I think is as from from other task management or, or work order management systems is the ability to bring that to the table.

Alexander Ferguson 15:52
Having all that that data knowledge all the right place where it needs to be for some of you will take action on.

Daniel Cunningham 15:58
Yeah, we Yeah, yeah, you look, you nailed it, we want to be able to be, we would like to say that we want to be the single source of, of truth, we want to be the single source of, of action for for anybody who needs to do anything on site. We want them to come to Leah, which is one of the things and one of the things that’s fairly new for us is, we’re not rolling in work orders. So every one of our clients has a PMS, a property management system, which is an accounting based platform typically that that they’re using, and those PMS systems are typically the warehouse for work orders. But if we want to be that single place where people go to, for all their daily direction, what they should be doing, we needed to bring in those work orders because those have to happen to there’s the proactive stuff that we handle. And then there’s work orders that come from the clients or internally. And so we marry those together in one interface. And that’s a bi directional integration, we can we push this work orders back into the CMS system. So if they complete or even initiate a work order in Leto, that does end up in their in their PMS system. And that’s been a, I think that’s been a significant addition to the to the platform recently.

Alexander Ferguson 17:04
Envision is so important and powerful today’s age where there’s always other software using so right now, that’s probably very helpful piece of the PMs system. Do you have any other integrations or upcoming plan integrations with other software solutions?

Daniel Cunningham 17:21
Well, the PMs systems are certainly the most prominent system you need to be thinking about when you talk when you think about it think thinking about integrations. But what we do have is we have a we have a partnership with the National Apartment Association, by which we are providing a white label version of the product called click and comply and it’s it’s somewhat customized with naa knowledge and policies and procedures and and they populate that with you know, the naa is a tremendous source for best practices. And in the in the click and comply product. The naa members get to benefit from that knowledge, in addition to the Leonardo standard library that we have. And that’s that started. This year, we launched that that application in May. So that’s sort of a new. It’s not really an integration, but it’s a white label of the Leonardo standard product,

Alexander Ferguson 18:23
your business model? Well, how does it work? Is it a monthly subscription, yearly based on number of seats has work?

Daniel Cunningham 18:31
So it’s a monthly license? Yeah, typically, there are a few, we we we offer the ability to pay here in advance. Some clients choose to do that. You know, we give them a little wiggle a little discount if they choose to do that. Yeah, it’s a monthly license fee. It’s a it’s a per property license fee. And, and that’s unlimited users. And currently, all the features that we have all wrapped into that because we think they’re all important to really be able to do your job, we don’t want them to bump into a feature they don’t have and suddenly not be able to solve a problem. So yeah, so it’s all inclusive, monthly site license,

Alexander Ferguson 19:12
or those oppor, director of operations or CEOs, if you could share a word of wisdom for them and their position in their job and what they’re having to handle from what you’ve seen and learned. What comes to your mind as far as the word of wisdom.

Daniel Cunningham 19:30
Well, property operations is extremely chaotic. And that’s, I think it’s one of the most difficult professions having been having been in the trenches side by side with some of these community managers. This is more than one word, I think. But I’m getting to it. Having been, yeah. Have you been side by side with these with community managers and service managers? You know, there’s a lot of demands on their time. It’s one of it’s one of the professions that if you, if you were fantastic at your job, if you’re the best property manager in the country, somebody is probably yelling at you today. Because you’re, you’re insisting they pay their rent, when, you know, maybe they just lost their job, or you’re telling them that their dog doesn’t meet the breed standards, and they have to leave. Or you’re telling me there’s nothing you can do about the noisy neighbor next door, and you’re sorry. And like, you know, you’re delivering bad news to people that they don’t want to hear and and you see them every day. And it’s really it’s really difficult and and, and the the Pat’s on the back, are sometimes few and far between. So it’s a difficult, it’s, it’s very difficult. Being in the field, I think, is really difficult, I really have a heart for them. So I think the one thing I would say, is that being what they benefit most from is clear guidance, and support. And that’s that, whether it’s through us, or you know, another piece of software, or if you know, people are, you know, going to stick with the binder model, and people going outside teams need support in the field. And they need a way to recognize when they’re doing a good job. And that keeps their spirits up. And I like to think that we we play, we play a very strong role in accomplishing that.

Alexander Ferguson 21:30
Our full power, powerful word of wisdom, I like it. Well, what can you share of your roadmap where you’re headed? Where is the company going to be in five years from now?

Daniel Cunningham 21:42
Well, I want I’m not I’m not gonna be cagey to cagey about the things we have in mind. But I think what we’re doing is we’re building on, we’re building on this idea that that we are the place you go for everything else, you want to do this not in your PMS system. And so while we’re right now we’re giving we’re we’re delivering daily tasks to the community managers and service managers there, that’s expanding, so that vendors can also use the system and accomplish their tasks through through the platform. And that way, all of the photos and inspection forms and processes that the vendors are completing as part of their work is being captured in the lean 24/7 system. That’s, that’s coming out shortly. We just launched Well, in beta, we’ve launched a messaging platform. So think of it as a slack like interface with channels, but the channels are for community managers can talk across the community manager channel, regional managers can speak to the regional manager channel, or there’s a channel for everybody that’s in the portfolio. And the magic about that, for us to launch that is, if you were to manage that in Slack, like the channel manager, it’d be a nightmare. It teams doesn’t really work well, even for teams. But because of the way Leonardo’s built, we know the hierarchy of of the of the, of the of the company, we know who reports to who and who, who have what roles. So we can we can keep those channels up to date automatically. And that that makes it actually useful. Whereas just a messenger platform would be nice to have but but that really for the first time gives our our companies that our clients of ours real opportunity to communicate quickly across their whole organization. Which is, which is I think, a huge you know, I think that’s a huge benefit.

Alexander Ferguson 23:37
Well, I’m excited to see where where you guys go next, for those that want to go ahead and learn more, and you can be able to give them a shout, you can go to Leonardo 24 And you’ll be able to be able to dig a little bit more into their software. Thank you so much, Daniel, for sharing your insight in what you’re what you’re doing with with Leonardo, Patrick signing.

Daniel Cunningham 23:58
I appreciate it. Well always appreciate the chance to talk a little bit about ourselves. Thank you.

Alexander Ferguson 24:03
Yes. Now, actually, if you want to hear more of Daniel talking about himself and his story, and the lessons learned, and I feel like there’s a lot in here in the last eight, nine years and beyond. behind that. I’ll stick around for part two of our interview. Again, today’s episode is sponsored by TeraLeap. If your company wants to better leverage the power of video to increase sales and marketing head over to 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 UpTech 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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