We interviewed RetailMLS founder Ben Zises on what he’s learned while starting his real estate career and why he thinks the new federal legislation around crowdfunding and fundraising will be a “game changer” for real estate.

Ben Zises: Founder & CEO, RetailMLS

Where did the idea for RetailMLS come from?

The idea for RetailMLS came to me in July 2009. I had just completed my certificate in real estate finance and investment from NYU’s real estate program and it was my first week on the job as a retail leasing broker in Manhattan. I was working at a boutique retail brokerage company, Mogull Realty. My boss handed me a stack of flyers for an empty retail space on the corner of 44th and Third Avenue that we’d been hired to lease. I was told to find a retail tenant for this storefront.

I thought to myself, “this will be easy, I’ll go online and advertise this vacancy on the (must be) retail multiple listing service that every tenant or tenant rep broker would be searching on if they were looking for a retail location in NYC.” After spending the afternoon searching for such a site, I realized it simply did not exist. Thus the seed was planted.

A month later, my firm was hired by Verizon Wireless to find six new store locations in Manhattan. We were given site selection criteria and, since there was no centralized online real estate listing platform to find all potential retail locations, I had to spend nights rollerblading the streets, collecting phone numbers and websites from storefront signs. In the mornings, I would call each landlord to compile the details of each space. After a week, I could finally put together a tour book to take my client out for a site tour. Amazed at how inefficient this process was, I knew there had to be a better way.

What was one of the biggest challenges you overcame in your career?

Constant rejection. For the 99% of startups that don’t raise venture funding during the first six to twelve months of your company’s life, one thing you will experience a lot of is rejection. The simple truth is that no matter how great your idea is, there will be any number of reasons why someone you pitch or try to pitch will turn you down and not be able to invest in you and your company. Being able to brush that off and get right back up will be critical to your success. From what I’ve heard, it takes ten years to have an overnight success.

What are three key things that you think have made you successful?

  1. Being optimistic, organized and resourceful
  2. Being overly communicative, honest and responsive in dealings with investors, employees and customers
  3. Having drive, determination and persistence

What do you think will be a defining aspect in the future of real estate?

We have seen technology FINALLY begin to weave its way into the fabric of the real estate industry. I believe we are only in the first inning, as real estate has historically been an industry dominated by older, wealthier individuals. Organizations are starting to see the incredible efficiencies technology can create – if done right and you invest in the right platforms. Marketplaces like RetailMLS and Fundrise solve two HUGE problems and create a more transparent and accessible market.

How do you think the new federal legislation around crowdfunding and fundraising will impact real estate?

It’s a game changer. We already know that today, less than half of Americans trust banks and large financial service institutions. Giving people the ability to invest in local property can create an even greater sense of community. Almost everyone has an opinion on whether a new shopping center or store is needed in their town, but are less comfortable when asked to invest in a company where they have little sense of how the business truly performs or how the management plans to grow it.