Maslow for Real Estate
By Teun van den Dries, Founder/CEO of GeoPhy.
I have always been a fan of the ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory that Abraham Maslow proposed in his paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ in 1943. His key insight for me is the linear order that he proposed, which was famously visualised as a pyramid building (although not by Maslow himself) up from physiological needs all the way up to self-actualisation.
While there has been at least as much criticism as praise for the theory, the notion of a foundation to build on just seems to make sense to me. It might be my background in architecture and engineering, I guess I am biased in that sense. The classic version just feels right, the 21st version that includes WIFI perhaps even more so.
When we started building our database and platform, we did not really have a clear sense of what need it would satisfy or what problem it would solve. It just seemed like a very useful thing to have a structured and complete overview of the property market and we couldn’t find anything that provided that. We did not talk to “industry experts” or user groups, but focused mostly on building something that we thought would be relevant.
We launched about 18 months ago and I’ve since talked to about 1000 potential users from every corner of the property value chain. Luckily for us, it turnes out that we did a pretty good job of creating something relevant. Quite a lot of these potential users have become actual users (thank you guys!) and have also helped us shape and define the roadmap for how we can keep innovating.
Looking back, not talking to potential users while building might actually have been a good thing. The most common reaction during my presentations was some form of disbelief, everybody just assumed that these problems would be too big to tackle.
Our starting point, coming from outside the real estate field and approaching this from a pure tech perspective, is probably the only reason we got to where we are today.
The dataset we built and our OfficeRank quality standard have now been in use for about 6 months and we’re currently working on a large update for both. In our design process, we decided to try and map the various needs that we heard these past months. For us, mapping means that we use copious amounts of whiteboard to scribble on as we discuss things with the team. We like the visual aspect and we find that it generally helps to structure the discussion (image > 1000 words).
What we came up with actually looks quite a bit like the Maslow pyramid, so I started doodling to see if we could actually define a ‘hierarchy of needs’ structure like the one that Maslow set up for commercial real estate.
The one we came up with is a vertical that makes sense from a real estate perspective and actually underlines the value in our approach to data. With every user and potential user we talk to, they focus mostly on one element of the pyramid and never holistically on the whole vertical. GeoPhy was designed (sheer dumb luck to be honest) to tackle all these elements and to create an integral overview. We’ve taken this insight to heart, the structure was included into how we structure and serve the data that we process for our clients.
Serendipity, I hope Maslow doesn’t mind our interpretation.