John Backes is a young real estate entrepreneur, technology innovator, and champion of the city of Dallas. He practically vibrates with energy and ideas, and has a sort of raw enthusiasm that’s utterly sincere and unscripted.
The St. Mark’s grad is passionate about bringing new ideas to the real estate community by collaborating with the active start-up community in Dallas. That motivation is showing up in myriad ways in his life.
As we wrote about yesterday, he is launching the MOTIVE Accelerator Program this fall. This exciting program will fund selected commercial real estate technology start-ups, as well as provide mentoring through a program oriented around customer and product development.
Backes was also the co-founder of RealTech Dallas 12 months ago, which brings together the startup community with the real estate industry.
His new company, DXZ Media, is a full-service branding and digital marketing agency that aims to solve complex problems related to technology, identity, and strategy.
Sound like a full plate? It’s not even the beginning. He’s also a mentor at the The Dallas Entrepreneur Center and advisor at PoshPublic, a curated crowdfunding platform which allows artists or nonprofits to create a campaign at no upfront cost and no risk. There’s so much more. And the ideas just keep coming.
“We have an incredible story here in Dallas of innovative real estate companies, and so many tech start-ups, too. There was so much vibrancy, but no intersection,” Backes said. “Every day, I feel like I’m in a very dynamic center of change.”
Backes earned his bachelors degree from the University of Pennsylvania and moved back to Dallas after a successful stint in Chicago with a multi family sales and development real estate firm.
He grew up in North Dallas and the city he remembered was not what awaited him when he came back in 2009. Dallas had grown up a lot.
“It was kind of provincial in Dallas [when I was growing up] and you just didn’t go south of Fitzhugh,” he said. “I never expected to move back to Dallas.”
After a few years, Backes, his wife Amber, and their two little girls decided to get more urban, selling their house and renting an apartment at Gaston and Good Latimer in 2013.
“It’s a little wild, but urban environments are wild places and that’s part of why you go there—there’s an ordered chaos,” he said. “What I’ve been able to expose my kids to in a short time are the Perot Museum, the Arts District, Klyde Warren Park, the Dallas Arboretum, and so on.”
One of the reasons for that move was the allure of urban interactions.
“My whole life, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of being in place where you collide with people. In that North Dallas area, that’s just not the way it’s designed,” he said. “I love to chance to run into somebody. That’s something that urban environments bring and that is part of the beauty of density in any city—when people can meet people on two feet, it creates a very different dynamic than having to get in a car.”
During this time, Backes was keeping busy professionally, doing angel investing outside real estate during the financial crisis, when nobody could get money anywhere.
“After that period, I was hungry to continue to be in that world,” he said. “The Dallas start-up community was just getting going about a year before, and some groups like Tech Wildcatters and Launch DFW were starting happy hours.”
That energy helped Backes launch RealFolio, a website that allows commercial real estate professionals to find each other based on their work.
“I was frustrated by how hard it was to figure out who had been involved with a [real estate] project in the past, like the original developer, leasing representatives, interior architects, engineers…who were these people?” he said. “RealFolio does that.”
RealTech Dallas was getting traction during this time, as well. All of these ideas and people created a vibrant intersection between commercial real estate and technology, and RealTech Dallas has thrived.
“The first RealTech Dallas event was a year ago, and we got 50 people to show up,” Backes said. “The second saw 200 and the third, 240, people coming from JLL, CBRE, Neiman Marcus, corpoerate real estate, the innovation and technology sides, developers and start-ups, CEOs and founders.”
They turned it into something more consistent with Dallas Start-up Week, a free, five-day celebration of the Dallas community that builds momentum and opportunity around entrepreneurship. At the last event in March, there was an entire real estate track, Backes said.
“The winner came up with an idea to do credit scores for commercial leases, answering the question, ‘How do you know the value of a lease if it’s not an institutional tenant?'” Backes said.
So what’s next for Backes? He has his eyes on the MOTIVE Accelerator Program.
“Dallas is the best place in the world to innovate at the intersection of real estate and technology,” said Backes. “Two of the top five real estate CRMs are based in Dallas. RealPage is here. CBRE Innovation Lab is here. JLL [Jones Lang LaSalle] tech group is here. Trammell Crow is here. Dozens of startups are here. Dallas real estate tech is one of the great untold stories of our city.”