How 4 Local Tech Innovators Are Shaping the Future of Their Industries

From commercial real estate to planting trees with every credit card swipe, big projects are creating bigger changes in the City of Angels.

Written by Tyler Holmes
Published on Oct. 05, 2021
How 4 Local Tech Innovators Are Shaping the Future of Their Industries
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Innovation, like many other atypical yet revolutionary ideas, can spark from where you least expect it. After all, it’s about seeing a need for change where it seems like all the pieces have already been aligned in a functional product or service. But sometimes things could simply be smarter, better, faster or stronger.

Commercial real estate is a multi-trillion dollar industry taking place around every business, apartment, shopping center and more that flies under the radar in everyday life, making up a whopping 75 percent of total global wealth. So for an industry that clearly has no problem being an established powerhouse, how could room for improvements stand out?

Crexi sees things differently. According to Director of Software Engineering Tom Gerken, building a technical infrastructure is long overdue in order to take real estate transactions online instead of taking place manually.

“This is bringing desperately needed speed, transparency and democratization to a space that is 30 years behind the times,” Gerken said.

And over the past year and a half, the credit card industry (valued at $157 billion) still managed to raise more than 10 percent in 2021 as a result of increased spending coming out of the pandemic, according to an industry report conducted by IBISWorld. What more could such a lucrative business model used seamlessly in day-to-day spending do for its users — or the world?

Well, according to Aspiration, every transaction swipe could plant a tree – and the traditionally plastic credit card could be made biodegradable to reduce environmental waste.

“As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, people are looking for little ways to reduce their carbon footprint and live an eco-friendly lifestyle,” said Shama Keskar, an engineering director and entrepreneur.

In conversation with four Los Angeles tech leaders — including location platform Gimbal and online food ordering system ChowNow — each innovator shared how they’re creating change in well-established industries. Because it’s never too late to dream even bigger.

 

Tom Gerken
Director, Software Engineering • Crexi

What’s the coolest project you’re working on at the moment or have worked on recently?

Every gas station, apartment building, shopping center, office building, self storage facility, student housing, assisted living, hospital, hotel, mobile home park – everything other than the house you live in – is commercial real estate. We have an opportunity to greatly impact the world by revolutionizing the way these assets sell and lease.

We are moving multi-million dollar transactions online. This is bringing desperately needed speed, transparency and democratization to a space that is 30 years behind the times where the vast majority of transactions are still being done manually. Everything you pass when you leave your home is commercial real estate. It’s such an amazing investment to say you own or own part of. We want everyone to have more access to that and we are hard at work (and having fun while at it!) developing the tools and infrastructure needed to facilitate this, ranging from a native mobile app to a sophisticated property auction system.

Crexi is building the platform and technical infrastructure that will carry the commercial real estate industry into the future.”

 

What do you envision for the future of your industry, and how is your work helping to shape that future and bring it to life?

The opportunities ahead of us literally could not be larger. At $280 trillion, real estate represents three-fourths of total global wealth! The real estate industry has yet to experience much in the way of digital transformation, so there is so much opportunity to innovate and disrupt. We are bringing never-before-seen data to a multi-trillion dollar industry. We are building technology that will shift how multi-million dollar transactions are done by moving the whole transaction process online.

Crexi is building the platform and technical infrastructure that will carry the commercial real estate industry into the future. We’re democratizing the industry – our value proposition is delivering speed and efficiency for all CRE needs through a single platform. Through AI and machine learning, Crexi is connecting users to the properties they want faster and more accurately. The future of Crexi will include tools like price modeling, and industry/regional trend forecasting. It’s a great time to join us and help usher in the digital revolution of the commercial real estate industry.

 

Shama Keskar
Engineering Director & Entrepreneur • Aspiration

What’s the coolest project you’re working on at the moment or have worked on recently?

One of the most interesting projects I have had the pleasure of working on was launching Aspiration’s Zero Card. This was a game changer initiative and I found it interesting because of the impact it has on the community.

As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, people are looking for little ways to reduce their carbon footprint and live an eco-friendly lifestyle. The Aspiration Zero Card helps offset your household carbon emissions by planting trees in your name each time you swipe your credit card. Even the card itself is even made of biodegradable materials to reduce environmental waste. This is an amazing idea and seeing it become a reality with a most recent soft launch was rewarding.

I enjoyed working with different stakeholders across aspirations, both internal and external. Working on a technically challenging initiative where myself and my team got an opportunity to innovate with tools and technologies was rewarding.

I think it was such a joy to be able to see a project from start to finish. Learning and applying pedagogy (Aspiration core values) in day-to-day operations and executions resulted in making a fearless woman in tech leadership.

We didn’t set out to build a bank – we set out to build a better world.”

 

What do you envision for the future of your industry, and how is your work helping to shape that future and bring it to life?

We didn’t set out to build a bank. We set out to build a better world.

As 2021 unfolds, more and more people are getting vaccinated and getting out of the home. As a direct response to consumers’ growing reliance on mobile payment and banking solutions, the financial services industry will likely continue to invest in modern data and analytics tools, artificial intelligence capabilities and digital platforms. With hyper-personalization to zero-trust networks to embedded innovation, the financial industry has many opportunities to use emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and advanced analytics for fraud detection, automate processes and simplify these. The power of AI provides a deeper understanding of customer needs and empowers banking industry processes. Banking and financial industry can optimize and refine their market offering to stay competitive in this fast era.

 

Dustin Allen
Head of Product, Location Platform • Infillion

What’s the coolest project you’re working on at the moment or have worked on recently?

Recently, I worked on our On-the-Way Suite — a dynamic click-and-collect solution that provides real-time updates about a user’s ETA after they’ve placed an order for pickup on their mobile device. By understanding a user’s location as well as important order details, Gimbal can make key updates and provide a seamless hand off to in-store staff once a customer arrives. The future of product fulfillment will be smoother for both customers and staff.

Our priority is to build solutions for services that require accurate location data to reduce friction for end-users.”

 

What do you envision for the future of your industry, and how is your work helping to shape that future and bring it to life?

The future of location services will focus even more on user privacy. Both iOS and Android are hyper-focused on how to better protect user data, placing an onus on brands to clearly define the value exchange of why a user should opt-in to location permissions. At Gimbal, our priority is to build solutions for services that require accurate location data — like curbside or in-store pickup — to reduce friction for end-users. With an upcoming roadmap that includes features such as z-axis and ultra-wideband, we’re excited to explore the future of location and provide the best experience for brands and their customers.

 

Josh Hanson
Senior Data Scientist • ChowNow

What’s the coolest project you’re working on at the moment or have worked on recently?

I’m currently working on establishing a fully-automated, robust and scalable experimentation platform for the product organization at ChowNow. Currently, with just a few user-defined inputs, the platform will report assignment and data quality issues, run statistical models valid for your random variable and produce summary statistics for all key metrics using a statistical framework rooted in Bayesian Statistics. This is all then sent to a dashboard for partners.

Although I’ve automated a great deal of the process and made it easily configurable by data scientists and project managers (PMs), there’s still a lot of work to do. Next, I’m hoping to utilize a workflow orchestration tool (like Dagster or Airflow) to automate the entire process. This would cover everything in end-to-end experimentation, from data transformation and QA to statistical inferences and insights.

I’ve worked closely with the product organization to develop a playbook for experimentation planning and decision making. This helps PMs plan, design and execute experiments in a robust and uniform manner and allows the impact of the work to be measured, and for key learnings to be gathered that inform future roadmaps.

I am hoping to help make truly robust and scalable experimentation the norm at all companies within our industry.”

 

What do you envision for the future of your industry, and how is your work helping to shape that future and bring it to life?

Ultimately, I am hoping to help make truly robust and scalable experimentation the norm at all companies within our industry. Ideally, such a platform would empower product and engineering teams to know when and how to correctly measure the impact of their work, and with minimal support from the data science team.

Too many companies settle for “good enough” when it comes to experimentation, like relying on third-party tools that won’t produce valid results. With these tools, users aren’t able to select statistical tests best suited for their random variable of interest. They also do little for assignment mechanism quality assurance, significantly increasing the risk for Type II Errors (false positives).

Ideally, every company’s experimentation framework should do much more than simply tell you if your variant “won” against the control. Amongst many other things, it should tell you when your assignment data is likely biased or alert you when the statistical test being applied to your specific random variable is likely to produce misleading results.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photography provided by associated companies and Shutterstock.

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