Louis Baugier, a JP Morgan and RXR Realty alum, launched Surecave, a NYC-based real estate technology company in 2018 that is challenging the status quo of the real estate industry with proprietary management software that enables property owners/managers to communicate better with tenants and vendors.
Leading the company with eight employees, Surecave has attracted landlords responsible for more than 200 commercial and residential buildings and sold its technology to brokerages such as Douglas Elliman, Halstead, and EXP Realty. Today, Baugier runs Surecave and manages the company’s eight employees that he hopes to double by next year. Currently, the startup is nearing the end of its seed funding, much of which is provided by Illinois-based First Midwest Group, TransUnion, Remax, and Silverback Development.
Baugier began his career in the Global Real Estate Portfolio Management group at JPMorgan Chase, where his first project was the Hudson Yards relocation initiative. While at JPMorgan Chase, he was responsible for underwriting and evaluating portfolio strategies across a number of different asset classes and geographies.
At RXR Realty, Baugier gleaned valuable insight into the fragmented process of property, and subsequently, asset management. During his time at RXR, he and his group oversaw the closing of over $1 billion in new developments.
Born on Long Island, raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, and educated in New Orleans, Baugier returned to New York in 2013 after graduating from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business with dual Bachelor degrees in finance and French. He is a member of the New York Private Equity Network Real Estate Group, the Lumen Institute, YPONextGen, and the Urban Land Institute.
How did the concept for SURECAVE come about?
Immediately after college, I landed myself a position in the Portfolio Management arm of the JPMorgan Real Estate group. While the work was exciting and I loved being immersed in real estate, some massive systemic inefficiencies, particularly in the rental/tenant screening segments, quickly became apparent. Creating solutions to these issues wasn’t rocket science but people seemed content to operate in this antiquated system. I wanted to be a part of making the real estate market work better and smarter thus, Surecave.
How was the first year in business?
My first year as a CEO was the most invaluable experience of my career. It was so enriching; I don’t know where to begin. You’re in charge of marketing, accounting, sales, and technology. I heard the word “no” more in this time frame than at any other point of my life. Consequently, I toughened up and am now a lot better because of it.
What was your marketing strategy?
I hate to disappoint but a lot of our marketing strategy isn’t sexy or exciting. One of the big lessons I’ve learned from starting Surecave is that the infancy of a business requires boots on the ground and old-fashioned sweat equity. We focus on securing partnerships with landlords and property managers which necessitates a whole lot of cold calling. Part of the fun of real estate is that it is a people business, so selling requires real person-to-person interaction. Myself and the rest of the team developed great networks in our former lives and tapping into those has been a big part of our “marketing” strategy.
How do you define success?
You see a lot of successful companies—particularly those started by millennials—that manufacture a problem and then sell the solution. Call me old-school, but my idea of success is predicated on finding a sustainable solution to a real, existing problem. If we can create a product that allows landlords and prospective tenants to essentially not have to think about the rental application process, Surecave will be a success. My less-lofty measure of success is if I can keep the lights on and continue to afford NYC rent.
What is the key to success?
I appreciate that you think I’ve figured this out. What I can tell you is that success has to be measured by intermediate, achievable goals as well as an entrepreneur’s loftier ambitions. Creating monthly/yearly metrics that are tough but doable for myself, my team, and the overall company keeps us energized and motivated. And, of course, we have big lifetime goals—also achievable but farther down the road. All of these need to be spelled out and revisited frequently. Celebrating successes along the way is rocket fuel for us and enables us to feel effective and march in the same direction.
Additionally, you have to hire great people. When you’re a fledgling company, every dollar spent has to mean something and every person has to punch above their weight. Joining a start up is a risky endeavor and that inherently narrows your applicant pool. As the work piles up, it’s easy to want to grab anyone off the street to take off some of the load. But, in order to be successful, you have to remain disciplined and discerning in your hiring process.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that surrounding yourself with great people in all facets of your life is necessary to succeeding as a new entrepreneur. Hiring good people that will both challenge and support you is obvious. But, having the right advisors and personal relationships is critical as well. My unofficial advisors and mentors have been indispensable throughout this process and I thank my stars every day that I worked to maintain those relationships earlier in my career. Additionally, most of my friends and peers are not trying to build their own businesses. It can feel lonely at times when peers don’t understand the pressures or the time commitment required to really create a sustaining business. I learned along the way that you will lose and gain many wonderful people over the course of this journey and to trust that the meaningful relationships will fall into place.
What are some quotes that you live by?
My favorite quote of all time is a quote by Teddy Rooselvelt: “It’s not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”
What are some of your favorite books?
Running Surecave means my brain is constantly on overdrive so I have been reading more novels to escape from all of that. I love Russian literature, particularly Dostoyevsky. I’m a sucker for deep character development and your problems always seem small in contrast with the bleak, Russian outlook. Not to mention, I met my girlfriend because she was impressed by my reading The Brothers Karamazov on the subway.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Managing business and friends is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way. The worst day of my entrepreneurial life involved firing someone I respected and cared for a lot. In the interest of anonymity, I won’t go into too much detail. The process that brought us to the point of parting ways was painful and drawn out but the actually firing was the worst part. As I have matured as an operator, I’ve become much more comfortable with letting people go and I understand how to minimize the pain around these conversations. However, at the time, I was new to the process and feel certain I made the ordeal significantly more uncomfortable than it needed to be.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I know I keep coming back to it, but there is no substitute for surrounding yourself with good people. On my worst days, I have people to turn to that can put things in perspective and remind me of my long-term outlook. Again, being a founder at this age can feel like a solitary pursuit, so having people that can understand and help me navigate the darker moments is paramount to my moving past challenges. It also doesn’t hurt that I live directly above my favorite bar.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I would tell young entrepreneurs to always see the big picture but remember you’re not a big wig yet. Starting a company requires not only hobnobbing with investors and bossing people around, but it also requires making sure there is coffee in the kitchen and no typos in the new deck. In the beginning, there is no task that should feel too big or too small and you have to own that and have fun with it where you can. Always keep a sense of humor about it. Delegating will happen, but when you find yourself restocking toilet paper in the office bathroom—have the ability to laugh at yourself.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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