LeaseUp founder and CEO Kurt Chisholm was working as a tenant rep at a commercial real estate advisory firm in Boston, searching for a more efficient and elegant way to share property data with clients and manage the lease process. Otso co-founder and President Marissa Limsiaco and her investment partners were unhappy with the shortcomings of the old-school security deposit system, which tied up tenants’ money without giving property owners adequate protection against potential losses. Chisholm and Limsiaco thought there had to be a better way—so they invented it. Their technology solutions are now filling a gap for many commercial real estate professionals.
Data + Workflow
“We wanted to create something that would enable agents and brokers to turn their own data into actionable insights,” says Chisholm.
Many platforms offer aggregated property data and broker reports, says Chisholm, but when brokers want to use their own data and produce custom property surveys for clients, they often use technologies such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel and Adobe PDFs. Those are great products, but the result is static information that needs to be updated whenever there’s a change in status on a property.
Enter LeaseUp, which provides a suite of tools that allows brokers to go from survey and tour to signature with a modern product experience. The site uses a flexible data model that enables users to easily customize and reorder information based on client interest and create up-to-the-minute, branded reports in a fraction of the time.
“A big thing for us was to allow brokers to collaborate and communicate with clients and partnering brokerages,” Chisholm says. Using LeaseUp’s chat function and client activity tracker, brokers can avoid having to sift through email to track down communications, ultimately moving deals forward faster.
LeaseUp entered the market in November 2020 as a tool for tenant reps but has gained traction as a sales tool, too. There are free trials, and plans start at $100 per user per month, with enterprise plans available for larger organizations looking to connect their tech stack to LeaseUp.
Chisholm predicts, “2024 is going to be the year of the API. Brokers will be able to operate from a single tech stack. The market’s not there yet, but it’s coming.”
Win-win for Tenants, Owners
“We were frustrated with the exposure we felt in every deal,” says Limsiaco. She and her investment partners would collect the standard one-month security deposit but were putting many times more than that into properties to get tenants to sign leases.
Their solution: a lease insurance solution for office, retail and industrial assets that frees up tenants’ cash while protecting owners’ investments. They saw similar products in the multifamily arena, but the underwriting process was slow, Limsiaco says. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we underwrite fast but accurately?’” They did it by connecting directly to bank accounts using Plaid, the technology behind apps like Chime and Venmo.
Otso launched in 2019, working with smaller investors, owners with one to 10 properties. During the pandemic, Limsiaco says, property owners were looking for innovative solutions and adoption took off.
In 2021, Limsiaco and co-founders Josh Feinberg and Frank Rogers got the backing of Accelerant, an AM Best Rated A– insurer. Not only did that help them sleep better, she says, but it also raised the stakes. Now, Otso is talking with institutional investors, issuing bonds for leases with a range of $1,000 to $5 million in security deposits. “Automated tenant underwriting will be a new standard in our industry in the coming years,” Limsiaco predicts. “We’re already getting high demand from institutional investors. The recessionary environment will put pressure on owners to make this process faster and easier.”
Otso and LeaseUp were part of the REACH Commercial program, Otso in 2021 and LeaseUp in 2022. REACH Commercial was launched in 2019 by Second Century Ventures, the strategic investment arm of the National Association of REALTORS®. REACH is real estate’s premier technology scale-up program.