Day in the life of: Chris Kelly

The Convene president and chief of innovation on staying a step ahead of the competition, why corner offices are overrated and riding 100 hours on a Citi Bike

Jul.July 01, 2018 01:00 PM

Chris Kelly (Credit: Axel Dupeux)

Chris Kelly embraces the flexibility of co-working to the point where he doesn’t even have a designated desk, let alone a corner office. He co-founded Convene with a college buddy from Villanova University, Ryan Simonetti, in 2009. Over the last five years, the firm — which primarily provides landlords with serviced meeting and event spaces— has raised $119.2 million in venture funding and is expecting to score $150 million in a Series D round by the end of the summer. Convene currently has 17 outposts in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston. That portfolio of properties is held together by a blend of leases, partnerships and joint ventures with landlords, among them Brookfield Property Partners and the Durst Organization (both of which are also investors). This year, Kelly, president and chief innovation officer, and Simonetti, CEO, veered into WeWork’s domain, launching co-working spaces in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Though the company doesn’t foresee becoming a landlord itself, Simonetti has mentioned plans for a property investment fund. The company says it brought in $55 million in revenue in 2017 and is on track to rake in more than $100 million this year.

Originally from Armonk, New York, Kelly, 35, hasn’t always been in real estate. He and his wife, Adriann Kelly, founded a private jet charter brokerage called evoJets in 2006 after meeting in Aspen, Colorado. They continue to own a stake in the company, though neither is involved in its operations. After three years out West, Kelly landed in New York City to launch Convene with Simonetti. When he’s not on the road — either running a marathon or visiting one of his firm’s properties — Kelly works out of Convene’s new flagship at 101 Greenwich Street, a short walk away from his Battery Park City apartment where he and his wife are raising their two children.

5:30 a.m. I pop out of bed without an alarm and make coffee in a French press. I have four minutes while my coffee brews, so I’ll peek at my inbox and read marketing guru Seth Godin’s blog.

5:50 a.m. I leave the house to meet up with my running group. I love music, especially listening to albums straight through, so on my runs that’s what I do. I have a very eclectic taste, so it could be anything from Nas to the Allman Brothers Band.

7:00 a.m. In my family, we cook a big breakfast almost every morning. So that means gluten-free pancakes for my wife, eggs, health shakes. Usually my four-year-old daughter helps me, so she’s up on her little stool scrambling eggs. Then we’re getting ready for the day. I typically wear J.Crew jeans, a white Eton shirt and a blue Luciano Barbera blazer. Dressed-up jeans give me the most amount of flexibility to blend in with different audiences between our technology business and real estate or corporate-facing meetings.

8:45 a.m. On an ideal day, I walk my daughter to school. Once a week, I meet with Ryan for breakfast or coffee at the Smyth Hotel to get on the same page about issues like scaling company culture and navigating various growth opportunities.

9:00 a.m. The first thing I do when I get to the office is top up my coffee. What a GPS is to driving, the calendar is to my life: I just follow it to wherever it tells me to go. If I have free time, I’ll put myself in the center area of the common space to connect with people. Just being there tends to turn a lot of things that used to be emails into great conversations. And I gave up my desk because I’m always in meetings or traveling, so now my office is my backpack.

10:30 a.m. If it’s a Monday, we have our weekly executive team meeting. It kicks off with “wins of the week,” so we all share a personal accomplishment and a professional accomplishment. It creates positive momentum because sometimes the topics can become stressful or contentious.

12:00 p.m. I usually meet a client and do a tour of a Convene property. The other day I met with Kent Tarrach, Brookfield Property Partners’ vice president of asset management. We always try to host in our space, so our culinary team can provide the lunch. Part of my job is sampling every single thing they cook — that’s why I run so much. Two of my favorites are the Hawaiian poke salad and melon carpaccio ricotta salad.

12:45 p.m. When I have to go across town, I Citi Bike a lot. I have over 100 hours on my Citi Bike, and I’ve biked 751 miles.

2:00 p.m. I’ll disappear into a coffee shop or a meeting room with a white board, especially when I’m doing generative work. I really try to explore the fringes of the future, whether that’s business opportunities, thought leadership opportunities or introducing our brand to new markets. We’re getting ready to launch in Chicago.

3:00 p.m. At least twice a week, I do new-hire coffees with a group of no more than 10. We’re growing so quickly — we currently have 450 employees — so this is an opportunity for me to make a first impression by having a personal dialogue and emphasizing our internal culture and values.

4:30 p.m. A lot of my time is spent educating the market, so several times a week I do a 30-minute keynote presentation at an external event or in one of our locations. I recently spoke at Worktech18 in New York.

6:00 p.m. I use my evenings for relationship development or mentoring. My friend Tom Vecchione, a principal at Gensler, and I will meet at the Smyth Hotel to catch up and discuss plans for a new project. I order a Scotch neat. I [also] like Jameson.

7:30 p.m. When I walk in the door, I put my iPhone in a drawer and spend time with my family. I put my daughter and two-year-old son to bed, so I’ll read to them — the favorite is Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” Then Adriann, who’s doing her master’s in psychology at Fordham University, and I will have dinner and a glass of wine. Then I’ll usually go back to emails.

11:30 p.m. I charge my running watch and download my workout for the next day — I’m trying to run the six Abbott World Marathon Majors in under three hours. The next one is Berlin in September. I’ll read some long-form articles people send to me or go through my Medium feed, and then call it a night.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Convene now has 450 employees. 

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