Episode 139: Leveraging Technology to Efficiently Manage Your Chicago Property Portfolio with Kerri Davis
In her recent Straight Up Chicago Investor Podcast interview, our CEO Kerri Davis shared her Fortress journey and how their product has become the ideal property management software for multifamily investors of any size.
Listen to the interview here.
Here are the episode’s top takeaways:
Kerri scaled a property management company from 5,000 units to nearly 30,000 before founding Fortress
The question on many minds, including Mark Ainley and Tom Shallcros — hosts of the Straight Up Chicago Investor Podcast — is, “Who is Kerri Davis?” The answer: a property management powerhouse that proved pivotal for the company where she got her start.
“I began my career in real estate with a very small, at the time, group based in Nashville,” Kerri explained. “It all began with a 600-unit apartment community in Louisville, Kentucky. The really interesting part is this was 2013 and they were still managing everything on Excel and paper ledgers. When we started to transition that property to one of the larger property management softwares, I very quickly realized why they were doing things manually. [The software] was incredibly difficult to use and it required an immense amount of corporate support for onboarding and training and understanding and bugs. We had to figure it out.”
While focused on scaling the company, Kerri’s initial glimpse into the underwhelming world of proptech with that first 600-unit property quickly transformed into a full-blown revelation.
“As we were growing our property management company from the original 5,000 units to the 27,000 units we were at when I stepped away to focus completely on Fortress, we realized that we were constantly adding to our corporate overhead to manage onboarding and training — even just providing information to our owners and our leadership,” she said. “It just kind of hit us that if we were going to become a different property management company, and if we were going to create efficiencies and success in property management, we needed to find an easier way to do it.”
She couldn’t find a property management software solution that was easy to train and use, so she built her own
Faced with the realization that the software she needed didn’t yet exist, Kerri told Marc and Tom she took the next logical step — she created her own.
“The core property management softwares today provide the necessary features that you really need to manage your asset — so, management of your rent roll and your applications and your move ins and your move outs, and your work orders and your final account statements,” she said. “They do all the features, but the problem is they’re really difficult to use. Most of them were created 20-30 years ago. Fortress was born out of the knowledge that technology should make managing and owning real estate easier, not harder. And that's why Fortress came to exist.”
Once she was set on developing a solution of her own, Kerri wasted no time in bringing it to life.
“Fortress has been in development for four and a half years. We focused exclusively on development for a year, rolled out beta to a few of our assets for about six months, and then we rolled our entire portfolio on it.”
Outdated software made recruiting and employee retention challenging
So, what were the main software pain points she was trying to solve?
“Training, onboarding and offboarding,” Kerri told Marc and Tom.
When bringing new employees into the existing tech stack, she said onboarding efforts proved futile when trying to lure in people who grew up in the “Amazon, Google, and iPhone” worlds.
“They would say, you're asking me to work in a software that I don't get. It's incredibly difficult, I don't understand it, and I'm not enjoying my job,” Kerri explained. “And that happened to us consistently — we struggled heavily to retain and train talent.”
Not to mention the required legwork of corporate team members who were devoted to nothing but onboarding, training, and managing issues with the existing tech stack. But Kerri said all of those problems were solved once Fortress came into the picture.
Fortress started out as an internal tool and is now being used by apartment investors and property management companies across the country
First used internally by a property management company with approximately 35,000 units three years ago, Marc and Tom wanted to know how Fortress started to land in the hands of property managers everywhere.
“Two years ago, we decided to start looking to other property management companies to bring on a few strategic partners who could help us continue to build the product and perfect it for mass use,” said Kerri. “We've had about four or five external property management companies on this system for the past two years.”
The switch to Fortress is an easy one, she said, especially when comparing the software to anything else available on the market.
“We onboarded a 6,000-unit company out of Seattle a couple of weeks ago and we had one of the managers call their corporate office crying because she said that she's never understood how to use the property management software she was given, and now — using Fortress — she understands her job and feels so comfortable in accomplishing their goals and that's it like the software is as ‘out-of-the-box easy’ as you can get,” Kerri said. “We have a completely integrated onboarding, training, and post onboarding ‘Walk Me’ system that allows users to — on demand — learn how to use the system while actually using the system. I really think our differentiator here is that we've built a system that everyone from the maintenance tech to the owner wants to be in.”
A modern approach to property management software includes an API-friendly environment and partnerships with other forward-thinking companies solving problems in multifamily real estate
Fortress is paving the way for the property management software industry, and they aren’t afraid to bring others along for the ride.
“Fortress is hosted on AWS, and our API structure is very flexible,” Kerri explained to Marc and Tom. “We have focused on creating holistic, custom APIs with each partner we choose to work with. We actually take integrations really seriously.”
These integrations offer a chance for Fortress to become even better, and, for Kerri, continual progress is the ultimate goal.
“We have a couple of really great affordable integrations. We have API connections with some pretty large groups like TransUnion, and others, so our API abilities are very robust,” she said. “We like to keep them holistic and customizable. Work smarter, not harder — that's what Fortress is all about.”
Fortress Property Management Software was built by veteran property managers to deliver a remarkably easy to use interface, real-time insights and best-in-class customer support. Learn more about Fortress from the articles below:
Or schedule a demo with our team below and see Fortress in action: