In a lovely 45’ discussion, Utrust managed to get some of the brightest minds of proptech into the same (virtual) room. We always seek to share with our community what the future will look like. As a company, we can never simply live in the present.
And who better to brave the unknown with than this group of people? Predictions are always difficult (COVID doesn’t help), but here’s who we enlisted to help us:
Louisa Dickins, Co-Founder of LMRE, Board of Directors at UKPA, Propcast Host & Fresh Bread Host
- Dominic Grace, Director at Savills. Head of London Residential Development
- David Fuller-Watts, Head of Product & CRO at Toolbox Group/Mallcomm
- Sanja Kon, CEO at Utrust; ex eBay, Vodafone, PayPal; TED speaker
Now, obviously we recorded the whole thing, which we invite you to watch (it’s right here). If you’re more of a reader, however, we’ve prepared a full recap of the most remarkable ideas.
What has adoption looked like in the last five years?
The first speaker our moderator, Louisa, brings to the fold is Dominic Grace. He thinks five years is a very long time in proptech. With over 35 years of experience in the sector, however, his perspective is very illuminating.
He thinks the last 12 months are the most interesting, and they have accelerated the growth of technology immensely. There’s always been a need for this type of technology, and he expects the next 12 to 24 months to be key as well.
“COVID, despite all the horrors that it’s bringing upon us, perhaps is acting as a real catalyst for people being more open-minded about the adoption of tech.”
- Dominic Grace
David chimed in next. He agrees with Dominic’s timeline, especially with the idea that the last year has been particularly eventful. Maybe even the last 8 or 9 months.
Sanja spoke last about this topic. Five years, to her, feel like an eternity. Crypto and blockchain have seen much adoption.
Crypto has become present in paying for both rent and the purchase of properties. Tokenization is also a new development, allowing people to invest in homes for as little as 5 or 10 dollars. Especially in the last couple of years, corporations, governments and central banks are entering the market, led by China. More than 100 million people are owning and spending digital currencies, and growth will continue.
Fixing people’s problems is key
Louisa has brought up the past, and now she wants to hear about the present. What are the problems being fixed?
David feels the Mallcomm product developed from a need to engage tenants more effectively. The traditional methods (email, memos) were incredibly challenging for property owners. Mallcomm is a full property management suite that solves all of these challenges. It’s an example of the kind of technology solutions that are about ease of use. The idea is to solve real problems for tenants, owners, managers, and everyone else involved.
Due to COVID, the people who are running properties aren’t going to the office every day, and neither are tenants. These changes in the way we work and operate are forcing change. Change is happening faster out of necessity, and technology and communication are delivering solutions.
Sanja Kon also understands that people may be slightly timid about this technology, and guaranteeing ease of use is key. Utrust allows people to keep business as usual.
- They don’t have to do any accounting with digital currencies because Utrust settles in fiat.
- Merchants can reach a new subset of customers without making any significant changes to the way they work.
- Removing the middleman also allows payment processing fees to drop (by up to 80%).
- Borderlessness is also key. You can get paid from anywhere, with no exchange rates, in your bank account.
Sanja also remarks that adoption rates vary significantly according to the countries and the state of their economy. Turkey, for instance, has high inflation rates, which makes digital currencies more attractive.
Welcome, Bayram Tekçe
At this point, Sanja invited Bayram Tekçe to join the conversation. He works with real estate in Turkey, at Antalya Homes, and has some on-the-ground feedback to provide the group.
Bayram says his decision to start accepting digital currencies was customer-driven. He didn’t know exactly how any of it worked. He didn’t even have a wallet.
He was, however, getting a huge amount of requests, particularly from buyers outside of Turkey. With Utrust’s help, Bayram is now able to accept these currencies, and get paid in USD and EUR, which he thinks is a tremendous advantage. Even if there aren’t huge amounts of digital currency users in Turkey, Antalya Homes is now a global merchant, working with customers from everywhere around the world.
Perceptions, and barriers to overcome
Dominic feels this is the big challenge. The house building industry in particular is very entrenched and resistant to change. To many people, the advantages are marginal. Tech is largely serving the fringes. To be able to present to a developer a platform that moves “many dials” will be the key to actually effect change.
Dominic brings up the time when Microsoft Office appeared. He feels like we forget how momentous that tech was in the same way we forget when we learned to walk. We have no recollection of the challenge that came before.
“We haven’t had that wholesale disruption, where everyone thinks “my God, we have to do this.” It’s coming, and I can sort of see it when I look at the future.”
Marketing is a concern
Dominic is excited. He doesn’t know exactly where it’s going to come from, but he knows it will. He also feels like a lot of proptech businesses aren’t doing themselves any favors, because they don’t know how to sell their product, particularly in such a conservative market, even when they do have an advantageous product.
David chimes in at this point. He feels the perception is that when it comes to the technology, you need to be able to think not just about the operation but also the experience of having an advanced, connected, consumer who will create a demand for hyper-evolved types of properties. That adoption is starting to grow now.
“Attracting really good tenants, particularly in residential real estate, a lot of that is to do with what tech do you have. What is the experience going to be like in those buildings?”
Sanja feels a lot of people are doing things the wrong way round. Instead of trying to pitch whatever service you have to people, you should be listening to the problems businesses and customers have, and figuring out how to solve them. Utrust didn’t even start out as a B2B solution, most certainly not in real estate. That came during COVID, because the company realised they could fix a real problem for people to make payments and send invoices without traveling (or even leaving the house).
“During COVID, we dedicated more time to researching the market and listening to customers. We discovered there was a huge problem with buying properties when it’s across borders, with international payments.”
Barriers to entry
“There’s adoption and there’s integration in the wider business.”
Dominic feels most of the systems being used today work, and they’ve worked for a long time. This is a major hurdle for tech to overcome. Unless there is total, 100% commitment, and a team (not just an individual) promoting a new system, with a thorough process and rollout, most of the time adoption of new tech fails.
“The people in the tech world need to respect and understand that’s the way, and making sure their proposition is very good, and very easily adopted.”
David’s experience is similar to both Dominic and Sanja’s. If technology doesn’t solve a problem, then it’s very hard to get it adopted. Adoption works when you not only fix a real problem companies feel they have, but also you add extra features to that that make it feel entirely worth it. David feels word of mouth from customers is the best sales pitch in the world, so the true motor of adoption is making customers’ business better. A network of customers is key.
David also added that isolation is terrible. You need to integrate with other systems, and be compatible with what’s already being used. If your solution means abandoning other things the customer already uses and likes, that’s a massive roadblock.
Building the future
Sanja immediately brings up tokenization. Opening up investment to people from everywhere around the world is going to bring a lot of money to the hands of builders, and it’s going to get a lot more people interested in real estate, way beyond corporate clients. Owning small pieces of many different assets allows for asset diversification, and it also makes illiquid assets liquid.
“It’s going to be awesome for investors. They will be able to diversify their portfolios as much as they want.”
- Sanja Kon
Sanja is then asked about stablecoins, and how they will change things. Utrust accepts stablecoins, and understands they will be a big part of the future. Bitcoin and Ethereum dominate the market as of now, but stablecoin usage is growing, especially this year.
With China creating their own digital currency and other central banks doing the same, it’s going to be easier in the future for people to pay with these currencies, which will lead to massive adoption.
Dominic believes we are at a tipping point for blockchain technology. There was a big hype in the past, which didn’t pan out, but now the future seems to be truly opening up from a consumer point of view. High street names that are recognised, such as PayPal, will provide a “comfort blanket” for mainstream audiences.
The winners, according to Dominic, will be the ones who manage to marry the technological aspect and the human aspect. He feels like we will still see a lot of tinkering and adjustments until we can understand who will figure this out, and what kinds of products will be generally adopted.
Sustainability and data
David feels a lot of real estate companies are using data well. The true problem is that there’s a vast amount of data going around, with very connected consumers. Consumers want to be able to experience connected experiences such as online viewings and click and collect, so it’s a challenge to be able to wade through the ocean of data and provide.
This will improve as companies understand what the ideal data points are.
It’s about working with companies who can provide back not just raw data but also actionable information that will allow them to achieve what they set out to do. This also comes back to sustainability.
“People are very educated on data and sustainability, and they really passionately believe in these two topics as well. It’s very important that real estate companies don’t ignore that.”
- David Fuller-Watts
And that’s a wrap!
This was a very rich and deep conversation between three people with strong points of view and illuminating ideas. Their differing points of view speak to the depth of their experience, but at the end of the day, they all agreed on the most important point:
The future of proptech is starting now.
If you want to be a part of it, we want to hear from you. Just go here, and drop us a line.