The secret life of buildings

The Gunther Report

The secret life of buildings

glass building

Editor's Note: To learn more about energy-efficient buildings, check out VERGE@Greenbuild, November 12-13, in San Francisco, where Riggs Kubiak will be speaking.

I arranged to meet Riggs Kubiak, the founder and CEO of a startup company called Honest Buildings, at Le Pain Quotidien, at 800 17th Street N.W. He’d been there for a while so we walked around the corner and did an interview at Teaism at 800 Connecticut Ave. There, he told me about his plans for Honest Buildings, an online networking platform that is designed to connect the owners of buildings with architects, contractors, suppliers, tenants, just about anyone with an interest in commercial real estate.

Riggs, who is just 31, is smart and passionate guy who has been fascinated by real estate since his college days. He was formerly head of sustainability for Tishman Speyer, a big real estate firm. With Honest Buildings, he’d like to create a hybrid of Facebook-LinkedIn-Yelp-TripAdvisor for real estate, and help drive transparency, efficiency and sustainability in the building industry. Investors seem to like the idea: Honest Buildings has just completed a seed round of financing led by Rockport Capital Partners and Mohr Davidow Ventures, two leading venture capital firms.

“Our platform can be a way to catalyze demand for efficient, high-performance buildings,” Riggs told me. “Transparency can have a monumental, game-changing effect.”

Driving more efficient and transparent commerce

If all goes well, he says, the website will connect building owners to one another, enable them to seek out architects and contractors who have been endorsed by others, discover efficiency projects they might otherwise overlook and showcase their buildings for lenders, brokers and other real estate professionals. Tenants can use the platform to learn more about places they might want to rent.

Dhiraj Malkani, a partner at Rockport who told me about the company, said by email:

We love Riggs’ vision for Honest Buildings and the passion he has to make it a reality. His vision was to create the first on-line network of building owners and service providers to serve as a platform to drive more efficient and transparent commerce, and improve information sharing between stakeholders in building projects.

Other investors include Sunil Paul and Nick Allen of Spring Ventures; Lisa Gansky, the entrepreneur and author of The Mesh; and Michael Adler, a former executive vice president of travel website Expedia. In a statement, Adler said: “Honest Buildings is bringing the same type of efficiencies to the real estate market that Expedia and Trip Advisor did to the travel industry,” said Adler.

Image of glass office building Vladitto via Shutterstock.

Certainly the company has made rapid progress. Since going online in March, Honest Buildings has launched its platform in New York City, Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Dallas and Houston, in large part by relying on public databases. It has collected information for more than 700,000 buildings.

But–and here’s the challenge for the company–the information on many of those buildings is skimpy at best. As a test, I looked up the two buildings where Riggs and I met in downtown Washington, and there was little of use there. Similarly, I checked a couple of offices in New York where I’d worked and came up without much of interest.

Of course, the platform is still new, but like any networked business, its value will depend on how many users it will attract. Put another way, Honest Buildings could grow into a LinkedIn for buildings or wind up, like many social networking ventures, in the Internet graveyard.

Honest Buildings should get a boost from laws in New York City, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco that, for the first time, will require larger buildings to release their energy consumption data. They also have access to the EPA’s Energy Star data for building as well as information from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Anyone can join Honest Buildings for free, at least for now. The company sells premium memberships for service providers–architects, engineers, contractors, leasing brokers or lenders. Premium members get access to new business opportunities as well as additional exposure via targeted display and search advertising.

Based in New York, Honest Buildings is still in its startup phase, with fewer than a dozen employees. With the new financing, the company plans to roll out to more cities as well as internationally. Riggs and his colleagues are building something interesting. The question is, will they draw a crowd?