27.7.21

A European PropTech View, Richard Liehmann, Inpera

Welcome back to 'A European PropTech View, by Dilan Omari-Clark' our Q&A focused on European PropTech's.

27.7.21

Our Q&A series is an opportunity for our European team, headed up by Dilan Omari-Clark to discuss all things PropTech, Start-ups, and Career with different founders from across the continent. Each week we ask our guests some burning questions and quiz them about their product, we hope you find it insightful and enjoy getting to know the founders. 

This week we have Richard Liehmannfounder of Inpera 

Inpera GmbH is a platform for the construction industry that greatly simplifies the tendering, awarding and procurement of work services and building materials. With a team of industry and technology experts, Inpera offers the cloud solution, a standard that greatly simplifies the collaboration between planners, construction companies, retailers and suppliers in the project.

The company was founded in 2017 and is based in Berlin, Germany.

About Richard. 

Richard grew up in Salzburg, Austria. After being in touch with information technology at the age of 4 (the time when punch cards were used to feed information to computers) and doing his first program in  machine code at 11 he finished studies as electrical engineer with distinction. In the year 2002 he sold his first company to the mobile service provider industry. From this day on he focused on leading projects of different companies around the globe in IoT and Enterprise Software to become European Market Leaders. Richard is seeing IT as a tool which should be applied wisely, to solve problems instead of creating new ones.

How did you find yourself working in the PropTech sector?

During my career I was applying information technology in a lot of different industries. Starting from sports over automotive to manufacturing and the media industry. By doing so I was able to learn a lot about general problems such a change can bring and how similar they are across all industries. Almost all of these projects lead to a successful end, showing and proving that software can change the way people work in their daily life. Gathering and analysing data is one of the biggest advantages of using information technology and going digital.

I came to Inpera in spring 2019 to help them to speed up their success as a startup. After a few months I took over the steering wheel. We changed the product and focused on the vision to digitize the procurement process to be able to gather data. We want to use the data to create digital twins to all construction projects. That's how I found myself in the middle of the construction industry and I definitely see the chance to create a big thing.

At what point did you realise there was a gap in the market and you had the product for it?

When I did my research about how the daily work in procurement in the construction industry is done, I realised that most of this work happens manually. This means that people are repeating tasks every day, sending paperwork or faxes and wasting a lot of time and money by not really knowing what's going on in a project. This was the moment when I saw a chance to support and to place a product in the market to improve this situation. But the situation of how we as a company realize the chance doesn’t make the market see it the same way. Today construction companies have full order books and are working over their capacity. That is why we need to focus on the daily pain relievers to support our road towards our vision.

What is a frequently asked question you get about your product?

There were really a lot of questions asked in the past about our product. The most important is about why companies need our product. To define this need we have to go a bit deeper into the industry and its behaviors. At the moment they are working most of the time in regional defined clusters. Even the big corporations out there, you may name them, are hardly built on regional thinking. There is no real togetherness in the market. It's an old economy which defines itself as win or die I would say. For me, without that background, being an “outlaw”, it looks like they may limit themselves. On the one hand they are good at solving physical troubles which occur with very short notice, because they are used to it. On the other hand they don’t see what is coming next, due to a lack of strategic planning. The topic about construction in 10 to 20 years is for most of them like travelling to the moon. To state it clearly, I’m not blaming the industry, this is what it’s about, physical problem solving, building things. 

So we are answering this question about the need for our product in two steps. The first is that our software reduces the daily work load on an employee's desk. It decreases the error rate of orders and material call offs. It minimizes the amount of kilometers per week a construction worker has to drive to the next available retailer to shortly fetch misdelivered material. It allows them to attract new subcontractors because the general contractor gives them a possibility to be part of the digital game without a hassle. It eliminates the one way solutions where only the bigger player has the advantage and the other just tries to get the order. In short: You need it because it supports your daily work now!

The second step is about being competitive as a company in the future. Not a single player, big or small, will be able to exclude himself from the digitization of this industry. If you try to do this in your own way with single proprietary solutions you will have to learn that you will not end as a leader. Strategic thinking needs a lot of learning, trials and experience. As a company you can only get this by either doing a lot of things and starting early or by expensively buying experience from consultants. The first way needs a lot of time and the second a lot of money. By joining a platform which is able to learn on its own with the support of artificial intelligence you can quickly use the learnings from a big group of users without the need to spend a lot of money for it. If we all share anonymous data in the future we can analyze it and experience predictions and forecasts we couldn’t even imagine. Did you ever think about knowing the exact arrival time of a 500 kilometers journey, just in the second you think about the destination you want to go? Today you do...by using Google maps. So the second step in one sentence is: Let's build a data application for the construction industry to ensure that we build sustainable things in the future.

Why do you think the digitalisation of the construction industry is vital? 

I already answered a part of the question in the last statement why a company needs our product. Digitalisation is important because we need to enable the industry to learn from big data what it is doing day by day. The learning has to be fast and in a very smart way, otherwise it will be too late for climate change and other social and environmental driven topics. We all learned our lessons about what it means to not control natural happenings by the pandemic, which is still covering our lives. We need to be prepared and this is not possible without digital technology, analyses and forecasts. The fact that digital technology can ease up our lives is a privilege that we should take advantage of. The fact that only digital data is allowing us to analyse and improve things in all industries is a given one. So going digital is not only vital for the construction industry, it’s vital to be able to ensure the survival of our beautiful space of living for us, the earth.

Tell us about your involvement in the Proptech Innovation Summit 2021.

I heard about the award which is part of the Summit by mail from GermanTech. They invited us to take part in it. As a company we wanted to use this great opportunity to spread the word about what we believe and do and be part of an international award. We applied and got selected by the jury to be one of the finalists for the pitch day at the event. Now we have the opportunity to show the audience why we think that going digital in procurement is a game changer for the construction industry.

What are the main challenges for the construction industry?

Like with all changes, in business or private life, the main challenge is to step outside of your comfort zone. Companies need to understand that it takes a certain effort and courage to improve. Nothing comes from nothing. I'm sure it will pay off. The change of generations in the industry is driving this way of thinking forward, but it is too slow to change fast enough. It’s time to rethink old business models, old behaviours and competitive ways of thinking. The construction industry needs to trust external industries that they have definitely an experience in changing. They need to stop saying that they are not even similar to other industries, they need to start trying, experiencing and being open to new ways of thinking. Not only by talking about it, but also by doing and supporting the real change. It’s not about being too complex or regional to go digital, it’s about starting to let others from outside the industry find solutions.

Future of PropTech, what do you think is going to be important this year? 

Due to the pandemic that we all had to struggle with last year, we did move closer together. Sometimes it doesn’t look like this if you only see lockdowns and other measures. We found out that we are all affected by the same thing, that we all need to adapt quickly. The need to know more about the place where we live and work has been raised, without a surprise. I think there were a lot of single vertical solutions popping up during the last years, but to get it all working well we need to connect. Topics about connecting devices, buildings, processes and at the same time people will be more in the focus. If we look a bit at the ongoing ESG discussion we can have a first check that this is happening. So let us connect the industry together, we all are inpera!

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