Month: September 2016

Fintech / Proptech platform LoanDolphin
Asia PacificResidential

Australian Proptech / Fintech Mortgage Platform LoanDolphin: Giving customers more control

The Australian home loan industry is worth more than AUD$1.4 trillion, with the big four banks some of the most profitable in the world. That suggests consumers aren’t always getting the best deal. Meanwhile, Australian entrepreneurs have caught the Fintech bug, with a rapidly developing ecosystem spearheaded by Stone and Chalk. One resident startup, LoanDolphin, has created an auction platform, introducing transparency and competition to the mortgage market. A Proptech / Fintech hybrid, CTO and Co-Founder Rod  Dutra explains their plans to change how Australians get a home loan:

What is the problem you have set out to fix with LoanDolphin?

We both worked for a big 4 bank here in Sydney (Australia) and during this time we were able to experience first-hand the power banks have over the consumers and the amount of savings customers were missing out due to the lack of awareness when it comes to effectively negotiating and finding the right channel to complete their property finance requirements. We saw that customers were at the mercy of banks and had to do a lot of work to get the home loan deal they deserved.

Mortgage brokers can help, but different mortgage brokers have access to different rates so the customer still doesn’t know if they’re getting the best deal. We thought it was about time the consumers had more control and that brokers and banks did the hard work instead so we created LoanDolphin to empower consumers with more choice, convenience and value.

What has been the biggest challenging in launching the platform?

It’s very similar to most startups. Building trust with the customers is probably one of the biggest challenges we have. We collect a considerable amount of information and, as a result, sometimes customers may be reluctant to give all the information out. We are still building our brand from scratch. But this is when early adopters and talking to our existing customers becomes very important. We love it when customers share their feedback with us so we can keep improving our product.

What was the process like in signing up the first bank and generally how have the banks responded?

We were able to sign up some banks early on when we were about to launch our MVP. It takes a lot or persistence and patience with the banks. Generally, banks are very conservative. Different stakeholders, inconclusive priorities and a lack of long term strategic thinking is very hard to tackle as a startup.

When you say lenders and brokers compete is it fully automated and how does that work?

There is a human behind all this competition. We believe that the home loan deal as well as the person who assists you with the application is crucial. Our ratings and reviews will help our customers choose not just the right product but also the most suitable person – whether it’s a bank lender or a mortgage broker. Also, all the bids are placed in an open and transparent platform so brokers and banks can see what everyone else is prepared to offer each customer, which means that the competition is very fierce.

How does a broker compete with a bank when presumably their loan is from the same institutions?

Goes back to what we mentioned about the lack awareness. Certain brokers are categorised as ‘platinum’ or ‘flame’ brokers. These brokers have special deals and certain privileges with certain banks. Likewise some senior bank lenders have anything from pricing discretions to the ability to fast track applications if need be. So as a customer if you go to a normal lender or a normal mortgage broker you might end up with an average deal for one of the biggest purchases in your life.

Do you have any direct competitors?

Our competitors range from comparison websites to DIY broker sites, all with fairly different offerings and value propositions from us.

How has Stone and Chalk helped your business?

It’s been great here at Stone and Chalk and we have found great mentors. The collaborative efforts within the community to help, share and support each other is absolutely priceless.

What do you think of alternative funding platforms like funding.com.au?

We believe that alternative funding platforms will have a part to play in the industry. There are plenty of problems in the market which need innovative solutions to tackle them. As long as no one is ripping the customers off (like the payday lenders saga) and there is a clear value add to the customers, alternative funding platforms will remain relevant.

What is the focus for the next 12 months?

  1. Expanding our team
  2. Release LoanDolphin v2 to the market in the next 8 weeks
  3. Get more direct banks involved

You have announced plans to expand the platform for mortgage brokers. Can you explain how this will work?

We already have mortgage brokers taking part in our platform. We are actively looking to expand our partnerships with Victorian mortgage brokers since we are starting to see a big uplift in our customer base from Victoria.

Comfy
CommercialInterviewsIoTUnited States

Comfy App: Leading the Way in Workplace Comfort and Productivity

Comfy allows office workers to control their immediate room temperature via their phone, and is leading the workplace technology wave, as employers increasingly focus on the connection between environmental quality and worker productivity. In June, Comfy raised US$12m in Series B funding from leading investors including CBRE, a global real estate brokerage. President Lindsay Baker gave us a snapshot of the market leader in office thermal comfort:

How did Comfy come about and how did you get involved?

Comfy started a handful of years ago when Andrew and Steve, our CEO and CTO, were PhD students in Computer Science at UC Berkeley. They were involved in a research project around software and buildings, and created the prototype of Comfy after tinkering with systems at a building on campus. It worked pretty well, so they started navigating the idea of starting a business. That’s when I met them, we got the company off the ground around 3 years ago, and we’ve been growing ever since!

Emergence, Microsoft and CBRE are an amazing set of investors / partners – what was the capital raise process like?

We are very fortunate with our newest investors. They all share the vision for the impact we can have on people’s lives, and share in the excitement that we have at being in the right place at the right time for the market. Emergence is well known for investing in successful SaaS companies like Salesforce, Box and Yammer, and have been really helpful so far as we learn some key lessons for our upcoming growth stages. Microsoft is obviously a legend when it comes to positively impacting productivity for us in our work lives, and so they’ve been great as new partners. And finally the investment from CBRE has lent a great credibility to us, given their status in global real estate. They look at a lot of real estate technologies, so we are very happy to earn their attention. The capital raise process is a lot like building a new account or partner – it’s all about finding shared value, so it’s exciting to find it with such great organisations.

I’ve read about the investment being for further product development / expansion, could you elaborate?

We as a company are in a great place in the market. We’ve shown our unique ability to get high engagement from occupants with a CRE app that also does some pretty tricky work with systems integration, controls etc. So now we are looking to some great opportunities to use our platform and skills to eliminate other pain points that occupants have with their physical environments at work. There’s a lot to be done, but the good news is that the real estate industry is looking for ways to improve worker productivity and we have a unique ability to help do that. Stay tuned for the details 😉

Is the investment from CBRE any different given they are one of the world’s largest building managers?

As has been reported, we are currently piloting Comfy with CBRE in a set of locations. We’ve all seen press releases about startups and big companies in our space promising big future partnerships, but we’d rather make headlines once we’ve made it happen, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Comfy looks like a tenant focused product. Is there a way to work with developers / landlords?

Comfy is a product focused on anyone who cares about how it feels to go to work every day. Typically that’s been employers who have control over their buildings, because they see the impact of employees who aren’t as productive as they can be. But all of us in real estate bear some of this responsibility, it’s just a question of monetizing that. So yes, we do now have some awesome clients who are landlords who see Comfy as a differentiator – a way to attract and retain tenants. But I’ve been in the real estate industry long enough to know that this type of thing wouldn’t have initially gotten traction with landlords because they needed to see the pull from tenants. So we went first to owner/occupiers, and now that we’ve proven our value, we are excited to be getting the attention of landlords.

Are you guys working on the Delos Well Rating in any way or seeing it influence what you do?

I’ve known the folks at Delos since they got started, and some of the work that I was doing before Comfy (along with many others) was influential to them in starting the system. The connection between health and buildings has been a long-standing pursuit, and Delos is doing great work driving this message into the marketplace and supporting some awesome research to prove this connection. I’ve not had time to work directly on the standard recently, but we are definitely supporters in their work.

In terms of integration with other platforms (Redwood Systems, Intel, Lutron, and View) – are there any more planned?

There are indeed other integrations planned, but none announced yet!

Can you tell me more about the AI and how it works?

To clarify, Comfy delivers streams of warm or cool air to building occupants at the press of a button in the app. Over time, those requests are run through machine learning algorithms to help predict and optimize the temperature for a particular zone (or area where people sit). Basically we use an equation that runs over and over again, for every HVAC zone that we support, and the output of that equation determines the maximum and minimum temperatures in that moment for that zone. So it’s dynamic over time, in other words.

User data accumulates over time, and that equation keeps running, and thus the computer can gradually migrate to settings that it ‘learns’ over time. That equation is also called an algorithm. Our algorithm takes into account a few numbers: the time of the week, the indoor temperature, and whether someone wants it to be warmer or cooler. Then it crunches all of the data points for those numbers, and cranks out its guess for what the perfect temperature is, for that room, at that time. The great part is also that if the algorithm doesn’t nail it, people have an easy way to get an immediate change as well.

As I am sitting in Singapore, what are the plans for international expansion?

We are excited to be getting interest in Comfy from across the globe. We are happy to support clients in 4 different countries today and we are considering international markets to potentially establish more of a presence proactively, but either way, the great part of what we do is that it’s very feasible to deploy and support remotely, so we’ll keep doing that for now!

What’s the vision of Comfy in 10 years?

Today, there is a big disconnect between what our bodies and minds need to be productive and what our office buildings provide. We believe that people can reconnect with buildings so that our workplaces become truly thoughtful and responsive to us. There are many facets of that re-connection, lots of work to do.

My favourite image is that someone walks into their office, maybe a location they don’t usually visit, and the building knows this person’s preferences, maybe it’s a quiet, naturally lit, cool spot, and they get a little notification that tells them that a perfect spot is available for them to sit that day, and asks if they would like to book it for the day. Then it helps them navigate there, gets their documents pulled up on the workstation, and they can settle in comfortably and seamlessly. When they need a little less light, they can easily dim the windows without hassle. When they need a nearby room for a meeting, it’s easy to book, find and set up. All of these interactions should be as easy and as masterful as making a sandwich in your kitchen, but today they are filled with frustration. Maybe not the craziest vision, but it would help a lot of people have better lives at work.

Finally, Is your office air conditioning utopia?

Ha, well, our current office is a lovely space in beautiful downtown Oakland. We do have Comfy in our space. If it’s a utopia, I’d say that’s more because we have an awesome team of people who I’m proud to work with. And of course we also keep ice cream and sweaters on hand, just in case 😉

See Comfy in action on youtube.

Proptech Oppsites
CommercialInterviewsInvestmentUnited States

Oppsites: Proptech Matchmaking service for Real Estate Developers and Cities

Cities need developers, developers need cities. Connecting the dots between government planning objectives and investment has previously been conducted via a mixed bag of personal relationships, brokers, official tours and plain old business development – until now. Oakland based Oppsites saw an opportunity to create a single platform allowing cities to promote all of their development opportunities, centralising and simplifying this process for all parties (video explanation here). COO and Co-Founder Tomas Janusas explains the background and how it works:

So what is the background behind OppSites?

After 15 years as an urban design consultant helping cities achieve their economic development goals, Ian Ross (our CEO) realised that cities needed a better way to communicate those goals with investors, developers, and brokers.

Many communities include a large number of public and privately owned properties that are underutilised, and whose redevelopment would bring new revenues to the community. Yet many cities lack the resources and professional network to market those opportunity sites to a wide audience of prospective investors. OppSites was built to connect cities and the real estate investment community to maximise successful economic development through enhanced communication between the government and real estate sectors.

Tell us about the team?

Ian Ross (CEO and Co-Founder): Since 1999, Ian has provided urban design and economic development services to cities in support of long term economic health. He received a BA in economics from the University of Rochester and an MLA from Cornell University. His experience informs his focus on economic development at the intersection of city planning and real estate investment.

Tomas Janusas (COO and Co-Founder): Tomas has a diverse background in real estate, planning, technology, and project management. OppSites grew out of Tomas’ passion for building technology solutions that catalyse urban development. Tomas is in charge of OppSites’ daily operations and product development. His lifelong appreciation for urban environments led him to the University of California School of Environmental Design (CED), where he graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Urban Studies.

What drives local government to list opportunities? Why can’t they find partners the traditional way?

When cities do planning work and create a vision for their future, they raise the economic potential in a property by increasing the development capacity. But that potential often goes unrealised because investors and developers simply do not know about it. By posting these properties on OppSites, local governments can reach a much wider audience than traditional methods such as word of mouth, city-hosted broker tours or industry conferences.

Does this replace the role of traditional brokers (CBRE, JLL etc)?

OppSites does not replace the role of traditional brokers, but rather exposes more opportunity for the industry to act on. We believe that real estate potential often goes unrealised simply because property is not listed for sale. OppSites uncovers entirely new set of real estate listings – properties that are not on the market but have underutilised potential and local government support for new development.

Does the municipality etc simply list the opportunity? Does oppsites provide any additional analysis or just act as a marketplace?

Currently OppSites provides only basic layers of information (parcel and owner’s information) and no analysis. Local government leaders can highlight opportunity sites or districts on the map and share local knowledge about an investment.

For example, the city of Oakland is using OppSites by posting some of its recently completed specific and area plans. The plans detail how land can be used in certain areas. It allows Oakland ‘to educate, market, and demonstrate the city’s efforts in terms of showing off our opportunity sites and creating interest for those sites,’ says Aliza Gallo, the city’s economic development manager.

How do the partnerships work: ICSC, ULI etc?

Public and private sector members can use OppSites technology to share or find the information about investment opportunities among their members.

  • Cities, Counties, and Economic Development Organisations can showcase publicly and privately owned properties that they want to see redeveloped, even if those sites are not listed for sale. Those sites are showcased on a web-based platform, and can be shared with local and national real estate professionals.
  • Real estate Developers, Brokers, and Investors can find underexposed development opportunities that support local economic development goals, then connect with city leaders to save time, streamline due diligence, and reduce risk.

‘We see this as a tool that will be helpful to our members both in the public sector and the private sector in promoting and finding sites,’ says Cynthia Stewart, the Washington D.C. based staff vice president of community development for ICSC, a global trade association for the retail industry. Its members include shopping center owners and developers, land use attorneys, architects, mayors, and chambers of commerce. ‘It’s a real way for small-town cities and urban cities with underserved urban markets to get those sites in front of developers. They aren’t always the obvious sites,” Stewart says.

What is your coverage like in the US? What has the expansion process been like?

OppSites has grown incredibly fast since it’s launch in September 2014. Currently, we have over 400 cities and over 3,000 real estate professionals using OppSites on any given month.

What have you learned or surprised you since launching this business?

The most surprising factor has been, and still is, the inefficiencies that exist in real estate industry and the potential it creates for commercial real estate innovators.

Could this platform expand internationally?

It could, but we have not explored the opportunity thoroughly. Currently we are working with a few Canadian cities. However, I believe OppSites has an incredible potential in the area of Foreign Direct Investment.

You had a seed round in 2014 – are you now revenue generating with no need or plans to raise further capital?

We are currently raising more capital to accelerate the growth.  

Have you seen Landinsight in the UK? How similar is it to your platform?

OppSites is a matchmaking service for cities and real estate developers rather than the property analytics tool as Landinsight seems to be.