Back office automation.
“RealOp started in 2008, and initially we were fine managing things in spreadsheets. By the time we got to 50+ properties, $200M of AUM, and more than 100 investors, our spreadsheet-based systems were overwhelmed. Now, with Juniper Square, we save time and that frees us up to focus more on what matters: the real estate,” commented Johnson.
Time to value.
“Because Juniper Square is so intuitive and well-designed, it’s actually quite easy to learn. I don’t have to think about things too much. I just click around and stuff is where I expect it to be. This saves me time and saves me frustration, and gives me and the team more confidence in our data. The migration process was very quick and very smooth. We were up and fully operational in Juniper Square in under one month,” said Johnson.
A better investor experience, designed for real estate.
“From the investor’s point of view, there’s no question they are getting value from Juniper Square. They have a new, digital front door to our firm, and I have confidence knowing that 10,000 other real estate investors — including some of the biggest institutional LPs in real estate — get their reporting through Juniper Square,” concluded Johnson.
Mike Johnson had just joined RealOp Investments as a Principal and Chief Corporate Officer. RealOp was a client of Mike’s in his former life as an attorney in private practice; prior to that, he was an attorney with the SEC. Mike is the go-to person at RealOp for corporate finance, investor relations, and operational matters. Part of the portfolio he assumed on the first day of his job was RealOp’s investor-related software systems.
Before Mike joined the firm, RealOp had decided to invest in its back office and investor operations. “What drew us initially to our need for software was our experience in working with a crowdfunding vendor on a few projects,” said Johnson. “Crowdfunding was really buzzing at the time [in early 2016], and we loved the vendor’s investor experience.” Johnson added, “The online tools of crowdfunding inspired us to seek to provide the same modern, streamlined experience to our own investors. Plus, we knew that we didn’t want to scale headcount with AUM, so we decided to invest in a software system to make us more efficient.”
After evaluating a number of crowdfunding-type technology providers, RealOp settled on a provider. “We saw in the vendor the opportunity to improve our investor practices and to become more efficient as an organization, while providing a better investor experience.”
Unfortunately, the reality of the new software system did not meet RealOp’s expectations. “The software was hard to use and confusing, so no one at RealOp invested the time to learn how to use it. Our investors had a hard time with the portal, and some asked us to just stop using it altogether. As a result, our staff quit relying on the software as a source of information, and before long we were back to square one: spreadsheets,” said Johnson. He added, “Compounding the issue was that several key features advertised as operational were in fact not yet ready when we were live in the system.” Johnson concluded, “I knew that as soon as I got a chance, I wanted to move to another platform.”
INTRODUCTION TO JUNIPER SQUARE
Johnson was introduced to Juniper Square through his relationship with his crowdfunding vendor. The crowdfunding vendor had heard that a number of leading real estate investment managers had switched to Juniper Square, and they were hearing good things. “I went to the Juniper Square website and felt like wow, this is exactly what I’m looking for,” said Johnson, adding “At this point I knew enough about investment software to know that when I saw Juniper Square, it had everything we needed. To me, the investor experience on Juniper Square seemed very similar to what I’d used with Charles Schwab. I used to manage my 401K through Schwab, and I loved the modern, easy-to-use investor tools. I was thrilled that Juniper Square provided the same capabilities to our investors.”
ADVICE FOR PEERS LOOKING FOR A NEW SYSTEM
Johnson advises his peers to “find something that is intuitive, easy to use, and that keeps it simple. Real estate can get so muddled with so much documentation, the easier you can keep your system the better. Find a platform that feels familiar and that you like using, and that you think your investors will like using.”
“The other advice I have,” he went on to add, “is to thoroughly diligence a vendor by talking to references. It’s standard when purchasing this type of software to ask for references, and by all means you should. Talking to peers who are using it is the best way to get to know a system.”