Often people think they have an incredible idea, let’s build a team, take it to market — Mistake #1 is if you do not share ideas with others to collaborate and make it better, it will fail. Ideas must always be collaborative.
Taj Adhav is co-founder and CEO at Leasecake, a location-management platform for tenants, landlords, and brokers who operate multiple locations with a distributed team.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m currently the CEO of a tech company, and I never expected to be in this position. I have a diverse background that started when my parents told me to become a CPA and I blindly followed.
I was a CPA for 15 years, managing large portfolios; however, finance and accounting were never my passion. And when I stopped being a CPA, several of my peers came up to me and noted, “Taj, you were never an accountant, you were more about finding ways to solve problems.” I’d be totally different if someone told me this earlier in life!
It sounds cliché; however, I feel that I have been training all my life for this role. My experiences in finance and customer success wove together with my intense curiosity to create this serendipitous moment of being the founder of Leasecake.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times you faced when you first started your journey?
I have faced many hard times, and there are still challenges ahead. The hardest part of starting something out of an idea is making sure it is worthy and ready for the market. Once we found out our idea was a good one and the market was ready; that is when the hard part started to hit home. As an entrepreneur, you may think something is an incredible idea. Yet, there are many dark days, and you realize it is not solely passion and energy that fuels success. You must find talent, inspire them to join you, improve the product, create new features, and continue to get customers to pay for your software. Every day, month, and year.
At the highest level, it has to happen simultaneously, and the challenge becomes how to stitch this all together so that it can scale quickly, especially if it’s never existed before.
There are many dark moments and sleepless nights thinking about all the different ways the company could fail. However, where I am in my career, I have seen my share of success and some catastrophic failures. But over time you learn to pick yourself up quickly and fail forward fast. You must promptly iterate and always stay ahead and think about — What is around the corner? What can I avoid? Every day is a new set of problems, much like a Rubik’s cube.
It has been a very tough yet exciting ride, with many challenges still ahead. The first two and a half years were about creating a market no one ever knew existed and focusing specifically on how to run with this and take it to market as fast as possible.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Tenacity — Getting through hard times is the fabric of who I am and who I have always been. While my parents may not have seen me as a problem-solving company and team builder — I’ve learned to harness how I’m wired. It’s deeply satisfying.
I have a fierce sense of urgency and drive. Yet, I am my own worst enemy. In many ways, people tend to push themselves harder and create an even higher bar as a personal goal — I’m certainly one of those people..
I might not be the most intelligent person in the room, and I shouldn’t be. But I ask myself, how do I find the right people who can propel and move us forward?
No life is perfect. No one evolves into the CEO role if they have not had failures. This is a big part of what makes a CEO successful. It helps you when you get exposure to things that push you to the edge. You learn the mistakes you made are the ones you are never going to do again, and it’s the successes that propel you forward.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today I feel a sense of calm urgency if those words could even go together.. We have found a market that resonates with what we do, a market that is so much more willing to innovate with us and sees us as a game-changer for their businesses. In the last year (despite COVID), the growth we have experienced was proof of why we were relevant and why our services are needed.
It did not come from just grit and resilience. We found the right team members and investors that have joined us for the ride and share our vision (our trajectory has changed dramatically since the fall of 2020). We closed our funding round in February, and it was a great feeling to find an investor who saw our large platform opportunity to lead the $3M investment round. It told us we weren’t alone in executing our vision — and more investors joined as a result.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Perhaps the goofiest thing about Leasecake is that we embrace puns — while you might not see that from our name, we feel that enterprise software should be approachable and friendly. We think our lease management platform should be fun and playful. We took this approach a bit too far, where Our Terms of Service (a dull document no one usually reads) had little cake reference “Easter eggs” throughout the document. We spent about a day and a half writing our terms of service (that attorneys looked at), and no one had questions despite these Easter eggs. For example, within one of the sections, we incorporated how important it was to preheat the oven to the proper temperature when baking a cake. In a few other provisions, we said you must agree to like cake, how round cakes should be sliced, and we added you must bring a cake to resolve any arbitration situation. It was a bit overboard, to say the least!
The good news, in the end, none of the Fortune 100 companies we were working with had issues with it, but there were certain questions that slowed the process. So we saw the time was right for us to grow up and have a boring TOS doc — it’s what the larger market expects. But I do miss the old version, which I’ve safely hidden away for a few laughs.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that allows our company to stand out is our company name. Our name is playful, and it draws curiosity. It does not sound like a technology firm or a brand in the commercial real estate world. Look at any list of companies in business, you cannot tell what they do from their name — but you can tell through our company name Leasecake, what we do — lease and location management made easy.
Our logo also stands out too, as it has duality in the image. It represents the need for a serious application that exists because people need immediate answers wherever they are — easily accessible on their mobile device. Having a memorable brand helps us, too. Customers continue to tell us it is a crucial differentiator.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?
The term “Balance” is so overused — how do you know when you are reaching that tipping point? Entrepreneurs and other colleagues need to take the time to invest in their passions. Play music, sports, socialize with your friends, whatever it might be.
We have a strong culture at Leasecake where we are all friends. It’s important to instill this trust in one another early on in the company that you’re able to have open discussions about workload, needing recharge time, and finding the blend that works for each of us.
The truth I’ve found about personal success is about three things. First, you must love what you do and the people you work with every day. The second is to have financial security where you work, that you’re financially stable, and lastly, invest your passion towards something of purpose.
And even if you’re lucky enough to have all three, you still need to feed yourself in other ways. I am certainly not a binge-watcher of TV — I like to mix up what I do, whether it’s re-learning Italian, making fun cocktails, or trying to play a new musical instrument. Having a side passion is essential, as you shouldn’t always be 100% immersed in your job.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are hundreds of people who’ve helped me that I’d like to thank, and here’s just one example. This is the lightning in a bottle story, where I met someone at a presentation which led me to another event where I met someone who gave me a free ticket to a TechStars event. Ultimately within a window of 48-hours of meeting someone and being at a TechStars Global Startup Weekend on a Friday night, I was uncertain whether to pitch the idea of Leasecake and now I’m in the CEO role.
If it wasn’t for that serendipitous moment of meeting Dennis Pape, then Step 1 would not have happened; which led to Step 2 and then — lightning happened. Dennis is a solid startup and VC guy who helped us at Channel Intelligence back in the day, and he hosted the Global TechStars event in Orlando where Leasecake all started. And I’m incredibly thankful for that. To me, connections in life are so meaningful — it is all about the host of great people you meet along the way. I like to say that a startup company is an APC (awesome people collector), and it continues to prove this out. Those who know me see that I love connecting random dots — like people to ideas. I enjoy connecting dots that most people do not see. Another example early on is when Dave Schrader, our current CPO, was pulled into this. I’ve known Dave for over twenty years. Only two weeks after the Orlando Business Journal ran an article on Leasecake; I reached out to Dave via LinkedIn. We met for coffee, and I told him all about Leasecake, and he was ready to join us. There are countless stories like this.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hope so. It is proving itself out today. Our purpose is to create an application that makes people’s lives and businesses better with a solution that’s simple, secure, and satisfying. It’s very hard to make things very easy, and I feel we are making a difference because we hear this from customers a week or two after providing this solution to customers. Even today, sometimes in the middle of a sales call, a future customer says they are grateful for making Leasecake and what our platform has offered them. It is very personally rewarding. This emotional ROI is necessary — and something I believe is missing in the enterprise software experience. Being a technology tool, it is not always about money, but how do you help both parties feel good about what they are doing and focus on what is essential despite what side they are on. When we first launched, landlords said, “If my tenants succeed, I succeed.” Then tenant customers told us how great our tool is for their business. They can focus on their business and therefore grow with our tool, their landlord succeeds. Hearing both groups tell me the same story is gratifying.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Ideas are better when shared.
a) Often people think they have an incredible idea, let’s build a team, take it to market — Mistake #1 is if you do not share ideas with others to collaborate and make it better, it will fail. Ideas must always be collaborative.
2. Be fiercely curious.
a)Make sure what you are dreaming up solves a real-world problem, listen to the market, and make sure you ask as much as you can — is there a genuine need for this?
3. Would you rather do something interesting or do something meaningful?
a) I ask this question because if you lose sight of what is interesting and do not connect those random dots right in front of you, then you won’t find “Important”. Interesting leads to the importance and creates these correlations… geez, I wonder why Italian coffee culture is so strong? This was the beginning of Starbucks. Or I wonder why milkshake machines are selling so fast, this was the beginning of Mcdonald’s.
b) There are so many stories about the connection from interesting and listening to opportunities, and growing an important business from there.
4. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
a) Always look for people more intelligent than yourself, people who are overqualified for the job — if you are both excellent at what you do, then it is a combination of three things: talent, experience, chemistry.
b)Never be intimidated — raw talent and chemistry is needed to build a team. Sheer desire can overcompensate for the experience.
5. Companies are not built just by hiring a bunch of super-smart people.
a) Empathy is what matters. It’s all about curiosity; it is about trust — essential traits when you have a tech product and you’re trying to sell.
b) Your buyers are people, and if you are not empathetic to their core needs and fears, you will not establish trust quickly.
- If you think you are selling, selling, selling, then you are wrong.
> Ultimately, people buy from who they trust.
> The need for empathy across an organization cannot be overstated — it’s essential.
- Once you have that culture and trust, then — we are all heading in the same direction — up and to the right.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Celebrate every win as small or as big as they are — celebrate them publicly. If you are building an organization, everyone is a part of that success. Give praise freely and openly. If you enjoy the people you work with, you must have fun with what you are doing. Make sure you can find a fun way to explore celebrations uniquely (free coffee mugs, announcing employee numbers, who takes the cake, etc.)
You are a person of significant influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would give Leasecake to the world. Nothing like our solution exists and it makes people happy and helps them become smarter and faster. And it helps them sleep better. Everybody in the business owns or leases commercial real estate, so where’s the app for that? This is what we’ve solved for and are building on a much larger scale.
At the core of what we do, we are in the “Remember” business and the “Answer” business. Our customers’ companies have existed for decades and truly everyone should have a platform to access all their organized information from thirty years ago. Their leases, rates, key dates, and business information, or as arcane as, “Who’s the broker I hired fifteen years ago?” We are bringing everything that matters together in one platform — that is what we do. That is why we want Leasecake on everyone’s phone. We’re creating the LinkedIn of Real Estate, the DropBox of Location Management, the SalesForce of Business. It’s fun.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!