5 CRE Tech Events
All things Real Estate Tech, CRE Tech and Proptech Related!
Oct. 2017 – When I found an empty mini bottle of Grey Goose in one of the event cubicles at 11am, I knew that this was an event that people were taking seriously. I had made a long journey to be there so was pretty determined to squeeze the most out of it. My main purpose of attending the event was to qualify a tool of my second Real Estate tech startup that we had recently finished, a web-based 3D interactive visualisation platform for unbuilt property. Our 3 mains goals were: to assess CRE professionals level of interest in using our services; to make contacts that could hopefully, in the future, turn into sales; and educating myself further on this fascinating, large, niche industry – RE Tech is a clash of 2 very different worlds!
The best of the bunch was the Metaprop/MIPIM event on the Wednesday, very well organized and a great opportunity to meet high level decision makers in the industry, discuss potential partnerships with other startups and to learn of new opportunities that had not been so obvious before (for us it was the value our product could add to large commercial and retail leasing projects). It was high intensity – there was a wide variation of information to filter and digest.
Captate’s purpose was to absorb as much information to help us position ourselves in the market for the next 12 months. Although I, personally, could have been cleverer about my preparations and focus, the event was highly beneficial for Captate in many ways.
NYC (various venues)
What We Did
Mainly networking and learning about what was going on in the RE Tech Industry, but also managed to sail down the river, to witness Sunset behind the Statue of Liberty, and full moon rising over the city 🙂
7 Personal Observations on
Real Estate Tech Week NYC
and CRE Tech in General
1. In general, CRE people don’t understand much of the tech on offer and some of the basics of the technology available, and digital tools that can make their lives a lot easier. They don’t use modern workplace tools (“what’s Slack?” !!!), and, surprisingly (as one would presume that knowing everything possible about sales would be tantamount to Sales people), most do not even know the basics of digital marketing and sales (most I spoke to don’t even use a CRM!) that can result from DM. I got some blank looks on mentioning “lead scoring”, “conversion analysis”, even for “the buyer journey”. I quickly understood that most successful RE professionals had a very different sales method, and were people that had earned their stripes during a different era, that it was their position and contact base where they sourced leads, and sales were executed via face-to-face meetings or phone calls, with no traceable data deemed necessary. They cut their teeth in an era where marketing was about printing glossy brochures and signs, and little to do with data analysis and crunching numbers, which is what most digital marketers do these days… This wasn’t going to be as easy a sell as I thought!
2. In general, “Tech” people, don’t understand the intricacies and nuances of the Real Estate Industry. Some of the newer startups just think of the residential sector. But, I was also surprised by some of the tech that people were peddling, more about earning a quick buck in a “hot industry”, than solving definitive problems that have tangible benefits, or rehashing tech that is established and on the market already, but you get a bit of that at most tech events. Of course, some of the maturer “startups” really are solving problems and adding value, or, on understanding the industry better, had pivoted in a particular direction so they could do so. However, I think that one of the main problems with the tech companies is the lack of founders from a CRE background or a significant knowledge of the industry.
3. HYPE! – yes, we’re all guilty of it, but when we have a chasm of knowledge between the 2 industries as discussed above, these are the perfect conditions for hype to fester. Let me give my own personal example: I think that VR is a very very small area of where unbuilt property 3D visualisation (also known as computer generated imagery, or CGI) is going for the future**. At the same time, when people ask me what I do, I always throw “VR” into the mix, as people automatically, go, “oh yeah, I know what you mean”. The main reason I do it, is because it is a lot quicker to say “VR” than “Interactive 3D web-based visualization for unbuilt spaces with easy integration and viewable across all devices”. I know most RE people at the event have uttered or heard uttered the words “We gotta get into VR” at least once in the recent past (“VR” can be replaced here by “blockchain”, “IOT”, “big data”, “AI”, “drones” the list goes on…). In validating your product the tech industry, you will always be asked, “what problem are you trying to solve”, and it would seem that this interrogation has only been dealt with at a superficial level by many RE professionals, probably due to a lack of understanding of the basics behind the technology and being afraid to question it’s real use. As a lot of RE people do not analyse the exact problem to be resolved, people who see that there is a quick buck to be made will let you believe all the hype that everyone else has his new toy, that if you don’t buy it you’ll get left behind, and so the misinformation spreads. Giving an example close to my area, before you invest in VR, ask people you know who have bought a VR headset how often they have used it apart for video games… the reply usually is that there is now X months of dust accumulated on it in some closet at home…
4. This leads onto education and allocation of resources. I found that the resources being spent by RE companies on educating their workforce in new digital tools left a lot to be desired. There are some technology basics that every senior person in top companies should know, in particular decision makers, or those who advise them… I would imagine that a lot of companies are doing this, but, I can’t admit that I saw much of the fruits of this investment.
5. Mish-mash: events like these have all kinds of industries looking for tech: construction, all kinds of Real estate, architecture, finance and an equally diverse range of tech sectors trying to match up: AI, blockchain, IOT and even saw some interesting hardware, which is a bold frontier… For example, I would never have imagined WeWork to be in this sector, but there you go… It was difficult to remain focused at times, I’m not used to being at an event where 90% of talks have no crossover with our company. Well, I guess being niches within niches, this is going to happen, but as the industry matures I would hope to see more targeted events, it may make more sense to move away from Mega Events and, instead, have smaller or sub-events on the industry and sector being served.
6. “Wedge” – For startups like Captate, a talk by Ro Gupta of Carmera was quite insightful. He said that early stage startups focus should be on “creating a wedge” – which I took as meaning, that we should not try to be everything to everyone… While this seems obvious, a lot of startups forget this and want to be the biggest ever (the next Google, Uber, Airbnb etc) and lose focus on what they can offer… It reminded me that initial focus should be on acquiring a few key clients, fine-tuning internal processes – essentially laying solid foundations for your company to grow in future. Create the wedge, you position in the market, and start growing it. It was a great bit of advice, something that I was aware of from previous businesses, but great way to visualize it in your mind, and reassuring to hear other people vindicating this strategy.
7. Partnerships – I think that an important that startups and all service providers to keep up-to-date with other technologies to know what other solutions are out there, and share the information with your clients. This is beneficial in many ways. Your client will appreciate honest help with problems that maybe you have a better understanding of, and will further solidify your relationship. I don’t know how effective formal partnerships between service providers and startups could be, but it would be advisable to contact them to let them know that you gave them a shout out. Who knows, they could return the favour in future!
I’ll wrap up this article with some advice for CRE guys, especially the guys who seem a bit lost with these current changes to the industry but want to invest in tech/not get left behind: All this knowledge is on the web, none of the tech I have seen is putting men on mars – there is nothing you can’t learn (well the basics anyhow) by way of google or youtube. Take some time and delve deep into the underlying principles. Understand data, how it transfers, where it’s stored, who owns it, how safe is it, and how you can harness it… (A quick exercise to give context is to ask yourself, why is Twitter worth so much if it loses millions every month).Are you thinking of investing in blockchain technology? Then, understand what a smart contract or distributed ledger is, don’t try to BS your way through it, and if you don’t understand, research, or ask for an explanation, and don’t stop asking until you fully understand it… Understand how basic coding works, just the basics or the concepts (I trained as a lawyer, but self-taught myself some basics), you wouldn’t sell a property without understanding general structural issues, so why buy one that could be built of sand… If you have no interest or time to learn the basics, well then leave it to people you trust who know or are willing to learn, and then ask them, “What problem are we trying to solve”, and most importantly, “what will be our Return on Investment?”. It can, and should, be that easy.
Eager to hear any opinions or further tips from anyone in the Proptech industry in helping both sides to narrow that chasm! Please comment below if you have any ideas to share with the organisers on how to make the event better in future…
On a more personal side note, I would be interested in hearing from CRE as to what are the greatest difficulties facing the sector in Digital Marketing and Sales, and where they see the industry going to solve these problems…
Founder & CEO of Captate
**Personally, I think that VR for RE sales is a bit of a gimmick, that Webgl (seeing the 3D interactive model through your web browser) is a lot more important for now. I don’t think that headset use will be adapted by the general public until we can great visuals, field of view and interactivity showing on a pair of unobtrusive glasses (most likely with Mixed Reality and VR capabilities), available in hundreds of different designs that people will use on their face while walking down the street. Remember, people are vain, and outside closed work settings I can’t see people using them in non-work settings – has anyone seen someone in public with a hololens yet? I keep a close eye on hardware developments in this area and this would seem to be quite a few years off yet. Magic Leap, who google ploughed a billion into, don’t even have a prototype at the date of writing…
IMO there is a general misconception by many CRE and AEC professionals of a great need for high quality offline 3D models. In this digital age, the focus should be online models that can be shared via a link. In particular, I learned that at Captate we were right to focus early on webGL for the Captate Tour, whereby the unbuilt property can be viewed in any browser. For a significant investment in a 3D model, a CRE 3D project needs not only to be available online, but have integrated data tracking and lead capture, and focus on a digital marketing and sales strategy to reach a hugely wider audience. For me there is no competition between downloadable apps, location based VR & touchscreens compared to accessing a 3D interactive tour on your phone, tablet or laptop. One would have thought that was a no-brainer, but obviously not everyone can do what we do yet, there is a lot of physics that goes into making a 3 gigabyte (3000 megabytes) traditional model into a 28 megabyte model that can be viewed quickly through a browser (think how youtube changed how we share videos), like what we did here – https://captate.com/tour2/
Hope to be back to NYC soon!