Category: Asset Class

Proptech in India
Asia PacificCommercialInterviews

Interview: Propstack co-founder Raja Seetharaman

With a massive market, easily understood product, strong team and upcoming favourable regulatory change, Propstack looks ready to seize the commercial PropTech opportunity in India. We asked co-founder Raja Seetharaman to bring us up to speed.

Tell me about your founders and how you started?

We are three co-founders with backgrounds in Commercial real estate (CRE) (Insignia, JLL, Colliers), Banking (Deutsche Bank, Kotak), Analytics (Fractal) and residential group buying (Groffr). My personal background has been 15 plus years with Insignia (acquired by CBRE), Colliers, Ascendas (Singapore government company) and JLL as their National Director of Corporate Solutions.

We realized in early 2013 that there was no transparency in the Indian CRE market place and clients always referred to how decision making was inefficient, subjective and difficult. At the same time, we were also aware of data information sites in the US and how they could be a great enabler in some ways and disruptor in others. CRE is the largest asset class in the world and also the top two cost center for most corporates depending on the office location.

We saw this as a huge opportunity and decided to start Propstack.

What stage of growth are you at and how has the journey been?

Our journey has been very exciting. We started Propstack in June 2013, raised angel funding and covered data in Mumbai. We raised our Series A of USD$3.10m in June 2015 from Daily Mail Group (DMGI) with minority participation by Real Capital Analytics (RCA). We are now present in the top seven cities in India and cover 100% of all investible commercial buildings in the country. Our clients are funds, corporates, Developers, brokers and high-net wealths.

Did you have any previous startup experience?

Yes, two of the co-founders ran a boutique real estate advisory business while the third co-founder ran an online residential group buying firm for couple of years prior to starting Propstack.

What have been the biggest learnings in terms of starting your own business?

Personally my fear of failure was easily outweighed by my hope and expectation for success. Professionally, commercial real estate has been a slow adopter of technology. That said, it’s been an exciting journey thus far and I am loving it. We’re at a nascent stage of intersection of CRE and technology in India and it has its own unpredictability. When we find a solution to a specific problem, we are adding value to our business as well as the industry.

How have you found the challenge of hiring staff as you grow?

We’ve had hiring challenges especially for specific functions like sales and senior tech talent who can quickly grasp the CRE tech industry. As a young company, it’s important for us to not only find talent with the right skill sets but also find them at the right cost.

What is the business model?

We are a SAAS platform and our business model is subscription based.

Can you give more details on how your clients use the data – is it mainly for acquisition due diligence? Rental benchmarking?

Propstack conducts expansive, ongoing research to produce and maintain the largest and most comprehensive database of commercial real estate information in India. Our suite of online services enables clients to analyse, interpret and gain unmatched insight on commercial property values, market conditions and current availabilities.

Propstack covers the commercial real estate hubs of Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, NCR, Hyderabad and Kolkata. Propstack’s online service provides subscribers access to a diverse range of commercial real estate information: detailed building information, analytics, client stacking, availability/vacancy, transaction details and trends – catering to all Commercial real estate research requirements.

We are proud to serve a wide variety of professionals working in corporates, funds, rating agencies, brokers, owners, developers and vendors. Propstack is relevant to anyone who has a professional interest in commercial real estate.

Who are your competitors in India or globally?

Our platform is globally scalable and some of our products are customized to India centric requirements. In the current form, we are not aware of any other company in the world that offers a similar tech platform. That said, there are a few companies that currently offer products similar to ours. Exceligent, Costar and Compstak are some of them. We offer real time data and analytics covering supply, demand and vacancies at a macro and micro level. Propsense, which is our analytical engine is one of its kind globally. Our COMPS data are abstracted sale and lease information from registered agreements with the Government of India. It’s important to note that these are registered/verified data and not crowd sourced or based on ‘hearsay’.

How similar are you to Compstak in the US?

Propstack and Compstak are neither competitors, nor similar. As mentioned on www.propstack.com, we provide all kinds of data on Indian commercial real estate which includes verified rent and sale transaction data. Some points to highlight:

  1. Propstack’s philosophy is to provide transactions based on verified sources
  2. Propstack solely focuses on office assets
  3. Propstack additionally provides real estate intelligence in terms of research and analytics to paid subscribers
  4. Access to data at Propstack is paid because of the premium nature of the data

Your data is from government registered leases – does that mean all commercial leases are registered with the government? Is that the only source of verified information?

Yes all commercial leases need to be registered with the government to make it ‘legal and valid’ and that is the only source of verified information. We are the largest repository of this information after the Government of India.

Do you have expansion plans beyond India?

Yes, we are currently beta testing data for 2 other countries in Asia Pacific. While our tech platform is scalable globally, we would like to stabilize our India operations prior to expanding overseas.

Does your data verification approach mean you can only expand to certain countries? Eg. In Singapore leases are confidential.

No, it does not limit our expansion plans. We are well aware of potential country specific challenges and have concluded that our platform and technology is scalable. I’d prefer to not get into specifics at this stage.

Do you plan to raise more capital?

Yes we are planning a Series B round in the next 6-9 months.

How would you describe the evolution of proptech in India?

India may be a notch below the US but a notch above Europe. Also, I believe that residential tech is more evolved in India than CRE Tech. While we have seen significant funding into a few residential tech companies, CRE tech has been slow to get off the ground. That said, with the imminent introduction of REITS and few other policies by the government, we expect CRE tech to catch up soon.

Propstack video overview link.

 

 

 

 

 

Asia's Pop up Platforms
Asia PacificRetail

Asia’s Pop Up Platforms: A Difficult Road Ahead

Pop up retail as a concept is here to stay and it works because it serves all parties. For consumers pop ups provide variety, for landlords they represent additional income and a point of difference, while for the pop up retailers themselves they offer a low risk, low cost platform to launch products and increase brand exposure.

From a proptech perspective, the immediate opportunity was seized in 2012 when a number of US/UK based platforms launched platforms best described as Airbnb for retail. Storefront (US) and We Are Pop Up (UK) were two of the big names in this space, raising $8.9m and $2.7m respectively. The concept was simple: find spaces willing to rent on a short term basis, whether whole shops or just a hanging rack or table, list them on a marketplace website and charge a small commission for making the introduction/executing the lease.

Asia joins the race in 2015

In mid-2015 there was nothing happening in Asia, then by the end of the year 3 almost identical platforms had launched. Popscout (HK), Spaces Genie (HK) and PopUp Angels (Singapore) were online with literally a handful of locations listed. The spaces were usually an empty gallery in a trendy part of town, but they have grown to include retail mall ‘casual leasing’ space (empty spaces usually used for events or sales).

The challenge for these platforms in Asia is that the retail scene is different from that in the West. Retail is dominated by shopping malls, whereas in cities like London and San Francisco there is a more dominant ‘high street’. Shopping malls have high rents and high set up costs (fit out design, construction, licenses etc) making quick turnaround pop ups more difficult. They are often owned by REITS which prefer a guaranteed, ongoing rental income with less concern about who the actual tenant is.

Street retail, on the other hand, is often owned by individual landlords who are more flexible and want to avoid an empty shop front. Good locations command daily foot traffic (unlike the 4th floor of an under-performing mall) making them better suited to pop ups wanting maximum exposure. There is also something more original and uniquely ‘pop up’ about unexpected spaces or street front retail.

The other challenge for these Asian platforms the pop up concept remains relatively immature here so it requires a high level of education. Running a pop up marketplace will require significant time to identify potential spaces, get access to the landlord then explain how the whole thing works. The head of leasing at Capitaland will get it, but the owner of a suburban coffee shop could take more convincing. Furthermore, companies like Storefront found that tenants typically want only the best locations with very high passing traffic. This reduces the number of potential sites.

Back in the West, both Storefront and We Are Pop Up announced they had ceased operations in early 2016. This suggests the scale needed to generate serious revenue was out of reach, even for funded pioneers in more conducive locations. This doesn’t bode well for their younger, Asian cousins. The chicken and the egg then, to scale quickly needs investment but VC backing only increases the pressure to grow more quickly.

 

Conclusion

The need remains to connect landlords with parties wanting space, but the potential to reach scale and generate significant revenue is questionable. If a platform is able to cover the whole of Asia, including China, it will become interesting. If you think about a brand owner sitting in Paris thinking, how can I test appetite for my brand in Asia? This could be the answer and there is value in that. But this raises the challenge faced by every tech startup in Asia. Acquiring the capital and resources to truly penetrate countries so different is a challenge only few have accomplished.

Real Estate Agents
Residential

Real Estate Agents: 4 Strategies to Bullet Proof your Future in the Face of Disruptive Technology

Real estate agents worldwide need to face the future. Technology startups are targeting the home buying process, aiming to reduce transaction costs by moving the process online and at the same time potentially rendering the traditional real estate agent role redundant.

In April 2015, a PWC report on the future of the Australian workforce listed the top 20 jobs most at risk from technology over the next 20 years. Bookkeeper was no. 1 with a 97.5% probability of being automated, while real estate agent was no. 12 at 85.2%. The reason is simple: the role agents perform can largely be replicated online (just like the traditional stock broker).

Websites like https://www.solopro.com/ (US), https://www.emoov.co.uk/ (UK) and http://www.hello.com.au/ (Australia) all promise to help sell properties for a fixed fee. They arrange photos, floorplans, website listings and assist with documentation. All you need to do is handle inspections and final negotiations. As the difference between 2-3% of the sale price and a flat fee of a few hundred dollars is significant, these platforms are inevitably going to increase market share, putting pressure on the traditional agent model.

This doesn’t mean all agents will go out of business. There is a human side to real estate that is hard to replace. But the need to stand out becomes critical. As sellers weigh up the benefits of traditional agents versus their digital competitors, each individual agent’s value proposition will need to be crystal clear.

  1. Record and promote your results

The most persuasive argument in favour of a human agent is that your knowledge of the market and negotiation skills results in higher sales prices. So prove it. Become a data junkie by recording every sales price and how it compares to the area average and the set reserve price. Better yet, if an online platform is selling properties in your area start recording their sales prices so you can compare against them too.

Nothing is more powerful than being able to say to a potential seller ‘yes, I am more expensive than a website, but my results outperform the market and here is a summary to prove it.’

Google-backed https://www.homelight.com already ranks agents on their performance – time on property on market, time spent with client, sales price etc. Go up in the rankings and referrals come your way, go down and work starts to dry up. This is a sign of things to come so own your data, work on it if you need to and prove your worth.

2. Build your profile online

The book Reputation Economy (http://amzn.to/1QUDYVY) predicts a day where our online reputations will dictate our success and in many ways that day has already arrived. Two agents, one with an excellent profile on their company website, full Linkedin summary, some professional videos on youtube and even a personal website using something like https://branded.me/. This agent posts relevant articles on Linkedin demonstrating deep market knowledge with an eye on future trends and really understands their target market demographics by communicating with them online.

The second agent has achieved good success the normal way. Hustle: phone calls, working their lists, following up leads and hitting targets. They have a good profile on the company website but there is little other about them to be found online.

The other thing the first agent has done is identified agent comparison sites early as a fantastic opportunity. Sites like https://www.ratemyagent.com.au from Australia are like tripadvisor for real estate agents. We all know how tripadvisor has influenced the hotel booking process, and it is now no different for home sellers. You should aim to top the rankings. Treat every client like a hotel guest and get every client to rate you. The future importance of these sites cannot be underestimated.

Now think about the potential seller, focused on achieving the best possible price for their largest asset and desperate not to choose the wrong broker. Faced with these two agents, the decision is obvious based on 5 minutes of online research. Agent one is knowledgeable, tech savvy and has a large social media following they can leverage to sell the property, while agent two may have all the right credentials without the online proof to back it up.

3. Make real estate technology your business

The good news is that while some companies want to replace agents, there are even more companies trying to help them. This creates an opportunity to leverage new products to offer services the online sites can’t.

Homepass.com.au is a mobile app that significantly increases the productivity of the home inspection process. It checks people in/out, records their details, sends documents and tracks their visits. This helps you to approach the buyer with more targeted properties, increasing the chances of sale.

Upnest.com is a US based company allowing agents to compete to work with potential sellers. This is a lead creation platform which gives you access to pre-qualified buyers and sellers.

Curb Appeal (http://www.curbappeal.pics/) makes taking professional photos using your iphone possible. This can in turn help to reduce your costs, delivering savings you can either pass onto your clients or book as increased margin.

Sites like Disrupt Property track these startups making it easier to keep up to date with new products

4. Get International

There are a growing number of platforms allowing overseas buyers to access western markets. Juwai (http://www.juwai.com/) is a dominant one for Chinese buyers giving them access to Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and so on. It’s like Zoopla or RightMove but just for the Chinese. Listing your property is easy and most online agents focus on their domestic market portals so this is another route to show potential clients that you have access to more potential buyers so you are worth the commission.

It is still early days for the growing middle class of countries like Brazil, Indonesia, India and China in terms of overseas property so get yourself acquainted with these sites and you will be ready to ride the wave of cross-border investment.

The bottom line is that residential real estate is getting more competitive. It’s always been competitive but it’s been an even playing field between agents. Now, the internet has introduced a no frills version which will appeal to anyone who thinks they know the price of their home (that’s a lot of people). Traditional agents aren’t going anywhere, at least for a while, but their success will increasingly rely on being able to differentiate themselves. Ironically, it’s technology that allows them to do that.