My favorite quote is: “To create, one must first question everything.” - Eileen Gray The life hack I swear by is: For relationship building, never forget someone’s name after you meet them.
Redesigning the Latin America real estate sector
BUILDING THE DREAM. Architecture has always been a safe space for Michael Meo. As an introverted kid born and raised in California, he enjoyed figuring out how buildings worked and would quietly observe their effect on people. "I always dreamed of being an architect," he says. "I think it requires a great deal of sensibility to figure out what the best intervention for a building project could be."
Michael explored a range of facets across the architecture spectrum at Hampshire College and later Harvard for his master's, paying particular interest to its more community-focused aspects, including social impact design, urban sociology, and participatory design. After several years as an architect working on ultra-luxury projects at boutique firms, he remembers the moment he wanted to put his studies into practice in the real world.
"One day, I was with a client, a couple, and they were arguing over the finishes of a door handle. I asked myself, is this the kind of work I want to do in 10 years? Ultimately, the answer was no. The problem with being an architect within a traditional practice is you never have the power; you're a service provider acting on someone else's agenda. I've always been an activist; I've always known the kind of change I want to create in cities. The challenge I gave myself is, how can I position myself more in a place of power to have more influence?"
During grad school, Michael was awarded a research grant to work in Mexico City for two weeks. He quickly fell in love with the city and discovered a tribe of folks he quickly connected with who shared his outlook on human-centered design. He decided to stay and later landed a job at Polymath Ventures, a VC-backed company building companies for the emerging middle-class in Latin America. "That's where everything clicked for me. I realized that through business model innovation, I can leverage the tools I have as an architect to create the change I believe in."
REVAMPING AN ANTIQUATED SYSTEM. Michael left Polymath and co-founded Roomy, a co-living platform that flips underperforming hotels into affordable housing. While there, he discovered a passion for PropTech and met the co-founder of his current enterprise, Alohome. The platform acts as a Shopify for home builders across the Americas, providing them with online tools to better connect them with homebuyers and manage their real estate projects.
"In Latin America, there's a huge need for new housing. Although home builders are producing a lot of housing, they've struggled to connect with a new generation of homebuyers, which is where our technology at Alohome steps in. Through powerful white-label technology, we help home builders connect with a new generation of homebuyers."
Now operating in the real estate world ("I consider myself a product designer who thinks like an architect”), Michael has discovered that in a straight, male-dominated industry weighed down by legacy, his queerness is almost like a superpower. His alternative perspective and outside-the-box creativity have positioned him as a leader in his field. Now, with Alohome, he is spearheading meaningful change in Latin American real estate.
"In the future, I think borders and boundaries will become more ambiguous, and there's going to be deeper integration between the US and Latin America. I think technology can open up opportunities for people to find a home in places that would have otherwise been foreign to them. What I would love to do is support architects in pushing past the boundaries of traditional practice, figuring out the kind of change they want to create in the world, and helping them discover the best creative and professional avenue to affect that change."