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The Innovators: San Eng

Joe Hamilton

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The Innovators, presented by the Florida Blockchain Business Association and Cityverse, showcases the people and organizations that shape what’s coming next in Tampa Bay. 

In the world of real estate, innovation is often a scarce commodity. The very structure that supports deals – the complex financing, the legacy supply chain and obscure zoning –  makes change difficult. The capital requirements in real estate development preclude scrappy, bootstrapped startups from disrupting like they sometimes do in other industries. Occasionally, though, real estate pros make it to the cutting edge. 

San Eng, an entrepreneur and property developer, is one of the few who have successfully innovated in the real estate space, and he’s done it more than once.  

San’s got the “old school” chops to make real estate deals work, and also routinely builds and invests in emerging technology. His latest St Pete venture is an example.  

Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonymous author of the Bitcoin whitepaper that launched the blockchain revolution. Eng infused a blockchain theme into his development project, which offers fully furnished short-term, medium-term, and long-term rentals to digital nomads and tech-savvy travelers. He named it Satoshi’s Hideout. 

Satoshi’s accepts cryptocurrency for payment, features NFT art and provides coworking zones with large monitors.

The original location is on 2nd Street in downtown St. Pete, and has since expanded to three downtown buildings for a total of 47 units. There are more on the way.  

Eng, who historically develops properties but does not manage them, interviewed “hundreds of property managers,” most of which specialized in long term, or short term rentals. Combining the two, and marketing to roaming tech wizards, proved difficult. Eng knew it was time again to innovate.

Eng defines innovation as the “product of idea times commercialization.” To him, ideas are plentiful, activation is rare. He had an idea for a new way to manage property, he actually had a property that required it. But to unleash the potential of Satoshi’s, he had to commercialize his property management vision. 

Work Optional is Eng’s new startup property management platform. With it he seeks to automate what his team has dubbed the “4 Cs” of property management. He’s leaning heavily into artificial intelligence (AI) to transform his vision into reality. He expects it to look something like this: 

  1. Community: Eng builds his brands and their following with content created by AI. He marvels at the “instant expertise” that AI offers – it can create impactful messaging for unusual niche markets like digital nomads just as easily as it generates more traditional content. 
  2. Customers: AI effectively converts community leads into customers. Eng’s platform uses AI to interact with leads to entice them to take a tour of Satoshi’s. The entire process, other than the physical tour, can run through the platform. That includes checking in on the guest during the stay and ordering a bottle of wine as a welcome gift, as well as handling any issues that might arise. Eng notes that in properties he’s invested in, guests may stay for a year and solely interact with artificial intelligence. 
  3. Cash: Specializing in short/mid term rentals for traveling professionals opens the door to serving additional needs they may have. Connections to guests or locals with similar interests, local temporary gigs or upgraded equipment to use during a stay are just a few of the ways he’ll generate more revenue by delivering more value.  
  4. Costs: A timeless concern in the real estate business, Work Optional is again leveraging tech to reduce cost. Eng has installed IOT (Internet of Things) devices throughout the facility which control power usage and access. AI, he says, can make decisions in real time that are often better than a human property manager because the software has sophisticated algorithms powered by massive amounts of data. As noted above, AI can replace or augment expensive human labor in myriad ways. 

Eng is expecting to make leaps forward in 2024 with Satoshi’s Hideout and Work Optional. He hopes the Tampa Bay region will also make noteworthy progress in innovating. After living in 13 countries, the self-proclaimed “aspirational geek” now spends much time in St. Pete and believes we need to attract or build an early stage capital group that “aggressively pushes in the AI and robotics space.” He notes that with the current work-from-home trend that St. Pete should be at the top of the list for the very digital nomads he’s trying to serve with Satoshi’s Hideout. 

With a solid base of AI talent and companies, we can hope for a “Paypal Mafia” repeat where visionary founders reap an exit and then reinvest those proceeds in new companies locally, because “that’s a great way to build an ecosystem.” 

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