Proptech Entrepreneur Caren Maio Makes Move to Moved

Former CEO and founder of Funnel Leasing named president and chief strategy officer at Moved, a startup that aims to streamline the move-in process

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Female founders in proptech are still rare, but their numbers are increasing.

As they pursue their professional goals, women proptech founders seeking insight into their entrepreneurial journey might look to Caren Maio, who has been a founder, CEO, entrepreneur, venture capitalist-in-residence and mentor.

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The former CEO and founder of Funnel Leasing (previously Nestio), Maio last month was named president and chief strategy officer at Manhattan-based Moved, a three-year-old proptech startup that aims to streamline the move-in process for multifamily landlords and tenants. Maio called moved “a category creator.”

Maio talked to PropTech Insider last week about her new duties, her past career experiences, and why being a woman in proptech remains challenging professionally and personally.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with the basics — what does a chief strategy officer do?

Beyond any title, what I’m helping the team do is to bring the Moved product to the multifamily industry in earnest. What that entails specifically is I’m charged with sales and business development, marketing and client success, as well as people [operations]. It’s really thinking strategically about how we’re bringing this product to market.

caren headshot 2 Proptech Entrepreneur Caren Maio Makes Move to Moved
Caren Maio.

Why did you join Moved and why do you call it a “category creator”?

Initially, it started out to solve a very basic human issue, which is that moving sucks. It’s often in the top-three most stressful life events. So Moved was started with the understanding that this is something that everyone goes through. They initially started off as a direct-to-consumer business, and, over the past two years, realized there was a much broader opportunity in bringing in the multifamily side of the house. They built automated onboarding software that helps multifamily operators streamline this process for new residents.

So multifamily landlords interact with Moved?

When we talk about customer experience in multifamily, I think any great business in this space is really more of a B2B to C business, meaning there is some pain they’re solving for the business, in this case the multifamily operator, and pain they’re solving for the consumer. Moved is streamlining both sides of the equation. It makes it much easier for multifamily operators to onboard residents the moment they sign the lease. And it makes it much easier for the new resident to move in and take care of all of those requirements [in moving], so that the first impression after signing on the dotted line is a really positive, frictionless one.

Coming back to the “category creator” that you see in Moved, can you explain that in more detail?

What I mean by that is we’ve spent an incredible amount of time, resources and money as an industry thinking about how to get someone to sign on the dotted line. The prospect experience piece — we really haven’t invested by way of resourcing strategy or technology in what happens directly after that. So that post-sales experience, this is something frankly that, when you look at other industries, particularly an area like hospitality, there’s a lot of investment: post-sale.

When I think about opportunities in multifamily, I often look at other industries, namely hospitality. I like to take a page out of the hospitality playbook. And I think, “Okay, if I’m looking five years ahead or several years ahead, what are some of those other industries doing? How do we deliver an amazing post-sale experience?” That’s what Moved is all about. It’s taking the most important touch point in the relationship between multifamily operator and resident, and it’s saying we’re going to wow that consumer, that new resident, and we’re going to give you technology, better process, better strategy, directly after lease signing. 

The fact that [Moved] is playing in a space that I think will get a lot of attention just makes me feel like we’re throwing the ball ahead of the receiver. We have the right strategy and technology. So that’s why I got so excited.

In your previous role as head of Nestio, you dealt in-depth with the landlord side. What did you get out of that experience that you are applying to Moved?

It’s funny because I spent so much time with a lot of our customers and prospective customers talking about one piece of the journey. It is a really nice extension to be able to come in and say, “Hey, we spent years of my life, of your life, bugging you about this part, but what happens after?” It’s a really nice extension and continuation of that story.

But I’d say the biggest lesson learned for me is that customer feedback and buy-in is everything. Being very clear and crisp about what your value proposition is. When we started Nestio, proptech wasn’t a term, a thing. Now we’ve almost swung the pendulum the other way as an industry. There’s almost a deluge of options for the landlord. You’re not just competing with the guy or gal down the street that might do what you do. You’re competing with all the other proptech companies in the space for mindshare.

Let’s talk a little about your continuing work as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Camber Creek.

The same thing that led me to Camber was what led me to Moved, and that’s the people. I’ve known the Camber Creek team for years. They were an early investor in my first company and I had the opportunity to get to know the whole team over a period of years. I felt that when I was stepping out of the day-to-day of the company I co-founded, Nestio, [now] Funnel, I was really interested in learning more about the venture track. I knew it as a founder, but I didn’t really fully understand the other side of the table. And I thought to myself, who better to learn from than Camber Creek. In my experience, their due diligence process is second to none. So it was a natural fit.

And what have you learned about the VC life?

It’s still ongoing learning for me. I’m learning more every single day. [I’ve learned that] there’s a lot of collaboration behind the scenes to figure out ways to open doors for their companies or to close a deal. The due diligence process is extensive — [meaning] the process of building conviction not just in a company or founders, but in a concept, a thesis. There’s a lot that goes into that. And it’s been really fun to kind of be a fly on the wall. 

I’ve been having a lot of fun because the other side from sourcing and meeting with new companies to invest in is that I spend a lot of time with the existing portfolio and help them think through early-stage challenges around hiring and go-to-market. That’s been a blast as well.

Has this experience led to you thinking of becoming a VC someday?

I’d like to think it’s sharpened my skills and piqued my interest on the investing front. Over the course of this year I’ve made some small angel investments. I hope over time those checks will get larger. It’s helped me think through how to filter deals and think about opportunities. I don’t know what the future holds, if I’ll become a venture capitalist one day, but I’ve loved and I derive a lot of joy out of working with other founders  — helping them get to that next step.

What is it that you want to impart to founders?

First and foremost, embrace the roller-coaster. There will be ups and downs. Forget about up days and down days, there will be up hours and down hours. You will be flying high one minute and then that can all come crashing down. I always tell founders, “Great leaders do not see things better than they are. They don’t see things worse than they are. They see things as they are.” So it’s really important to keep a steady hand and a clear head. Because, ideally, this is a marathon. It’s really important to stay sane while you’re going through the roller-coaster ride. That’s entrepreneurship.

Additionally, I’ve learned that it’s really important to figure out ways to stay healthy and to avoid burnout. Create a schedule for yourself that’s sustainable. Frankly, I often fell victim to this in my earlier years where I would sprint, sprint, sprint, burnout, sprint, sprint, sprint, burnout. I would hit walls. I operated for a very long time like, “Well, the people in my life will just need to understand I’m going to have to miss dinners and birthdays.” So I always try to coach founders and warn them that the goalpost always moves. It’s really important to invest in yourself because in actuality, the best thing you can do for your team, business and your investors, is make sure that you’re pacing yourself in a way that’s healthy and sustainable for you.

Work-life balance has become something of a cliche, perhaps particularly for women in business. How do you view that issue?

I think I’m much more comfortable being vulnerable now than I was before. I don’t know if that has anything to do with doing this for a while or just becoming a bit more comfortable in my own skin, or maybe just as a society. I think we’ve become a little bit more comfortable talking about founder burnout and how important it is to have these hard conversations. I think, to some extent, we still have a long way to go. But I at least try to talk about this stuff openly. It is great if I can be a sounding board for another founder so that other people know it’s actually okay to talk about this, the hard stuff, the ugly stuff around entrepreneurship. We don’t lead with that as an industry, but I’m happy to raise my hand and kick off that conversation, because I think it’s important and I think everyone goes through it. We just don’t talk about it.

So let’s talk about the hard and ugly stuff, especially as it applies to women founders.

I think it’s a human thing, putting yourself out there, starting something from nothing. Having that persistent fear of rejection or failure or whatever that may be. I think that’s a human reaction. I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of founders in the industry, many of whom are women, where we’ve had very vulnerable conversations with one another and that’s not to say that male founders can’t have those conversations. They can. I certainly witnessed that. But I think that coming together with some of my female counterparts, there’s a certain immediate camaraderie that’s there, you just get it. And I’m so grateful for it. Because it can be a really lonely job when you’re starting something. When you’re running a company, heading up an organization, it’s so rewarding. And it’s so lonely.

Some highly successful women real estate executives I’ve met say they don’t want to be categorized as “just women” who have succeeded, that they are beyond such a category. How do you feel about that?

What I care about in that regard is helping other women advance their careers, start companies, take a leap of faith, do the scary, hard, audacious thing. I care about the end result. If that means — and I totally understand and have seen many women talk about it — “I’m not a female founder,” I understand the feeling behind that.

That said, as a founder in the space, I personally want to see more women in executive positions, in leadership positions, starting companies, having big exits, and going out and doing it again. Investing in other founders, male or female. Getting out there on the venture side. If that means I’m speaking on panels about what it’s like to be a female entrepreneur, if that’s what it takes, I’m happy to do it. I’ll do it all day long, because I want to support other women. I’m excited to continue to do it, because there need to be more of us in the space.

Philip Russo can be reached at prusso@commercialobserver.com.