Stephen is currently managing director and founder of Windy Acres Capital & Advisory which provides strategy and business solutions to both growth-stage startup and established companies globally. Stephen has previously worked with Moody’s Analytics, Inc., Fleet Securities, Inc., The Fuji Bank, Limited, and The Tucker Companies, Inc. He started his career at Urban Investment & Development Co.
He has taught at Fordham University, Baruch College, and NYU. Stephen is a Chartered Management Consultancy Surveyor (U.K.) and a CPA in the state of IL. He has published Real Estate Development and Investment: A Comprehensive Approach and is often called to speak at various speaker engagements.
He is a member of the Institute of Directors, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Asset Management Roundtable, and the Investment Management and Hedge Fund Roundtable. He is also an Assessor for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
What has caused your company’s transition past the real estate side towards a heavier focus on startup companies covering many different industries?
Much of this shift is market driven in that more startup companies have been reaching out while real estate companies tend to take a more traditional approach and only come when they are dealing with certain issues. On the infrastructure front (i.e. roads, bridges, tunnels), it has been hard to value proposals from national governments and tackle overall analyses. Both verticals are basically an extension of a branding exercise; in the end, his company solves problems and helps companies grow.
What industries and/or verticals on the startup side do you see the most impact and growth in your current advisory role?
No specific concentration has seen the most impact or growth from his perspective. He has worked with startups that cover a variety of industries, such as biotechnology, pharmacies, women’s fashion, and real estate. We touched upon the dichotomy between domestic and international markets – international businesses present a lot of opportunity for startup founders and disruptors.
Property technology has been picking up within real estate; however, it still stands way behind other tech verticals such as FinTech and EdTech. There is honestly not much you can improve and change within real estate since it is more about managing paper better or something along those lines. For example, 6,000+ counties exist within the U.S.; each do their own tracking and maintenance of their property ownership or title databases. It is impossible to coordinate the different systems and platforms used by the countries and thus a single digital solution is unrealistic. Construction is a whole different world and can see a much bigger impact from the startup space.
What makes an effective management through the startups you look towards?
Focus on the founder more than anything else. You should hear passion and a desire to devote his or her life to the business; the founder should truly understand the reality of entering the startup world. Raising money is secondary. Market validation and proof of concept should be top of mind for management. This first sale of the product is most important because someone is willing to put his or her own hard-earned money to buy your specific product or service. If you have no clients, then your idea can be worthless.
As a founder and global advisor, along with being an author and speaker, what are some of the rewards and challenges you have gone through as you have progressed through your career?
He paid attention to the psychological element of being a founder. You must be prepared to work very hard and give up much of your life. Discipline and dedication are significant aspects; you must again be passionate about what you are genuinely trying to achieve. You need to stay organized or at least find partners who can help maintain that stability and structure.
Nowadays, startup founders are mostly looking towards the endgame. They look at Bezos or Gates as examples but do not fully understand that those founders sacrificed their lives; they did not just flip a switch and become successful. Many people do not realize how painful it can be. A founder must network – there should be no one that the founder should not speak with. You really never know who another person knows or is connected with. Lastly, founders should nail their elevator pitches and, in working with venture capital firms, must be able to take a thousand rejections before they get that one yes they need.
In both the global and domestic markets, what trends have you seen as venture capitalism has exploded in the past few years and will these trends accelerate beyond the pandemic?
This idea of the Great Resignation has come about during the past two years. Many people have become fed up while realizing multiple pain points at their respective companies and have rethought their lives during lockdowns – do I really want to work with XYZ company forever? Ultimately, people have begun to realize that they want a better life, which has driven this push towards entrepreneurship and startups. These areas are where people can actually see the impact of their work and not get tied up in the bureaucracy of larger companies. Competition now exists both domestically and globally. Capital is everywhere; venture capital firms are looking for that perfect idea.
He noted that he has a filter when someone gives him his or her pitch; he listens for whether this product/service will change a person’s life or will it change the world. If it does both, it stands in a very unique position above its competition in its particular industry and vertical. Very few startups can meet one or both of these filters.
What advice do you have for young professionals looking to break into VC and entrepreneurship? What soft and technical skills would you recommend a founder possess in forming a new company?
Venture capital requires analysis; you have to become extremely cynical yet realistic. Startup companies have no history to base decisions off of, so it is important for individuals to focus on industry and market trends. You must understand one or two specific industry in-depth.
You should question everything; practicality and adaptation are key. If you become a founder, you should exude passion for your product or service and continuously refine your message – what will it do for someone and what problems will it solve.
Stephen Peca was interviewed by Amit Shah, Fund Manager at BRV, in 2021.