Sway Ventures Ups Its Proptech Investing Team With Hire of Former EQ Office CEO

Lisa Picard was former CEO of Blackstone-backed EQ Office.

Usually when companies make hiring announcements, the final results are of little import. But sometimes a specific move helps explain where not only a company, but a subsector of the economy is going.

That’s the sense you might get from the Sway Ventures recent press release that it hired former Blackstone-backed EQ Office CEO Lisa Picard as a partner. EQ Office, as Sway mentioned, operates office space, meaning Picard has experience in an organization that is on the user side and not in the tech space.

“Picard adds to the PropTech team at Sway Ventures, which includes Ray Wirta, former Chairman of CBRE, as well as advisors including Doug Holte, CEO for Hines Global Innovation & ESG; Stephanie Fuhrman, former MD of Innovation at Greystar; and Mollie Fadule, Chief Financial & Investment Officer at JPI Companies; among others,” the company wrote.

This quickly suggests a number of things. One, proptech is an increasingly hot area for venture capital. Business-to-business technology companies, like those in proptech, tend to have the ability to make actual revenues much faster than many of the previous wave of consumer-oriented “let them use it for free and eventually we’ll figure out how to make money” darlings. And, until relatively recently, proptech was underrepresented in tech entrepreneurial circles.

That’s changed. Big operators like JLL and CBRE are investing in their own tech or partnering or acquiring what they need. Companies like Dealpath are getting more extensive rounds of funding, often at least in part from the VC arms of their own customers, to hit critical mass in an attempt to push out potential competitors.

The Center for Real Estate Technology & Innovation (CRETI) noted in July that proptech had hit record venture capital investment. This was as many VC firms, worried about the potential for a recession, warned their investments that investors were turning off the hot and cold taps of running funding.

Proptech, though, is in an interesting position. Not only had it been somewhat ignored for some time, but it was in a space with three important characteristics. Customers in real estate were largely behind in where one might have expected their use and sophistication in technology to be. The same customers, at least in many subsectors, were also making outsized profits by largely skyrocketing property values and rent growth during the pandemic. And those customers needed to operate more efficiently because interest rates were rising, rents couldn’t grow at the rate they had forever, and there eventually would be pressure on profits.

People with Picard’s background could well become more important among VCs, who need to understand not just the tech half, but the users. And that type of experience will likely gain need among the tech companies themselves. With more investment money and entrants, the eventual winners have to get a lot smarter about the companies they want to buy their wares.