Startup Truss—a Zillow listing site for commercial real est…

After getting blank stares from young tech company executives when he handed them a stack of paper about options for office space, Bobby Goodman decided he needed a new approach.

While a 60-year-old managing partner at a law firm might prefer a paper presentation, younger decision-makers craved an online experience, where they could browse images and information on pricing and location on their own time, says Goodman, a veteran tenant rep who helped lead the tech tenant practice in the Chicago office of Jones Lang LaSalle after the recession. So he left JLL in 2016 to create a digital alternative.

His platform, called Truss, is akin to a commercial real estate version of residential listing sites like Redfin or Zillow. An artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant helps tenants find space of less than 10,000 square feet—the size that small and midsize businesses need but which typically aren’t worth the bother of big-time brokers—and helps companies narrow their search before Truss’ team takes over to finalize deals. Truss gets a commission from landlords when it helps them land a deal and rebates a portion of that to the tenant.

Initially, downtown leasing agents were leery of sharing rent rates and other lease details on a third-party platform, but Goodman won them over by noting the information already was available if tenant reps looked hard enough. Today, Truss has listings for more than 90 percent of downtown Chicago office inventory and on more than 300 million square feet of available office, retail and industrial space across seven major markets. Deals generally are small, at an average of 1,500 square feet, and the average commission is around $5,000, but they prove the value of an online marketplace in an industry dominated by brokers who have done things the same way for decades, Goodman says.

Companies “don’t want to feel like they’re being spoon-fed some info but not all info,” says Goodman, 39. “They want to see it for themselves, and that’s what we give them.”

Marketing agency Cotton Candy used Truss last year to find its 2,700-square-foot office in the West Loop after going on tours with a broker to places that were nothing like what it was looking for, says Tammy Chernuska, an executive sales manager at the agency. “It made everything much less overwhelming,” she says.

Truss hasn’t turned a profit—Goodman declines to provide its annual revenue—but it has gotten the attention of big venture backers. The company raised nearly $8 million last year led by venture fund Navitas Capital, which also has a stake in Matterport, a 3D technology company that creates virtual tours for real estate.

Goodman got his start in real estate early, scraping sewer grates at buildings owned by his dad, veteran Chicago developer Mark Goodman, and years later landed technology-security company Trustwave as a tenant client well before its growth explosion and eventual $810 million sale. Trustwave executive Andy Bokor is now one of four co-founders of Truss.

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