• Dennis Cogbill

A Q&A with Moore and Gomes of Cortland: Getting to the Forefront of Ingenuity in Multifamily

We could not be more excited about the “Innovation C-Suite Interview” session slated for this year’s MICA conference. Taking place from 10 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6, the session will feature an in-depth interview of two executives from Atlanta-based Cortland: Chief Experience Officer Mike Gomes and Chief Technology Officer Scott Moore.

Cortland is at the forefront of ingenuity in the apartment industry. This session will give attendees an invaluable opportunity to see how the Atlanta-based owner and operator has implemented an array of resident-facing and internal innovations.

To preview their session, Mike and Scott were kind enough to answer some of our questions about Cortland’s forward-thinking culture and operations. Many thanks to them for their time.

Cortland definitely has carved out a reputation in multifamily as a real driver of innovation. Could you outline both some of the resident-facing and internal innovations you have implemented over the years?

Scott Moore: Cortland has historically brought functions in-house to provide a better resident experience while also usually saving costs. At a macro level, Cortland has its own in-house design and architecture functions, a construction arm and even our own product manufacturing and supply chain company with an office in Shanghai. 

Mike Gomes: Our CEO, Steven DeFrancis, has a history of creating positions and hiring people that he thinks can provide greater levels of insights and service to associates and residents. For instance, in addition to me (Chief Experience Officer), we have our own “Dr. Fitness” who serves as our Director of Residential Well Living; a board certified psychiatrist who is our Director of Care and Wellness serving our associates; a Chief Economist who helps provide macro and micro economic analyses and forecasts for each of Cortland’s core growth markets; and a Director of Sustainability to oversee programs dedicated to reducing power and water consumption on our properties.

The apartment industry has long had a reputation as being one that's behind the times when it comes to technology and embracing change. What's your take on the general state of innovation in multifamily?

Scott Moore: Generally, multifamily organizations lack technology solutions that are common across other industries. Take client relationship management systems - the industry largely lacks a CRM solution and instead takes a property management approach to software. Also, whereas many industries have developed digital solutions that complement their physical product and service offerings, multifamily is only now waking up to that opportunity to create a rich platform that residents can use to engage with their physical community and property staff. At Cortland, we’re actively working to change this mindset – and work with a partner to co-develop our own CRM.

One of the benefits of innovating is creating a better experience for residents. Another is the opportunity to increase revenue. Can you speak to the financial benefits of driving change?

Mike Gomes: One area we can speak to is marketing and the prospect experience. We don’t develop our marketing plans with a “set it and forget it” mindset. We are continually monitoring and measuring performance and looking for ways to improve our marketing effectiveness. 

As a result, we’ve decreased our marketing costs per lease for several consecutive years. We have found ways to reduce the dependency on expensive ILS spends, completely rebuilt our Cortland and individual community websites to drive more value through those channels, invested in brand building campaigns in certain markets to create more organic traffic, enabled prospects to schedule community tours through our website, and are in the process of implementing a new CRM solution across all of our communities. 

All of these efforts work as part of an integrated experience system meant to improve all aspects of the lead to net lease funnel to decrease our marketing costs per lease in a hyper-competitive market.

What advice would you have for an apartment owner and/or operator that wants to build a company culture and internal processes that encourage and facilitate innovation?

Scott Moore: To start with, it’s important to remember that innovation is not technology. In multifamily – as in just about every industry – there’s a stream of new tech that provides a solution looking for a problem.

Organizations that actively work to identify gaps and opportunities to simplify, and that have cultures that foster partnership and collectively leveraging the strengths of the organization to move forward, are finding new ways to innovate all the time. That’s what we strive to do at Cortland and that approach has led to some great successes over the years.

Mike Gomes: You need a few things. First, you need to have a CEO committed to setting a fast pace of innovation and a willingness to try new approaches. At Cortland we have a core value – “Have the courage to be better” – that speaks to the innovative culture we desire. 

A second thing that’s needed is a deep focus on your customers and your employees. Soliciting feedback from them will identify pain points and deficiencies that can be targets for innovation. Thirdly, as Scott describes, collaboration is key. A cross-functional, collaborative senior leadership team that can work together to determine priorities and secure resources (usually more human than financial) provides a great opportunity to move out of the silo-based approach to innovation.

Both of you will be part of the "Innovation C-Suite Interview" session at the upcoming MICA 2020 conference. Can you give us a brief preview of the subjects you plan to cover during this session?

Mike Gomes: We’ll probably go a little deeper into our examples of success and examples where we may not have succeeded but certainly learned valuable lessons that helped us moving forward. Largely, we’ll speak to our focus at Cortland on the resident experience in all that we do and how that drives the types of innovation we think will allow us to achieve our goals as a company.