Relationships are key. I can’t stress this enough. Success in real estate boils down to unrelenting hard work and strong, lasting relationships. Having founded multiple successful companies in the multifamily business over the years, I am still continuing to invest with the same equity partners that I worked with on my very first deals. Repeat capital is telling of successful relationships to anchor a career.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
As is the case with many facets of my life, it started with a girl when it comes to how I got my start in the real estate industry. Having worked on Wall Street as a money manager, and with my father in the family business in the IT Consulting industry, I realized early on that I preferred the more entrepreneurial path. My wife comes from real estate royalty in New York City, her mother, Michele Kleier has been a major force in residential real estate and has her own eponymous brokerage firm Kleier Residential. I got my license alongside my now wife, in a ploy to be able to spend more time with her, and after a stint as a residential broker, I got hooked on the investment end of the real estate business. To speed the story along, following the great financial crisis, I saw an opportunity in the market and launched a multifamily investment firm, Stone Street Properties, which I sold in 2015 to start my new investment firm, Morgenstern Capital. Recently, we launched Canvas Investment Partners and Canvas Property Group, data-driven, vertically integrated real estate investment and services firms headquartered in New York City.
Because all roads lead back to family for me, having worked in my father’s IT Consulting business, I have a natural interest in technology and strongly believe that its incorporation into the real estate business was a natural evolution. During early Covid days, when I was stuck at home, I used that time to design and develop a software business that is now coming to market as Juliet Technologies, a business intelligence platform that fundamentally changes the way we operate multifamily real estate, and therefore how all stakeholders interact with their assets.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
New York City real estate is a storied industry that has spawned countless reality TV shows, books and movies, and attracts global interest. There’s a reason for that — it’s one of the most dynamic industries with a cast of characters that never cease to amaze me.
There’s one story that always comes to mind when I’m asked about some of the crazy things I’ve seen in this industry (and trust me, there are a lot! Some that are not appropriate for this article.) When I had just launched Morgenstern Capital I was touring a building with an institutional equity partner during due diligence. These guys were bankers, buttoned up and as corporate as they come. The off market deal had a seller’s rep touring us through building. He walked us into one of the units and on the kitchen counter was a pasta bowl sized pile of weed. You couldn’t ignore it. But we all just sort of exchanged a knowing glance and pretended it wasn’t there. As we leave the apartment after doing a quick walk-through and head towards the elevator the seller’s rep says he forgot his keys and ducks back into the apartment. When he joined us in the elevator we were all hit with the familiar funky smell. He had clearly made off with a big pile but was acting like we couldn’t smell his stash.
Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.” To me, this quote has a through-line in both business and personal life. As an CEO of multiple firms and an entrepreneur, the concept of being able to create your own future is something that I’ve wanted to instill in my kids. More importantly, I want them to be fully self-sufficient outside of their professional careers. During Covid when we were all in lockdown, I started to teach my kids how to cook, and I also placed a big emphasis on the life skills of keeping a home clean, doing laundry and care for themselves. I wanted to instill in them that it is important to be able to sustain yourself in life and not rely on others to take care of your very basic needs. I always parrot the “give a man a fish” quote back to my kids (or a girl in my 9 year old daughter’s case) so they would grow up with the understanding that they need to be strong and self-sufficient.
It applies in the office as well as we continually try to build our junior team up to teach them how to model, manage, operate and grow as professionals, teaching them to fish!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the most exciting developments in the real estate industry has been the explosion of proptech. I have been a firm believer for years that technology has the potential to completely change the way we do business in real estate, which is a wildly antiquated business, particularly in New York, with certain companies sitting with a near monopolistic control of data and systems.
We have spent the last three years developing Juliet Technologies. This next gen, collaborative BI tool functions as a platform for data visualization that allows owners and operators a clear look into the performance of their multifamily real estate portfolio. We are working tirelessly to create a tool that is missing in the market that helps everyone on the deal team — from portfolio to property manager — to make meaningful revenue and capital decisions to improve the performance of the communities they own and operate.
More specifically, Juliet can access real-time market data that will optimize performance, drive top line revenue, and maximize cash flow. We’re super excited to bring it to market early next year.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes Canvas stand out in the Manhattan real estate market is the breadth of services and amenities that we offer. Technology runs through all of the touch-points in our industry and we work hard to create cultures and experiences that are unparalleled in the market. We work with the top talent in the industry, maintain strong and lasting relationships, and provide best-in-class service. Canvas is leading the shift of what it means to operate multifamily real estate.
Since partnering with industry titans Al Tylis and former Apollo Global Management founder Josh Harris and his family office HRS Management, we have been able to expand our services to acquisitions and lending anywhere up and down the capital stack — a key service in today’s volatile lending landscape.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am incredibly grateful for my relationship with Al Tylis, my partner in the Canvas family of companies. He was instrumental in the recent deal we closed with Josh Harris’s family office, HRS Management. Al is the former CEO of Northstar and uniquely gifted at reading people, markets, and business situations. He and I partnered in 2019, and through Covid and other headwinds that have faced the real estate market he has been a steady source of strategic guidance as we negotiated and closed our partnership with HRS management that allows us to invest over $1B in the New York City multifamily market. The deal is a major win for Canvas and I couldn’t have done it without Al.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the origin story. Al and I met because our sons played on a travel soccer team together so as Soccer Dads we have spent every multiple days a week together for the past five years. Soon after we closed on our partnership, we were warming up the kids before soccer practice and Al — who nobody would call a gifted soccer player — blasted a ball towards the goal from 40 yards out while I was sipping an ice coffee near the corner flag. He curled the ball wide of the net so badly that he hit me square on the side of the head, knocked me out and gave me a solid concussion. Talk about starting our partnership with a bang.
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