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Proptech firm HILO growing again after pandemic slowdown

HILO is a software-as-a-service platform that enables building operators to attract and retain te...

IMAGE: HILO co-founder and chief executive officer David Abrams. (Courtesy HILO)

HILO co-founder and chief executive officer David Abrams. (Courtesy HILO)

HILO is a software-as-a-service platform that enables building operators to attract and retain tenants, boost revenues and streamline operations by creating connected, engaged and informed building communities.

“Rather than just be another provider of tenant experience apps, we really wanted to create and then own the tenant experience network,” HILO co-founder and chief executive officer David Abrams told RENX.

“We recognized that buildings were becoming more tech-enabled and saw an opportunity to create more connections between building operators and tenants and residents.”

Prior to creating HILO, Abrams ran a marketing and communications agency while co-founder and chief marketing officer Kirk Stephens’ background is in marketing and advertising design.

Third co-founder Oz Solomon — HILO’s technology and strategy advisor who’s also a principal engineering manager for Microsoft — is the only one who could be considered a traditional tech guy.

That prompted the trio to adopt a people-first approach with HILO’s smart phone application, as opposed to creating a building technology solution. The concept was to employ technology to enhance user experiences, ensuring they get the services they want and need to achieve maximum engagement.

“We want to create the largest community of people in buildings — versus the competition, which is taking a more siloed approach where every building has its own app,” said Abrams. “We want to make where they live and work easier and better.”

HILO platform for building operators

HILO can drive efficiencies, save time and reduce costs by giving building operators the means to streamline operations via direct, real-time communication tools to reach tenants.

Data analytics from HILO’s network provide building operators with intelligence about tenant occupancy, engagement and utilization, allowing for more effective asset management.

HILO’s on-boarding and training program enables property managers to launch their own building community to connect with tenants and visitors within 30 days. The company also offers hands-on support to help create content, rewards and programs tailored to each building community.

“We’re not just licensing software to our building partners,” said Abrams. “We are providing an all-inclusive commitment to their business. We help them on-board to the platform, we help them to implement the platform, and then we help them with ongoing engagement.”

HILO platform for tenants

HILO’s My Building feature provides tenants with online information and access to all the services and amenities their building has to offer. It also provides users with access to, and exclusive curated offers from, on-site and local retailers, amenities and services directly through the HILO network.

HILO has formed partnerships with local business improvement areas, including Toronto’s Downtown Yonge, to connect their members with buildings utilizing the platform.

“We’re working collaboratively to connect their business to the buildings that are on our network,” said Abrams.

“We don’t monetize by only having our building partners pay to be on the platform, but we also create a community network solution. There are associate membership fees that get charged to community members for being connected to community members.”

HILO costs and asset classes

The primary cost of HILO in a building is charged on a per-square-foot basis, and is “generally pennies per square foot,” according to Abrams.

“Our price structure is competitive in the marketplace, but it’s all-inclusive.”

An average of 50 per cent of tenants signed up to the platform in each building community within six months, the company says.

HILO’s initial focus is on the office and multifamily asset classes. Use in office buildings is much higher now, but Abrams believes the multifamily business will grow.

“We don’t target malls or shopping centres, but we target local businesses and retailers as a sub-class,” he said.

Moving into industrial buildings is on the radar, but that hasn’t happened yet.

HILO’s start and evolution

The first incarnation of HILO was built in 2018 after its first round of investment. It officially launched in 2019 in three neighbourhoods and 11 buildings in Toronto and Ottawa. Abrams said lessons were learned from those early adopters.

Toronto-headquartered HILO received its first American venture investment in late 2019 and early 2020 and was accepted into an accelerator program that’s now called Forum Ventures. Things were progressing well until the pandemic struck.

“We were meeting with developers across the country and then, on March 13, 2020, our sales cycle hit a wall as every building we were talking to went from 100 per cent occupancy to near zero,” said Abrams.

Much of 2020 was spent improving the product, but an increased interest in tenant experience this year has helped HILO regain its momentum. Abrams said a digital solution was needed to connect office workers adapting to remote work – and he believes companies will need to work hard to entice people back to the workplace.

“We want to make it super easy for building operators to connect with their tenants and deliver and focus on customer experience,” said Abrams. “Our mantra is that building apps shouldn’t be proprietary, but your tenant experience should be. That’s where we feel the money is.”

HILO, which also has offices in New York City and San Francisco, has 12 building partners with properties across North America. The client list is growing:

– It’s launching on-boarding with Avison Young at four buildings in Dallas.

– It’s partnered with Epic Investment Services at the Atria complex near Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue East in Toronto, as well as in Commerce Valley Business Park in Markham.

– It will work with Capitol Buildings on six properties around Adelaide Street West and Spadina Avenue in Toronto.

– It’s partnering with small family-owned companies on three buildings in midtown Manhattan.

“We’ve got a number of other partners that are close to the final contract stage,” said Abrams.

HILO podcasts

With the marketing experience atop HILO, it shouldn’t be surprising the company is taking an interesting approach to help get the word out. Its website hosts a blog and provides links to two in-house podcasts.

TEN (which stands for Tenant Experience Network) features conversations with commercial real estate professionals about the impact of technology on tenant experience in the built world.

HILO recently launched a 15-minute podcast called space_bar, described as a digital community for people sharing stories about how they’re feeling about returning to work. It’s hosted by TEN producer Josh Nezon and listeners can connect with each other via the Slack communication platform.

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