Matt Schwartz is the Co-Chief Executive Officer of The Domain Companies, a real estate investment and development firm that brings sustainable, mixed-use buildings to up-and-coming neighborhoods in thoughtful ways. Prior to launching Domain Companies in 2004, Matt was a Senior Vice President of Related Capital, then the largest multifamily owner and financial services provider in the country. Over the past 15 years, Matt has been involved in over $2 billion of development and capitalization in virtually every sector of the real estate industry. At Domain Companies, Matt takes a multi-tiered approach, designing to advance the life trajectories of low-income residents, promote community-wide healthy living and cultural enrichment, create opportunities for young people, and strengthen workforce development.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I grew up in New York. My grandfather owned a small business in Brooklyn that was started by his father, who immigrated from Ukraine, and my dad is a dentist with a practice in Manhattan. They were my role models. Both started their day before dawn, never took a sick day, were unbelievably disciplined, and worked hard. More than their commitment to the business, they were incredibly committed to their family. They gave me plenty of great advice, but they didn’t have to–the way they lived their lives was the only road map I needed. I grew up wanting to live up to the bar they set. I also wanted to find the same sense of purpose they had. Something I could commit myself to, something that would be a passion and not feel like work. The characteristics that I attribute our success to – that discipline, hard work, passion and always putting family first – I owe that to them (and my Mom too!).
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
By the time I graduated college in New Orleans and moved back to New York, I had decided real estate development was my path. I knew I wanted to build a business and create something that would make a lasting and positive impact. I love urban environments–their energy and their constant evolution–and I wanted to be a part of that. I got a job with The Related Companies, the most influential developer in New York City and perhaps the country. At Related, I was fortunate enough to learn from some of the most talented people in our business. My focus was on affordable housing and public-private partnerships. That’s where my interest in community development started, which would ultimately become the focus of our business at Domain. I met my business partner, Chris Papamichael, at Tulane. We’d come from the same town but hadn’t met until school. Chris entered the business a few years before me and we began talking about starting a business together not long after I graduated. It took a few years to map out the plan for Domain, but after a little over five years at Related, I left and we launched the business. The success we’ve had can be attributed to our unique partnership. We have complementary backgrounds and skillsets and share a common vision for what we want to build. We’ve been friends for nearly 25 years and have total trust in one another. We’re able to comfortably challenge each other’s ideas and help each other think through all angles of a problem or opportunity. Ultimately, real estate has proven to be the ultimate entrepreneurial endeavor. Given that we’re always pursuing new projects, the environment at Domain always feels like a start-up, even as we’ve built an infrastructure that rivals the largest institutions in our business. We’ve created and operated housing from affordable to luxury, hotels, restaurants, retail, and creative office space. We’ve worked in a variety of markets, utilized ever-evolving and complex financial structures, and dealt with a range of challenges from brownfields to large-scale community planning and entitlements. We engage with communities at multiple levels, seeking to help solve challenges and create an impact beyond our projects. Along the way, we’re constantly pushing outside of our comfort zone, always learning and getting better. It’s been an amazing journey, and I feel like we’re just getting started.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
This will be our 18th year in business – it’s hard to choose just one lesson. I’d say, and this is going to sound cliché, you need to love what you do. You need to find a sense of purpose, something you believe in and are passionate about. I know there are plenty of businesses that exist for the sole purpose of generating a profit, but we’d find it hard to dedicate what it takes to be successful if that’s all we were about. At Domain, our mission is to improve our communities and the lives of the people that live and work there. It’s rewarding to see the physical results of that work, but even more so to see the impact our work has on the lives of our residents, our guests, small businesses, and the greater community. Ultimately, it can’t just be you that finds that purpose. Our mission inspires the incredibly talented team we have at Domain. Having a team that is unified in the pursuit of our mission, and that takes pride in our collective accomplishments, is key to our continued success.