Executive Spotlight: Steve Winger, Everest Auctions

Gain insight into Steve Winger, founder of EverestAuctions, in CPE's inaugural Executive Spotlight.
Steve Winger

While many common real estate transactions have already made the switch to online commerce, commercial real estate leasing is one area that has not. But a Southern California-based business, Everest Auctions, aims to change that with an innovative new tenant-focused platform that offers convenience, transparency and high visibility online.

Steve Winger is the man behind EverestAuctions.com, a Web portal designed to facilitate the auction of available commercial real estate space. With experience in development and leasing platform development, Winger recognized a need in the marketplace for an easy-to-use Web site that would focus on the commercial market. Launched earlier this year, the site targets mom-and-pop tenants, which he says comprise 80 percent of the market. The landlord models a transaction that works for them, defining all the lease parameters; EverestAuctions posts the property on its Web site actively markets it to prospective tenants.

Winger said he analyzed the business models of popular sites like Amazon, Netflix and Expedia while developing the proprietary software, aiming to make the leasing process faster and more convenient, while empowering tenants with more information. “When you think about it, tenants are where the value is created in commercial real estate. They seem to have the least voice; there aren’t a lot of tools for them,” Winger noted.  So far, the approach has been successful for leasing commercial properties in Southern California and Phoenix. It’s been valuable for long-empty assets, giving them increased visibility that attracts new tenants.

CPE: How did you get into real estate?

Winger: I was pretty much born into it. My father was a developer in Los Angeles, so growing up our friends were folks that were also developers. Knocking around with guys like Ernie Hahn and Ray Watt, I just kind of naturally gravitated to that business. When I graduated from UC Santa Barbara, I went to work for my dad as a developer in the South Bay, and I stayed there for about 10 years before I formed a brokerage company and then subsequently got into the institutional side and began managing large portfolios from a leasing perspective.

CPE: How did you come to launch EverestAuctions?

Winger:  I had been designing leasing platforms for my employers. They’d have up to 300 properties and no way to manage these leases online. I came up with a way to manage these lease transactions online, so it was a natural evolution into what we’re doing at Everest now.

CPE: How do you strive to differentiate your business?

Winger:  We’re different because we’re the only ones that are leasing commercial real estate through an online auction. So just from a process perspective, we’re different from everyone else. But our focus is also a little bit different in that we’re focused on who really creates value in commercial real estate. When you think about who creates value, it’s the tenants. The landlords and the brokers are integral to the process, but without the tenants you don’t really have a valuable asset. We’re really focused on those tenants and especially that 80 percent of the tenant base that’s small businesses. That’s our differentiator. The landlords are our customers, and the tenants and brokers would be our clients. We need them all, but we are very tenant focused.

CPE: What’s one challenge that you’ve overcome on your path to success?

Winger:  I’d have to say the challenge that we continue to overcome on a daily basis is one of education. Our model is a bit disruptive to the traditional brokerage model. Brokers benefit by it, landlords benefit by it and tenants benefit by it, but there’s an education process. We have to reach out and specifically let the brokers know that this is something that’s going to help you in your business; this is going to augment what you do. I think the challenge is really one of making people aware that there’s a new game in town and showing how it can benefit them.

CPE: Describe yourself in five words.

Winger:  I don’t ever give up.

CPE: Looking back, what’s one piece of advice that you would have given yourself in the beginning of your career?

Winger:  “Don’t take things personally. It’s only business.” I think it’s really important to focus on that.

CPE: Name one of your greatest inspirations in life.

Winger:  My father, Ron Winger, was a developer back in the ‘80s, when interest rates were 20 percent, there was a credit crisis with savings & loans, and all sorts of nasty things were happening in commercial real estate. My father, who ended up being very successful, went through that process. The way he went through that process and the way he protected his investors—and did it with a lot of integrity—really served as a model for me. It taught me that you don’t have to run over anybody. You don’t have to lie, cheat and steal to be successful in business. If you conduct yourself with a high level of integrity and treat people fairly, at the end of the day you can be very successful.

CPE: If you weren’t in real estate, what would you be doing?

Winger:  I would either be a really good ski instructor or a really bad electric guitar player in a Blues rock band.

CPE: What’s next for you and your company?

Winger:  We’re focused on growing our market share.  Our initial markets are Los Angeles, Orange County and Phoenix. We’re expanding into Las Vegas next, and then probably Southern Florida. We’re bringing this model to where our clients need it, focusing on expansion and getting the word out.