Ben Miller recalls when he first had the idea to use crowdfunding for real estate investment. It was 2010, and he was out walking his dog, Zappa, an orange-eyed mutt with the body of a German shepherd and the face of a terrier.
That idea became Fundrise, a fast-moving start-up committed to making real estate investment available to everyday people, and Miller runs the show as founder and chief executive.
Zappa, now 9 years old, has been there every step of the way.
Today Zappa wanders quietly around Fundrise’s D.C. headquarters, where about 50 mostly young tech workers occupy a single floor above a Subway sandwich shop in Dupont Circle. He follows Miller into important business meetings as if he’s a senior manager, quietly nuzzling up to whatever newcomer is in the room before lying down on the floor.
Employees don’t seem to mind, even though at least one is allergic. Others are encouraged to bring their own dogs to the office, as long as they’re well behaved and there aren’t more than three of them there at the same time. And the employees sometimes decide to organize things around Zappa’s schedule, holding meetings at a nearby dog park.
“When he can’t come into the office, he gets really sad,” Miller says. “There are a bunch of people who always want to give him attention, so he just follows the love.”
One of Zappa’s biggest fans is Joe Chen, a Chinese billionaire who made a $27 million investment in Fundrise to help it scale up. Chen is known to come to a business meeting at Fundrise and spend the whole time petting Zappa.
“There was one meeting where [Chen] only wanted to talk to the dog,” Miller says. “Did Zappa raise this $27 million? I don’t know. But he definitely helped close the deal.”