All posts by Jack FitzGerald

Realla
CommercialEurope

Realla Interview: Commercial Property Search Engine

Residential property portals such as Zoopla, realestate.com.au and Zillow have pioneered the global shift towards the consumption of residential property online. Features we now take for granted, such as map search, professional photos and floor plans, and automated agent contacts are now being supplemented with more sophisticated options like virtual reality tours and automated valuations. This has made buying and renting property online as easy as lying on the sofa with one eye on the TV and another on the tablet.

Commercial real estate, traditionally dominated by the large brokerages, has lagged behind – characterised by individual project marketing (brochures) and an overall lack of transparency. This is starting to change with platforms such as Realla in the UK, taking the best features from residential sites and applying them to commercial real estate. Co-founder, Ian Parry, discusses Europe’s leading commercial property search engine.

What made you focus on commercial property given the background in residential search?

During 2008-2012, I was the CTO and co-founder of Globrix, which was a property search engine 100% focused on the residential sector (it was sold into Zoopla in 2012). During this time it became clear that commercial property was an under served market and there was a great opportunity there. I then met my future business partner Andrew Miles through a UK venture capitalist and we decided to start Realla. Andrew previously worked with British Land on the investment team and had become frustrated with receiving endless, huge marketing brochures for deals. The focus at this time was to create both the search engine portal and marketing tools for agents (since then we have added more powerful features for agents, landlords and investors).

How has your Globrix experienced shaped your approach to Realla?

The approach with Realla has been similar in a sense to the approach with Globrix – both have focused on crawling to create and build a stock of properties in the index. Realla now has over 96,000 commercial properties to search in the UK which is pretty much the entire market. Taking that into account, the technology approach has moved on however the concept is very similar – our most sophisticated tech is using machine learning to extract properties from PDF brochures. We see the opportunity in generating traffic and up-selling paid for placements.

How do you obtain your data?

  • Crawling from public websites
  • Publishing direct through our marketing tools
  • Machine learning for extraction of key meta details such as price, address, building types on both HTML and PDFs

Realla is a great site in terms of managing a lot of data / fields while keeping the UX clean and easy – how as the design process been in order to achieve this?

We have a small product and design team – our head of design previously worked for major brands like Burberry and Nike. We also have a lot of experience with the search components within the site having built a number of “guided search” experiences and learned various lessons via:

  • regular user feedback sessions
  • specific customer sponsors for part of the tools
  • data monitoring to track KPIs and engagement and feed them back into the design

Does the nature of UK commercial property support the need for this type of platform? Ie. so many types of commercial spaces, such a deep and diverse market.

Yes, but it takes investment in the verticals. We think our industrial and office offering will diverge significantly over time. Essentially the base need exists in the market where tenants and investors want to discover deals online and to date this isn’t particularly well served with a single resource to view the entire stock.

Was it an easy process to bring on the commercial agents?

There is no friction in agents using the portal, however it is a slower process for getting agents to use the marketing and CRM tools. We compete against incumbent in-house IT systems and a few other CRM businesses who focus on commercial property. PropTech is forcing agents and landlords to adapt a more digital approach to everything they do now and we are also aware progress takes time, but we have secured flagship clients in the last year.

Clients include Colliers, JLL, Richard Susskind and The Office Group.

What is the most similar platform in the US?

Real Massive is the most similar in the US to Realla, they also provide a powerful and yet easy way to help commercial real estate agents collaborate and streamline their marketing efforts.

How were you funded before this raise in June 2016?

Our first Angel raise was in March 2015.  A list of some of our investors can be found here. Realla is invested in and advised by leading real estate agents, investors and technology angels.

What is the long term vision? Say 5-10 years from now?

We aim to become the industry standard marketing medium for commercial property, and with it, the major specialised portal providing traffic.

Do you have international plans?

Yes, we do have international plans, once we see real growth in the UK we will start to implement them. We already have a foothold in Dubai.

realla

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.

Commercial property online agent
CommercialEuropeInterviews

Virtual Commercial: the world’s first online commercial property broker

The digital disruption facing the real estate industry has taken another step forward with the launch of what could be the world’s first commercial property online agent. Following in the footsteps of UK startups such as Purplebricks and eMoov, Virtual Commercial provides commercial property vendors with all the tools they need to sell online for as little as £300. Co-Founder and CEO, Andrew Vertes, tells us more:

Are you the world’s first online commercial agent? 

Yes, we believe Virtual Commercial is definitely the UK’s first, if not the world’s first, dedicated online commercial estate agent. We provide the tools and support of a traditional agent to allow anyone to sell or let their commercial property throughout England & Wales. All for a low, fixed cost with no commission fee charged.

Was this inspired by residential online agents?

Absolutely. Having worked in commercial property agency for many years, I had witnessed the way the internet was changing how commercial property was being marketed and searched for. At the same time, the rapid success of online residential agencies (eg. Yopa) proved that sellers are happy to take control of the process.

What type of properties do you target? Is it everything from the local grocery store to a large office building?

As this has been built from the ground up for commercial property, we are able to handle any type of commercial property or business disposal. Whether a sale or a letting and from your local high street shop through to a large multi-let office building, we can deal with every use and every type of disposal.

What do the traditional agents think of this?

As we are the first movers in this market, we believe we will be closely watched. Having met some senior individuals within the established traditional firms, the consensus is that they have been waiting for someone to make the move into this market and are surprised it has taken so long.

What is the background of you and the team?

I have worked in commercial property my whole life. I ran the commercial agency department and was a director of a successful central London property company. I then left and set up my own management and agency consultancy, then came up with this idea and realised I had to make it happen.

Andrew Vertes

Andrew Vertes, CEO and Co-Founder, Virtual Commercial

I spoke with a good friend Laurence Herzberg who had recently helped launch a property portal in the Balearic Islands to see what would be required to make this happen. He introduced me to our third co-founder Aron Maus, who also had experience with launching his own start up trading in precious metals.

What are the biggest challenges in growing the business?

We launched at the beginning of June, about the same time as Brexit. Without a doubt this has affected market confidence. We initially launched with a single sales model based on a 12 month term but we found prospective clients now have the concern of negativity surrounding commercial and the future. Understandably clients had concerns about paying for a fixed marketing term if the economy is about to plunge into a recession (although that has largely been seen to be unfounded). We have dealt with this by changing and improving our pricing options to include the following:

1. Unlimited marketing term
2. On-completion pack
3. 3 month marketing term

Do you have outside investment or are you planning to raise capital?

Yes, we were fortunate enough to raise investment for the business. I think our successful raise was really down to our team of co-founders, having a detailed business plan, financial forecasting and a working product. Because we believed in the concept we decided to self-fund the development of the platform prior to raising capital. This meant that investors could use our platform and see for themselves what we were building. We ended up getting investment from multiple investors at our target valuation. However, it was by no means easy.

What has the market response been like generally? Any surprises or as expected?

As mentioned, launching in the Brexit aftermath has been an unforeseen and surprising challenge. We initially launched with a flurry of enquiries from interested users, however, post Brexit, many previously interested parties are now questioning whether it is the right time to sell. Those users who have completed a purchase have been really positive about our website, support and the lead management process.

Do you think this is different in any way to the residential concept? (eg. vendors may see agents are more valuable for commercial assets?)

There are obviously similarities between the two but there are also significant differences and far more complications and challenges with commercial property, whether using a traditional estate agent or an on-line agent. However this is why we offer Agent Support for all our clients, should they have a question or need advice, we are here to help.

Can you give a case study of a property sold via the platform?

We have only been active a short while but one of our first clients is a critically acclaimed and award winning restaurant in a beautiful medieval town in Dunster, Somerset. The restaurant is Reeves Restaurant, the freehold sale of which includes a 40 cover restaurant, outside space and accommodation. The current owner had previously used a traditional estate agent to market the property but he found that the agent actually had very little involvement in the sale beyond listing the property on-line and interested parties preferred dealing directly with him rather than the agent. However, the agent still insisted on a traditionally large commission fee based on the sale value! As a result, he engaged Virtual Commercial to assist in the sale of his asset.

Workplace Engagement Platform
CommercialEuropeInterviews

Office App: Workplace Engagement Platform co-founder Interview

As a successful graduate of Pilabs 3rd cohort (2016), UK startup Office App represents a new wave of workplace engagement platforms. Businesses large and small are exploring opportunities to engage employees, improve productivity and maximise staff satisfaction. Book a meeting room, receive local lunch specials or check if there are parking spots for your clients all via a single, flexible mobile app. Office App co-founder Thijs van der Burgt tells us more:

Tell me a bit about the team and why you decided to start Office App?

Office App is built from the belief that an office building can and should be more exciting, efficient and above all more fun. That is why we’ve created the only fully integrated office assistant for your mobile. The team includes:

  • Thijs: 7 years experience in Product Development with a focus on User Excellence
  • Teun: 5 years Strategy Consultancy at McKinsey  with a focus on Operational Excellence

Did you know much about workplaces / office buildings beforehand?

Although I have worked in office spaces, I didn’t actually know much about the spaces themselves. I’m a product developer, my partner has over 14 years of experience in real estate, and together we developed a product that is both helpful for facility managers and occupants.

What are you hoping to get out of the PiLabs experience?

When we started the business in Amsterdam, we knew we could build a successful business in our home market, but that it is not where the big opportunities lie. The European pinnacle of office life is the City in London, so in our process of researching that market and looking for ways in, we more or less stumbled upon PiLabs. At that point we had already realised we were going to need to step up our game if we were successfully going to penetrate the UK market. PiLabs is very well positioned to do so by helping us to get in front of the right people, sharpen our product offering and secure funding.

How much traction have you got with clients?

We are very excited to announce that we have on-boarded major clients like Dell, EY and the World Trade Center. All our clients are very happy with our added value and have either applied Office App in more offices since then or recommended us to other clients.

How do you on-board local deals? (ie. from local restaurants etc)? Is that a manual process?

Yes, it is a manual process. We are able to add a mobile shop for your local dry cleaner, car wash or florist. We offer these local retailers a shop in our marketplace within 1 hour, direct payment included.

Could you expand overseas? Eg. Singapore?

Yes, definitely. We have optimised our platform to scale easily and reliably – we don’t even have to be physically present to install Office App at any office around the world!

You’ve mentioned being sensor/IoT agnostic – can you tell us about any sensors you are already working with?

With our partners we are using PIR, vibration, temperature and magnetic sensors in different buildings. Mostly for parking, desk, meeting room availability and their occupancy rates. And with other partners we use wifi or beacon sensors. It depends on the clients wishes what technology we implement and how we offer this to the employee. For example, for one client we have sensors in table tennis and foosball tables to indicate if they are available.

What are your plans for raising capital?

We are looking for £500k investment for operations, sales and product development. Our growth is limited by the bandwidth of the company, not the interest from potential clients.

Are you planning to grow the team?

Yes we are hiring new sales people and looking for an additional iOS developer to strengthen our development team.

What has been the best part of the experience overall?

A big part of my job at Office App is that I’m in charge of product. In development, we focus on user experience and iterate on results in user engagement surveys. Seeing people more engaged and happy using Office App makes me proud of what I do.

Defect Inspection Technology
ConstructionInterviews

Snagr Interview: Defect Inspection Technology comes of age

Project management and construction relies heavily on processes and reporting to monitor progress and keep a wide range of stakeholders up to date. A number of technology platforms have advanced this space, although you are still likely to find excel at the heart of most site office reporting. Snagr is one of the most advanced, and client focused, defect inspection solutions available so we caught up with Managing Director, Mark Henderson, to understand more:

As a family business, there must be an interesting story behind Snagr?

The original idea came from my father Graham over dinner with an architect friend. They discussed the idea of plotting issues on plans. Devices in those days were either PDAs which proved to be cumbersome, slow and limited or windows ‘laptops without a lid’. Even the smaller, expensive ones that had a rear facing camera had no proper protection and needed a stylus. These devices got us started but we could not have progressed without the advent of the iPhone/iPad.

Did you or your father have a background in construction? If so, has the technology side been completely new to you?

Dad worked as a labourer in school and university holidays in the 70’s and loved construction. He also worked as a chippy, steel erector and roofer. He then studied architecture at the University of Liverpool but re-trained into computing 30 years ago. It all came full circle with the advent of SnagR. Graham’s extensive construction experience and my programming and UX Design background allowed us to create a compelling product without requiring outside investment. We were joined by Elizabeth (Mum) as head of Sales and my two brothers Nick as a software developer and James (with a PHD in Construction Management) heading the support team in Europe. Nick recently moved to Dubai to open our office there.

Was it originally born as a defect management system or something else?

Yes, the original version was purely for Defect Management. Capture on a mobile device, synchronise, publish and sign-off. We have always tried to engage with our clients and understand their needs. I must admit probably every great idea and function came from a feedback session with a client: ‘Can I do ‘x’ with the system?’ would be followed with ‘Hmm no not the way you want to do it, but it’s a bloody good idea, leave it with us!’. By being a tight-knit team of family programmers we were able to develop the technology quickly and release often. The system is now configurable for any data collection task which requires mobile devices. I think a better way to describe SnagR is Mobile Data Collection with Inspections and Issue management.

What are your plans for commissioning and safety?

We realised a few years ago that SnagR was perfect to be used by safety teams even in the same project it was being used for quality assurance. The data that needs to be captured is largely the same: take photo, assign to a team, categorise and track sign-off through a workflow. This year our clients have been winning awards for safety using SnagR including 6 awards from the Macau government and one from the Hong Kong government. We will be expanding the functionality of the core product to better suit safety team workflows and communication requirements, and are also now being used to record injuries and near-misses. The ability to report across projects globally is something unique to SnagR and allows our larger clients to profile where safety improvements can be made as part of company culture and policy efficiently.

Commissioning, Progress Reporting and Site Diaries are a personal passion of Dad’s. SnagR can be used for testing and commissioning in many different ways through checklists, inspections and progress reporting. We think that commissioning can be improved and made more efficient with better technology. Progress Reporting and Site Diaries are also something we want to make easier to capture, more accurate and useful.

It looks like you have expanded from the UK to Hong Kong and beyond… what has the overseas expansion been like (in terms of challenges, different cultures, clients etc)?

Expanding from the UK to HK and Dubai has been an exciting journey. Originally, we would go on overseas trade missions with the UKTI (UK Trade & Investment). We would go to Singapore, HK, Canada, Qatar, Dubai, Canada and South Africa. Our first major project in Hong Kong was the Tamar building and Peninsula Hotel refurbishment. As we had never taken outside investment we grew organically. The money from these projects was invested in supporting the projects with regular visits and the opportunity to try to develop the markets further. It was because we had many more projects in Hong Kong at the time that we ended up opening our first Asia office there and not Singapore.

We now have projects throughout Asia, with partners in Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia. As the Technical Director, when I moved to Hong Kong the software development came with me. Now all software development is done from Hong Kong. Expanding outside of the UK has helped us better understand the worldwide construction market. The software is now available in 8 languages with more being added. Projects in Hong Kong or with international clients use SnagR in a dual-language mode so that local sub-contractors and the client can all understand the data without the ongoing need for translation. At the beginning of 2016 we opened an office in Dubai – there are still a huge amount of large construction projects going on in the region so that office has grown rapidly.

Who are your key competitors?

There are other defect management solutions available in the market but nothing that really matches SnagR’s approach. We have over 3,000 active projects around the world and SnagR is designed to be a company wide solution helping larger clients and projects standardise their approach and look across their entire business for learning outcomes and improvements.

What is your business model?

SnagR is sold either per project or as an annual enterprise license. SnagR differs from most SAAS (software as a service) products in that we do not charge per user, instead we charge per project based on the construction value of the project. This means that users, data, drawings etc, everything is unlimited so that the sub-contractors, consultants and client users can all be issued with as many user accounts as required. We believe strongly that collaboration software like ours needs to be accessible to all stakeholders. The pricing structure is designed so that SnagR is used on all projects by default regardless of their size so that our clients can compare the performance and data collected across their whole business.

Typically, are new clients moving from completely paper based processes to cloud based, or are they already working with technologies then trying your product?

It depends, it’s not so much paper based processes we see anymore but normally something excel based. Lots of our larger clients have attempted to create defect management solutions in the past. The main problem with this approach is that mobile technology moves so fast that continual investment is required in order to keep up and support all the new device types and operating systems. SnagR does nothing else but invest and continually improve our product offering. New technological advances and changes in the industry, as well as new ideas that people have suggested elsewhere in the world are quickly added to the system and available to all of our clients.

The software industry is moving away from a swiss army knife approach towards apps that are specialised: the right tool for the right job that can talk to each other and can be integrated together to share data. On your phone you probably have a different app per social network, one for taking photos and other for ‘To Do’ lists and a Calendar app. We see this continuing so we work hard to keep SnagR being the best at mobile data collection, indexing data visually, analysing and reporting that data but also allowing clients to integrate with their other enterprise systems.

What are the biggest benefits your clients report – cost savings, time saving, improved quality?

I think the biggest benefits are speed, transparency, communication, standardisation and with that comes improved quality. There is a huge amount of reporting required in construction between all of the different stakeholders. Progress reporting back to the client, reporting issues to the sub-contractors etc. Site staff have to spend significant amounts of the week in the site office in front of a laptop compiling reports, trying to remember which photo was for what thing. SnagR removes all of that administration for issue management, safety, progress reporting, check-lists, inspections, handover, testing and commissioning plans, site diaries and much more. By the time you walk off-site and synchronise your data (the system works offline), the reporting and communication is automatic and you can analyse your data in real-time.

This saves time and money and more importantly improves safety and quality as your key people are able to spend more time out on-site solving problems instead of being behind a laptop compiling reports. A quantifiable example is our client Dragages working on the City of Dreams project in Macau. The 4 person safety team estimated they were spending around 18 hours collectively per week compiling reports of weekly statistics and safety findings. SnagR was able to completely eliminate the reporting requirement. We were able to recreate their standard report format so that the weekly report is automatically produced, available instantly but can also be created for any time period of the project duration. This same approach has now been rolled out for all Dragages projects in Hong Kong and Macau. This helped the team meet their KPI of spending 80% of their time out on-site as they now can concentrate on improving safety by quickly recording safety findings with photos using their mobile devices and signing these off through the system.

What do you think is the future of construction quality and safety in terms of new technology – ie. virtual reality, drones, IoT (Internet of Things)?

I think quality and safety will become more important in the future. More developed countries already take safety extremely seriously as the strengthening of health and safety laws, fines and the bad press that come with it have had a positive effect. In Asia, specifically some countries are still developing a ‘safety culture’. We are seeing international clients with projects in less developed countries demanding safety statistics and accident reporting. They won’t accept corners being cut and this is accelerating safety improvements. SnagR not only allows international safety practises to be imported and implemented more quickly, but also helps our international clients benchmark and feedback learning outcomes across their business more effectively. We see this being a major growth area in the next few years.

I think Virtual Reality can lower the cost of visualising a space which will improve quality and could be used to improve safety training. Drones are useful for remote surveying but are in their infancy in construction. IoT will make construction more complex with even minor components potentially requiring connected embedded sensors. Increased use of pre-fabrication could offset this complexity, but we will see.

Snagr includes a youtube tutorial series.

IndustryHub
EuropeInterviews

IndustryHub: Connecting Real Estate Projects and Creative Teams

Interview with IndustryHub founder Savannah de Savary:

What was the inspiration (lightbulb moment) behind IndustryHub?

There was definitely a “lightbulb moment”. I was working for a big real estate development firm in New York, sitting in a meeting about a large development site they had in Brooklyn. The CEO wanted to transform the site into an office complex that would attract the hot tech companies and grew frustrated when his development team couldn’t easily identify the architectural firms and interior designers who had a rapport with such tech companies. We needed a team who knew their design preferences and had the necessary reputation within the tech community to attract them to our site.

However, finding out who those firms were remained as time consuming as it was 30 years ago. We had to leave the meeting with his questions unanswered and call round our word-of-mouth networks until eventually we found someone who could identify a suitable candidate. It was time consuming and frustrating to say the least and was mirrored on a frequent basis when we wanted to know who was behind a specific project we admired or was regarded as up-and-coming for a specific service. I began to think how useful it would be to have a search tool that enabled us to know the answers right off the bat.

Is this full time or are you and the team still working elsewhere?

Full time and still struggling to find enough hours in the day for the pace at which we are growing – IndustryHub is a 7-day a week job!

Describe the process / challenges of putting it together.

We spent an enormous amount of time on the UI/UX design. I think in a way it helped that I approached the user interface without a tech background. The priority was simplicity of use: ensuring that the product was intuitive for people with real estate backgrounds. A key part of the process was getting feedback from our future user base as often as we could. We’re not looking to be a “disrupter” – changing both the means and methods by which developers source consultants, just the “means” by taking word-of-mouth insight online – so it was important to hear from our user-base how best we could do this for them.

A key challenge of putting it together has been making sure we create a two-sided marketplace that adds value to both sides. We simultaneously need to provide unparalleled marketing exposure for consultants, search tools for developers and collaboration tools for both. Our discovery tool enables developers to find consultants by their experience with a particular project type, client, specialism or even by their involvement with a specific project the developer admires. However, it is the data from the consultants’ profile pages that powers the developers’ discovery engine. We therefore have to ensure that the majority of top consultants are on board and showcasing their projects before we invite our waitlist of developers to begin using the platform. Deciding when we’ve reached this tipping point of enough consultants is our primary challenge.

This is both a platform for developers and consultants – which target market has responded best to the concept?

We’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that consultants across the board have responded with enthusiasm. Even the largest firms like CBRE want to have their projects visually mapped out and showcased to a wider audience of potential clients. We are in an earlier stage with the developer side because, as mentioned earlier, we have not yet invited our waitlist of developers to use the search functionality except to provide feedback. That said, we’ve noticed a lot of developers are already signing up organically and using the beta platform.

From reaching out to them, we’ve found there isn’t uniformity in what has attracted them to the platform. Some are using the platform to discover innovative new consultants such as up-and-coming interior designers and to be kept abreast of the new projects being unveiled by leading consultants. Others say they have had the same go-to consultants for decades. What they’re frustrated by is how much time they waste researching precedent and inspiration for their projects.

For these developers, the exciting part isn’t the consultant discovery tool as much as the project search tool which enables them to discover relevant inspiration for their projects. We have a wide variety of search filters that enables them to browse the most applicable images with more added every time a consultant uploads a new project. Such developers have been the driving force behind us creating the Pinterest style notebook feature which will enable them to save project ideas, browse those curated by their colleagues and create project-specific notebooks where they can collaborate with their consulting team during schematic design. We’ve found it is well worth taking the time to find out which aspects of your offering users are responding best to. For example, by doing so, we’ve discovered a lot of fund managers and developers see IndustryHub as an opportunity to showcase their own projects. Sourcing consultants, attracting investors and joint venture partners remains largely reliant on word-of-mouth referrals. Different developers therefore have different needs that can be met by IndustryHub without us expanding our focus.

Is there anything like it in the market already?

Surprisingly, there is relatively little competition currently, although if there was none it would be a worry itself! There are great sites connecting designers with furnishing and products and directories focused on specific verticals, such as listing architects or engineers. However, if you want to discover the professionals behind a specific project you admire, you still have to rely on your personal network or a laborious google search.

Having already built out this search functionality and integrated with google maps, we are pretty far ahead of any competitors that may emerge. By having professionals themselves power the content in exchange for free marketing exposure, our data is multiplying on a scale that is difficult to maintain on a platform that is manually researching or scrapping data.

What is your business development / sales approach? (are you marketing, word of mouth etc)

We extend invitations to a wide variety of consultants, from the leading structural engineers and sustainability consultants to lighting designers and landscape architects. We have a great business development team who’ve recently been reaching out to top architectural firms and interior designers in the UK and inviting them to join the platform. As we offer free marketing exposure on a scale unprecedented in the industry, the response has been unanimously positive.

In light of the firms we are working with having each completed hundreds of projects in the past few years, when they create an account, our data entry team can temporarily join to add their past projects for them. This makes creating an account a painless task for consultants, although firms with large marketing teams often enjoy creating the profiles themselves. Word-of-mouth also plays a large part. Many consultants that join don’t just add the images of a project but also who collaborated on the project with them. If these companies are already on IndustryHub, the project links through to their profile page. If not, they can automatically be invited to join. For the company being invited, the proposition isn’t just to have a profile – it is to have one that is visible to any potential client browsing the page of the consultant they’ve collaborated with. This makes for a pretty effective business development strategy.

What are you the stats?

So far we have just over 12,000 projects listed, 49,000 project images and 4,500 profile pages. Some of these were created during our beta by IndustryHub and an invitation then sent to the company in question to take ownership. However, increasingly we’ve seen companies join organically from around the globe. During the past month alone, nearly a third of the AJ 100 architects have joined.

What are your long term plans (5-10 years)?

Our initial launch city is London; however, our road map goes global. Especially in fast-growing emerging markets, developers find it extremely difficult to identify the players with local connections, experience and credibility. IndustryHub will change this.

Is the site complete or are you still rolling out new features?

We are still rolling out new features. It is similar to LinkedIn in the sense that everything you see is and will remain free with premium features available for an annual subscription cost. We will be rolling these premium features out in Q1 2017 and are pretty excited about unveiling them.

Is this also for individuals – ie. linkedin for real estate?

At the moment our focus is on B2B with the personal profiles simply having an “About Me” section and profile picture. For company profiles, there is significant peer-to-peer connectivity: you can follow company profile pages and send inter-company instant messages, reminiscent in format of Bloomberg Chat.

In time, I think we will look to develop personal profiles to enable blogging, Ted Talk style videos and the ability to follow and message individuals on the platform. The objective will be to provide a platform where members can establish themselves as thought leaders in a specific field. We are in the early stage of developing these personal profiles, so any feedback as to what you’d like to see them include is most welcome!

DREA Singapore
Asia PacificInterviewsResidential

Interview: Digital Real Estate Assistant (DREA) Singapore

Singapore’s DREA aims to radically improve the property buying process giving buyers access to market data analysis and insights previously limited to professionals, while giving agents highly targeted leads and a platform for digital marketing. A husband and wife team (seemingly the perfect combination with one an ex-banker, the other the CTO), we sat down with the later, Yuet Whey, to discover more:

What is the story behind DREA? Was it a lightbulb moment or a slow burn idea?

The idea for DREA started 3 years ago when I was looking to buy my first home in Singapore and was actively seeking information on the real estate market. I wanted a way to search for homes that would give me a minimum of 3% rental yield. However, it would require crunching through thousands of data points on Excel, a daunting task to many

Even as I shortlisted homes, I realized that there was an information gap in the market for real estate insights and more importantly, insights that could be accessed easily on-the-go. I then set about to create the first ever Digital Real Estate Assistant (hence the name DREA) that would offer any daily buyer, tenant, seller and landlord access to high quality, instant real estate information that is at the same time, easy to understand.

Tell me about the process of building the site (ie. first while working on it on the side, then to moving full time)?

When my partner and I first started designing and building DREA, we focused primarily on the consumer lens. Each time we had a house viewing or visited a show flat, we would think about what we would like to have as buyers and tenants. We then proceeded to create them. Being in the shoes of a consumer allowed us to identify gaps in the market and more importantly things that matter to the consumers. For example, the ability to search homes by drive time and the ability to get instant property insights such as supply risk and pricing around an area.

The product development process was exhilarating. We were essentially imagining possibilities, and then making them come to life. We took time to build up a truly differentiated and proprietary data set that went beyond common real estate data like prices. We also spent time talking to others and getting their inputs. More importantly, we took time to properly understand the industry to refine our business model. That is how we concluded on the need to shift away from the already commoditized market for posting online real estate classified listings.

I left Investment Banking when I knew we were ready to hit the market. Running a company is an entirely different experience from Banking. There was no one to tell me what to do. I had to learn new skills, set goals and be disciplined.

You are a husband and wife team – how does that work?

We complement each other by leveraging on each other’s strengths. It is not always easy and we recognize how critical it is to maintain clear boundaries between work and home. We constantly remind ourselves that the objective of working together is to build towards a common goal and (simple as it sounds) be happy. The focus on a long-term shared goal helps us look beyond individual moments of conflict which are unavoidable.

What are the key features your site offers in terms of market research?

  1. Location-based insights: anyone can flip out their phone anytime and instantly discover suitable units nearby, show flats nearby, prices in the area, supply risk and more.
  2. Natural Language Search: redesigning how one searches for information or homes by streamlining a wide range of search parameters into a simple and intuitive user experience. For example, try searching for price trends in District 9 or find me a 3 Bedroom for sale under $1.2m with a yield of >2.5%
  3. Price Trends and Supply Risk: ability to instantly retrieve detailed district-level price trends and triangulate it against upcoming supply in each district.
  4. Forward-looking SIBOR Rates: we offer consumers the ability to discover where SIBOR rates will be in 3 months time based on market expectations.
  5. Comparable Condos: DREA is designed to help consumers identify truly comparable condos (beyond area) in terms of tenure, age, price, drive time to your office or even walk time to MRT.

Where does your data come from?

We pull together data and content (housing, demographics, transport, interest rates) from multiple avenues including DREA’s proprietary dataset and from public sources like Urban Redevelopment Authority into a single source to enable new forms of instant analysis and insights on the property market.

What features do you offer to agents?

  1. For agents, we offer the ability to select, target and actively reach out to potential home buyers or tenants based on their housing preference. This is a 180-degree shift from the “post listings and wait for leads” business model adopted by most real estate portals.
  2. In addition to that, we offer agents a full suite of information and analysis so that they can address every client ask. In the past, an agent may need to spend hours pulling data from URA and then analysing them just to find out something as simple as future supply in a given area. Today, DREA processes all this and presents this to an agent in a matter of seconds. In a market where there are more than 20,000 agents, the ability to provide fact-based answers at the snap of a finger is a tremendous competitive advantage for agents.

How do you compare to property portals like property guru / iproperty?

We have a different business model and revenue model. For DREA, our content and information tools drive traffic. DREA is not about listings and we do not have to first build a large inventory of listings before we can attract users to our site. Users come to DREA mainly to assess whether a property is in a good location, has good amenities nearby or whether it is appropriately priced.

Similarly, DREA monetizes subscription to content services and for the purchase of detailed property insights reports. For us, listings are free and forever will be. We are currently testing other products which are unique to DREA and will be rolling them out to the market soon

What stage are you at in terms of funding / revenue / growth?

We are currently in the middle of discussions with several Series A investors and we are already revenue generating thus far.

What is the long term ambition (5-10 years)?

We envision a future where every consumer walking into a show flat or house viewing will look to DREA for information. And that they will use DREA to differentiate facts from sales-pitch, ask educated questions and use it to negotiate effectively.

On the commercial front, we see ourselves being a global player who has materially accelerated the shift in real estate advertising spend from traditional to digital. Our goal is to be a sustainable and profitable business.

What’s the hardest thing about being a startup in Singapore?

Competition for talent. We compete against MNCs, SMEs, larger tech companies and other startups for talent. With the lean business model most startups have, it has become increasingly difficult to attract the talent startups require to scale quickly and efficiently.

Crowd Funding
InterviewsInvestment

Real Estate Crowdfunding: Interview with Ian Ippolito

Ian Ippolito is the founder of Real Estate Crowdfunding Review and a rare source of independent knowledge when it comes to the highly cluttered US market. Against a backdrop of recent troubles at LendingClub and ever-growing number of platforms, we asked Ian for his views on the state of the market:

Crowdfunding has different models. How should someone think about which option is best for them (eg. Debt, equity, P2P)?

There are several ways to invest in real estate, and the main choices are between debt and equity. If you invest in debt, you are loaning money. If you invest in equity, you are becoming a business partner and get a share of the profits. Debt tends to be safer because debtholders get paid before equity holders. However, with less risk there is less reward: there is no potential for over performance, because the debt holder simply gets the promised yield. On the other hand, equity is more risky because expected profits may never come. But at the same time, if the deal goes well equity holders can make significantly more than what was promised initially. So there is more risk but potentially more reward.

P2P lending is simply lending money directly to someone else, instead of letting a bank do it. By cutting out the middleman, investors make more and the borrower pays a lower rate.

What is the origin of crowdfunding real estate in the US?

The Securities Act of 1933 originally made it illegal for real estate companies to solicit money from the general public. So unless you played golf with a real estate developer, you didn’t even know opportunities existed. That changed with the passage of the JOBS act in 2012. Different provisions now allow companies to solicit different categories of investors for the first time. So many of these companies naturally have moved to the Internet, which has given investors a wealth of options to choose from.

What is the current state of the industry – ie. there has been an explosion of players at both the national and local level?

Yes, it seems like every week there’s a new real estate crowdfunding site that pops up. However, there’s also a lot of pressure in 2016 that wasn’t there in 2015. Many of the VC funded companies are having trouble getting new rounds of financing due to the recent problems with other fintech companies such as Lendingclub (financial improprieties, mass layoffs), Prosper (mass layoffs) etc. So yes, I believe there’s going to be quite a bit of consolidation, as well as some weaker players dropping out.

There are both national and local players because of the way the law works. Some local states allow crowdfunding, while others don’t. So most of the VC funded companies are going the national route. But other companies are trying the local state route. The problem for them is that it seems it will be a long time before a majority of the states allow it, so that is an impediment to scaling to a large size (if that’s their goal). Some of the local players are content to sit in a small niche, and if that works for them financially then I think they will end up fine.

How much of this industry comes down to the deal acquisition strength of each platform (ie. ability to pick a good property)?

I think deal acquisition strength is crucial, and unfortunately it is an industry-wide problem. Currently, volume is far too low: there is no single site that an investor can go to in order to create a fully diversified portfolio in real estate. And while virtually every site claims that they are the best at picking properties, too many of them fall short. I believe that the platforms that best address these issues will become the dominant players.

How important is the actual technology platform and who is doing that well?

I feel that the majority of sites do the core/essential technology well. There are a few sites that do a nice job with some of the extras (such as the yearly return calculator on Acquire Real Estate and the auto investing feature on Peerstreet), but no one company has an overwhelming advantage on technology. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the technology becoming a commodity in the next few years, as everyone copies the best features from other people. I believe that it’s the non-technology portions (due diligence and the ability to source an adequate volume of deals), which are the key differentiators.

You mentioned cooling VC interest – what’s happening?

VC interest is not just cool, it is freezing cold. The larger players are hoping to ride out the winter by conserving cash. No one wants to try to raise money and then have to suffer a down round, which will kill their valuation. Newer players are having to self-fund, or find ways to grow that do not depend on outside funding.

What are you expecting the industry to look like in 3-5 years?

In addition to less sites, I think it will be much more transparent than it is today, which will make it better for investors and easier to separate the best sites from the “also-rans”. In the past, real estate developers rarely showed all their past performance to potential new investors and deliberately tried to keep people in the dark about any failures. And most of the new real estate crowdfunding sites did the same at first. A few sites even tried their best to squelch investors who had “the nerve” to let others know about investments that went sour and didn’t perform as promised. In my opinion, the industry will never be accepted by the mainstream, if it continues to do this.

Recently Peerstreet became the first site to allow potential investors to see all their past performance. Practically every site claims that they have awesome due diligence, but being able to see their past performance proved that they really did have exceptional due diligence (and was the main reason that I rank them number 1 in my 2016 review of the industry). I believe that now one site has done this, other sites are also going to have to open up or will be looked at suspiciously by investors. My hope is that this is the start of a watershed moment that makes investing easier for investors, and allows the industry to mature.

What related industries do you think are being spawned by this (research, advisory etc)?

I wish I could say that there is a healthy research and advisory industry, but unfortunately there isn’t. As I mentioned earlier, more than one site has actively attempted to squelch research and advisory sites using lawsuits, etc. I do think this is a legacy of the “old-school” real estate investment mindset, and eventually will fall by the wayside. But in the meantime, the industry will not be able to move into the mainstream until it grows up a little bit. For example, investing in stocks and bonds wouldn’t be mainstream if it weren’t for research advisory services such as Moody’s, S&P, etc. Objective advice is needed to provide legitimacy to an industry.

Would you invest in a crowdfunding platform personally?

Maybe, although if I did it would have to be an awesome opportunity, because I would have to resign as the editor of TheRealEstateCrowdfundingReview.com (I wouldn’t be able to maintain objectivity if I had a financial stake in one of the companies). Right now I’m not seeing that awesome opportunity where I feel confident that one particular platform will be the one that grows exponentially. First, there are a lot of competitors so it’s difficult to know who’s going to end up on top. Second, from what I’ve seen so far, the profit margins are very thin and require the sites to generate a lot of volume to become worth investing in. And as I said earlier, the volume on 95% of the sites is pretty poor. Many of the sites have been around for several years, so if they haven’t been able to figure out how to solve that crucial problem it makes me wonder if and when they ever will. Without an exponential growth component, it’s virtually impossible to IPO. So I personally would not want to be in the position of having invested a lot of money in one of the “also-rans”.

Do you think crowdfunding will disrupt the traditional model of house ownership one day?

Yes, I can see that happening. I would not be surprised if in the future, people looking for a house loan would look first at the Internet before even considering a bank.

What is the future for your website?

I will continue do the same thing that I’m doing today – simply posting content that I find useful while making my own investment decisions. That includes more in-depth reviews of sites, industry wide rankings, news, tutorials, etc. And hopefully people will continue to find that useful.