Wireless Infrastructure as a Service (WIaaS) with Justin Marron of SVP
Nicknamed the fourth utility, Wireless is an integral part of business and social connection today. Carrie Charles welcomes Justin Marron, the Chief Executive Officer at Strategic Venue Partners (SVP) – which offers Wireless Infrastructure as a Service (WIaaS). The goal is to deliver all-inclusive, turnkey, wireless infrastructure as a holistic managed service. We need to future-proof the old model into something people can buy into for the long term. Join in the conversation to learn about wireless opportunities across various industries—all the way from healthcare management systems to gaming and hospitality. You’ll also discover nuggets of wisdom on finding and retaining the talent every company needs to achieve its vision and mission.
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Wireless Infrastructure as a Service (WIaaS) With Justin Marron of SVP
I am very excited to have with me the Founder and CEO of Strategic Venue Partners, Justin Marron. Justin, thanks so much for coming to the show.
Thank you for having me.
I’m excited to learn about SVP but let’s first start with you because you have an interesting journey and path to how you’ve got into telecom. Tell me about that.
I initially worked in finance in New York City, and the joke was always, “If the windows opened, I would have jumped out because it was so miserable,” and it wasn’t me. I learned a lot from some very smart people but I knew I wanted to be on my own. I wanted to be in the reoccurring cashflow business. I had a friend that had a ton of real estate, and they continued to have a ton of real estate. I liked the concept of building infrastructure, creating recurring cashflow, and moving onto the next one while you still make money from the last one. I sat down that path on that journey to go do that and quickly realized where I was in the Northeast, you have all these REITs.
I’m in Greenwich now. All these guys here own every mall and building you can imagine. I thought about cell towers. This was in the early 2000s, right after school. I recall and joke about this all the time but I had a fraternity brother. When we were in college, none of us had cell phones. They were around but we didn’t have them. Important people had cell phones like doctors, lawyers, and this kid had a cell phone. This kid had nothing going on. He was from Missouri, and his parents were both very successful people. They gave him a cell phone because they wanted to keep tabs on the kid. They are paying an extra amount of money back then, a monthly fee to have a cell phone for this guy.
It occurred to me like, “If he’s got a cell phone, everybody is going to have cell phones. It’s going to run through the business, and people are going to want to be in touch with their parents, their kids, etc.” I started digging into, and how and what area it would play in. We weren’t going to create technology, so what’s the dumbed-down version? It’s the infrastructure side. “Can we build cell towers? What are cell towers? Are they hard to build? Are they hard to get permitted?” You started looking at the model of the cell tower, and it’s a fantastic model. If you think about a mall, you build a mall but you have tenants. They have air conditioning and water. They have complaints.
You build a cell tower, and no one is calling you complaining that the heat is not working. Once they are built, up, operated, and going, you move on. You make sure the lawn was cut, and the power was there. You have to plow if you are ever in the Northeast or a cold climate that the snow is plowed but it was an excellent business years ago. It still continues to be. I was permitting cell towers in the days and having people show up to zoning meetings, literally going up the microphone saying, “We were radiating their kids and cats.” Everybody was going nuts. That’s how long ago I was doing cell towers. It turned out to be a great business.
We built the portfolio up. We sold that off and segued into doing renewable energy. We started building wind turbines throughout the Midwest. This Jersey kid was building tons of wind turbines from Texas through Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest through Southeast California. What we were doing was a similar skillset. We are following the tax incentive dollars.
You had Federal tax incentives and local state incentives. We built that up, and while we were doing a lot of wind with a lot of the largest investment banks out there, we saw a need for solar. The wind was very Central Plains directed where nobody is. You have these giant wind turbines. We’ve then got into solar because the price per watt is coming greatly down. We started building solar, and that was mostly coastal where it’s state incentive-driven again, primarily on the East Coast and West Coast. There is nothing in the Midwest.
You need to have the right people to execute your plan and mission.
I did a lot of business there with a lot of Goldman Sachs and Blackstone. It was very successful, and we are all sitting there doing that. I kept thinking to myself, “I want to do something that’s national. I want to get back into wireless.” There’s an opportunity in the enterprise market on how to develop the enterprise market in wireless because the old methodology of doing it didn’t make sense. We form SVP, and I have had the same partner for many years. You have met Chad. We couldn’t be two different people if we tried but we worked all together.
Through our experiences, we brought people with us through all these companies. There’s a very homey feeling to a lot of the people here because we have done a lot together throughout the years. We launched this, and Tiger Infrastructure Partners gave us our shot. I know we will get into the differences of why and who we are and what we are doing but we are excited about the future of this space and our company.
I’m excited, too. I remember when I met you years ago. We had Connect (X), and you told me about SVP. I was like, “We need to tell this story.” That was a few years ago, so here we are. I’m excited to tell your story. Who is, Strategic Venue Partners or SVP? What do you do? Who do you serve? I know that you have a unique business model, and I want to hear about that as well.
We are delivering on the demand-driven opportunity for critical infrastructure in the enterprise space. We design, build, finance, own, and operate in-building wireless infrastructure. We do DaaS, wireless LAN, CBRS, Fiber IPTV, and public safety systems. Anything that we view as a wireless utility, even though fiber is not. In a building environment, that’s what we are going after. Our customers are both public and private. There are a lot of verticals to cover in the building, from residential to office, etc. We focus on a few areas. We are big into healthcare, hospitality, education, and even retail. We have a large mall portfolio but our core value prop is delivering all-inclusive turnkey wireless infrastructure as a holistic managed service.
We are changing CapEx to OPEX. We are using the best OEMs, integrator partners, and distributor partners to do this. We have a view of this, which differs from the market where we look at the long-term technology needs of these enterprises. That was part of the genesis of us. Part of the genesis was like, “How do you build out this infrastructure differently from what the traditional 3PLs have been doing it? Also, how do you future-proof something?”
As we are talking now, technology will change. We used to have to do this in person. You are in beautiful Florida. I’m in freezing Connecticut, and we are hosting an interview. We are doing this together. When we think about our partners and systems, it’s not only about now. It’s about, “How do we do this for a long time? How do we get people to buy into that?” They look at us like, “Why are you different?” We are like, “We are here now but we have a long-term agreement. When we leave, your system is going to be as good as when we’ve got here.”
That hasn’t been the case. In the enterprise space, people build systems and move on like cell towers. You build a cell tower, and you move on. This is different. You will need constant upgrades, management, monitoring, and maintenance with this. I put myself in their seat. If I’m the CIO of a hospital chain and I have to deliver ubiquitous technology and coverage amongst all my hospitals or my medical office buildings, it has to be seamless because I have the same system I have in my hospital as I do at that ambulatory service.
I need to think about my budgeting. I need to think about, “How am I going to cover all my locations at once?” If you are a carrier or a 3PL being the carrier paying for that system, they care about the places that they should care about. Where is the highest foot traffic is? Their interests aren’t wholly aligned. That’s where we fill that gap where we think we align all the interests at the table, and we are big believers in that.
We will get into that in a little bit but we feel we have the right solution. Not only for the wireless carriers but for the enterprises in us. We sit down and say, “Here are the three of us. We are at the table together.” The carriers are a part of it. We are a part of it, and the enterprise is a part of it. We like to make sure everybody’s interests are aligned to create a successful partnership.
The in-building enterprise space has changed over the past few years. I know there has been a lot of companies trying to figure out the model and the strategy. Where are the opportunities now and as we move forward in the future?
When we launched this, the concept was you are not going to go out and compete in the tower markets. There’s not going to be a ton of growth there. There will be a change out with 5G. You can’t compete in that space. You think about your friend Marc Ganzi and what they have done at Digital Colony. It’s insane how fast and big they have grown. You think about the fact that American Tower is the largest REIT in the world. Not the largest tower REIT in the world. The largest REIT in the world. That’s nuts. You have these massive companies that are so well banked and well-capitalized, and they are great at what they do.
They own hundreds of thousands of cell towers. It’s a great business. For a company like ours, and we are starting up to where we are now, we wanted to focus on the enterprise space. We believe the real growth for groups like us is here. In the tower space, you are not going to have like an 80% lease-up rate. If you think about how much infrastructure needs to be built out in the in-building space, it is a huge number.
The carriers can’t do with it. The carriers can’t fund all that. They have to worry about their macro networks, which align with the 3PLs. They look to the carriers to help fund their systems. We came to the table with a capital solution and a technology solution, where we would sit down with enterprises and say, “Here’s another way to do it. Do our managed service. Join us. We will put up all the capital, build, design, own, and operate it.”
There’s a phrase that a lot of people talk about that we use here in prosecuting that’s like, “Wireless is the fourth utility,” after water, electric, and cable. That’s something we preach because it is. You do surveys of folks and they say, “Could you go to your office without electricity? Maybe if you have a laptop. Could you go without water? Probably. Could you go without heat if it’s not cold? Sure.” People won’t give up their wireless phones. They are like, “I can sit at my desk and work if I have my cell phone. I have conductivity, I can answer emails and everything else.” It’s such a big part of business now that we feel like we have the right offering for it.
It’s very important what you are saying. In fact, I experienced this now, and I’m having a problem here in our new office building. Again, my cell service was fine when I signed the lease but now, there are three of us that cannot use our cell phones here. You will find us wandering around the office saying, “Can you hear me now?” It’s ridiculous. It is so important because I don’t want to use a desk phone when I’m here. I want my cell phone, so everyone has my number. My clients can text me anytime.
If you have to get something done, it doesn’t matter if you have a law degree, you do it.
This is an urgent need for us, as humans, to be able to communicate and have the ability to have connections anywhere at any time. I love what you are saying. Let’s talk a little bit about CBRS and the use cases. I know that you have a CBRS system installed. Maybe you have more than that but what are some of the use cases? How do you monetize it? I know that you are successful in this area.
We are getting there. The joke that I make everybody with CBRS is like, if you are around the 2000s, it’s like the internet. Everybody knows they want it. They want to try and make money off of it. No one figured it out for years. We do have CBRS systems. That’s part of our offering. We are big fans of it. I know there are companies out there that specifically do that in commercial real estate, and that’s not our space but I know they are doing well. For us, we have it in our healthcare facilities, our gaming resorts places, and in hospitality. The thought with that is a couple of areas.
One, they are using it to run their management systems over it. They are taking systems away from Wi-Fi. It’s more secure than Wi-Fi, so they are using it there. We are also in our high traffic resort type of areas that the carriers are going to use the tip. It’s got multiple benefits. I don’t know if people are selling anything off of it yet but they will figure it out. It’s something that’s needed and again, part of the ether of SVP. We are talking about CBRS. Nobody is talking about CBRS years ago. Nobody even knew what it was.
Part of our offering is, whatever the technology is available, we will make sure you have it because as sure as we are sitting here, technology will change again. There will be something cool that will come out in a couple of years that people are going to want. If you are locked into some old type of offering, it’s not going to be there for you. Whereas with SVP, we always move and make sure you have it. We have it. We have the largest one in Las Vegas, if not the largest in the country for gaming. It’s coming online, and they are using it. They are excited about it.
Ever since I met you and talked about the company that when you first started out, what you were building, your leadership, and your culture, it was something cool and unique. Can you talk a little bit about the company culture that you are building or that you have at SVP?
Culture is a huge thing. It’s something we work on here all the time. When I was younger, I didn’t get it. I was like, “Why do you need culture? Who cares?” It matters at the end of the day. The reality is we are with each other here more than we are with our loved ones, and it’s crazy. Not to say you have to love everybody you work with or even like them that much but you do spend time with them. When we recruit folks, we go through your normal process but we will also ask ourselves, “Is this someone I want to hang out with? Is this someone I want to spend my days and nights with?” That’s a big part of it.
For us, we are a hard-charging group of people. We punch way above our weight class as a company. We are small. We do massive deals. We compete with the largest retail out there, and we have been winning. Part of that is the culture of the folks believing that we can do it, having the right people to be able to prosecute our plan and mission but culture is big. Also, talking about our mission, within here, it’s not only the people. It’s not only wanting to be with them.
It’s also, “Here’s our goals and strategy. This is your part of that strategy. Pull your weight and if you need help, ask for it.” Everybody here is incentivized to create the most enterprise value for our firm. We want everybody here to be working for the greater good. They are all going to make great money along the way. It’s not like that but everybody has got to be clear-eyed on the mission, the strategy, and who’s doing what. That’s very important.
Justin, one thing that I have always thought was so smart that you did is that you value talent and you understand the worth of talent and people, especially in this market. You have always done that. You are like, “It’s all about the right person.” We do business together. You don’t walk into a conversation with me and say, “I have X amount of dollars, and that’s it to spend. Now, go find the person.”
We have always had conversations of, “This is who I’m looking for. Let’s talk from there.” I love that because you are looking for the right person who has that drive, energy, excitement, mission-driven, the purpose-driven person who’s going to jump out of bed and wants to make a lot of money. That’s the right way to do it. I have always honored that with you.
It has to be. When you are looking for talent, you want people that take the initiative. We think about a few things. I think about people that take the initiative and get it done. We always talk about problem solvers. We want people to hear, “If a problem comes up, solve it. If you need help, we will help you,” but they have to do the initiative. They have to be cut from the right cloth, and this is good and bad because we hire a lot in our own ilk. We meet people.
We subconsciously hire people that are more like us, which is good because we all get along. We all work in a certain direction. Sometimes it’s bad because we are not getting a different perspective where everybody is singing the same tune. We are mindful of that. As we have been growing, we have been thinking about, “We need some different people here that are different from us.”
You have women in leadership, so you do have that.
We have the best woman in leadership, in my opinion. Even though she beats me up all the time, she’s awesome. She’s an amazing person.
What is that? I know you talked a little bit about it but let’s dig in a little further of that DNA of an SVP team member. What is that DNA? You know when you are talking to someone like, “This is the person who’s going to be able to join us on a rocket ship and make our mission happen.”
I have the perfect example. One of the guys that run our operations over here has worked for me for years through a couple of companies. He’s a lawyer from NYU. He’s an investment banker. When we started the company, this is how they think. We had paid a group to go build a website for us. I will never forget this. I came into the office. I walked by his office, and he was reading a book on coding. I’m like, “This kid was off the charts. Why is he reading about coding? He’s a lawyer. He’s here to structure deals and everything else.”
A couple of hours later, I noticed our website was down. I walked over to him and I was like, “Someone on the website, you call those guys.” He’s like, “I took it down. I’m redoing it.” I said, “What?” I’m like, “We paid a marketing group to do our website.” We’ve got this iteration to hire one. He’s like, “I didn’t like it. I thought it could be better.” This is the type of initiative that people take here, and we love that. Again, it’s not his forte. He’s a lawyer. He wanted to fix this problem, and he did. I love that thought process. I love persistent people.
Pivot and move if that’s the right thing you need to do.
If you are a 9:00 to 5:00 person, you are not for us. We work hard. We get paid accordingly. We are all pulling in the right direction. Another thing is there’s no task too great but there’s also no task beneath you. If you have to get something done, it doesn’t matter if you have a Law degree, do it. Lead by example and do that. That’s another big part of what we think about when we hire people.
The other thing that comes to mind with you is you are a big thinker. I know quite a few people that are on your team that are also big thinkers. That’s exciting for people. They come aboard and they are like, “This is going to that next level, thinking bigger and going to places I have never gone before.” It’s a lot of fun. Let me ask you this. I know talent’s hard to find now. We know that. We get it. We have heard it a million times. What strategies are you using now that are working for you to find talent and maybe to retain it?
We use the best recruiting firm out there in Broadstaff. I think of a couple of things. We share our vision with people. We sit down and say like, “This is where we are going. We are all invested. Not only time-wise but capital-wise. We have all of our money into this, too.” That’s another important part of like, “Here’s our vision. We are in this until the end. If you want to come with us, this is the direction we are going. Do you think you can add value?” If you can add value, you are going to make a lot of money. If you don’t think you can add value, and if you don’t walk around and be like, “I can hang with these people,” then don’t come.
We can try and weed that out as early as possible in any process. From a comp perspective, we try and be as competitive as possible. You have your standard-based short-term, long-term type of stuff. We align interests there very easily. The truth is, our company is going like this. There’s a ton of opportunity for people to make money if they can add value, they are the right person, problem solvers, persistent, and buy-in.
The other thing that we like to think about is that we are open. We don’t know everything. We hire people, and they come in here. The first thing I tell them is, “We are all like-minded. We have been doing something similar for a while. If you have experience from somewhere else and you know how to do something better than we are doing it, open your mouth. Tell us why and how. We will pivot.”
One of the benefits of being a smaller-sized company versus a REIT is we are not a massive oil tanker that can’t turn quickly. We can pivot and move if that’s the right thing we need to be doing. We are open to all that too, and people like that. They have the ability to help. We are very malleable to help shape the future of the company. If they are right, we will take a shot on and see how it goes.
Justin, one of the number one things that people want these days in a company, is a voice. They want to know that they make a difference, that they can be involved in strategy, that their voice, opinion matter, and they are part of the actual building of the organization. Again, you walk your talk there, and you do that. Justin Marron as a leader, and I do have an enormous amount of respect for you as a leader. Talk a little bit about who you are as a leader. Are there any principles that you stand by or is this what I believe to be a great leader, and this is who I am?
There is a couple of things. One is you have to be persistent. If you have a mission, you believe in the mission. You think it’s the right thing to do. You are going to run into roadblocks. You have to keep going forward and be persistent and say like, “I am prosecuting this plan. This is my business plan. This is the idea. I know it’s going to work. I’m going to keep going.” Get on the train, and let’s go. For me, I have a big mouth. I’m very open and direct, especially like ours. We are a midsize company. There’s no BS and politics. Everything is open kimono about what we do, who we are, and why we are doing what we are doing.
It’s important from a leadership perspective to be clear-eyed on the mission and tell people what their parts are, so they can prosecute their part of that mission. If they need help, ask for it, and we will all pull together. When you go from startup to midsize, I know you have interviewed guys from REITs all the way down to brand new companies. My partner Chad likes to say this. It makes me laugh all the time. When you are starting a new company, it’s like a little kid’s soccer. The ball goes in the corner, and both teams run into the corner to get the ball.
That’s okay when you are first starting off but then, as you grow and get bigger, people have to stay in their lanes. Not to say that those different lanes don’t overlap and people shouldn’t be working together but they should be. We have matured a lot like a firm and gotten to where we’ve got into. Now, people are starting to settle in. People are doing what they are doing. That’s a constant theme for myself as a leader.
We always tell folks, “As we grow, we will be filling people under you. You are going to have to learn how to lead and manage people. Part of that is if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. You have to be direct and honest and open with your people of, ‘This is what you need to do, and this is how we are measuring you. This is how you are getting compensated for that.’ If you get to that top or middle, here’s how much you are going to make.” That keeps people going.
What do you look for when you are hiring or promoting a leader?
I think about the initiative, persistent-type people, and problem solvers. There are some people that can’t look past their notes. There are some people that look all the way down the road. I think about people like that. Like, “You are solving a problem for now but you know you have twenty steps still to go. How are you going to get there?” That’s a big part of it. They have to be able to communicate, up and down. I know you are a fan of EOS. We are big fans of EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. They have to be able to delegate and elevate within their teams. We have had this problem.
We have such great people here that sometimes they get in the mindset of, “I will do it because I know that I’m going to do it better than anybody else,” and they will. That’s true but that doesn’t help you scale. It doesn’t help you grow where they can’t duplicate themselves and do more with their folks. That’s another part of it. Being able to loosen the rope up a little bit and say, “Here, you do this. I will help you but I’m putting this trust in you to get this done.”
When I think about promoting people, that’s part of it. Can they manage people? Do they feel comfortable giving up? Thinking about the best athletes in the world, why are they not coaches. Think about Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, and Joe Montana. These guys never coached because they were the best at what they did, and they could never give up that control. A manager and the best person sometimes aren’t always synonymous.
You hired a leader, right?
Yeah. We hired a new Chief Operating Officer, Kevin Hetrick. The guy is awesome. We were so psyched to get him. We were pleasantly surprised that we were able to convince him to come to join us. Again, here’s a guy who is a top-level executive at AT&T with a great life. He had been there for many years. We laid out our vision and said, “Here’s how we are doing something different.” He was coming from the carrier side and we said, “This is how we plan on solving this problem in the enterprise market. This is how we plan on incentivizing the carriers and enterprises to be with us.”
From a leadership perspective, be clear on the mission and tell people their parts.
He saw the vision and he’s like, “I can help.” He’s the type of person, it’s like, “I can get in. I can help create enterprise value. I can make money doing it.” He bought into it, and we are super excited to have a guy like that come here because not only does he have an entrepreneurial mind coming from a large company like AT&T but he will be able to take those lessons learned as years at AT&T and help us further institutionalize our firm. That was a great catch. We are very excited about Kevin.
What is your vision for SVP over the next three years?
We were always looking into the future and trying to take care of it. It’s like, “How do we get to the future?” The sky’s the limit for what we are doing, honestly. There’s a tremendous amount of growth in this area. We have excellent partners from our sponsors originally with Tiger Infrastructure Partners. We have excellent debt lenders with us.
Our capital needs are completely taken care of. They are looking at us, saying, “How big can you go?” I know we have the right offer. Our managed service offer for the fourth utility is the right thing and the right way to prosecute this. I know it can continue to expand in the verticals that we are covering, the ones that we dived into.
I want SVP to become synonymous with wireless infrastructure. If you have venues, you want to go, “I will go with SVP.” There are a couple of healthcare management systems. It’s alluding now because I was thinking about it. They literally are the only ones that do these billing and management systems for hospitals. They take applications. They don’t even sell. That’s how great these guys are.
I want to get there. That’s a great process. File an application. We will see if it works.
I can’t think of who they are now but they don’t even have a Salesforce. They are so synonymous in their space that multibillion-dollar enterprises apply to get their business. That’s what I want to become. That would be the ultimate achievement.
I assume that you are hiring. Everybody is hiring, and you are growing like a rocket ship. Where can we find out more about Strategic Venue Partners, your website, maybe careers, and that type of thing?
I don’t know if we have any list on our website. We usually like to work with you, and we tell you what we are looking for. Hit our website, email us if you have interests, and we will respond. We are always looking for salespeople, project management, and construction management folks. There are plenty of seats to fill. That being said, if we find the right people, we make space for them. It’s that simple. Even if there’s not a specific need, if we find the right people, we create that need. As we talked about, talent is what drives these things. We know we have the right offering, so you need the right people to help prosecute that in multiple different ways. If we find the right people, we will definitely respond.
That was powerful. If you find the right people, you make space for them. In this world that we are living in with talent, we all need to think like that. Justin, thank you so much for being on the show. This has been a lot of fun. I know that you are going to make all of those dreams come true. Everything is going to happen. It’s on its way to happening now. I’m sure I will see you soon.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it, Carrie.
About Justin Marron
Mr. Marron is the founder and CEO of Strategic Venue Partners (“SVP”) an innovative wireless infrastructure investment and development firm backed by Tiger Infrastructure Partners. SVP offers enterprise verticals a unique Managed Services/Fourth Utility model for DAS, WLAN, GPON, Public Safety & IPTV. As a long-term partner, SVP invests capital and performs ongoing upgrades with no required investment from the venue. Prior to founding SVP, Mr. Marron served as Managing Partner of Altus Power America, a Blackstone and Goldman Sachs backed renewable investment fund with over $350MM of committed capital. Before Altus, Mr. Marron co-founded and served as President of Wind Farm Capital (“WFC”), where he oversaw the acquisition and management of operational wind farm assets. Wind Farm Capital was acquired by Barclays, Fortress & Natural Gas Partners and merged with American Wind Capital. Before WFC, Mr. Marron founded Level Communications, a wireless infrastructure firm focused on DAS and wireless development. Level Communications was acquired by Wireless Capital Partners, where Mr. Marron served as Senior Vice President. Mr. Marron began his career co-founding Fidelity Communications, a cellular tower development company where he served as Director of Business Development until its acquisition by a publicly traded REIT. Mr. Marron holds a BA from Rollins College.
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