An investment from this Park City VC firm comes with built-in customers
For nearly 30 years, John Helm has been a key player in the world of real estate tech entrepreneurship. Now after successfully founding two companies, he’s now leading a Park City-based venture capital fund, RET Ventures, focused specifically on funding real estate tech.
Not only is RET Ventures focused on helping those in real estate find funding, but they’re doing so in a really unique way. While most venture capital funds get their capital from institutional investors like pension funds or endowments, RET Ventures is exclusively funded through owner-operators of multi-family real estate.
“In my second company, I actually had a number of strategic investors. That is, my customers were also investors in the company,” says Helm. “I saw firsthand the value that strategic investors can bring to the table, and they bring a lot more than just money. They bring access to their organizations, a lot of assistance when it comes to defining and developing products, and figuring out product-market fit.”
Helm says that when he founded RET Ventures in 2017, the investment money came from 25 different owners of multi-family real estate businesses that owned and operated between 1.2 and 1.3 million housing units. Since the fund has grown, the group of investors own and operate 2.4 million units and look to invest in tech that helps make the management of these properties easier.
As RET Ventures finds new startups who offer tech solutions to real estate rental businesses, those funded also have easy access to a major customer base—those of the investors—creating a win-win for all. The startups grow profitable because of their strong customer base, the investors receive a good ROI, and the multi-family rental companies improve their operations by using the innovative tools they’re helping to fund.
“Think of us as the outsource corporate development arm for the rental industry,” Helm says. “There’s software technology at every step of the process. And our job is to find companies that make these properties operate more efficiently. Our mission is very simple; it’s to seek out investments that can help our partners better operate their portfolios, and, or, more effectively finance or build their properties.”
Helm’s early vision for the company began while talking to investors in his former company. They discussed the need for a fund that focused on the real estate tech industry, but most of the industry players were not big enough to start a fund like that on their own.
“In real estate, at least in our asset class, no one is really big enough to have their own fund,” Helm explains. “They can’t really justify it. The single biggest owner in the industry, maybe 110,000, out of 26 million apartments, so they’re not really going to get the attention of an entrepreneur with such a small piece of the market. If they all band together and come together in a fund, then they have a lot more influence in the marketplace.”
With many major venture capital funds located in the Bay Area, some people are surprised to hear of venture capital companies opening up in Park City, Utah—but Helm would have it no other way.
“For what we’re doing, given our specialization, it’s more important for us to be in a market where there are companies forming and serving the industry,” Helm says. “If you look at the centers in the US where there’s a critical mass of real estate technology companies, Utah is one of them. There’s quite a lot of activity here. And because of Silicon Slopes, there’s a good tech environment and a good environment to recruit staff.”
Many people say real estate was slow to automate and implement tech solutions. But the real estate technology industry is now on fire, with up-and-coming entrepreneurs thinking of innovative products that will change the industry. As the industry grows, Utah-based RET Ventures will play a central role in funding the most important tools that will lead to transformations of the industry.