Ep. 83 | Interview with Saad Shah – Improving Business Processes Through Data Analytics

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On this episode of The Mobile Home Park Lawyer, Ferd speaks to Saad Shah of Rent Viewer about his business and improving business processes through data analytics. Saad gives valuable tips on how to stay on top of your data as well as some knowledge on how he operates.

 

“If somebody asked me, what’s the most satisfying part about my job, I’d say I get to grow and develop people and you know, have an impact on their career and their self-confidence.”

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

0:00 – Intro and background on Saad Shah
3:01 – Ferd asks what the blind spots people miss are when managing rent
5:50 – Saad wants his customers to be proactive rather than reactive
10:28 – Saad has created a product that helps people look at their data
14:09 – Ferd asks for some tips and tricks to make a property management business better
17:55 – Saad recommends designing your business around the voice of the customer
18:45 – Ferd asks Saad about some success stories he has had
22:01 – Ferd talks about setting your team up for success
23:30 – The most satisfying part of Saad’s job is helping people grow and develop
24:20 – You can check out Saad’s website at rentviewer.com as well as his coaching and advisory business scale123.com

 

FIND | SAAD SHAH:

Rent Viewer Website: rentviewer.com
Advisory Business Website: scale123.com

 

FULL TRANSCRIPTION:

Ferd Niemann: Welcome back mobile home park nation. Ferd Niemann here again today, another great episode, another new guest for you. This guest, he’s an engineer, he’s a data analyst, he’s a process junkie. He knows everything, knows how to fix stuff, all industries. He’s worked with Rent Manager and developed some software to help improve your mobile home park operations. Please help me welcome my guest Saad Shah. Saad, welcome to the show.

Saad Shah: Thank you Ferd, thank you for having me.

Ferd Niemann: You got it. Well, Saad tell us, a mutual acquaintance introduced me to you and told me you’re the guy in property management and everything else that we need to learn from. So I know a little bit about you, I’ve read some of your stuff, but for some of our audience that doesn’t give us a little more of your background and kind of what you do today.

Saad Shah: Great. So I am an industrial engineer by education. I got my degree in industrial and operations engineering from The University of Michigan. And I spent most of my career either in writing software or building mathematical models or analyzing processes and systems. And I started a company called Metric X that the whole business is around helping companies manage their data and monitor their metrics. And we have an offering in the property management space called Rent viewer. Our website is www.rentviewer.com where we offer a different solution related to process improvement and monitoring metrics or data analytics, specifically for the property management space.

Ferd Niemann: Okay, great. And now rent viewer, is that the product that’s incorporated through rent manager as well?

Saad Shah: Correct. So the rent viewer displays metrics and can help you do data analytics and on the backend is connected to your property management system. So we integrate with rent manager, but we also integrate with other systems like Entrada. And in fact, we build dashboards for even companies that use Yardi, At folio and other systems.

Ferd Niemann: Okay, great. Can you give us a little bit of what’s the normal, if there’s normal metrics or optics that mobile home park operators are missing? I think we all know what some of the key variables are. Like, I want to watch my collections. I want to watch water sewer expense. I want to make sure I’ve got all my bells and whistles going everywhere I can. My sales are going all that kind of stuff. But in general, what are the blind spots that people should be watching that they’re not, or that they think they’re watching and they’re watching them incorrectly.

Saad Shah: Yes. So the metrics that you mentioned that those are exactly the metrics that really should be in front of you and people should know, you know, where the money is going. Something that we are recommending, our approach is we use this term called leading indicators. Cause if you’re looking at your NOI, you’re looking at history, things have already happened. If, you know, if you’re looking at your occupancy today it is what it is. It’s too late to make decisions on, you know, having improved it or having the picture looked better and so on. So, what we do is we recommend look at leading indicators, things that predict what your NOI is going to look like, or things that predict what your occupancy or delinquency is going to look like three months from now. And so keep an eye on those numbers and actually keep a really close eye on those numbers, because that’s what really matters. Cause that’s what’s in your control today. So how many leads are you generating? How many showings, you know, how many leads are you actually converting? Take a look at that, you know keep an eye on your move-outs because that’s a predictor of occupancy down the road and look at how, you know, if you’ve given eviction notices and things like that, because that, you know, that number is useful, but it tells you that ultimately your occupancy or your NOI and your other revenue targets are going to be impacted if you don’t address these indicators.

Ferd Niemann: No, that makes sense. I think, I look at that on the lead generation, it’s kind of filling the funnel. It’s like, if you’re not posting ads today, you’re not going to have showings tomorrow. You’re not going to have applications the next day. You’re not going to have new residents today after that. And then even so, I know of one lead generator that has been a little painful of late in our industry has been just the supply chain disruptions in the marketplace. And it’s hard to get home right now. So like I’ve got a vacant lot. I’m calling the manufacturer, we’re three months out, six months out, we could take orders for community managers, community owners. And it’s like, well, I know that lot is not going to be full next month or the month after, or I got to go find a used home, which, that’s challenging to do in this environment as well. There’s so much competition for used home. So yeah, I definitely think that makes sense to, you know, look towards the future because otherwise, you know, you can’t really impact it and plan it and implement, influence changes or decision-making.

Saad Shah: Yeah. Cause you know, I want my customers to be proactive rather than reactive. And so that’s why we recommend picking the metrics that actually are specific and relevant to your current situation. So, you know, we look at a property management operations as a system and so the system starts with a lead and then you convert the lead into, you know, a customer, you collect rent and, you know, at some point you get ready for the end of the lease and the turnover and you have to prepare the unit you know, hopefully just, you know, a simple turn as opposed to a major you know, refurbishment. So think of that as a system and as the leader of the operations, your job is to optimize that system so that there are no bottlenecks anywhere. And so some companies have a challenge in generating leads or as the situation is today, you just don’t have a physical, you know, home for somebody to you know, take possession off if even if you’ve, you know, you’ve got customers ready to pay. Other companies have a very hard time turning over units and getting them ready. And they go over budget over time and they lose out on business. So depending on the nature of your business, focus on where the problem area is, and then identify what are the metrics to measure there. So if it’s you know, turning over the units, then, you know, are you estimating the cost in the first place? You know, are you doing inspections in advance? You have a track schedule, and if you don’t then maybe that’s, those are the metrics you should be looking at. So, you know, while you can look at NOI and your occupancy and other things, that’s great, but to really optimize your business, you need to look at very specific metrics that indicate whether you have a problem or not.

Ferd Niemann: I think that makes sense. I heard, I think it was Keith Cunningham who’s the original rich dad from rich dad poor dad. He was talking about optics and he talked about, you know, I need to be able to see and understand, you know, how the game is played, how to keep score, what metrics, what tools I need, so I can have a better view, better vision, and that’s going to help me impact the future a lot better than, you know, looking through the rearview mirror. And he gave an example of, if I closed my eyes, I could probably walk out to my truck, get in my truck, turn it on. Could I drive home? I could visualize, you know, where I’m backing out, where the turn is, where the highway is. And he’s like, reality is, I probably could do it 90% on each of those steps, but you got to do it at a 100%. I need to have my eyes open. I need to have better optics. Goalpost and Guideposts are only so much value. But in the data, as you know more than about anybody is, you know, data is not valuable unless you know how to interpret and understand it. And data with some organization and categorization and sensitization becomes information. And then over time, if you know how to use it, decision-makers can turn information into knowledge. And with experience over time, it becomes wisdom and garbage in garbage out is data. So, I wish I was a better data junkie. Cause I feel like I know that that’s the path to the gold end of the rainbow a little bit, but I’m constantly trying to find data points. I’m constantly trying to I say, well, you’ve heard of the term Post-Mortem obviously like, you know, post-mortem the medical, what’s the pre-mortem and I know how to beat my company better than the average guy. So if I think about this, if the average guy figures out how to beat my company, I’m in trouble. So why don’t I figure it out now and go shore up my defenses so that it can’t be beat and having good insights and good access to data is crucial to that.

Saad Shah: Yeah. I mean in fact, you’re describing my business model.

Ferd Niemann: I’m your new competitor. Really, that’s hilarious.

Saad Shah: Yeah. So you know, based on that, we’ve really created some products and offers that help companies at least, you know, start using the data and as they consume, you know, the standard products, you know, looking at the standard metrics, then their needs become more sophisticated. And you know, then you actually see the metrics that are on the scorecard change. We actually offer and that’s something that’s available for a download on www.rentviewer.com. It’s called a property management metrics handbook. And it’s just a book with a lot of metrics for, designed around the process model that we have. In fact, one can also download the property management process model from www.rentviewer.com as well. That’s a generic framework on how a property management business or operation runs, you know, from a systems thinking point of view that there’s a flow, there’s a throughput, there are constraints and bottlenecks, and, you know, we need to optimize at the system so that scale-up. So you can start by looking at the metrics handbook and say, check, Hey Saad, these would be the metrics I should track. And it would be good to have a scorecard like that. And, you know, and then we built the actual dashboard for companies that way. And you’ll, it’s very interesting that, you know, for example there’s a customer relationship I have where, you know, we started off with a standard, the dashboard with just the standard metrics that you started with, you know the high-level financials and occupancy. And now there’s a, you know, a metric that they’re tracking of like how many one-on-one meetings have been conducted with employees. Nobody would think of asking for that, but we say, you know, well, if you really want to train your people and coach your people so that you don’t have to run the operations yourself, then you’ve got to meet with them regularly. There’s no switch that you can turn on and your business becomes scalable. You’ve got to develop and coach your people. And if you keep missing those one-on-one meetings that you need to have, you’re not going to achieve your goals. And so we said, let’s put that on the scorecard, and let’s track it. So that’s an example of a customized scorecard, but that’s addresses specific challenges that the owner-operator is trying to address.

Ferd Niemann: I mean, that makes sense. I mean, identifying what some people call them and maybe it’s the same key performance indicators, that things that are key measuring your performance, right?

Saad Shah: There you go.

Ferd Niemann: I think that sounds good. I mean, I remember some of what you’re telling me, this brings me back. And I remembered that analogy on data from, I took a, I think it was called computer information systems or management information systems class in college. And the teachers are saying the same sort of thing you’re talking about, which is, you know, identify as you say, scorecard, identify the variables or the key measurable points that are going to impact your business. And then watch them. And I think Peter Drucker says, you know, what gets measured, gets managed. So, you know if you want to lose 30 pounds, you probably should have a scale. You can measure it, and then you are maybe you’ll manage it as opposed to just, you know, wishing it to happen. But no, that’s good stuff. So what other tips and tricks, this is good stuff. And you mentioned some of your tools on your tool kit and stuff you’ve got on your website. What other immediate action steps, if any, can I take to make my property management business better? You’re not under the hood of mine, but just in general, like what can I do from, is it setting, is it creating a scorecard, checklist items? Is it understanding my financials? Is it, you know, getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, how would you rank those sorts of things or other things?

Saad Shah: Yeah. Yeah. You know at the metrics and scorecards, there actually, I put them up third or fourth in priority. So what we start with is the voice of the customer. You know just ask yourself, who are your customers and what did they expect from you as the owner-operator of this business? You have your investors, you have your partners, you have your residents and you also have your employees. So I recommend that these are your customers and clearly understand what they’re expecting from you and put that down. And you know, because that’s going to be the starting point for creating that scale that you talked about, you know, you stand on the scale and tell you how many pounds you weigh. You need a way to know whether you’re meeting the expectations of these customers and your employees are your customers too, because they’re going to help you get to you realize your vision and they expect something from you too. So we put that first, second, we say, okay, then let’s design your processes, that system that we talk about your property management system that actually converts leads into paying residents and you collect rent in a very predictable way. And you cycle through that many, many, many times, and you’ve optimized that system. So step two is to design that system. What’s the flow, how do things work? And not necessarily talking about writing down all the standard operating procedures, but at least have a flow of things. And then third is the people you know, understand what your employees and your, even your vendors have to be, you know be part of your company because, you know, we can’t afford to hire for everything. So understand what they want, what their aspirations are and how they can get to their goals through the system that you’re trying to build, the system that can take hundreds of thousands of you know, leads, and ultimately convert them into, you know, a solid, you know, fully occupied portfolio. And that generates predictable cash flow. So put all of these three things together first you know, the voice of your customer, your processes, and your people, and then decide how you’re going to keep score, you know, what are the metrics to track? And that’s our formula.

Ferd Niemann: That makes sense. And I know you were telling me before we were online here, your business model has adapted into to be able to fit smaller customers or common customers whereas you know, 20 years ago, it was, you’re going to do a deep dive consulting, hourly rate, or consultation fee for one customer, but you’ve kind of systematized your business so to speak, where your expertise can be in portions, bought at a package or implemented in bulk. So that the little guys like me can afford to hire you.

Saad Shah: Yeah, yeah, we had to follow our own advice and say, you know, just design your business around the voice of the customer. You know, your target market doesn’t want to pay thousands of dollars for a dashboard, then design a dashboard that you know is that the price point of the customer that you want to serve.

Ferd Niemann: That’s great. Do you have any, Saad do you have any, you know, stories that you want to share as far as you know, you were able to take company acts and turn them into two acts or anything like that through some of these processes or, you know, or a horror story, perhaps of when, you know, I have horror stories. I don’t get to tell most of them online. But horror stories of clients that didn’t take my advice. And then it’s like, oh, you know what did you do that. Do you have, do you have some of that too?

Saad Shah: Yeah, we do, you know the customers where we’re actually working closely with, one of the first things we do is I asked to be allowed to sit in on their operations review meetings and, you know, hopefully, they’re all having operations review meetings monthly, or, you know, ideally even, ideally weekly. And I just sit in and observe what happens. And then sometimes I have to sit in on more than a few meetings, and then I, you know, talk with the owner, and say, you know, okay, so what happened? You know, you talk about these issues, you identified problems, people took notes how are you going to follow up on that? Well, we do follow up, but by the time we come to the next meeting, there are other problems. And we’d start talking about those problems. And we forgot about the ones that we were dealing with last week. So I said, okay, you know, let’s kind of aim for the vision where you have these meetings and before your team arrives, they’ve already looked at the metrics. They already know what the numbers are. They already know what the variances are. They already know what the problems are because you’ve given them the data tool. You’ve given them the dashboards and you’ve given them all that. And they arrive at the meeting and explain that look, these are the top variances, and this is what I’m going to do about them. And your job is to just, you know, provide guidance to them. So, you know, instead of the meeting starting off with people arriving and saying, oh, so this happened yesterday, oh, we have this problem today. No you know, a few weeks or a few months into this relationship, we get to the point where people arrive and tell the leadership what the top issues are that need to be addressed and how they’re going about. And it works. And it’s a huge transformation because you realize that people you were just delegating to and giving, you know, putting things on their plate they can really shine. They can become proactive and they can just become leaders of their area.

Ferd Niemann: That’s great. No, I was, I totally can relate. And I was telling an employee a couple of weeks ago, I said, do you know why I’m so hard on you? And I am hard on them, literally, I work them to death. And he said, no. And I said, because I know it was your potential be, and you haven’t accepted it yet, and I’m going to push you until you’re there. And then he’s been doing great. And he has been for last several years, but it’s, you know, people will be surprised themselves and surprise you what they’re capable of if you only let them.

Saad Shah: Absolutely. It really does. I mean, I’ve seen just people step up and do amazing things. And just with a few little tools and methods as leaders, we can really bring out the potential in people.

Ferd Niemann: Absolutely. And that’s part of the fun, I mean, the leader, I use the analogy all the time of, you know, getting the right people on the bus and the right seats on the bus. And part of that is you got to set your team up for success. You, for example, are clearly math-oriented, data, you would be an easy fit to put in the accounting department, but you might not be in the sales department. Maybe you’re both, maybe you got both, but there’s often are people in the accounting department they’re not supposed to be in sales and vice versa. And the old Peter principle, I used to work in government. Yes. It was common that you would get promoted until your highest level of incompetence and the way to do it is, if you were a good appraiser, they couldn’t pay you more, just be a good appraiser they had to make you the manager of appraisal. Well, you might be a horrible manager, that was the only way to get a compensation increase. It is like, you were good as an appraiser. You’re bad as a manager. Now you’re putting the wrong seat on the bus. And it doesn’t do anybody any good. Hurts the other appraisers underneath you, hurts you. So in a rigid environment of government, you have compensation limitations that don’t necessarily exist as much in private practice. So this has been one benefit. One thing I’ve liked about being on the private side is, I’ve got somebody who’s really good at sales, well, okay. I don’t care if they make, I hope they make extra money because that means they’re delivering for them and for me, you have that autonomy and flexibility that you didn’t have in the old government environment. But anyway, it’s nice to be able to set people up for success by getting them in the right spot. And then they make everybody better.

Saad Shah: Yeah. I agree with you. And I think if somebody would have asked me, what’s the most satisfying part about my job, I’d say I get to grow and develop people and you know, have an impact on their career and their self-confidence.

Ferd Niemann: That’s exactly right. I am glad you said that. And they are self-confidence, they have, work can be edifying. You know, if you hate your job, it won’t be edifying to you or others. I’m, I’m, I’m proud to be able to employ other people, to house people through my efforts and through theirs. It’s it is a satisfactory feeling for sure. Saad any more comments where we go, if not tell us where we can find you. I think you, your website, where’s the best way people get ahold of you.

Saad Shah: Our product, a brand photo of the property management space at www. Rentviewer.com I do have another site that might be interesting for owner-operators called www.Scaleonetwothree.com, and a scale one to three is more of a coaching and advisory business-aware I work one-on-one with owner-operators who want to actually make process improvements and create a system basically on which they can scale their business. The www.rentviewer.com and www.scale123.com.

Ferd Niemann: All right. Thanks, Saad Appreciate it.

Saad Shah:
 Appreciate it Ferd. Thank you very much.

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