Ben Pleat: Lessening the Isolation of Apartment Living
Ladderworks is a publishing startup of diverse picture books with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by a character named Spiffy, with founders working on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our focus today is on SDG 3 – Good Health & Wellbeing. There is so much at stake, so let’s see what’s being done!
Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference in health and wellbeing. Today I’m going to learn about how one company is combatting loneliness and helping to create connected communities. Join me as I welcome Ben Pleat, co-founder and CEO of Cobu.
Spiffy: Welcome, Ben. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. So, what challenges are you addressing with Cobu?
Ben: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Cobu is addressing the global loneliness challenge by helping power strong, vibrant communities in apartment buildings across the world. Loneliness impacts 61% of adults in the US according to Cigna (pre-Covid data). Living in apartment buildings can be an isolating experience — Cobu makes it easy for residents to connect with their neighbors and neighborhood, turning apartments into homes. By creating a strong sense of community, Cobu helps leading apartment building managers like Bozzuto, Greystar, AEW, Lincoln Property Company, and more to increase resident satisfaction and retention across over 43 cities in the US and Canada.
Spiffy: Oh, wow, that’s amazing! What motivated you to do this?
Ben: Cobu was the culmination of two eureka moments: one professional and one personal. On the professional side, I observed just how much pain apartment building owners had with turnover and competition in the market. On the personal side, I saw just how painful it was for my own mother to not have a community when she moved to the city. Her apartment building had community spaces, yet she may as well have lived in a shopping mall. The entire experience was impersonal and very isolating for her. Cobu was born from the mission to help my mother — and all apartment dwellers — truly belong in the places they call home.
Spiffy: How would you say your organization is working towards creating a more equitable world?
Ben: Cobu empowers everyone to belong in the places they call home. We help to foster community by enabling authentic human relationships through our mobile app and virtual community manager. Residents can discover neighbors that have similar interests, join existing groups like a Book Club, or create their own grown — either virtually or in person. Through Cobu, you can ask neighbors for help and be there for your community, all in the convenience of your own building. As a resident, it becomes a building you can walk into where you truly feel at home. As one of our residents, Allegra, says “a building that I actually love living in.”
Spiffy: That makes a huge difference. I’m curious if you’ve hit any milestones recently.
Ben: Actually, Spiffy, a recent milestone we achieved was surpassing 30,000 apartment homes on Cobu — which translates to happier homes and more resilient communities. I’ve been immensely proud of how our team stepped up during the pandemic to enable our residents and property managers to be there for their communities. Recently, it’s been amazing to see how many of our residents across Texas have been able to support their neighbors through the historic winter storm. We’ve seen residents offer provisions, clean water, and functioning stoves to neighbors through Cobu. Every single day I am inspired by how much joy residents are sparking in their communities, in spite of such difficult times.
Spiffy: We all need those sparks of joy! Can you tell me about a time when you experienced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn?
Ben: Back in 2018 when we were raising a round of funding, almost 100 firms declined our request. That stung! Rather than giving up, we doubled down on improving our product and company. I wholeheartedly believe that we are a better organization as a result of that experience. It forced us to be laser-focused on how we deliver value for our customers and how we achieve our mission. Since then we have grown by almost 30 times and are delivering on our mission much stronger than we could have ever imagined. From that experience, we learned that focus — coupled with perseverance — can overcome any setback. It seems cliché, but these setbacks make you stronger by forcing you to come back to your “why” — your mission and purpose.
Spiffy: Wow, Ben, I think that will definitely inspire our audience to go ahead and try — and try again! Thanks so much for talking with me today. It’s been an honor.
Ben Pleat is CEO of Cobu (Techstars Boston 2020), the leading virtual community engagement platform built for multifamily. As a New York native, Ben has seen firsthand just how impactful a sense of community can be toward bringing a sense of belonging to a physical space. Ben is constantly fascinated by innovation in the built world and has explored the nexus of real estate and technology with organizations like Goldman Sachs, WeWork, The Harvard Innovation Lab, and Israel Cleantech Ventures.
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.