Fixing The Unsolvable Problem: When Is It Time To Build Your Own Solution?


CEO Kerri Davis shares Fortress' origin story.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com
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In every industry, business owners and leaders experience pain points. As the CEO of Fortress, an end-to-end operations platform for the property management industry, I have more than nine years of experience in commercial real estate, and I’ve worked through many of these pain points.

When I first started my career with our property management firm in 2011, our portfolio included 596 units, but we grew quickly to more than 20,000. Not surprisingly, our entire team encountered a lot of challenges during this growth. Eventually, these problems turned into roadblocks, stealing precious time and resources from our team and distracting us from our day-to-day operations. In connecting with colleagues in the industry, I also knew we weren’t the only company having difficulties. Ultimately, this experience led to the development of Fortress, the answer to our “unsolvable” problems.

How did we know to build our own tech solution? I’ve identified three key indicators in my experience that may help you on your own journey.

Will It Save You Time Or Money?

A primary reason we adopt technology is to save time and money. Before we created our own solution, we were spending millions of dollars annually on a tech stack that wasn’t working for us. Instead of creating efficiencies and making our jobs easier, the many, many platforms we used forced us to fit into a box that didn’t seem to take our daily tasks in property management into account.

Being handcuffed by your technology is not ideal for running a successful business in any industry. We knew we could leverage our experience in property management to build a tool that worked for us, but we needed to assess the short-term and long-term costs and savings of building our own solution. The costs: Not inconsequential, but we were able to build our “V1” for about 1.5 times the annual cost of our then tech spend and continued iterating and improving the platform running a breakeven budget. The savings: We cut our corporate overhead in tech in half, decreased onboarding times for new team members by 50% and cut recruiting costs by being able to hire outside the industry because it was “plug and play.” We also cut hours out of our on-site teams’ daily schedules with streamlined processes, in-system communication tools and transparent presentation of information.

Is It Easy to Use?

Each industry has its specific tools that are widely adopted (e.g., marketing certifications from HubSpot or various certificates from Google). In commercial real estate, many of the SaaS solutions and other products on the market come with specialized certifications because learning to use them is an involved process. Unless you want to hire someone and put them through training, you’re forced to select candidates that are already in the industry. In today’s job market, this type of hurdle exponentially increases our hiring difficulties.

In building our solution, ease of onboarding was a key priority. From white-glove service, including an on-site onboarding team, to in-platform training and tutorials, we knew our solution needed to work for employees with all knowledge levels. In turn, we created something that works for the full spectrum of user types: managers, teams, owners and residents.

Does It Easily Share Information & Help You Learn?

One of the biggest benefits of technology is all the information we’re able to glean from collected data. This information ideally helps you run a stronger, more successful business. However, all the data in the world does you no good if you can’t use it to benefit your business. For years in commercial real estate, we haven’t been able to successfully extract and leverage data or intelligence from our tech. Information was siloed, and it was difficult to surface the information in order to see the bigger picture. Real-time market intelligence was a roadblock that also drove us to create our own solution. We knew there needed to be a way to show and share it all.

When is it time to build your own solution? For us, there were three key reasons:
  • After years of testing multiple other platforms and realizing we were wasting time and money.
  • What was available was difficult to teach and use, and there wasn’t a system that accounted for everyone who really needed it.
  • We couldn’t find a solution to leverage our data to generate success.
Other companies might have different “needs” from their software, and other industries might have more options to trial, but I would encourage you to identify your pain points and question if your current tech stack helps or creates those pain points.

Armed with the realization that our tech stack was hurting more than it helped, we charted a path forward. Turns out, there was a solution to our unsolvable problem; we only needed to create it ourselves. Whether you answer yes or no to these questions, take an honest look at the problems you face and determine your best path forward.

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