When I interviewed Craig Newmark for California Real Estate magazine a dozen years ago, it struck me how down to earth and unassuming he was. After all, he had created one of the most pervasive and influential internet sites in the world. But Craig remained remarkably modest, humble and approachable. I called him the “Reluctant Internet Mogul.” Last year, Forbes wrote how Craig has now become the reluctant internet billionaire.
When I interviewed him by phone, he spoke with me sitting at his favorite San Francisco coffee shop, dog treats in his pocket, ready for dispensing to an anticipated visitor as part of his daily routine. His story and his business/life philosophy were captivating and compelling. And he was so… San Francisco. He remains one of the most intriguing people whom I’ve ever interviewed. I became a lifelong fan.
Becoming the East Coast’s Craigslist
Fast-forward to last year and an interview I had with Craig’s East Coast counterpart, Michael Gabriel, founder of Gabriels Technology Solutions.
When Craig Newmark was building Craigslist on the West Coast, East Coaster Michael had self-published “Gabriel’s Apartment Rental Guide” in Manhattan. It was the first publication to help New Yorkers find an apartment. And although it was a printed versus Internet-based solution, it also was a breakthrough in helping people find rental properties in all the boroughs of New York City. Like Craigslist, Michael was looking out for consumers, and in the process, he disrupted the status quo.
As we spoke, there were other similarities between Michael and Craig that struck me. Michael’s success also started with remarkably humble beginnings. He is not a product of a silver-spooned life. He grew up in Newburgh, New York. He grew up in an Italian household with all the traditions that it brings, which he continues to embrace and share. As a youngster, when he would run in the street and fall, his mother didn’t come coddling to him. She would yell at him to get back up, brush off his knees, and send him on his way. It’s no wonder Michael is the epitome of tenacity.
Like Craig, Michael never listened to those who told him what he could not do. For decades, critics told Craig his website needed a facelift, and it was too ugly. Dozens of startups with better looking UIs (user interfaces – i.e., better looking, more user-friendly) and hundreds of millions of dollars in VC funding have taken on Craigslist and failed miserably and continue to do so.
For Michael, for every door that was closed in his face, he simply went around. He figured out a new way to get in, and the result of his perseverance has led to his enviable success. And Michael, unlike Craig, is so… New York. And also, unlike Craig, Michael is a capitalist and about focusing on growing revenue and profitability.
Don’t know Gabriels? You know their clients
For 20-plus years, Gabriels Technology Solutions (GTS) has been flying under the radar.
Michael built his company into the world’s leading provider of internet technologies and services for major news media outlets, some 500 of them, including the best of best: The New York Times.
Now he’s written a new chapter in the last few years, with a brilliant business pivot, morphing from a technology powerhouse in the print world into luxury real estate industry leader.
The result: Gabriels Technology Solutions (gabriels.net) has emerged as the leading technology provider to the most prestigious luxury real estate brands worldwide. While you may not recognize the Gabriels name, you know the luxury brands they serve. Gabriels provides advanced real estate technology solutions to Sotheby’s International Realty and Christie’s International Real Estate. They also power other major regional luxury brands, including Rodeo Realty and Saunders & Associates, and more in 42 states and over 30 countries worldwide.
First-to-market with innovation
One thing Michael has never shied away from was being first to market with new ideas. It’s been a driver of his company since its founding. To expand worldwide, he knew he would need instant translation software available in multiple languages. That’s what fueled his global growth and attracted media firms to use GTS.
Full motion video on luxury real estate website homepages seem to be the “thing” today, but Gabriels was the first to deliver this broadly through Sotheby’s several years ago. And Gabriels was the first to deliver 3D technology to Sotheby’s well before any of the major portals.
While Craig and Michael as individuals are as different as San Francisco and New York, they are both are in their own unique ways “people people.” Craig is not the gregarious, outgoing, guy: he’s the nerd. He hired Jim Buckmaster as his CEO to be the extrovert. But Craig’s heart has and always will be about people. Michael is sociable and engaging. You want to have lunch with this guy.
Yes, they come to life from two very different perspectives. They likely have polar opposite political views (although I never talked politics with either). They think very differently about the purpose of their businesses. But they both have this charisma: one almost subtle silent (Craig), the other fills a room (Michael), and yet they both shun the limelight. So different, yet in some ways, they are alike.
The fun part for me is watching their companies and seeing how they impact the world around us. Especially when you know so many people along the way told them either “no,” or that they would “fail,” or that they would be “displaced” by somebody else. I think it’s the “people people” part of them that makes them succeed.