At one point in his real estate career, interruptions were a 24/7 proposition for Paul Muessig. Working in assorted asset-management roles for a pair of Chicago-area commercial real estate firms, Muessig was constantly bombarded with calls from colleagues, usually about problems such as lease abstracts and floor plans that the callers could have solved themselves — if given the right filing or “piling” system.
So in 2002, Muessig struck out on his own to help property managers and other commercial real estate players address the age-old question, “What do we need to know about our properties today?” The 54-year-old Muessig, a self-described non-linear thinker, created Chicago-based Leo Software in 2004 with a distinct user’s perspective in mind. Less than three years after its founding, Leo is becoming Lion-esque. The firm’s simple yet innovative data-stacking products recently earned Leo the 2007 Premier Award for Technology from the Chicago chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management.
NREI: What was the founding ideal behind Leo Software? Muessig: We wanted to make it easier for commercial real estate people to do their jobs without so many interruptions. Unless you’re Wal-Mart or another big company that does tons of real estate transactions, information in real estate really doesn’t change that often. But the data does begin to stack up on you. So Leo gives you a lens into your enterprise to more easily view that data. You could say our goal is to democratize data like Southwest Airlines democratizes the sky.
NREI: How do your product work? Muessig: They extract information out of your accounting system and other places to make it readily available through an interactive stacking plan. Those questions we talked about earlier can then answer themselves. There are fewer interruptions for the property manager and fewer surprises. It’s kind of like getting a universal [TV] remote after having to use five or six different remotes for separate functions. But here, you can access everything. You get a view of all your property’s lease economics and an automated filing cabinet with files, photos and plans and other information on just one screen. And you really don’t have to change anything about your operation to accomplish this. The information is automatically created and updated by your own databases.
NREI: Can you walk us through some of the features of a stacking plan? Muessig: In what we call our ‘on-demand property binder,’ the stacking plan allows you to easily view the rent roll, vacancies, lease terms, options, encumbrances and other data. There’s also a building card that displays prioritized building statistics such as rentable square feet, floor sizes, parking ratios and so on, plus a bar chart that displays average occupancies 12 months into the past and future. This way, you’re getting an overlay of your weighted net-rent averages. By adjusting this for a target date, users can get the lease economics of the building for any two-year period and base their business decisions accordingly.
NREI: Who is your target market? Muessig: People at some large companies are using this software but we are focusing mostly on small companies. You just need a computer and the Internet to do this. And we keep our price point — which can range from $39.95 to $99.95 per month per user depending on the service — down and that helps the little guys compete. Our sweet spot here is software as a service. A little bit of Leo Software goes a long way. We are really competing with the pencil. You could say this is as much a study of human nature as it is technology.
NREI: You recently announced you’re offering a free version of the Leo Stacking Plan. How do you make out on a freebie? Muessig: Well, it’s kind of like the Google model — give people limited and free functionality to get them familiar with the idea and the name. In other words, we give them something useful, treat them nicely and then, we hope, they will embrace other services.
NREI: What’s next for Leo Software? Muessig: We have a new 3.0 version coming out in few months that’s even more efficient. We’ve tried to keep the design as current as possible based on customer suggestions. But we’re going to keep it stacked and simple.