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.