22.4.21

The Propcast: Exploring New Territories: PropTech EMEA

In this episode the Propcast talks to Mete Varas from ME PropTech and Helen Chen from Nomad Homes about exploring new territories and PropTech launching in the EMEA.

Click here to listen to this episode, and here is a preview of our chat below!

The Propcast by Louisa Dickins, Co-Founder of LMRE the leading Global PropTech recruiter, is brought to you in partnership with CREtech and ReimTech. This show will focus on connecting the PropTechs, real estate funds and VC’s globally…and get everyone talking about innovation of the build to rent environment.

22.4.21

About Guests

Helen Chen

https://www.linkedin.com/in/helen-chen-508b6b49/

Helen Chen is the CEO and Co-founder of Nomad Homes. Nomad is a managed marketplace for users to search, transact, and finance residential real estate under one roof across Europe and the Middle East. Prior to founding Nomad, Helen was an investor and worked at Goldman Sachs, China Investment Corporation (CIC), and Blackstone Private Equity. While pursuing her MBA at Stanford, the heart of Silicon Valley, Helen developed a passion for PropTech. Against all odds, Helen left her MBA to start Nomad. A strong believer in supporting women both in tech and in the boardroom, Helen is a champion for hiring female talent at Nomad and encouraging a balanced workforce. Helen graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BS in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is an alumnus of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She was selected to Forbes 30 Under 30, Finance.

Mete Varas

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mete-varas-0b3aab/

Mete Varas is the founder of Middle East PropTech initiative, ME PropTech, which is based in Dubai. He has also founded EurAsia PropTech initiative which is based in Istanbul, the mission is to create the ecosystem, foster innovation, and share knowledge among all stakeholders in the region. Mete is one of the thought leaders and influencers and predominantly his focus is on the EMEA. Now he is a prominent entrepreneur in technology businesses, involved in numerous ventures as a founder, advisor and MED. He is a speaker at various conferences and holds a Bachelor degree in Industrial Relations and Economics from Gazi University and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University.

 

Resources Referenced

LMRE website www.lmre.co.uk

UKPA website www.ukpa.com

Nomad Homes www.nomadhomes.co

ME PropTech Initiative www.meproptech.com

 

Insights From This Episode

- If you're going to build a company, you should pick a market and a region that is large and where the customers are really asking for a better solution to what they're in today Helen Chen

- (Dubai) is visionary, someday we'll call it a futuristic city. And there are lots of programs, it's really investment friendlyMete Varas

- The city and the country is incredibly progressive and that I have been welcomed by open arms into the ecosystem, both on the real estate side as well as the tech sideHelen Chen on Dubai

- We always say that FinTech and PropTech are twinsMete Varas

- I think there will be a convergence of PropTech and FinTech, because buying and renting is ultimately a financial decision. I believe we'll see eventually these two sectors will converge into oneHelen Chen

 

Episode Transcript

Louisa

Hi everyone and welcome to the Propcast, my name is Louisa Dickins, co-founder of LMRE and board director of the UKPA, and I shall be your weekly host. Each week for 30 minutes, we will be connecting the VCs, PropTech start-ups and real estate professionals globally, and assist in bridging that famous communication gap we all love talking about. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Hi everyone, and welcome to the podcast. Today we'll be discussing EMEA PropTech, which is Europe, Middle East and Africa and today we are fortunate to be speaking with Mete Varas, founder of Middle East PropTech and EurAsia PropTech. And Helen Chen, CEO of Nomad Homes. So welcome both to the show today.

 

Mete

Thank you. Great to be on the show.

 

Helen

Thank you, likewise.

 

Louisa

Now let me give you a brief introduction to our guests. So Mete is the founder of Middle East PropTech initiative, which is based in Dubai and also EurAsia PropTech initiative which is based in Istanbul, these initiatives mission is to create the ecosystem, foster innovation, share knowledge among all stakeholders in the region, quite similar to various associations globally but trying to pick up the mantle of PropTech through part of it and just increase knowledge really. Mete Varas is one of the thought leaders and influencers of PropTech globally and you might have seen him feature recently on UNISSU’s PropTech Connect but predominantly his focus is on the EMEA. Now he is a prominent entrepreneur in technology businesses, involved in numerous ventures as a founder, advisor and MED. In fact, he is joining us from one of the businesses offices today. Besides thinking, writing, innovating on PropTech innovation and transformation, he's basically just been a massive advocate for the space and he's been a huge asset to LMRE and guiding us in our launch to EMEA. So those who are listening and thinking about the potential launch, hopefully this podcast will be helpful and I'm sure he'll be happy to follow up separately after the podcast now.

 

Now Helen, who I was introduced to through Mete recently is the CEO and co founder of Nomad Homes. Nomad is a digital platform helping buyers and renters to find their best home, and she founded it in 2019. Now prior to all of this, Helen was an investor and worked at Goldman Sachs, China Investment Corporation and Blackstone private equity, and was selected for Forbes 30 under 30, which I'm sure lots of listeners know about. While pursuing MBA at Stanford in the heart of Silicon Valley, Helen developed a passion for prop tech and against all the odds Helen left her MBA to start Nomad, which is obviously a massive risk, and I absolutely love it. And it's obviously going extremely well so I'm looking forward to hearing about that journey in a moment. Now, Helen is a strong believer in supporting women, both in tech and in the boardroom. Helen is a champion for hiring female talent at Nomad and encouraging a balanced workforce, which we can chat for a bit later when we touch upon diversity. A massive warm welcome to both of you and I would love to get started with the first question, which is how you both got into PropTech? Helen, why don't you go first, you've gone from banking to founder, leaving your MBA, San Francisco to Dubai, talk us through it.

 

Helen

Thanks, Louisa. So I think for me, I am an investor by training but my true passion has always been in real estate. As a kid growing up, my parents had rental properties and my job over the summer was to fix them up and get them ready for tenants, that's followed me throughout my career. I studied real estate and undergrad, I worked at Goldman and their real estate Banking Group. My first investment was in real estate rental property and to this day, I love looking at houses. Where I go, whether it's domestically in the US, internationally around the world, I love to look at the houses, I go on open houses all the time. And for me, it's really a true passion and I think it really stems from the fact that of your life finding your best home is exactly what Nomad is doing, and also the most important personal and financial decision. So I think it really resonates with a lot of people.

 

Louisa

Yes, definitely. And also great to be involved in something which you're passionate about and obviously relate to. Mete what about you? So you not only get involved in start-ups, MED, advise various businesses, been a founder yourself, but talk us through how you got into this space and also founded the initiatives?

 

Helen

Yes, I discovered my entrepreneur side in late 90s, when I actually was working for Coca Cola, and that's the only conventional company that I worked for a year. And then I moved to the whole entrepreneur adventure, I first started in FinTech, early 2000. And then one information start-up, which was bought by Euro Money later on. And at that time, we have started a PropTech company even though there was no buzzword like PropTech back in 2007, there was a data analytics company in real estate specifically for the emerging markets. And then moved to a marketplace business pretty much like Zoopla or Zillow in 2014, and then 2018 I left the day to day operations and then move to an advisory role. And that was the year that I started the EurAsia PropTech initiative in Istanbul. And then before the pandemic I founded with this PropTech initiative down in Dubai, and then the pandemic came in and then period.

 

Louisa

And now talk to me about, there's various associations globally and yours focuses on Dubai ecosystem and community and one in Istanbul, tell us what are the values, what are the missions, who your partner? And then Helen I'd love to hear a bit more about how you heard about it and got involved and where you see the value as well for Nomad?

 

Mete

Well, in fact it was back in 2018, when I founded the Eurasia project initiative, there were about 11 or 12, globally what I call hubs Today, it's more than 75 or so. Pretty much the UK one, Australia and US are formed as an association as far as I know, but pretty much all of them do a similar mission to create the ecosystem, to foster the innovation in the built environment. And first thing they usually do is to release a PropTech map specifically for that region. And that's exactly what we did. It took some time for us, we launched a version for Istanbul, recently launched one for Dubai, for UAE. Just to give you a comparison of Dubai has about 48 start-ups, and I specifically include the ones that were founded in UAE not founded somewhere else, and then have a liaison office in UAE. So if you look at from that perspective it's kind of small, however the market is big. There's only one side of the coin is the start-ups, but then the rest is the incumbents and the market potential the MENA region in general is quite booming, we talk about a lot about Latin America how hard it is. I believe we will be talking much about the Middle East region, but there's 450 million people living there and they all discovered that innovation is the way to go. Trying to move away from the oil economy, so lots of things going on.

 

Louisa

Yes sounds and I'm sure more to come. Now Helen, Nomad actually started in SF and grew to Paris, which I think you're currently doing this podcast from and obviously you have expanded to Dubai. How did you and Mete come about, why did you want to join the Middle East PropTech initiative and how is it beneficial? So many start-ups are all looking for association so they can join, share ideas, do all of the above, how has it benefited you personally?

 

Helen

That's a great question. So Mete and I actually met on LinkedIn. I was kind of curious about what he was up to. And we are one of the companies that is mentioned in his PropTech map. So Nomad is one of the start-ups that is tackling this problem of buying, renting and selling. And so that's actually how I Mete and I came about. The benefit of being in these relationships with other start-ups is that one, as a start-up, you have to continuously evolve and continuously learn. So if there is an initiative that can help us do that more quickly, and help Nomad grow more quickly, then we are 100% supportive. And the second piece is starting a company is really hard. So for us at Nomad, something that we are always really cognizant about and we make an effort to do so, is really support the ecosystem. Support other founders support other start-ups that are going through the same growing pains as us because sometimes it's a lonely journey and you want some friends around you.

 

Louisa

Yes. I can echo all of that, especially as I have done a similar thing, even though we are a recruitment firm and don't have a tech platform, going to other countries, cultures, just a whole different ecosystem, any support and friend we can have there just it's so important. Okay, so let's talk about the market, so why did you choose to go to Dubai? So the usual hotspots for growth of companies are the big cities, you obviously started in San Fran, there's New York, there's London, there's Berlin, Paris you've obviously launched in. Why Dubai for you? Then Mete maybe can tell us about what is the government doing to attract start-ups to go there. If I'm a founder, why would I do that?

 

Helen

Yes, so for us our target markets are across Europe and the Middle East, Europe, in the Middle East collectively EMEA, it's a huge residential real estate market. Over one and a half trillion dollars of residential real estate are purchased and sold every single year. So just a massive market. And two when we were doing our research while I was at Stanford for Nomad, we were talking to the customers, and it's still an incredibly painful process that is mostly offline. And so if you're going to build a company, my personal opinion is one, you should pick a market and a region that is large, and two, where the customers are really asking for a better solution to what they're in today. And so that's how we decided to focus our efforts across Europe in the Middle East

 

Louisa

And Mete just for general start-ups, why would they launch in the Middle East? So you mentioned this different legislation, to me it was all new, we're looking to launch out there and now it seems a lot more attractive and actually easier to launch than in some countries like France!

 

Mete

first of all, specifically, we should talk about Dubai, which discovered the innovation economy or knowledge economy much earlier than the rest of the region. It’s visionary, someday we'll call it a futuristic city, they also get the advantage of city state advantages. And there are lots of programs, it's really investment friendly, I'm sure hadn't even mentioned more than I do, however the programs, they are specifically quite aggressive, they open to any kind of talents and they just don't want to do that for a short term, they actually want to do that longer period. And specifically with the pandemic lots of countries from Latin to Europe promoting spatial programs for digital nomads, Dubai is also one of them. However, they are more into innovation and this year specifically, there is going to be Expo 2020. I just had a long conversation with the manager who is handling what is called District 2020, there is an area where they are going to use that infrastructure after Expo, and they are going to dedicate the whole area, which is more than 150 soccer fields it's huge, and the whole area is going to be a development area. And the whole focus is going to be again, innovation specifically for the global talents and companies, they are planning to do very intensive programs which we will be promoting as well.

 

Louisa

Awesome, almost like whole new innovation hubs that’s great to hear.

 

Louisa

Are there any areas of growth in certain verticals of PropTech, which we're seeing in EMEA? Is it residential, is it commercial?

 

Mete

Well, as Helen mentioned, on emerging markets, especially in the MENA region, when you talk about real estate they usually understand residential other than commercial mainly. That doesn't mean that commercial real estate is still at the very early stage, there is a big commercial market as well. So some areas obviously are quite connected. I will say mobility is one area or vertical, the other one will be logistics, smart logistics, lots of companies doing that. Like any other PropTech market more than one player on the tenant app vertical. Finance is another area which I think will have a big potential. I will say Cloud Kitchen’s are quite aggressive, there are a lot of companies and then even before the pandemic, and then pandemic help developed. That's how I see it.

 

Louisa

And talking of growth and especially launching in Dubai as well, Helen what's your experience being a female founder? specially launching in Dubai, which is notoriously difficult as well for women in the workplace, tell us about it.

 

Helen

So for me I'm actually accustomed to being the only the only woman in the room.  Starting in finance on Wall Street in private equity, banking, and then moving into real estate and then technology, I suppose I am a martyr almost in that I'm always representing the women at the table. So for me I'm actually accustomed to it, and I always view myself as a founder and a CEO first and a woman founder CEO second. I think that's the mentality you have to take. Because first and foremost, I have a fiduciary duty to our business and to Nomad Homes. The second piece is, I think that is a common perception about doing business in Dubai, but I will say that the city and the country is incredibly progressive and that I have been welcomed by open arms into the ecosystem, both on the real estate side as well as the tech side. So I'm grateful for that.

 

Louisa

And how do you go about hiring female talent, ensuring that you've got a balanced team yourself as well?

 

Helen

Absolutely. when you do have the luxury in the position of pushing change in the workforce, I think you do need to take advantage of that and support that. So for us, we do have a rule where whenever Nomad is looking to hire, we always interview one woman and one man for each position. And after that the decision to hire the decision to hire is really based on merit. Because when you're building a business, we need to make sure that Nomad has the best talent possible, 100%. So what we do is we actually regulate the interviewing process to make sure that that piece is fair. And then let merit decide who joins the Nomad team.

 

Louisa

That sounds like quite a good setup and structure, something which a lot of a lot of businesses struggle with. I think the larger businesses especially, but start-ups are definitely trying to create most of diverse balance shortlists from the get go. And once you have that more balanced inclusive setup, it makes your business so much more attractive to people coming as you grow. I've got a question for Mete now. Are there any other success stories coming out of EMEA? You said there was 42 founded start-ups there, any other ones you want to talk us through?

 

Helen

Well, there is an example of Careem, which was exited to Uber and if I'm not mistaken, is over 1 billion US dollars. And then there is Property Finder, it's a real estate marketplace portal. They also created a niche and became a market leader specific, it's a vertical marketplace. There used to be one horizontal marketplace, but they came in and then became a category leader. There's also another company that I like Candid, it's a marketplace for construction equipment. There is obviously Nomad for a new generation of residential brokerage firm.

 

Louisa

You’ve listed quite a few there actually, out of 42! The way I see it, its one of the primary growth industries is real estate, so for property technology companies there must be so much opportunity. It is working out how to break through into and those who are listening today if you want to get that understanding for the PropTech map, the community the developers, everything like that definitely speak to a Mete, he can chat you through it and just go on the website which obviously we'll be sharing after the show. I'm a bit conscious of time and I really want to run through the final part of the podcast which is the LMRE part. One lessons learned, mention anyone who gets a shout out, quick product or service, any regrets in your career but turn it a positive and then what you are most excited about the future of PropTech. So Helen, name one lesson you've learned in your career.

 

Helen

My main lesson is do what you love, because nobody on this podcast or listening to this podcast is in the business of being mediocre. And I believe that you need to love what you do in order to be great at it.

 

Louisa

I like that a lot Helen, thank you. Mete any lessons you learnt?

 

Mete

I'm kind of old so I have a lot of lessons to learn still. Warren Buffett said that it's good to learn from your mistakes, but it's much better to learn from others. So I'm always open to learn new stuff and I always open to share what I learned especially with the youngsters, so knowledge sharing is key.

 

Louisa

Anyone you want to give a shout out to or a certain product or service out there?

 

Helen

Absolutely. So I will give a shout out to the entire Nomad Homes team across Paris in Dubai. And a huge shout out to our VC investors who believed in us from day one, Comcast Ventures, Partech, Abstract, WnderCo, Precursor, Class Five Global for believing in us and our mission.

 

Louisa

Awesome, thank you for that. Mete I'm sure you've got a fair few good shout outs as well, but choose one or two.

 

Helen

I’d like to mention the whole PropTech community, because I learned a lot of stuff and really keeps me excited. And there's one company it's not from PropTech but I like what they do, it's Climeworks, you can actually take a look at it. So on different level, they create packages, so they usually capture co2 and from depending on your preference or budgets, you can contribute to the sustainability issue.

 

Louisa

Thank you. And any regrets in your career, Helen?

 

Helen

My one regret would be not starting Nomad Homes earlier. But in general I think we should always be looking forward and trying to improve yourself as opposed to focusing on your regrets.

 

Louisa

Yes agreed, any regrets in your career?

 

Mete

No. Likewise, I actually don't have any regrets. I've been in emerging markets for a long time. I sometimes think it's kind of tiring. Sometimes you have to follow the rest of the world and then come back to the reality. Sometimes there are gaps, but there's no regret

 

Louisa

Okay, last question. What are you both most excited about with the future of PropTech? Helen, go for it.

 

Helen

The most exciting piece about PropTech is one how big the market is, and I think the convergence of PropTech and FinTech, because buying and renting is ultimately a financial decision. And so what I believe we'll see is that eventually these two sectors will converge into one.

 

Louisa

Mete would you echo that, or have you got something else?

 

Mete

Yes, that is true. So we always say that FinTech and PropTech are twins. I specifically like the future of Metaverse or 3-D printing, specifically image recognition or AI in general. There will be fascinating use cases in the coming years, I believe.

 

Louisa

Yes, there'll be massive developments especially. We're unfortunately coming to the end of the podcast, sadly. But please let the audience know the best way to connect with you. Helen, please go first.

 

Helen

So you can find us at Nomadhomes.co or you can find me on LinkedIn, I think you'll be able to find me pretty quickly there.

 

Louisa

Awesome. Thank you so much and Mete, tell the audience how they can find out about your initiatives and obviously connect to with you.

 

Helen

Yes, they can always connect me on LinkedIn Mete Varas they can just type in an MEproptech.com or proptecheurasia.com.

 

Louisa

Awesome. Thank you both for joining me on the podcast today from Dubai and from Paris, and right now I’m on a mini island off the coast of England. So I'm looking forward to catching up with you both after the show and I hope you have a great day.

 

Helen

Thank you for having me.

 

Mete

Thank you.

 

Louisa

Thank you for joining us this week on the Propcast and a big thanks to our special guests. Make sure you visit our website www.lmre.co.uk where you can subscribe to our show. Or you'll find us on iTunes and Spotify were all good content is found, while you’re at it if you found value in the show, we'd appreciate if you could rate and review us on iTunes or if you could simply spread the word. Be sure to tune in next Tuesday, and I’ll catch you later.

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