What is Innovation?

Innovation is being open to change :: Rob Finlay

Episode Summary

Episode 37 of “What is Innovation?” is out! Jared talks with Rob Finlay, CPM®, an investor, operator, solution provider, CEO, and Founder of Thirty Capital, talks on staying open across different domains and the parallelism of commercial real estate and software companies.

Episode Notes

Rob Finlay, CPM®,  an investor, operator, solution provider, CEO, and Founder of Thirty Capital, talks on staying open across different domains and the parallelism of commercial real estate and software companies.

More about our guest:

Rob Finlay, CPM®, knows the extraordinary value of tech + innovation + data within the CRE space better than anyone else out there. He grew up in CRE. He’s been an investor, operator, and solution provider. Rob has a large portfolio of assets and multiple CRE related tech companies. Disrupting the status quo, he’s doing to the CRE industry what Bloomberg terminals did for stock trading. CEO and Founder of Thirty Capital Rob Finlay helps operators and investors in the commercial real estate industry generate market-beating returns using technology and innovative solutions. His investment firm, Thirty Capital, includes a portfolio of companies in six states and employs over 300 individuals. It includes building materials businesses, commercial development, asset management, and a technology incubator and accelerator that has built multiple 9-figure real estate tech products including his primary focus, Lobby CRE. To keep life even more exciting, a former professional race car driver, Finlay continues to race cars, pilot helicopters and jets, and enjoys spearfishing.


Episode Guide:

1:20 - What Is Innovation?

3:06 - Staying open across different domains of expertise

6:11 - "Looking around the corner"  

9:13 - Thirty Capital's Innovation

11:42 - Innovation: Changing an experience

14:42 - Advice and perspective as a: Customer, User, and Investor

17:21 - What isn't Innovation?

19:05 - Parallelism of Commercial Real Estate and Software Company  

21:01 - Top-down fostering

23:16 - Spearfishing vs Harpooning

26:15 - Advice for innovators

Resources Mentioned: 



OUTLAST Consulting offers professional development and strategic advisory services in the areas of innovation and diversity management.

Episode Transcription

/This transcript was automatically generated using AI; please forgive any inconsistencies. We are working to provide the correct and more concise copy of the transcript. For urgent need, please send us an email.


Jared Simmons  00:05

Hello, and welcome to What Is Innovation. The podcast that explores the reality of a word that is in danger of losing its meaning altogether. This podcast is produced by Outlast consulting, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps companies use innovation principles to solve their toughest business problems. I'm your host, Jared Simmons, and I'm so excited to have Rob Finley, CEO and founder of Thirty Capital. Rob Finley helps operators and investors in the commercial real estate industry generate market beating returns using technology and innovative solutions. His investment firm Thirty Capital includes a portfolio of companies in six states and employs over 300 individuals. It includes building material businesses, commercial development, asset management, and a technology incubator and accelerator that has built multiple nine figure real estate tech products, including his primary focus, lobby CRE to keep life even more exciting, a former professional racecar driver, Finley continues to race cars, pilot helicopters and jets and enjoy spearfishing. Rob, thank you so much, and welcome to the show.


Rob Finlay  01:15

Thanks for having me, Jared. Great to be here.


Jared Simmons  01:18

Well, why don't we dive right in? Tell me, in your mind, what is innovation?


Rob Finlay  01:23

It's such a loaded question these days, I think there's so many technical definitions or what people think his innovation, what people don't and there's been books and books written on this. In fact, there's actually a course at universities on innovation, but I think you phrased it right. What is innovation to me, because I do think that's what is important. Quite frankly, to me, innovation is just a mindset. It's a mindset to be open to look around and see things that are going on and see how things can be done differently. That really is what innovation is, to me, it's just clearly having your mind open, being very thoughtful and and look at all things in order to make a change in your life.


Jared Simmons  02:11

Yeah, I love that. Thinking about it in terms of a mindset instead of a business process, or a department, or job title, or a technology really gives you an opportunity to apply it in a lot of different places. I really like that you see it as a mindset. 


Rob Finlay  02:27

That's the important thing, right? Because in order to be an innovative company, you have to have innovative people and it doesn't mean it is just that. Yeah, there are obviously technologies and things that have happened that are incredibly innovative, and maybe an academic sensor or a proper definition. But in reality, a lot of successful businesses have been innovative because they've applied something from another industry into their own business. That to me is where it really is about the mindset of everybody in the organization, to just be open, be open to change, be open and embrace looking at that change.


Jared Simmons  03:05

I see. Looking at your background and across, not just your background, what you're currently doing across so many different domains, I would say, all in the area of CRE but everything from commercial development to asset management, technology, how do you stay that open?


Rob Finlay  03:22

I can tell you, in reality, my first business ever took a standard practice, this is my first business which was called Commercial Defeasance, better known as Defease With Ease. The defeasance process itself is a fairly technical process that involves bonds and some other things I'm not going to bore your listeners with what it is but it's this structured transaction that has been used in the municipal government for a long time.  I took that process and developed it and streamlined it for the commercial real estate industry. That, to me, is where it's about being innovative. It's looking at something that that's happened outside and now outside my industry of commercial real estate but now we apply it to commercial real estate and we built a business off of that. It's not that it's a game changer, but it's using that so really in and that one of the best parts about being innovative, is that you take a very different perspective on everything that you look at. Every time I travel, every time I go to a restaurant, every time I go to an airport or an airplane, or anytime I do something, I just look. I become more observant and try to figure out the way that people do things. See if I can apply that to my own business, or maybe first is to take something that I do and maybe apply to that new business, is there an opportunity there?


Jared Simmons  04:55

I see. As you're looking around with that broader perspective, it allows you to find new and different ways of looking at your own challenges in your own business.


Rob Finlay  05:06

Absolutely. I think that's really the excitement. It also allows for somebody who probably has ADD to stay focused, right? I can sit here and as we're talking on Zoom, I'm looking at all of the pages I have opened on, on my computer and on Google, and I'm like, wow, geez,  if somebody saw this, they'd say, wow, what does this guy looking at? I've got helicopters on one page, I've got ultra running on another page. I've got this on you but it's being able to be observant of other businesses and other business practices gives you the ability to really maximize and be innovative in your own business.


Jared Simmons  05:49

Part of the application in my mind, let me know what you think. But part of the application in my mind is finding that thread. And it seems to me like you've done a great job of finding this thread between kind of the thing you see out the wind out of the window, and what connects it to what you're actually doing on a day to day basis.


Rob Finlay  06:11

We like to think about that as looking around the corner. That's really what what we try to do. I know I tried to do in my business, commercial real estate in itself has typically been considered sort of a laggard in innovation, adoption, you know, things like that of technology, and innovation. That's just been the way that our businesses has been run. The way that my grandfather ran his real estate business is very similar to the way that my dad runs his business and the way that we used to run our business, but to be able to peer around the corner, and to be able to look around the corner, you have to be able to think about things differently. You have to think about reinvention, or re-application, but driving things that take outside that industry, and putting it into your own is where we've been very successful. We've been very fortunate because we do have that understanding. We are a commercial real estate firm as well. We own and operate multifamily and office properties we develop and are a very active investor in all sorts of commercial real estate, as a joint venture equity partner or as a limited equity partner. When we start to do this, that gives us a base foundation. Now everything that I look out from outside from other businesses, for example, how we operate our software companies, is very similar now to how we operate our real estate companies and it's using that innovation, it's using that that understanding of, Hey, I have to treat... I have customer journeys, and who is my customer? How do I attract my customer? Business intelligence and tracking KPIs, as part of our business are things that we do now as a normal course, within our real estate business that's taking things that we do in a software business, and applying it to what we do in our real estate business.


Jared Simmons  08:01

I see sort of seeing around corners not only applies to you, as you look externally, but also as you look internally at the different types of businesses that you've got under your umbrella.


Rob Finlay  08:11

Yes, yes, absolutely.


Jared Simmons  08:14

That makes a lot of sense. I come from a different word, I come from a corporate and product development, innovation world, consumer packaged goods and things like that. The internal versus external view in that world is usually Procter and Gamble, say, you might look internally at Bounty to see if there's something you could, you could reapply to Pampers or to Sharman or something like that. Then the external result, obviously, about competition and things like that. What I think is really interesting about your approach in your industry is the breadth of technologies because you're not reapplying, say, a one product technology to another product technology, you're reapplying the concepts and the principles of customer and consumer understanding and knowledge. That's the level of the application you're looking at. It's not the technical nuts and bolts of the work. It's the conceptual side of things.


Rob Finlay  09:15

We do have and our product team and our technology team would probably not like to hear this, but we're not creating that new widget. We're reapplying something that happens. I'm not nearly as as creative or innovative for that, right. But fortunately for us, I see for example, lobby care which we which we talked about as our sort of our flagship ship product. It's a data warehouse that gives you a business intelligence tools specific to commercial real estate. So you know, this is something where it's not, we're not Wow, this this isn't the first BI tool in commercial real estate or the first BI tool ever. It's not the first data lake, but it's the first time that the two have been merged together. And at a commercial real estate firm, regardless of their size can have the efficiency and the technology benefit that a large organization will have at a fraction of the cost. And so it's really it's just reapplying these things, I think, you know, when you go back to your consumer products, and I think consumer products are incredibly challenging, as I'm sure you can attest, but to think about, it's like, yeah, you're looking at bounty, or balance, or whatever it was, and how to make that innovator change is for me, I look at this and say, Boy, I'm not going to change the mixture to make it even more special. But is there a way to take that and say, well, that actually does a really good job at keeping ants away when we're camping? I don't know. It's just but but that's. So it's just applying something different? Yeah. Just just using it differently.


Jared Simmons  10:49

Right, right. Yeah. I'm fond of saying that innovation is not invention, that you don't have to invent something to be innovative. Oh, absolutely. Your examples are a perfect example of that. Solving that new problem for a customer, often a problem that they didn't even know they had is to me at the core of, of innovation. And you have to have the right mindset to do that. And you know, the broader perspective around what you're looking at, you know, you're not just looking at someone refueling a jet, you're looking at someone moving fluid from one place to another, you know, and Right, right, being able to see it in a broader context,


Rob Finlay  11:25

or even the experience, right? It's Oh, hey, here, you're going to refuel this airplane here, come over here and get into this nice room where, where we can actually upsell you on other goods and services that we may have. Yeah, so it's a lot of it is experience as well. And so yeah, I think that is changing an experience is also innovative, right? If it's, you know, it's just like, you go to a grocery store, and you used to have to go sit in the checkout. Now, then all of a sudden, they started doing self checkout. Well, that was pretty innovative, right? It was, also wasn't they use new technology to do it. We're gonna change the experience. So once again, it comes down to just opening up your eyes, looking at different industries, looking at everything. And that's, that's what makes innovation so exciting, and so easy to reach. If you just open up your mind, you can be an innovative company, and you can do things. And I do a lot of this where I talk to young entrepreneurs or future entrepreneurs, and I talk to them and I tell them, basically what you just said, you don't have to create the next thing to be innovative and to be successful, you just have to figure out your the way to make yours different way and to be innovative and something different. So I think that's that's where it comes down. And that's why I tell them, the one thing I told you is to be successful, you have to open up your eyes and be very observant. Everything that you do when you sit down at a restaurant, look at the way things are people are doing things. Can you apply that to a business? Could you change the way that they do it? And I think that makes it a lot easier to implement,


Jared Simmons  12:59

That will set in such an important message for people to hear at the beginning of their entrepreneur journey and entrepreneurship, because it's a big hurdle. Because a big mental hurdle for people to get into entrepreneurship to get into these types of things, thinking and believing that they have to have some sort of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs type of innovation or invention, I should say, to get into the conversation and get into the the work of solving problems for people,


Rob Finlay  13:27

That's really well said as well. That's why I think people when we look at deals, our venture arm, invests in in startups and existing companies in the commercial real estate space in the technology space, or innovation space. The thing that drives me crazy whenever we see these these new products come in, people try to say well, look at this, we were going to get a patent on this and a patent this and that I'm like, patents, not selling it or somebody is going to buy it because you have a patent on it. That doesn't that doesn't do it. You're right, it's not. How do you change somebody's life? How do you change your users life? How do you change your customers life? How does your customer utilize and enjoy the product?


Jared Simmons  14:15

I think the other thing that you mentioned that really caught my ear, the idea of you're thinking about things from an investment point of view. You're not just an entrepreneur, you're not just as you know, CEO of a company, you're an investor in the space that you also have direct experience in, which I think gives you a different perspective on the process of building a company on the importance of innovation and what it is.


Rob Finlay  14:42

As long as it applies to commercial real estate, outside of commercial real estate, I'm pretty boring. I wouldn't take my investment advice on something far outside that, that market. Staying focused within the commercial real estate space and understanding commercial real estate at its core does give us a unique advantage and a unique perspective because I'm, I'm not only a customer, but I'm also a user and I'm an investor in it. I'm on all parts, I invest in commercial real estate, but I also invest in technology that supports commercial real estate. And so that I think that gives us a unique perspective. I'm a user so everything that I build or everything that I invest in, I ultimately end up using.


Jared Simmons  15:30

Right, exactly. To me, you talk about it as focus. But when I see it, I think I mean, commercial real estate, to me sounds like a huge, broad playground. We're not talking about specific geographies, we're not talking about specific types of real estate, I would imagine there are different types of structures, I would imagine there's different types of ownership models and all sorts of things that you have expertise within that space. As I talk to people who are innovators like you, it always strikes me how focused they see their world, no matter how broad it is.


Rob Finlay  16:07

That could be and that's probably because we're comfortable. Mm hmm. Like for you, you know, to be a consumer products seems like the most Yeah, they like that, to me is the craziest thing in the whole world. Because, you know, it's Yeah, it's like, I'm going down, I'm gonna find something that said, a grocery store. Why am I picking one thing? Why are we Why do we pick this over this? And so I think being focused on it is good. And I think successful entrepreneurs do need to be in the beginning need to be very focused, right? They need to be hyper focused on their, on their business and their product. A lot of that comes down to well, when it's your first one, you really have to be ready to give 100% 110% of yourself and your family for that matter to do it. And as you go through it, and you do it enough times, the playbook becomes the same, the attention is still the same, but the playbook is is that has become the same you can sort of open up your process or open up your ability to manage more.


Jared Simmons  17:04

Yeah, your capacity almost expands. Right. Yeah. Yeah. That's a great way of thinking about it. Yeah. So with you're talking about it being a mindset and the perspective that, you know, broadening your perspective and the importance of focus, and all those elements, I think I understand what innovation is to you. So tell me, what isn't innovation.


Rob Finlay  17:26

Even harder? You know, I think innovation is probably innovation is not just using a new software. I think if I look at companies that that we've been involved in, either we've been doing some consulting for we've worked with or invested in and they talked about, they want to be innovative. And they're like, well, we are innovative, because we're using Salesforce now. Right? But why are you using Salesforce? And they couldn't answer why they're using Salesforce are how they're using Salesforce, rather the fact that they just have Salesforce, just because you use software and current software does not make you innovative I to me, and once again, as I said to me, you'll probably get you know, 1000s, if not 10s of 1000 people calling you back and say hey, Jerry, this Rob Finley has no idea what innovation is. He's saying that it's it's a mindset, and it's you know what, it's not his software? Probably it's probably if I if I searched it on the if I google that it probably say exactly the opposite. But I do I think if you believe my first statement that innovation is a mindset. And that software is not necessarily a mindset, the utilization of software and wanting to apply the software is innovation, but are innovative, but not, but not necessarily. Just having new software makes you innovate.


Jared Simmons  18:54

Got it? I'd like that. And to me, it's it sounds like you're saying that the house isn't necessarily where innovation is. It's more of the why.


Rob Finlay  19:05

Right? I think it takes a couple of things to be innovative, right. And so I know that in the world of commercial real estate, like I mentioned, we operate our real estate business, very similar to the way that we operate our software companies, right. And so that comes down to things like how we plan how we hire the right people and even different positions than normal commercial real estate people. So for example, if you look at an org chart of every commercial real estate firm, or most commercial real estate firms, I should say they all have very similar organizational structure, whereas we have different positions that we've applied from our technology. So data and analytics, engagement, and so we take those those positions and move them into our real estate world. It is about knowing your customer. How are we setting up our customer How do we think about our customers in the real estate space as not just tenants or residents, but also our investors? Our lenders? Are our brokers, the people who find deals for us, all of those people are our customers. And so how do we engage with them? Like we would in normal customer and customer journey on our software? Right? How do we monitor all of these things? So we're very big believers in KPIs key performance indicators, or whatever you want to call them. We monitor and track everything on the technology side on the technology, business. And even in our capital markets business. We're tracking these data points. So we can we can constantly know where we are, and figure out where we need to go to meet our goals. But then we apply that to our real estate side. So everything from how many deals we have to look at, for acquisitions, to the way that customers think about us. So all of those things are things that we utilize. And that's where we think we take this innovation to a large scale level


Jared Simmons  20:59

That makes a lot of sense. And how do you foster or facilitate that re application? Is it you setting the tone from the top? Does it happen naturally across the units in your business?


Rob Finlay  21:11

Yeah, I definitely do it from the top. I really do think it's important for leadership of an organization, I don't care what organization you have, you have to be able to let your people know that innovation is a priority. And to look at things differently. And to challenge things. Look at the way that you do things. And you've been doing things forever. And that's a hard thing, right? One of my favorite books is who moved the cheese or Who Moved My Cheese? Yeah, right as well, people are doing some. And that's where you get in, when you get into an industry or a business that you've had for a long period of time, this becomes much more challenging. So the older the business, the much more challenging it is to try to change that innovative dynamic within the organization. As opposed to a startup. And you're living off the founder, you sort of believe in it. You're you're drinking the innovation and the technology or the startup Kool Aid. So everybody's sort of, yeah, let's do things differently. But as you start getting companies, we have 100 plus year old brick company, oh, they're making bricks? How do we make them innovative? How do we have them think differently? That's where it has to start at the top, you have to let people know that as a leader, you want them to be innovative, you demand innovation, because honestly, if you want your company to be successful, you have to be innovative. Otherwise, you're going to be the way of blockbuster. And you can go to all the other ones. Right? It's just, you know, companies that did not innovate, fail to see what's going on at the at the leadership are the ones that those businesses are going to or they're going to fail 


Jared Simmons  22:42

back to seeing around corners, like you mentioned earlier. Exactly. I couldn't agree with you more that leadership has to set that tone. I think it has to be reinforced with compensation incentives, advancement and things like that a lot of times in bigger companies, the CEO on c span or CNBC or whatever, and talk about innovation, but it doesn't actually get rewarded internally. Right. I think that people are smart enough to see through things like that. So right, the failure to kind of instill it as a operating principle I think is brilliant. Thanks. So I want to ask you a bit about spearfishing.


Rob Finlay  23:19

Okay, so we can go into a whole nother


Jared Simmons  23:26

episode. How is spearfishing different from harpooning?


Rob Finlay  23:31

So spearfishing is basically when you swim underwater, okay, without a tank. Wow. So you're basically free diving, and you hold your breath, and you swim down. And when you're close to a fish, you spirit and the spear that we use is attached to you. So think about it as like a you know, like a five foot stick with a big rubber band at the end. And the and the rubber band goes around your hand. And that's the propulsion right? So the, as you as you hold the one side is the tip. And the other side is this rubber band. So you put your hand through the rubber band, and you stretch as much as you can to the tip and you get close to as close as you can to a fish. And if you have a shot and a good shot, then you spirit and then enjoy fish that night.


Jared Simmons  24:26

But my jaws is on the table on them. I would never have guessed that's what spear fishing what you know, someone standing on a deck of a boat throwing throwing, you know, basically like harpooning. Yeah, no,


Rob Finlay  24:42

no, no, it's a Yeah, it's you're you're basically getting into their territory. Yeah, you're going yeah, meeting them where they are meeting them where they are and they see you come in, especially me It's not like I'm the most graceful swimmer. So they see me come in a while away. Yeah. And it's incredibly enjoyable. I do it just quite frankly for Yeah, it's it's not like you're you're getting a lot of fish. It's more of being able to enjoy diving. Yeah, being able to free dive and experience what your body and your mind More importantly, it's what your mind is capable of, and swimming and diving deep and, and sort of being part of it, but also saying that things and it's just a very raw and natural way.


Jared Simmons  25:28

Yeah. Yeah, that is amazing. I can it's such a visceral experience to even listen to you talk about it. I can't imagine you know, actually doing it. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. That is that's incredible.


Rob Finlay  25:42

Oh, as I said, people who Spearfish and freedive are fanatics tips. Yes. Oh, yeah. That's so yeah. If you got people who are listening on spearfishing, yeah, they can always contact me and we can talk forever on it.


Jared Simmons  25:55

Yeah, I'm curious. I'm not gonna say I never say never odd to me actually spearfishing are low, but I am fascinated by and you have my undying respect for, you know, jumping into their habitat with a stick sharp, sharp stick. Amazing stuff. Yeah. So, Rob, any advice for innovators?


Rob Finlay  26:19

Well, I think, you know, it's probably the same same advice that I give to anybody. I think there's, especially people who are starting out is to really be observant. Look around and look at every situation that you say, and try to figure out, how can I apply what I've learned here? Everything from websites. Boy, that was a great experience to sign up for this race. I think I need my signup process for my business to be as smooth and easy as that. You know, let me create a business now of taking a really cool, signup. That was fun. And let me apply it to something else. I'm always amazed by the innovation that is around us in all different areas. And so I think that would be my number one recommendation to anybody is just be more observant. Just think of everything that you do. How would you do this in your business? How would you take maybe something you do or something you saw from another business? To make it make this this thing that you just went to easier or better? Yeah, so that to me is the number one suggestion that I give?


Jared Simmons  27:28

That's great advice. And I love that it's so technical and tactical. Sorry, I can't talk today. It's such a tactical Monday. But the tactical piece of advice in a such a nebulous field, like innovation is really particularly valuable. So thank you for that. And thank you for your time. Rob Finley, CEO and founder of 30 Capital joined us today and hope to talk to you again so


Rob Finlay  27:56

Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. All right, take care.


Jared Simmons  28:04

We'd love to hear your thoughts about this week's show. You can drop us a line on Twitter at OUTLAST LLC, or follow us on LinkedIn where we're OUTLAST Consulting. Until next time, keep innovating. Whatever that means.