October 18

Episode 144: Unlocking AI’s Potential for Data-Driven Real Estate


In today’s episode, Mike talks with Shobit Gupta, co-founder and CEO of MapZot, a company that uses generative AI to recommend optimal real estate locations for retailers.

Shobit explains how MapZot has built specialized AI models for different brands that can analyze thousands of data points to identify new sites with up to 90% confidence. He shares key lessons on controlled growth, gathering user feedback, and building a collaborative team culture.

Listeners will learn how generative AI works, how MapZot helps retailers expand, and how taking risks and surrounding yourself with great people are keys to entrepreneurial success.

Shobit Gupta’s Bio

Shobit Gupta is the co-founder and CEO of MapZot, a generative AI company that helps retailers and brands optimize their real estate site selection. He has over a decade of experience spanning real estate, finance, and technology. Shobit holds an MBA in Real Estate Finance and Analytics. Prior to founding MapZot, he worked at an international hedge fund and one of the world’s largest big data companies.

Driven by his passion to combine AI, data, and real estate, Shobit founded MapZot in 2017 to bring transparency and leverage data to help companies confidently expand and grow. Under his leadership, MapZot has built specialized AI models that can evaluate thousands of data points to recommend optimal new locations with up to 90% accuracy.

In This Episode…

  • Generative AI can analyze thousands of data points to recommend optimal new locations for retailers
  • MapZot has built specialized AI models for major brands to support their expansion decisions
  • Controlled growth has allowed MapZot to carefully nurture its AI models over 5+ years
  • Feedback loops with users continuously improve the AI and explanation of its recommendations
  • Taking calculated risks, trusting your abilities, and surrounding yourself with great people are keys to success

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to Get Unstuck and On Target. I'm Mike O'Neill. Whether we at Bench Builders are working with supervisors to improve their people skills or it's me coaching a CEO one on one, getting leaders and companies unstuck is at the heart of everything we do and that's exactly what this podcast is all about.

Each week we invite incredible guests who share their hard won experiences of getting themselves or others unstuck, back on target, and moving forward. And I hope it gets you unstuck and on target as well. Joining me is Shobit Gupta. Shobit is the co founder and CEO of MapZot.AI, the world's first generative AI for the real estate industry.

MapZot is real estate site selection software that recommends future locations and helps brands and making confident data driven location decisions. Welcome, Shobit.

Shobit Gupta: Thank you, Mike. Thanks for having me. It's an honor.

Mike O'Neill: I want to have you on the podcast for several reasons. 1 is you are in an industry that has just all of a sudden exploded a year, maybe 2 years ago, people had no idea even what AI is and here you have been involved with this for quite some time.

But I wanted to spend some time learn a little bit about about what that's all about. How your company helps your clients, but particularly Shobit. But I wanted to kind of learn a little bit about your journey from working for someone to being a cofounder in a business. And the fact that this business has been in existence for five years, defies the odds.

That's what I hope to have a conversation about. Does that work for you?

Shobit Gupta: Absolutely. Mike, thank you. Appreciate it.

Mike O'Neill: Why don't we just start with your company that you co founded? That it's MapZot and I'm always intrigued by the names that people choose for their companies. Why MapZot?

Shobit Gupta: Yeah, MapZot is, you know, it was, it's, it's, it's a mapping industry that, that is really a Greek word for you can call it God or a superpower says mapping superpower. That's how the name came in. So I think you know, that's, you know, it's, it's just sounds like more kind of rhymes well with that is more of a strategic name on that sense.

My background in terms of what I've done in the past is I come from a real estate family. And site selection, because my father wasn't a developer, I understood the industry fairly well. I understood all sides of business, whether you're buying any kind of real estate, whether it's residential, commercial, on the developer side of things, what the construction problems are and then also understanding it from the buyers perspective, because there's brokers involved. There are different types of brokerages, right? So understanding that was interesting while I was growing up and I moved on to join a hedge fund, internationally.

That was my 1st job. Not many people know that I actually graduated as a dentist in India. And but because of my passion, I, you know, gave an interview and they hired me for that job and I did really well. My dad didn't believe that I would do very well or stated, you know, survive probably a year in that position.

But I went down to work there for 4 years, got probably 5 or 6 promotions working in a very competitive environment, traveled a lot around the world. Met some fantastic people some of them, you know, that when I share my stories in the U. S. people say, how did you meet that person? You know, they might sometimes they didn't even believe me back then.

And then went on to do my masters in real estate finance and analytics came to US came to Atlanta, made it home. And while I was doing that, I was recruited by the world's largest big data firm Access Nexus right out of the program and which was huge for me. I was in the global real estate team and met some really powerful people and this was many, many years ago, and in the 2016, if I'm correct, and they were already working on things like insurance frauds and how to use AI and big data to do that. They're working on national security projects. So things that you and I have heard of, I was actually seeing that life. And, you know, increasing our yesterday was 9-11 and, you know, just to honor those who fought for us, you know, and we've never had that kind of attack.

And I wish that would never happens. I mean, there are companies like those that have made sure that never happened again. Every time someone is buying a ticket, they're already doing a check.

So if someone's editing things, they know who that person was, things of that nature. Right? And I went on to combine my passions and create MapZot.

And I was like, big data, AI, and then real estate. And there's so much transparency that needs to be in this industry. People look at AI as a negative term sometimes, and you're right about, you know, not a lot of people knew about AI until ChatGPT was really launched 6 months ago. So there's in the masses, a lot of people know about it, but the journey started for whether it's oOpenAI, which is the main company that owns ChatGPT or MapZot.ai. Our journey started 5, 6 years ago, right? Because there's a learning curve for the AI to get all the data start learning, understanding, and be where we are today.

Mike O'Neill: Yeah, Shobit, but I want to go back to something you said a moment ago that I did not know. And that is you were formerly trained as a dentist, but you found yourself kind of pulled in this direction.

So let me ask, what have you found in terms of being trained as a dentist? How did that prepare you to co found a business?

Shobit Gupta: It's, you know, been so my dentist school, I went to dental school in India and many of my friends from India to us, they gave their exams and they are trained dentist here in Atlanta and all over the U S and I can probably fill a room with so many friends that I have I was different because I think my, I wanted to, I always thought I could do something bigger in life and I could take some of those risks because that's how my, I would say my dad trained me and I've seen him do that. You know, being smart about what you do, but taking risks in life that are, you break the shackles. He was 21 when he moved to Germany and he started his export firm, started supplying things to Macy's. Things are, you know, he's taken big steps.

That's in me as well. And, but I would say a lot of it is not, you know, it's not inherited money. It's none of that. It's, it's, it's the, it's the courage and the ability to take risks and taking calculated risks, not be stupid about it. And having a clear goal and direction and the right kind of people with you that can support you.

Right? So I think that has been very important for me. And once I have taken. I've had these goals and I said, okay, I do I want to put implants for the rest of my life and people's teeth, which could pay me very well. Or do I want to make an impact where we become the world's 1st generative AI in the world?

And when people say that, I really feel really nice about it today because it's not just me. There's so many people employed with MapZot today that have built this together with me. And it's collectively all of their passions, all of their good wills and things that they've, they have done good in their lives their families have struggled in their lives and it's all coming together into shaping something bigger.

And I, I really feel better about it than just you know, doing or following my dentistry out of my profession. It's not that it's bad or anything. It's just, I wanted to live for a larger goal in life.

Mike O'Neill: I want to come back to real estate. I want to come back to AI, but I'd love if you don't mind to kind of go back to the process of starting something. You started MapZot I think over 5 years ago, and you begin building something. And I suspect that when you're at a gathering and people say, well, Shobit what are you doing? It must've been a much more difficult explanation then than now. Tell me a little bit more five years ago, when you were launching as a co founder of the business, how did you explain what is it you were intending to build?

Shobit Gupta: It was, it was very complicated. You use the word artificial intelligence and my dad wouldn't understand what that means. Forget about anyone else outside. He's like, what is AI? You know, what are you trying to do? You're hiring engineers and you're learning coding 24/7 and you're deep into it. You're leaving your job.

You're leaving all the money you can make in commercial real estate. And what is this you're after? You're. You know, and the long story short, I was able to explain to him. I said, dad, look at understand is this wave. You are a pizza chain and you are the CEO and you want to expand all over the U. S. or in India or wherever or Canada and you want to grow 300 stores. How do you do that? So you hire an internal team, you have brokers, you have some data to understand how the markets are, traffic patterns, availability of real estate, what would be the impacts, how much revenue are we going to make.

That's a lot of work, especially, you know, when you're looking at 2-3-5 factors, it's great because those are the only factors human mind can process at that time. And I was an analyst myself, so I knew how hard it was. Now imagine. I was like, okay, so now you can do that for one company. Now do that for every single company out there.

So what MapZot really did was, and sometimes the brokers, you know, they, they work very hard to do what they do. The site selects work very hard, but it's just so complicated. They have to go through thousands of sites to come up, or for the company to like one good location. And we created this mass platform, which for every single company, we said, we've built an algorithm and a database for every single company.

We want to track every single activity of businesses. What's happening? Where are they growing? What kind of real estate are they buying? Who are the customers? Where are they living? Where are they shopping? Where does the store rank? If they open the store 6 years ago, is it performed well or not? Things of that nature and AI, we built this AI that could learn about every single business by itself.

And get better every single time it makes a mistake. Being hyperlocal is a great term these days, right? Because every market is so different. Hyperlocal site selection, hyperlocal marketing, and hyperlocal marketing for your loyalty of customers. What works in Utah doesn't work in Michigan or Georgia.

And so, you know, that was keeping that in mind. It's like going to Macy's to buy a formal suit. And when you look at the bag, it has your name on it says, Mike O'Neill, instead of a size. That's what we've done. We have a model for McDonald's for Chick-fil-a for a two location small pizza chain or a car wash or an urgent care.

We've taken it all and said, let it all learn and come up with something that's very powerful that helps companies grow faster faster speed to market less number of bad sites, less pursuing cost not spending too much time on sites that they would never buy. So we can heavy lift that for them.

So that's really what MapZot is in a nutshell. It's a powerful that can that has been learning for 5 years and can tell you which site is Starbucks going to buy next anywhere in the country. And it does that with 90 percent confidence today, which is phenomenal.

Mike O'Neill: That is remarkable. You mentioned a moment ago about you had an idea.

I think you had a co founder, but then you begin assembling a team and that team has grown over the last five years. Would you mind sharing a little bit about the evolution of your company? What there are a lot of folks who listen to this podcast are either business owners. Or they aspire to be a business owner, and they think that just having a good idea is enough, and you've pointed out it takes far more than that.

But as you're beginning to build your team, what were you looking for in terms of qualities in people?

Shobit Gupta: Yeah so when I started, I was the only founder. My co founder joined me 2 years ago. He was my he was my boss in 1 of the companies I worked for. So the 1st lesson was. Always build good relationships, work hard at your job.

And that is a big lesson that I would like to share with everyone out there. It is very generic. People used to say that our elders have always been telling us never burn bridges, right? I'm a real case example here where, you know, you, you can accept a lower salary. That's okay. You work hard, you put in extra hours, you're not doing that for the company.

At early on in your career, you're doing that for yourself because the more you learn, the more hats you wear it opens up your mind. It gives you more exposure. It creates that dependency on you as an employee and that that's very important. Whether you want to pursue a business, that's okay or not, but you want to be important in what you do and you want to be good at it.

Good at what you do is that people give you trust you enough to give you more responsibility. Doing that creates those bonds. that have helped me with where we are today. So as I said, my boss became my co founder, right? Which is also an investor. Into the venture, because he even put money in the idea.

Yes, of course, he liked the idea. He liked the passion. He knew what it was, but he also knew that the way I thought the way I think the way I've helped his company benefit from it. Right. In whatever short period I've worked with them. So I didn't make an impact then. To for them to put in their hard earned money.

And, you know, on to something that I think is a great idea. When I started off I didn't have any funding. And I had a job, which, you know, during COVID, you know, prior to COVID, you know, I was I knew that I wanted to build this and I started this and I, I was very determined. I came up with the budget.

I said, this is the amount I can kind of spend every month for the next 2 years. And without having any problems, and I kept that amount aside and I said, in my budget, and this is all I need to do. And this is what I try to achieve, which is to come up with start collecting data. I knew where to get it.

I knew what to do and how to build it. And I started hiring some interns. And I said, listen, guys, this is going to be a phenomenal journey, and I want to you guys are interns. I know you don't know a ton about things, but you're passionate. So I was looking for passionate people who are good at what they did.

They had didn't have the best communication skills and I did not hire them for communication skills, which is a problem that companies have these days. They, they look for people and the visibility and not for the work they do. And I said, just improve yourself and get your courses. Just keep learning.

Keep doing better. It took us time. We started building MapZot before people. And the advantage was I was from India. I was born there, so I could hire people there within my budget at that point. And I could help them to get to that next level and start building the company within that, you know, what I was looking for at that point.

And since then we started growing the team to three became five, five became 10, 10 became 15. And today we have around 18 to 19 people in our team. We don't want to grow too big. We want to have high performers with a small team that can do really well. And we continue to do that. All of them are with us to date today.

Not one person ever fired in our team.

Mike O'Neill: Is that right?

Shobit Gupta: And the data science team. Yes. I've retained a hundred percent folks in my tech team today.

Mike O'Neill: That's so unusual. What do you think is the main reason why they've stayed?

Shobit Gupta: I don't micromanage anyone. They're all working remotely. Give them share ideas, listen to their ideas, give them I've created delegation.

So each person works with the other person. They see a sense of responsibility. They've got growth every single year. They've seen the growth. They've you know, they've learned on their journeys to upwards. So we've constantly hired people under them. They've trained those people. So there's a bond of trust to be built over the years.

And that has really helped MapZotup being where we are today.

Mike O'Neill: Shobit you made a comment a moment ago about controlled growth. That was not the words you use, but it sounds as if you're very purposely growing the business, but it's not growth for growth sake. I suspect that you've made that decision very consciously.

What is the main reason why you have leaned on controlled growth as the strategy?

Shobit Gupta: The one thing is, because the technology takes time to build naturally because it has to get better. So if I said 5 years ago that these would be the 300 sites for this ex friend, it has it every time they open a location.

We can go back. The goes back and say, okay, I was wrong. 50 meters accuracy was, you know, I should have been north of this location instead of being South. And it goes back and learn stronger. So now we hit 90 percent accuracy on our smallest brand as well, which is a 3 location company. So there was that cycle of growth.

You constantly, it's like losing weight. You lose the first 10 pounds very fast, but as you start losing more weight. The same is with AI and accuracy. You know, you keep adding more data sets to it to make it even stronger and more reliable. You work on feedback from people. So we had early on customers.

We took feedback, improved the product. It was kind of a black box, which we've helped create kind of more explaining the AI better how it things and understanding it. And that control growth is also because of funding, I would say. Thank you. I've seen companies that have there's no real idea behind those.

They're just another me to product. They get funded faster because of some maybe relationships. I would say unfortunately I have not been lucky in that sense of, you know, where it's been hard to get funding early on for us to have done what we've done, but I'm very satisfied where we are today.

There was a reason why that happened probably.

Mike O'Neill: You seem to have a kind of a perspective. I work with other software companies and I find the pace is very fast. The need for specific talent is very high, but it's not enough just to hire the right skill set. It's got to be a fit, and it sounds as if you're building a culture there very intentionally.

And one of the things I've picked up on is that you are promoting from within as people learn, you give them more responsibilities, and I can't help but think that is a contributing factor to the stability, particularly with that core technical Team, as you know, one of the themes of this podcast that I try to ask each of the guests and you've, I think you've already tipped your hand a little bit on how you might want to answer that question, but could you share an example where either you or a client got stuck?

And when that happened, what did it take to get unstuck?

Shobit Gupta: Yeah, I mean, there's. You know, people, because the technology is so new, sometimes it takes time to understand it. Like, how is it thinking? And, you know, when that happens, you know, it's it's. We've been very lucky to have early adopters. First of all, these are people and that's the beauty of America.

You know, we are the 1st to adopt any kind of technology, whether it's Tesla, Apple smartphones, AI facial recognition. Right? We have concerns, but we still adopt very fast. Right? And. That's the good thing about us is we found some great customers that were giving feedback. They did get stuck. We and because of the culture that we built, we came back very fast resolve those things because there was that sense of ownership amongst all the team members and we were able to deliver back to what they needed.

And traditionally, the software industry takes months for a product to be rolled out because of the red tape within companies. We are very agile in that sense. Say, let's stop this. Let's work on this and get this done for our customer because that's the priority. And, like, an example to give you is 1 of our customers would say, you know, car washing, they would say.

Why is this showing me this instead of this? And, you know, sometimes we don't have an answer because the AI is coming up with that answer. And that's what I said. You know, we've worked on improving that black box of opening up understanding and telling them that this is telling you the thing. What it's saying is correct.

And, you know, the real estate director sometimes may not agree to it. So now we build technology that or the explanation of the tech is so robust today. That they've been able to understand it much better. We will occasionally as a company, you get stuck in some you know, it's part of business, right?

You can't, but we do a great job in talking to our customers very frequently and making sure that it's not one person's responsibility. It's everyone's job. You know, it's it's we are all in customer service here. We, we want to get the feedback. We want to improve the product. We also want to make sure they use it.

And everyone in the company uses it. The software licenses, you would say are priced for license. You know, that's how the industry works. We price it for a company because we want everyone from the ground level to the CEO to be using it. And to be seeing who else is using it, where are you seeing the value?

So that's our philosophy overall.

Mike O'Neill: That's very interesting from a business model standpoint, not so much on licensed users, but each company and what that means is the company doesn't have to be concerned about how many users, if anything, it fosters that many more users. And if I heard you correctly, the more users.

The more opportunity you have to improve upon, the, the product itself. I may not ask this question accurately, but let me make a stab at it. When you were describing generative AI. And in my mind, I kind of saying, well, it learns from prior calculations, prior results, and it has a cumulative effect is that whatever that is, I don't know what the right term for that is, but that generative.

I get that concept. If I'm right there, how do you step back and make sure that your organization and the processes continues to learn from these experiences? Does that question make sense? How do you mirror how you run your business? The way you run how you build out software and improve upon it?

Shobit Gupta: Yeah.

So, because the, the structure we follow in the company is everyone comes in. Mike, it goes back to engineering, you know, the 1st class in every engineering school when you go for your bachelors, right? Undergrad. They make you cut wood, they make you cut steel and iron and all kinds of rods and concrete.

I asked all my interns, I was like, why do you think they make you do that? And they all say, because they want us to know how the physical work works. And, you know, they still want us to be understanding. I said, no, that's not the answer. The answer is when you've got using a saw, like, like the hand 1, right?

Not the one it takes you 6 hours to cut an iron rod. Right. Or, or some kind of. Metal, right? Or concrete when you use an actual industrial equipment or construction equipment, it takes you 10 seconds to do that. But in that 10 seconds, that blade is made from metallurgical advancements that engineering has made the motor has magnetic fields.

There's a motor inside it. There's so many things that go into that piece of saw, right? That it's an underappreciated product and they want you to understand as an engineer, yeah. This used to be a problem that engineering was able to solve. So, every time you get into a manual process. You have to find solutions in that during during that process.

And because we do that, we've given we, we tell everyone that's working on whatever they're doing. Tell me, how can you automate what you're doing, right? And improve upon it. So your job becomes easier. And when we start doing it today, we have around 140 AI models, just doing different things from data cleaning to.

Processing SaaS, all of that, right? So there's AI is not just one big behemoth model. It's just you can apply it in small things. You know, your question about generative AI. I mean, we have a model that can actually drive that road like you would and tell you whether there are a lot of trees on this property or there's a grading issue just like you would see it from your eyes.

Right? It's computer vision. So things of that nature, every AI is, you know, you can use it in every small aspect, but when you talk about it on a large level on a macro 10, 000 feet view Combined effort is also called generative AI, where it can now start identifying and parcel and drawing actual footprint of a McDonald's and saying, this is how that McDonald's can sit on that property based on the 10, 000 other McDonald's seen.

Across the country, and we make sure every Friday and Monday, anyone who's working on the project understands what they're trying to do and what the goal is and what kind of impact this is going to have on the overall company.

Mike O'Neill: I love that answer. I did not know. I guess I did, but never thought about it is when you're talking about generative AI.

It's not necessarily one process. You have 100 plus that are all working simultaneously. I'm showing my ignorance. And so I won't go too much further down the path of of AI, I am hearing loud and clear the passion in your voice, the opportunity that you created by taking a risk and marry an interest, an upbringing in which family was very supportive and encouraged you and expose you to an industry. In this case, real estate, a I just a natural inclination for the technical. And you've married that up and you've built something pretty remarkable. As we wrap up, what do you want our listeners to have as takeaways?

Shobit Gupta: I would say, believe in yourself, things my, I've always been taught whenever you hit a low in life, take a quantum leap.

Go to that. Whenever people try to pull you down, take, just go three, four steps higher than that. Just aim for that. Go beyond where they're, where you think the problem is. When you start doing that every time in life, you would end up in a better position than where you think you are. Start thinking out of the box, build relationships.

Never get disappointed. Have self belief in what you do. Educate yourself all the time. I read 7 newspapers from 7 countries every morning. If not just going walking, just reading through it, right? It's a lot of knowledge you get, right? It's going to help you some way or form in life. So this, I would say reading and be nice to people.

You know, just be very empathetic. And I constantly learn from my co founder, Blake, who gives me you know, every time if I've ever, you know, I've learned a lot from him and you know, so learn from people learn positive things. There's a lot of good things out there. A lot of good people out there that can support you and what you do.

Just make that first step. Idea doesn't have any value. Just give it that next step. Start something find the right kind of people that work for you. I've seen college kids you know, getting funding on drone, crazy drone concepts. So, if they can do it, you can as well. If I can do it coming from another country, not being born in America, there's a lot of opportunity for everyone else out there here.

Mike O'Neill: You mentioned find the right people. It's very clear to me. I found the right person to have as a guest. Thank you.

Shobit Gupta: Well, I appreciate it. Mike, it was an honor to be here and talk to you today.

Mike O'Neill: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. For even more insights about getting unstuck and moving your business forward, I invite you to subscribe to the Bottom Line Newsletter by going to bench-builders. com. You know, I found that the clients that I work with, they usually had one of two problems. Either they were frustrated because they were losing the employees that they wanted to keep. Or their leaders found themselves stuck in the weeds of the day to day and they're failing to execute on their long term strategy.

So if you're listening and you're experiencing high turnover or poor execution, if it's slowing your growth, let's talk, head over to bench-builders.com to schedule a call. So I want to thank you again for joining us. And I hope you've picked up on some quick wins from Shobit that'll help you get unstuck and on target. 

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