Michael Griffin is truly one of the CRE industry’s technology pioneers. Since rolling out ARES for ACT! in 1994, Michael has been involved in the creation and delivery of some of the most useful and widely used technology plays in the CRE space. Currently, he serves as President and CEO of ClientLook, the industry’s #1 CRM platform developed specifically for CRE professionals.
Q: At what moment did you know you achieved career success in the industry?
A: It was at an ATM in Hermosa Beach in 1999. I had just sold my first company, ARES for ACT!, to CoStar Group. I had been awaiting the wire transfer of the initial proceeds from that sale. I went to the bank to withdraw $20, which was my budget for a night out back then. I got the cash along with a receipt that showed my balance. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the funds had arrived. It was then that I realized that I could think about life in new ways without worrying so much about money. I afforded myself the belief that I had achieved some career success, but I knew I was just getting started.
Q. What are some misconceptions about your profession?
A: I’m a technology entrepreneur that sells a commercial real estate CRM as a subscription. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about my business is that “high tech” implies some new or novel approach to operations. In fact, I always equated owning a technology company to owning a multi-tenant commercial real estate asset. Here are some of the parallels that I’ve always drawn from:
- The choice of a company’s website address like www.clientlook.com is just as important as a property address. It has to be easy to find. Location, location, location.
- Subscribers of web application are just like tenants. They both pay money to utilize the services of the asset. They expand and contract in size. They come and go. They may leave you for the competition.
- A customer support team is similar to a property management team. Their responsibility is the well-being of the subscribers/tenants. The majority of their time is often spent with a select few squeaky wheels.
- Online products require maintenance just like a property. There is cosmetic maintenance as well as infrastructure work required in both cases. In either case, deferred maintenance results in a decrease in utility and value of the asset.
- Subscription rates are much like rental rates. Free trials in the software world are similar to free rent. Increases in rent often require additional amenities. Some payments require collection efforts.
- Selling. An asset may be sold to a new owner who may add the asset to a portfolio of holdings. They may just be buying the location with the intention of building a new asset.
Q. What do you think you do better than 90% of people in your field?
A: Care. I’m astounded by businesses or entrepreneurs who are unable to convey this sentiment to their customers. To me, it’s one of the most critical elements of any service business. Everyone wants to feel important. The best way to make a customer feel important is to really care about their experience with your service, which may not always be positive. You strive to provide the best service, but you always accept responsibility for mistakes. I teach everyone at ClientLook to treat any problem as an opportunity to demonstrate how responsive we can be. I can’t tell you how much business we’ve gained through referrals from subscribers who experienced some problem, and were impressed with our commitment to resolve it.
Q. If you had the opportunity to take a year sabbatical to live for one year in a foreign country, all expenses paid and no limitations from daily life, in order to improve yourself – where would you go and why?
A: I would pick a small coastal town in Italy. I would go completely off the grid. My goal would be to learn as much about the language, the history and the culture as I could by forcing myself to adapt to an unfamiliar environment. I’ve attempted this on a very limited basis in the past, and benefited from a flood of inspiration. It’s only when I de-clutter my brain and disrupt my routines that I discover new things. The last time I did this I came up with the idea for ClientLook.
Q. What sage advice would you have for anyone starting out in the industry?
A: Work harder than your competition. Figure out your weaknesses and work to improve them consistently. Understand that a lot of your success will be attributed to simply showing up every day and putting in the time. There are no shortcuts. Find a mentor that is willing to guide you, and allow them to lead. Be humble and realize that every person you meet is your superior in some way because you can learn from them. Discovering someone’s unique skill(s) is an art that you should try to practice as often as possible. More than anything, be grateful. Always be grateful – even for the smallest things – because the world doesn’t owe you anything. Everything is a gift. Once you figure that out and truly embrace it, abundance will follow.
Q. What does a typical work day look like for you?
A: I travel frequently, and there’s no typical schedule when I’m on the road. When I’m in town though I’m very regimented. Here’s how I run my typical week days:
- I wake up a little after 5:00 AM and jump on my stationary bike for 20-minutes at home.
- I awaken our 10-year old twins girls and we all eat breakfast together while talking about 4th grade stuff. Tween gossip is hilarious.
- I drive our girls to school and walk them into their classrooms. I’m adamant about this since I realize that this privilege could end at any time. This routine remains one of the highlights of every day.
- Next, I head to gym for a weight workout, and I’m back at my desk before 9:00 AM.
- Depending on the day, I’m on calls, networking, working on product design, composing marketing materials, participating in demos, or a variety of other tasks. I wear a lot of hats.
- I eat four meals throughout the business day at my desk. My goal every day is to keep my combined meal times under an hour.
- I’m usually working until at least 7:00 PM. The day typically ends by deciding what I push to the next day instead of completing my last objective.
- I spend the rest of the day with my family.
- I’m typically in bed by 9:00 PM so I can hit the ground running early again the next day.
Q. What topic could you spend hours talking about?
A: Biohacking. This is the desire to be the absolute best version of yourself through manipulation of your biology. I‘m a fitness fanatic. I’m also a geek who likes to leverage technology to improve performance of all types. I do a lot of research on exercise, diet, sleep, meditation, fasting, supplementation, etc. I squeeze in 12 workouts per week, and eat a strict diet. I wear two fitness tracking devices that record every step, rep and hour of sleep. I realize that most people find all this incredibly boring, but not me. I’m fascinated by it!
Q. Who do you go out of your way to be nice to?
A: The underdog, since I know what it’s like to be one. I was the painfully shy kid in the corner of the room who was fearful of everyone. I started a career in commercial real estate to force myself to grow out of this. I had to succeed or I wouldn’t eat. It worked, but I got a lot of lucky breaks. I’m constantly seeking out people that I think could benefit from some positive reinforcement, business guidance or friendship. I had memorable interactions with people that unknowingly helped shaped my life. I want to be someone else’s lucky break.
Q. Other than your cell phone or computer, what technology could you absolutely not live without?
A: This may sound mundane, but I could not live without a refrigerator. I know there’s not much technology there, but I’d actually rank it more important than either my cell phone or computer. If we didn’t have a refrigerator, or refrigeration, then we’d be in big trouble. I can imagine a world without computers or mobile devices. I cannot imagine a world without the availability of a refrigerator. I guess that goes to show you how important food is to me.
Q. What’s your favorite simple pleasure?
A: Video games. I’m in awe of the immersive worlds that video game developers create. And, as a technology guy, I realize how hard is to create these productions. These games elicit emotion and excitement through carefully crafted stories and experiences. I’m not very good at any specific game, and I’m only able to spend a couple of hours a week playing. However, during those hours I’m not thinking about business, which is tough for me to turn off. I get so involved sometimes that the fitness tracker I wear mistakenly gives me credit for a workout.Contact: Michael Griffin