I had thepleasure of interviewing Santiago Vanegas, CEO and President of Habitat Group,Developer of Smart Brickell
"Ifyou want to be a permanent player in this market, it is important that you doall your work right from the beginning. Miami is big in size but you willalways run into people in your industry so it is very important to do your workright the first time so you leave a good impression."
Yitzi: Thankyou so much for doing this with us! What is your "backstory"?
I arrived toMiami in 2000, beginning my career in the real estate industry as FinancialManager for Fortune International Group. I founded Habitat Group in 2005,eventually expanding the firm’s portfolio to include four branches offeringspecialized services, including: Habitat Development, an expert in theconstruction and remodeling of properties; Habitat Realty, which focuses onanalyzing the real estate market in search of the best properties andinvestment opportunities; Habitat Management, which focuses on the managementof company assets; and Habitat Hotel, which is owned and operated by HabitatGroup.
Yitzi: Can youshare the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since youbegan leading your company?
We created aproject in 2008 that was originally supposed to be a condominium building. Whenthe market crashed, I quickly transformed the project into a multifamily andlater we added furniture and converted it to a hotel, taking us from $300K to$1M in yearly revenue. Interestingly enough, this crisis made us jump into anindustry which now has become our expertise. Since then, we have opened fourhotels and we are currently developing our fifth, Smart Brickell Hotel.
Yitzi: So howexactly does your company help people?
HabitatDevelopment is a leading Miami-based real estate asset management firm. Withover 18 years of real estate experience, we serve as the Developer for SmartBrickell, where we oversees the vision, direction, development and overallmarketing for the project.
Yitzi: What doyou think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Very fewcompanies have such a variety of commercial categories in their portfolio as wedo. We have Office, shopping, hotel, and multi-family housing properties, avaluation of $60 million in commercial real estate properties.
We have focusedmany years of our expertise in Brickell, specifically the west Brickell area,and Little Havana. We have become specialists in these areas and have anin-depth knowledge of the property values, the needs and limitations. We alsopride ourselves in being the pioneers in the short-term rental market inBrickell and have opened four successful boutique hotels: Habitat Residence 1,Habitat Residence 2, the Miami River Hotel, and the Jefferson Hotel. Soon, wewill hopefully be having our fifth successful hotel, the Smart BrickellHotel.
As developers,we set ourselves apart by combining better urbanism and evolving parks andmixed-use outdoor spaces and commercial spaces into our projects. We considerourselves “Urbanism Activists”. We focus in developing more than one project ineach specific area in Miami, in order to contribute to the improvement of thequality of life in those areas, maintaining architectural harmony and promotingthe urban development of the city.
Yitzi: None ofus are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there aparticular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where youare?
I am verygrateful to Anibal Roa, a big industry investor in Colombia. He has been ananchor investor in many of my projects from the very start of my company and hehas been a great mentor to me. By putting his trust in my team, we have beenable to create many of the projects that now fill our portfolio.
Yitzi: How haveyou used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I created anonprofit organization called E Foundation.co with the purpose of creating aplatform to collect resources to help social development initiatives, mainlythose that emphasize environmental issues, education and aimed at children andare formulated by entrepreneurs (groups or people) generating positive impactsin their communities.
My initialpurpose for this project is to seek to have an impact in the department ofHuila (Colombia), benefiting with resources obtained through donations to fivesocial projects that are being managed within the territory. My vision is tohave a representative, called the helper, in many cities around the world. Thishelper will then choose people that have created a strong social impact intheir community, called the hero. The platform will allow people to donate tothese different hero’s to give them the tools to continue their work and expandthe impact that they are making in their communities.
As my companycontinues to expand, we will continue to donate and grow this platform,providing resources and sponsors, so that as our company succeeds, othersaround the world can succeed in continuing to better their communities.
Yitzi: What areyour "5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO" and why.(Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Doeverything the right way and the legal way. If you want to be a permanentplayer in this market, it is important that you do all your work right from thebeginning. Miami is big in size but you will always run into people in yourindustry so it is very important to do your work right the first time so youleave a good impression.
2. Haveperseverance and don’t give up. There are many projects that you will take onwith a vision in mind that can then turn into the “ugly duck” amongst yourother projects. I have learned that it is always when you are about to give upthat you are the closest to succeeding. My advice is to have perseverance anddon’t give up because they will one day turn into a swan.
3. Whatevermarket or industry you are in, become the expert. It’s always better to be anexpert in a small market then trying to know everything about a large market.Pick your market and invest your time in becoming its specialist, because thisis what will separate you from the rest of your competition.
4. Always havea balance in your life. I have found that it is important to always make timefor your personal life, friends and family. Don’t make everything about yourwork and success.
5. Plan yourgoals in several schedules. Always make short-term and long-term goals,starting at 5 years to 10 years. This will help you to create tasks and stepsfor yourself and your team so that you can achieve these goals.
Yitzi: Some ofthe biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read thiscolumn. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love tohave a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this:-)
I would love tohave the opportunity to have a private sit-down with Tim Cook, the CEO ofApple, because my dream is to one day create an Apple Condo building. I admiretheir revolutionary technology that has succeeded in making so many consumersdevoted users to their products. Their products are used in our everyday lives,so a building integrating their style and technology would be a perfect ideafor a future place to call home.