Getting to Know You: Kerry W. Kirby, Founder of 365 Connect.
Kerry W. Kirby is an American entrepreneur, technology innovator, software designer, public speaker, and philanthropist. He is the founder of 365 Connect, an award-winning technology company that provides automated marketing, leasing, and resident service software platforms to the multifamily housing industry. Kerry has received a plethora of awards throughout his career, including the prestigious Louisiana Governor’s Technology Award. He has been named to the Silicon Bayou 100 List of most influential entrepreneurs for nine years running and has been the recipient of a Titan Entrepreneur Award for his achievements in the field of technology.
Kerry is also an author, an award-winning podcaster, as well as a highly sought-after public speaker. He has been a guest lecturer, presenter, and panelist at multiple universities, professional conferences, and industry events. He has been featured on the BBC Digital Planet program, NPR News, among many other media platforms and outlets; primarily speaking on topics relating to the convergence of technology with the rental housing industry. Kerry has contributed to an array of articles and studies on the same, all the while, co-hosting an award-winning webcast series which has reached over one million listeners across the globe.
In addition to his professional ventures, Kerry has contributed to charitable and nonprofit efforts, such as the National Kidney Foundation and New Orleans Children’s Hospital. He serves on the Board of Advisors of Rainbow, which provides service-enriched housing programs for affordable housing communities across the United States. He also serves on the Board of Advisors of the Multifamily Women’s Summit, which is an event that encourages women to strengthen their expertise and influence, within the context of the multifamily housing industry. Kerry is Chair of Technology Initiative for the Multifamily Innovation Advisory Council, which is a private, members-only group that concentrates on aiding the owners and operators of multifamily communities through mitigating the risks associated with adopting and implementing new technologies.
Kerry and his wife Melinda are longtime pillars of the philanthropic community, having been recently acknowledged with a global Communitas Award for their charitable work. This award cemented the couple’s dedication to the furtherance of educational, healthcare, and equality programs that focus on accelerating progress for all people.
What do you do at your company?
I’m an environment designer. What that means is that I do all the design features on our products. 365 Connect provides an array of products that help streamline rental housing processes, such as marketing websites, chatbots, tour requests, rental applications, portals, and payments. I work to make those not only visually appealing, but functional, workflow friendly, and accessible.
Whether you’re in a physical room or browsing a website, you’re in an environment, and its composition can affect your choices, causing you to interact with it differently. By means of an analogy, say you have a beautiful wine room, and you just enjoy spending time in it—isn’t that radically different from spending time in a messy, unfinished basement? Why should a web experience be any different? My approach to digital design takes that heavily into consideration. The design of an interface makes people interested in what it features, and curious to navigate deeper into the site. Overseeing all aspects of this process is what I love to do. The technical term for my job would be UI (User Interface) designer, but I have a more expansive view of digital interactions, hence the correlation to environments.
Can you describe a typical workday?
Besides presiding over the daily operations of the company, I work with our team to make sure our company succeeds in delivering the best products possible to its customers. Together, we conceive new product ideas, create workflow systems and, layout how people will interact with our products.
What was the inspiration behind 365 Connect?
It’s an idea that I had while I was working in the multifamily housing industry developing properties. The idea evolved about three years before the company came into being. It all started with this single question: How do you make information shareable between properties and prospective renters? So, I explored this question and ended up starting the company to fill that need. In the beginning, I put up a sign that said our property was coming soon, and for those interested to call a 1-800 number or visit a website we set up. We were receiving one phone call to twenty forms filled out on the website asking to be placed on a waitlist. That was the defining moment I realized that people were interested in renting apartments over the Internet.
What are the keys to being productive that you can share?
I think you need to prioritize tasks. I keep a daily list, and the items on that list usually get shuffled around a bit because there are often developments happening that I don’t expect. However, I try to stay focused on my ultimate goals—even if I have to neglect them to deal with the needs of the moment, I always return my attention to my overall goals. I also start my day very early, usually at 4:00 a.m., I feel like I can get a head start on the rest of the world, and it gives me the flexibility to work on more important projects before things get hectic.
What defines your way of doing business?
I try to operate by observing a few core principles. I always want to be open and honest with everyone I encounter, no matter if it’s a customer, a vendor, or whomever. I try to be fair and equal to everyone. There’s also an art to listening that I try to cultivate. I listen to customers and those in the industry, and attempt to solve their problems with the technology we create. I’m a person that puts my heart and soul into my product and into my work in general, but I create those products based on what I am hearing, and finding a common problem that multiple customers are having. They are the core to my creative process.
Can you share a long-term goal for yourself or your company?
To deliver that missing piece of the puzzle that meets the challenges our clients face in today’s market. Those challenges are very different from what they were five years ago, or even a year ago. From automating redundant processes to better utilize staff, to creating better self-service tool for renters, we are looking at the big picture and chipping into it one piece at a time. At the end of the day, we’re providing a software platform for people that live in apartments, be it families, students, seniors, and everything in between. My long-term goal is to continuously perfect how people find a place to live, and to make it easier for them to interact with services to assist them with their housing needs.
How do you measure success?
A lot of people would say by the size of their bank account, but I measure success by the acceptance and utilization of the products we create. If you approach a product or project correctly by focusing the sum of your team’s talents and applying their respective efforts on it, money will be an inevitable byproduct of success. My ultimate goal is creating something unique that is useful and helpful to others. In short, I believe success comes from making great products that meet your customer’s needs.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?
Never take anything for granted, be it advice, examples from life, or just actual help. The forward progression of society is an effort we all have to share and play our parts in, and if contributions of any kind or from any group of people are taken for granted, it slows progress. There are good people that are willing to give you the gift of their time to help you succeed – be grateful for that, as time is an irreplaceable commodity.
How do you maintain a work life balance?
Over time, I’ve learned how to balance my work and non-work life much better. I call it my ‘switch’ that I turn on when I come into work and that I turn off when I leave. When I’m at work, everything I am and everything I do is for our business to succeed. It has my complete attention and effort. When it’s time to go home, I turn off the ‘switch,’ and I do my best to not allow anything from work to follow me there. But this technique took a lot of time and practice for me to properly master, I still have my moments.
What is a piece of technology that helps you most in your daily routine?
Simple as this sounds, it is my electronic calendar that syncs with my computer, phone, tablet – practically every device I own. I keep all my appointments, meetings, events – everything – on my calendar with reminders for all. My calendar is part of my organization tools, much like my to-do lists, and keeps me on track and on-time with everything I need to accomplish.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
Honestly, there have been a lot of people along the way that fit that description. For the purposes of this interview, I will say that I remember and take special note of the stories from the pioneers and innovators of the tech industry. I really like Steve Jobs’ life story. He came from the position of an underdog in the business world and changed the world. There have been so many others like him that came from humble beginnings. I find that I’m always pulling for people like Steve Jobs, as I relate to being that very underdog. When I started my business, someone said in a negative context that I was a “dreamer” if I thought my idea would work, as nobody would lease apartments online – I used that as fuel to prove the world wrong. Today, I embrace my “dreamer” title, and advocate for others to dream big, and follow those dreams.
What is one piece of advice you’ve never forgotten?
When I started out in tech, someone once told me to never forget that ‘technology is a solution to a problem.’ It pays dividends to always look at technology as if you know that it’s going to solve a problem for your customer. So, I am a guy that gets up every day and looks, thanks to that advice.