What's the Future of Real Estate? Bigger Offices and Smaller Chains

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

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Offices will be bigger and oriented around creating a sense of community, omnichannel retail will be more important, brands will have dozens of stores instead of thousands, and cities will provide incentives to lure employees rather than companies. Those are some of the predictions about what will happen in the next few years as the world recovers from the coronavirus, according to Brendan Wallace, co-founder and managing partner at Fifth Wall, Justin Bedecarre, co-founder and CEO of HelloOffice and Jen Nguyen, founding partner of TEAMWERC.

Fifth Wall is the largest venture capital firm focused on real estate tech, known as proptech. It announced the close of its second real estate technology fund last year, with $503 million in dry powder, making it the largest VC fund in Los Angeles. HelloOffice is a technology-powered commercial real estate brokerage that started in the Bay Area and expanded to L.A. last year. TEAMWERC is a San Francisco-based commercial real estate consultancy.

Wallace, Bedecarre and Nguyen spoke to dot.LA in advance of an executive strategy session Tuesday at 11 am PST about the future of real estate after the novel coronavirus. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

Retail shops have been opening in Los Angeles and elsewhere. How quickly do you think people will want to go shopping?

Wallace: I think there's probably two considerations. One is that you actually have some pent-up demand. So, I think you will see a surge, and I think you actually have seen that in cities like Phoenix. What I'm not clear on is if that's a false positive, and what we're likely to see going forward because we haven't seen the second peaks occurring in cities and how the public will react to that. We're in the very early innings of probably a surge in retail bankruptcies. As stores go dark that just drives down foot traffic, and I think alongside that you have this forced adoption of e-commerce that just occurred over the last 75 days. That experience is going to have a long-term effect and I think about it like we pulled the future forward. Whatever was going to happen in 2022 or 2023 is happening now in 2020, and the confounding variable on top of that is the uncertainty around COVID and the public response to it so the one thing I feel confident in saying is it is not going to go back to business as usual.

That sounds like a lot of uncertainty, which is understandable because no one really knows what's going to happen in terms of the health considerations. But as someone who has this big retail fund, what, how are you deploying that?

Wallace: Our retail fund is focused on brands that are omnichannel, so those are brands that are selling both online and offline. This crisis has underscored is that to really have resiliency in circumstances like this, a brand needs to be ubiquitous. You need to be able to reach consumers where they are and that can be on their computer, their phone or in a store. I think the more omnichannel a brand is, the more durable they are in a situation like this so we are still actively looking to invest in those brands. I think the other distinction about how we invest in retail versus how retail is traditionally conceptualized is that some of the brands that are out there today — like Old Navy and Gap — you're talking about hundreds in some cases thousands of stores. I don't think even the largest, most prolific omnichannel brand is ever going to have 1,000 stores. I think that era is over. What you're seeing is just smaller real estate footprints and a concentration of those footprints in higher-quality real estate assets. In many ways this crisis is hurting the weakest assets. The malls in the shopping centers that were already struggling are going to struggle more in this crisis and this could be a body blow. But I think the stronger assets, the assets that were always desirable, and the high streets in retail real estate that were always desirable to many brands are going to come back for no other reason then there's still going to be a street life in cities. I don't think that's going away.

Left to right: Justin Bedecarre, co-founder and CEO of HelloOffice, Jen Nguyen, founding partner of TEAMWERC, and Brendan Wallace, co-founder & managing partner at Fifth Wall.

Just looking at cities in general, there's this whole potential ripple effect from people not working as much in big cities. Do you see that actually happening, lots of tech workers moving out of San Francisco?

Wallace: I think you can generalize more broadly than tech workers and make it knowledge workers, who are less required to work in cities than they were in January of this year. The experience of many companies is that working remotely has been surprisingly productive. But the reason cities formed in the first place was to accommodate businesses and people and create a social dynamic which drove people together where you had to go to the market square to buy things. What's happened with technology – e-commerce being a prime example – is we virtualized much of that meaning. So, we've stripped away many of the commercial benefits of concentrating businesses and people together. And so what I think cities are left considering is because there's no longer the commercial magnetism of pulling everyone together it really has to come down to the social magnetism, that we like being around other people. I'm curious to see how much people want to go back to cities.

Justin, how much work do you see returning to the office once the threat from the pandemic subsides?

Bedecarre: Offices are really going to be built around what they're meant to be built around, which is collaboration. In the short term, square footage per person is going to go way up. The way that we're thinking about our spaces at HelloOffice is that we're going to be doing a phased-in approach to bring in key members and desks are going to be spread out significantly. Fewer people are going to be coming into the office at any given time. Whether it equals out for how many people are in the office versus how many square feet per person is is hard to predict with certainty. But square footage per person will trend upwards, not downward as it has been for over a decade.

Jen, are you seeing a similar trend?

Nyugen; Oh definitely. It's really typical for a lot of tech startups that we work with, their standard square foot per person is 100 square feet per person. But what we've seen in doing the six foot social distance studies is a lot of the companies we work with need extra space, so instead of 100-square-feet per person they're needing at least 300 square feet, at a minimum.

Are you hearing from clients that they want to go back to the office?

Nyugen: We're hearing more of we're going back to the office in some shape or form but in a phased approach.

Is there a specific timeline you're getting from most companies about when they want to come back?

Nyugen: The timelines are consistent with specific regions. For example, in San Francisco a lot are looking towards the end of Q3. A lot of them are also identifying within their own or organization which functions they deem critical.

Justin, it seems like there has been something specific about startups that they need to physically work together. Do you think that will change now?

Bedecarre: I do think overall, especially in the early stages, having everyone together working in one place has significant advantages. But it's not for everyone. Gitlab and WordPress have built some phenomenal companies being 100% remote, but that certainly isn't where most companies will end up.

🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor

Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect

MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health

Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP

Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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