Proptech Weekly #52 – 2016’s top Proptech stories, companies and people| Rayhan Rafiq-Omar
Friends, Feudal Landlords, Commoners,
It used to be the property people who were resistant to change.
But 2016 was the year the technology people stuck their fingers in their ears and sang la-la na-na-na.
The clamour for agent tech has been loud this year. Property professionals have increasingly embraced simple tools like Fixflo to help transform the level of service they can provide.
But there’s been very little listening as technologists try to ram their vision down the throats of property people without listening to what their actual needs are.
Apps like Goodlord have lovely features like electronic signing. But being wrapped in an end-to-end system is off-putting to many agents – they want to improve their business, not change everything about it.
A friend asked me when Openrent – who reportedly let 4,000 properties each month, which would make them the largest online lettings agent by a country mile – would start offering assisted viewings.
I immediately baulked at the suggestion. Openrent’s value proposition is clear: it’s for DIY landlords.
The moment they become a full service agent is the moment they lose their identity and laden their business with the cost of unnecessarily competing with every other agent.
There are people, like Adam and Daz, who genuinely get their customers – these are the people worth speaking to. Listening to.
So let’s start with the people of the Proptech year:
Michael Bruce, Paul Pindar, Neil Woodford – this is a case study in how everyone pulling hard in the same direction leads to positive results. Regardless of your opinions of their model or service, these three are proof that leadership matters. Especially when you underwrite your stock price with your own (patient) capital.
Robert May, Coding Dobby, Peebee and Chris Wood – maniacs. It’s the most appropriate word to describe their crusade against the scourge of #portaljuggling. These madmen have made an issue out of something that nobody cared about. My friend Robert May prides himself in finishing what he starts and achieving the highest standard of results. That’s what happened here: portaljuggling is a thing everyone now knows about. They’ve won a battle. Can they win the war for transparency in estate agency?
Alex Chesterman – This was the year OnTheMarket was supposed to overtake Zoopla. But the sole reason for Zoopla’s rising share price struck again with his deal-making. Not only did he mop up Property Software Group (Vebra, CFP Winman, Jupix) for an absolute bargain, but he dominated mindshare amongst Proptechers by making several investments into the likes of Property Detective, Trussle and Bricklane.
James Dearsley – he’s taken a view that Proptech is going to be big and has quickly become the undisputed Mr Proptech. Wherever there’s an online platform or a conference stage, James is there. Champion of Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, James writes his way into everyone’s consciousness on a weekly basis.
Then there are the companies that won the year:
Purplebricks demonstrated the power of the press. The company’s accounts showed a loss. But because their release insisted they made a profit, every property journalist repeated the untruth. Purplebricks has understood this irrational behaviour and harnessed the power of messaging for their benefit. Not content to blow away every other online agent through massive advertising spend, they finally nailed a value proposition that every member of the public can latch onto a repeat: don’t pay commission to sell your home. Whatever you think of their model and finances – both of which are questionable – they own mindshare. It should be a particular point of shame for both Connells and Countrywide that their ‘hybrid’ agency efforts barely appear on the same playing field. This was the year Purplebricks showed every other agent that property is about style over substance.
Zoopla – Beyond CEO Alex Chesterman’s deal-making, Zoopla built on their excellent outdoor and TV advertising to once again capture the imagination. It’s doubley amazing that Rightmove doesn’t respond AND Rightmove’s dominance increases regardless. Mind boggling. But this is about Zoopla and for many younger property hunters, it’s the first brand they think of. That counts.
VTS – The $300m merger between Hightower and VTS was a watershed moment for US Proptech. Juliette Morgan said it was the end-game for commercial property software and that ‘everyone’ would have to use them because they’d have all the data. But while the merger was the attention grabber, there’s a more subtle story here: they’re getting it right. They’re winning. Watching Brandon Webber speak is a must for everyone in and around Proptech: Link
Opendoor – Let’s ignore the monster $200m+ fundraisings. Just consider that they’re dominating the markets they’ve entered. And are paving the way with genuine innovation to transform the way people buy and sell homes. For those who think Opendoor is anything like BMV businesses, remember how painful it was when you sold your home.
And the top stories:
VTS and Hightower merging: Link
Zoopla acquiring Property Software Group: Link
Zoopla investing in numerous Proptech start-ups: Link
All the major Proptech fundraising were North American: Link
Happy New Year one and all. May 2017 be all that you hope and deserve.