By Sandy Athniel & Fred Grier
Year Founded: 2013
Players: Matt Ellis
Headcount: About 60 team members
Funds raised: $30 million
In this first-ever collaboration between the AzTech and TritonTech series, we chatted with Measurabl founder & CEO Matt Ellis, an alumnus of both the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and San Diego State University (SDSU).
For several years, Matt Ellis worked for CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm. Serving as the Director of Sustainability Solutions, Ellis often brought attention to sustainability issues within the company’s business and proposed solutions. One of his ideas was to solve the widespread challenge that he noticed companies of all sizes faced – collecting data and preparing accurate sustainability reports. To make matters worse, all the time companies invested in reporting left few resources to actually improve performance.
After proposing his idea for a software solution to his employer, Ellis was met with rejection. But, he had so much conviction in the idea that he decided to pursue the venture on his own, founding San Diego-based Measurabl in early 2013.
Today, Measurabl, which provides sustainability data management software for commercial real estate, continues to empower companies of all sizes to disclose and act upon their sustainability performance.
‘Sustainabl’ Solution: Measurabl is a cloud-based precision software that provides companies with a better way to collect, report, and take action upon non-financial data such as carbon, water, and energy utilities. The startup also creates investment-grade sustainability reports that allow users and to make smarter decisions. With luminary clients ranging from Intuit to Heitman to CBRE, Measurabl is paving a more sustainable future for high-performing companies through efficient monitoring.
Venture is out There: In the early days of his career, Ellis had no intention of leaving his role at CBRE – until he was rejected from pursuing his innovative software solution. “I pitched it as an internal initiative and the business said it wasn’t a fit for them,” he said.
Feeling a strong need to bring this idea to fruition, Ellis decided to venture out on his own, leaving behind his stable corporate career. “I took some money out of my pocket, gave it to some friends that connected me to some graphic designers and back-end engineers and they built the minimum viable product (MVP),” he said. “It didn’t really do anything, but it evoked the idea of what we were trying to solve and that was enough to get our first couple early adopters.”
Striking a deal with early adopters, he was able to negotiate a customized trial on his Measurabl software with a follow-up promise of offering a discount at $5,000 if the client was satisfied with the trial results.
“That initial capital was quickly followed by friends and family money, coupled with early client money, which led to enough critical mass to close our first venture round of $2 million in 2014 with Crosscut Ventures, and it went on from there,” he said.
Earlier this year, the startup nabbed $18.7 million in Series B funding to expand its platform.
Alma Mater: Ellis spent his undergrad years at UCSD, studying economics and religion. A couple years later, he began his master’s program at SDSU, pursuing an MBA with a specialization in entrepreneurship.
While Ellis, a former UCSD water polo player, really loved his time at the La Jolla campus, he also found his time at SDSU to be a valuable experience. “That time at SDSU was all about entrepreneurship. I was primarily focused on organizational behavior and accounting, but there were even some special sessions on startup business-building that I really enjoyed,” he said.
Comparing his undergraduate experience to his graduate program, Ellis said, “Business school is a different vibe. You’re out of the rosy zone of being completely naive and thinking college is just a bunch of fun. By the time you get to graduate school, you realize that you’re supposed to be doing something serious, and that means it’s not quite as much of a jam as undergrad.”
Entrepreneurial Inspiration: Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t always something Ellis had in mind for his future. “I didn’t even know what the word ‘entrepreneurship’ truly meant until around the time I started this business. I knew that I enjoyed testing my own ideas and getting a reaction from the market or my peers around something that I could uniquely contribute to,” he said.
Prior to starting his own business, Ellis worked as a corporate intrapreneur, searching for business opportunities and brainstorming potential solutions for commercial real estate firm CBRE.
“I enjoyed the intellectual exercise and the nitty gritty of having to defend my ideas to build a business case,” he explained. “When I hit an idea that I had absolute conviction in and CBRE didn’t feel like it was a good idea for them at that time, to me there was no option, even if it meant doing so on my own.”
While he parted ways with CBRE to launch his startup, there were no hard feelings – in fact, the commercial real estate firm is now one of Measurbl’s clients.
Intersection of Passions: Measurabl’s solution is a seamless pairing of commercial real estate and sustainability, two of Ellis’s biggest passions.
“I really enjoy the real estate business, specifically commercial real estate,” he said. The entrepreneur would often look at buildings he’d pass by and ponder their stories, who built them, how they were constructed, and all the money that went into making that happen.
“I’ve always been fascinated about that ecosystem,” he added. “At the same exact time, I did have a personal interest in what we call sustainability, but it was more basic than that. I enjoyed having clean air, water, and just being outside – there is something that’s quite innate in many of us to want to preserve these resources.”
“I can’t help but look at all the lights that are on and the materials that go into them,’ Ellis added “For me, commercial real estate and sustainability sat at this intersection of my professional and personal interests. So it was natural to take them and mash them together.”
This clarity gave Ellis the courage to start his own company and tackle a problem he truly cared about.
Team Players: Nearly one third of Measurabl’s team consists of Triton alumni and current grad students. When asked about his recruitment strategy, Ellis shared why UCSD is his powerhouse for talent.
“I can’t say enough about UCSD as an institution. We’ve been recruiting very heavily from UCSD – alumni, active students, interns, and water polo athletes, which was my specific background at UCSD – and we’ve relied heavily on that program,” he said, referring to the several Measurabl employees who are former college athletes.
Measurabl’s heavy recruitment of Tritons is for good reason. “Tritons are very humble and hardworking; they don’t have the sense of entitlement that you might find at other elite universities,” Ellis said. “In ‘startup land,’ the work is very hard and intense. Having humility, teamwork, and the ability to put your nose to the grindstone comes in handy, which is especially true with athletes. They balance it all and know what it’s like to endure physical pain, whether on the field or in the pool; it makes the emotional stresses of a startup pale by comparison.”
‘Unstoppabl’: Looking ahead, Ellis has big plans for the next phase of his business. With real estate being the world’s largest asset class, Measurabl is barely scratching the surface of the market.
“We have a particular interest in leveraging the data that we’ve amassed to drive more transparency in commercial real estate transactions. We think sustainability is a value driver of real estate,” he said.
“Carbon, energy, water, social impacts, and mobility are all things that can be measured. If we can bring that value to the surface, we can transform the entire sector and help real estate stakeholders perform better and be better at their business, so we need to get into the data side.”
Wise Words: When it comes to giving advice to the next generation of entrepreneurs, Ellis offered a refreshing approach. “I’ve always cringed when I hear these guys who are very successful tell you how you should do it. The beauty of entrepreneurship is exactly that – you’re writing your own sheet music and you’re playing it too.”
Ellis explains that those beginning their entrepreneurial journeys need “conviction in an idea, the ability to take constructive feedback that you’re wrong a lot, and the determination to pursue your idea despite that negative feedback you will inevitably get.”
“My advice is to believe in yourself and stick with it,” he added. “It’s about your willingness to try and try again and build a team around your idea that you believe firmly in and have to see it through to fruition.”
San Diego Scene: The startup recently moved offices after outgrowing its last space. The team found a home at 707 Broadway after looking at office spaces of many different styles throughout central San Diego. The team ultimately chose to move downtown because of the collective opportunity to grow and support its culture. The new office gives the team room to grow as well as access to the many walkable amenities downtown has to offer, including public transportation.
According to Ellis, the future of the San Diego tech scene is looking brighter than ever.
“The money is here now, which just happened to be true maybe last year. Our forerunners, Connect, Biocom, SD Venture Group, and biotech built the market for us. These guys have worked their tails off for years and now it’s our moment to shine. So I’m super bullish on it all; this is the next place to be except that next is now. It’s game on.”
Taco ‘bout a Recommendation: When asked his favorite SD taco destination, Ellis easily proclaimed Blue Water. “I can’t even believe there’s a debate about this. Blue Water on India Street – you just can’t hold a candle to it.” he said.
Hoppy Place: When he’s not running his startup or reminiscing about his water polo glory days, you can find Ellis sippin’ on a cold one at Eppig Brewing’s Point Loma location, which was founded by his good friend, Nathan Stephens. “It’s the place to go to get a good pint,” Ellis said.
Keep up with what’s brewing at Measurabl on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Want to learn even more about Measurabl? Check out our recent Tacos & Tech podcast interview with the startup’s CFO, Nicole Carr, on SoundCloud, iTunes and Google Play.