It takes a city: How a well-rounded team of experts helped a small development company revitalize Pittsburgh

Brea Weinreb

Behind every great design is an even greater story. Today we’d like to introduce you to Daniel Berkowitz, founder and managing partner of real estate development company Atlas Development.

Daniel and the rest of the team at Atlas have taken on the superhero-sized task of revitalizing the greater Pittsburgh area. In less than a year since its inception, Atlas has made major strides toward transforming the city into an entrepreneurial hub, thanks in large part to the diversity of their team and communal commitment to tackling their mission one step at a time.

Atlas team

Superman’s posse

Atlas Development isn’t your typical real estate development company. Rather than buying buildings for the purpose of attracting wealthy new tenants, Atlas works with the existing tenants to make neighborhoods great for the people who live there now. Daniel considers Atlas a vehicle to facilitate things that people are great at doing; to help a neighborhood become a better “them” and a building become a better “it.” And as the old adage goes, “It takes a city,” which is why Daniel’s recruited a reliable and diverse team of partners with different roles and responsibilities to help achieve these goals.

“As a founder you have to recognize you can’t do everything. I’d rather own 10% of a watermelon than 100% of a grape.” -Daniel Berkowitz

Daniel’s approach to team-building was to assess the needs of his company and then find people who could fit those roles. Since Daniel didn’t know much about designing and planning buildings, finding an urban planning architect was crucial for Atlas’ growth, as well as a financial advisor to help with raising and managing capital. By delegating these roles, Daniel was able to focus his attention on team management and day-to-day operations.

By the people, for the people

The masterminds behind Atlas agreed wholeheartedly that the most important factor for success would be delivering their promise of revitalizing Pittsburgh. And as manager, it was Daniel’s job to make sure his team stayed true to this mission. Daniel found the best way to do this was to maintain and strengthen the group mentality.

Managing a small company with a big mission? Strengthen your unit with Daniel’s proven tips:

  1. Don’t over-promise. Over-promising creates negative pressure on your team, whereas if you promise what you can deliver it creates momentum. Atlas started with a goal of revitalizing a few buildings, a manageable project for a small team. Once they had enough resources they tacked on a few more projects that were achievable.
  2. Remain disciplined. Even in the rocky beginnings of a company, it’s important to remain focused on your core business rather than looking at other avenues of income. Daniel admits when Atlas ran out of cash in its first few months (a situation that is commonplace for many startups), he was tempted to ditch the company and try other ways of making money in the short term. However, by remaining focused on Atlas’ growth Daniel was able to pinpoint the resources Atlas needed to succeed and make it happen, as well as prove to his team that he believed they could do it.
  3. Capitalize on your strengths. Acknowledge what your team is capable of and hone in on that. Daniel recruited a team of diverse experts from various backgrounds so that he could delegate tasks and achieve more than if he had a homogenous team of only real estate-focused minds.
  4. Learn from those around you. In addition to recruiting partners to fill out gaps in his skillset, Daniel also spoke with local developers who have led similar projects to learn the best and worst strategies for success in real estate. He admits although he didn’t necessarily like all of the other developers’ work or want to emulate it step-for-step, it was immensely beneficial to observe what made other projects successful and learn how he can apply that learning to Atlas’ goals.

Donning a cape (and logo, and website…)

With a reliable team in place ready to tackle a big mission, the one task left for Atlas was getting fully ‘fitted—because what kind of superhero doesn’t have a snazzy cape to announce that they’ve arrived?!

After being quoted for upward of $17,000 for a brand identity from local designers, Atlas turned to 99designs to give their company a face at a price they could afford. “We needed a brand identity that would be catchy at a business card scale, but also at large scale on a banner hanging on the side of a building,” says Daniel. It was only two days before they found a winner in their brand identity contest. Platinum designer No. 6 brought to life the art deco aesthetic Atlas envisioned for their super-startup.

Daniel’s pro tip: Wait a few months before you brand!

Many business owners rush into choosing a logo and brand identity and consequently wind up wasting thousands of dollars. Daniel recommends giving your business some time to develop before you choose an identity. This way, you have time to test your product and build a brand that is based off of experience and knowledge rather than what looks cool.

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Up, up, and away!

Now that they have the team, the mission, and the look, Atlas is ready to transform Pittsburgh from its rust belt past to its young, modern, vibrant and entrepreneurial future.

Within the next year, the Atlas team plans to finish up the eleven projects they are currently developing, while simultaneously buying their next buildings so they can immediately move on to the next project. Daniel and the Atlas team are also looking toward more long-term revitalization projects that expand past Pittsburgh’s borders to other underdeveloped cities, with Baltimore and St. Louis on the horizon. “We want to be known as the group able to do that, while always avoiding gentrifying a city. We don’t want to rip the soul of the city, we just want to turn up the volume!” says Daniel.

And Daniel’s last piece of advice? “Come to Pittsburgh! It’s the most amazing city.” Atlas, over and out!

Need a superhuman design? We got you!

The author

Brea Weinreb
Brea Weinreb

Brea is the Marketing Coordinator at 99designs. When she's not working you can find her painting in her art studio, reading a good poetry book, or drinking boba tea while dancing around in suede fringe culottes and pretending she is Jimi Hendrix (actually though).

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