14.1.21

The Propcast: Maintaining Culture While Managing Expansion

In this episode the Propcast talks to Charlie Wade from VTS about maintaining culture while managing expansion.

Click here to listen to this episode and here is a sneak peek below of our chat!

 

The Propcast by Louisa Dickins, co-Founder of LMRE the leading Global PropTech recruiter brought to you in partnership with UK PropTech Association, The UK PropTech Association is a membership organisation to drive the digital transformation of the property industry. 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.

14.1.21

About Our Guest

Charlie Wade

https://www.linkedin.com/in/charliewade10/?originalSubdomain=uk

Charlie Wade is UK Managing director of PropTech giant, VTS. In their own words, VTS is the commercial real estate industry’s leading leasing and asset management platform. Landlords use VTS to maximise portfolio performance by transforming their leasing and asset management process and unlocking real-time insights – enabling them to convert leads to leases faster than ever before, and build informed data-led strategies. Brokers can manage their deal pipeline and get tenants into empty spaces faster, collaborate across teams and work easily with their landlord clients using VTS for Brokers. Beyond his role at VTS, Charlie’s an influential figure in promoting technology within the property industry and has a background firmly rooted in the traditional industry.

 

Resources Mentioned

LMRE website www.lmre.co.uk

UKPA website www.ukpa.com

VTS website www.vts.com 

 

Insights From This Episode

 

  • Our vision is to create a platform for those that operate commercial real estate, to collaborate, manage, and ultimately support their day to day tasks – Charlie Wade
  • We've often been referred to or some have coined and said that we’re the Bloomberg for commercial real estate – Charlie Wade
  • It's not one size fits all. It requires partnering with local clients to ensure that nuances of their processes or the way they run their workflows are reflected in the product – Charlie Wade
  • We don't develop technology for technology's sake, we develop solutions based on what our clients are telling us they need – Charlie Wade
  • There is no doubt that while the industry was going through change and was transforming ahead of COVID, and the pandemic, overnight COVID accelerated this shift towards a reliance on technology – Charlie Wade

 

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 VC, PropTech startups 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 back to season four of the Propcast. This season we are kicking off with Charlie Wade, the EMEA Managing Director for VTS which is the industry's leading leasing and asset management software. So welcome to the show, Charlie.

 

Charlie

Thank you very much for having me Louisa. I'm excited to kick off your season four and start a new year, so thanks for having me on the show.

 

Louisa

Now since we have all had one hell of a 12 months, today we will be chatting through how VTS has coped, developed their product, get their expansion going and really looked after their expanding team. But first let's give a little bit of an introduction to Charlie before we start with all the questions. So with over 12 million square feet managed on the platform. VTS is the fastest growing technology company and commercial real estate history and VTS reached unicorn recently, through the $19 million series D fundraise, which is the largest software funding round in the history of commercial property. This investment marked the first time several leading institutional real estate investors have made an investment of this magnitude in the property technology company, which is seriously impressive and also it's a massive step forward for the PropTech industry.

 

I'm sure a few of you listening knows where Wade fits into this, but I'll shed a bit of light into Wade's story. So prior to joining VTS, Wade worked at the top real estate consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle working in London, New York, Silicon Valley, completing his degree at Reading University he headed straight to London, where he soon joined the JLL agency business before moving to the US to lead the business development for the West Coast hub of Jones Lang LaSalle’s international desk. At VTS, Charlie has helped facilitate the growth of the UK and European offer for VTS. A few fun facts everyone listening, one in three office buildings in central China is now managed by VTS which is also seriously impressive, and this fast scaling companies is used by big names such as Knight Frank, British Land, the Crown Estate, Blackstone and Brookfield. So I guess without further ado, welcome to the show Charlie. And I've given a very brief summary to your journey to becoming a managing director for VTS, but I'm sure the audience would love to hear a little bit more about how you went from Reading to New York, to Silicon Valley  and back to London now, tell us a little bit more about your story.

 

Charlie

Yes, it's amazing what you can find out on LinkedIn isn't it, a very good and comprehensive journey there. But I've been in the industry for a little over 15 years but it's sometimes feels like it's been a lot more than that, as you mentioned I came straight out of Reading University, very fortunate to get on the graduate recruitment program at JLL. I spent just shy of about 10 years at JLL. And I have to admit that, JLL was a fantastic opportunity. The Recruitment Program time is fantastic, it's a fantastic business, still is a fantastic business and it gave you so much exposure to the different facet and areas within commercial real estate that really allowed me to understand what I cared about and what I loved. It gave me the opportunity as you mentioned to move to the US.

 

So again, I did that through JLL and I spent a little time in the New York market, which was a huge learning experience. That market is very special and very unique. There's some huge similarities between the London in New York market and there's also big differences and it was fascinating to get an insight into that. But off the back of that I was actually offered a role on the west coast. So I made my way across to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where I essentially headed up the i-desk for the West Coast there and I was able to grow the corporate relationships across both the US and Europe. Interestingly, there was the opportunity where I actually met Nick and Ryan for the first time, founders of VTS. Ryan pitched me the VTS vision when I got back to the UK, it was a multi-year strategy for the UK and the way he pitched it and sold it I have to admit, I was pretty much immediately in. The challenge was huge, the opportunity was even bigger and five years on at VTS, here we are.

 

Louisa

And so moving from a business like JLL to what I guess VTS, it was pretty early stage. And now what was it like transitioning between those types of businesses and two completely different roles?

 

Charlie

Yes, it's a good question. I think I'd been given a bit of an insight into that entrepreneurial spirit that that exists and I think, people get a bit of a taste of that bargain so to speak. But when I was in the US, US JLL was a bit of a different beast. And when I came back to the UK, I was quite hungry for more of that, and a bit more of a challenge and to be able to kind of let those entrepreneurial juices flow. I have to admit, at the time, it wasn't so much about moving from a traditional commercial real estate business to a PropTech company, it was a challenge and an opportunity to learn new skills in a new role at a new company. Again, JLL was a fantastic business and still is a fantastic business. But given that I got a taste of that entrepreneurial spirit, I kind of wanted more. And VTS at the time was three years into their journey. It was a three year old CREtech, which is what it was called back then, startup. And they could give me that opportunity and so leading the charge and being part of the International growth for the company has been an incredibly exciting journey, and it's by no means over yet. In fact, a lot of people would argue that we've spent the last eight years building the foundations for the exciting bit, which is to come through this year and into next.

 

Louisa

So when you joined, what was the VTS mission and what's the future mission?

 

Charlie

The VTS mission when I joined over five years ago, was pretty much the same as the mission that we are on today. If we think we’d take the same path, and we get from A to B to C the way we thought, of course not. But the mission has been pretty consistent. From the day Nick and Ryan actually founded the company back into 2012, our mission is to cement our position as the modern operating system for commercial real estate. In essence, it's where the place where occupied transactions take place and real time market data comes to life, you've probably seen that slogan, that mantra on our website. But to break that down. Our vision is to create a platform for those that operate commercial real estate, to collaborate, manage, and ultimately support their day to day tasks. We've often been referred to or some have coined and said that we’re the Bloomberg for commercial real estate, which is a very flattering and very interesting prospect.

 

Especially given that I guess Bloomberg digitalise the finance industry in the 80s, I'm a little bit hopeful that we're slightly different to what Bloomberg did back then to now, technology If nothing else has certainly changed. And I don't think the industry is 30 years behind the finance industry. But the concept of streaming transactions, in our case between landlords and tenants, and supporting the industry with best in class real time market data, that is in essence, our mission. 8.50 And as you mentioned earlier, with 12 billion square feet, they managed on the platform today, 750 customers, 50,000 users leveraging our technology, every single day, we are absolutely edging closer and closer to that kind of ultimate vision of creating that modern operating system and single platform.

 

Louisa

And you briefly mentioned, you've worked in different cities and different real estate markets. Our listeners are global, we've got lots in US and lots in Europe. How has the product and growth been different between the US and Europe?

 

Charlie

Yes, it's a good question. One thing that is hopefully obvious, and I think people realise is, you can't just take a US product and transplant it into the UK or into France or into India or any of the other markets that we're in, I think we're in 41 or 42 countries now. It's not one size fits all. It requires partnering with local clients to ensure that nuances of their processes or the way they run their workflows are reflected in the product when It's a simple thing like currency by dollars, or pounds, or euros, or units of measure like meters or square feet. Or even really specific differences in terminology like the 1954 Act, or ITZA from a UK perspective, these things are very important to the way that businesses are commercial real estate businesses and managed and operate in a local market. And the product has to reflect that.

 

That being said, there are also some very basic commercial real estate fundamentals that transcend local markets, countries and even companies. And I think, where VTS has managed to strike the balance, and it's been through trial and error, and it's been a massive learning curve, but is that it's our ability to create a balance through listening to our customers, through our own learning, and experience and insight. And it's enabled us to kind of maintain that growth year on year. Product development is as much an art as a science, having the team on board, and ultimately having a good mix of technology professionals, and in our case commercial real estate professionals, has enabled us to do that. And of course, it goes without saying, we are only where we are, and only the growth we've had in the success we've had, from the support and advice that we got from our clients and the industry like they have very much been our partner and leading light, we don't develop technology for technology's sake, we develop solutions based on what our clients are telling us they need. And it's that partnership that is able us to grow, into this kind of multi country, multi market product.

 

Louisa

I guess that leads us quite nicely into our next question, which is about your expansion across Europe. And lots of businesses have tried doing this with some successes, some less successful. What would you say your biggest challenge was when you started?

 

Charlie

Yes, there’s been lots of challenges and there continues to be many, many challenges. And we certainly don't have all the answers but we are incredibly lucky that we've been able to experience a lot in quite a short period of time. I would say our biggest obstacle and this remains true today, just as much as it probably was at the beginning and in growing and successfully scaling a business, because you can grow it at a pace, but then how do you scale it and maintain it. We have to be honest with ourselves that we can only do so much, I would say our biggest challenge as a company is figuring out what to prioritise, and what ultimately to put on the back burner until another day.

 

We want to do everything that's just human nature. While at the same time, you're figuring out your prioritization list, you have to remain agile and flexible, you've got to be able to pivot when needed. Ultimately, the strategy might have to change based on something happening in the market. And I'm sure we'll talk about COVID and the pandemic, from last year, and this year, but that gets harder and harder as a company grows and gets bigger, because there's more people, more teams and more competing priorities to ultimately manage. So I would say our biggest obstacle is ourselves as we continue to grow and scale. And Nick says all the time, it's ours to mess up, it's ours to lose. And we have to maintain that spirit and that culture that got us to where we are through the next year, two years, three years as we continue that growth. I'd say that's probably one of our biggest challenges.

 

Louisa

And I guess, is there a particular moment that sticks out of you? I know these are standard questions, but what about a success story when you first started launching? Was it a big client which is secured, what was it?

 

Charlie

From a European perspective? I would say, year one for us was pretty exciting. We were given a bit of a blank piece of paper by Nick and Brian to go out and figure it out for a year. What does the UK market need? What is the European opportunity? What can we take from what we've learnt in the US and the first three, four years of rolling out a product, which at the time I think we’d rolled out about 2 billion square feet. So if you think about where we've come over five years, from 2 billion to 12 billion, we learn a lot in the US but we certainly didn't have as many of the answers as we have today. And I'd say one our most successful periods is that first year, it was incredibly exciting. And I think we managed to sign up 35 UK landlords and a huge proportion of those were central London owners. And so we made quite a big statement in year one and intent. That in turn enabled us to get the partners and the customers and clients who have been those customers and partners and clients ever since, to really help us scale and grow.

 

As I continue to mention, it's a partnership between what we can bring on the technology side and the insight side and being able to kind of take a step back and make this our day to day business and support our clients. And then them to provide us with the feedback and the advice and tell us what their priorities are and where they need to go next. So we're constantly working hand in hand, and I’d say the biggest success, where a few of the logos we managed to secure in year one, because they've been fundamental in supporting us through the last five years and helping us to grow. And that's everything from the land sect to the Crown Estates and the British landlords within central London, to some of the bigger corporates like the Blackstones, the Oxford's, the LaSalle’s, GI’s etc. It's been a journey, but it's been great to work with those types of businesses and spend so much time with those businesses over the last five years.

 

Louisa

There's some pretty big names, I'm not going to lie, and congratulations.

 

Louisa

Now we've touched upon the C word earlier. What has the response been to COVID-19 this year from VTS?

 

Charlie

Well, this year is just starting off. So I guess we look back to last year, I think the impact of the pandemic is probably a perfect example of what I mentioned earlier, our ability as a company to be agile, to be nimble, to flex and pivot. There is no doubt that while the industry was going through change and was transforming ahead of COVID and the pandemic, overnight COVID accelerated this shift towards a reliance on technology. In essence, you might argue that five years’ worth of adoption and change was kind of forced to take place in five months. VTS as a business also had to adapt, we not only face the same challenges as every other business that was forced to work remotely, manage their business from home, etc. But we had to react pretty quickly to the sudden change in demands from our client base. In essence, we accelerated what was probably a 12 to 18 month product roadmap into less than six months, which for any technology companies listening out there realise, that is no mean feet. And as I mentioned earlier, other initiatives had to take a bit of a backseat, and rightly so. But to me, this was really testament to our company's ability to do what is needed at that moment in time to get the job done, to continue with our vision, and to continue with this transformation of the industry. And it's been an incredibly challenging yea last year, but also one that is full of exciting opportunity. And it sets us up for what is going to be an incredibly exciting 2021 and 2022 for us as a business.

 

Louisa

And in terms of integration, from my side I see a skill shortage in good solution engineers, that's what we call them in the US. In the UK, we call them integration managers. How was the whole integration process when we were in and out of lockdown? How did you facilitate that?

 

Charlie

In terms of a technical perspective with our clients, or our team as we've grown?

 

Louisa

Well actually I was talking about more of a technical aspect with your clients, but we’ll go onto our next point about how do you maintain your company culture after. But let's start with the technical aspect.

 

Charlie

From a from a technical aspect we are a modern business, we're eight years old and we're a technology company. So you would expect us to have the tools, the resources, the culture, all of those things that are required in order for us to be able to adapt pretty quickly to having to work remotely. So I would say from a technical perspective, it wasn't that big a shift. In fact, we leverage our scale in the US and our bench of industry experts constantly from a European perspective. So we're kind of always working remotely. We're always bringing in people that sit in our implementation team, or in our data team, or in our research team, we're always bringing them into our client conversations in Europe. And they're always supporting us in helping to integrate clients and support them from a technology perspective. So I would say from a tools perspective, it was just business as usual. And it didn't really disrupt our ability to service our clients.

 

That being said the commercial real estate industry, just like the way that we manage our business, it's a relationship industry. And so not being able to spend the time in our clients offices, not being able to build relationships with the guys and girls that were ultimately going to be required to give up their time and commit to working with us to help with these integrations, not being able to do what we do best, which is try and bring different parts of the industry together - back office front office, your integration specialist that sits on your technology or IT team with your, asset manager who's doing deals and forcing those teams to actually spend time together and understand what each other are trying to do, and then almost being this broker in the middle to help facilitate that change. That is much harder in a remote world, especially when your clients have got other things on their priority list. Again, that being said, being remote and having access to data and as I mentioned, access to technology did bring VTS much higher on the priority list, even with tenants with relief requests and struggling business plans etc were unfolding. So every client was different but I'd say by and large, it wasn't as bad as perhaps predict getting into the year. It actually just created different challenges and can testament to our integrations and solutions tend to be able to flex and change accordingly.

 

Louisa

it's not it's not bad to be challenged. I think if we weren't challenged, we would be terribly bored and not as good as we are at our jobs today. Now let's talk about company culture. Every person I know that works VTS loves it, I did a webinar with VTS alumni in the US who have gone on to businesses like Dealpath, Landis, Juniper Square and they even though they've now left that they loved it, they all formed different roles. And what's key to keeping good company culture, especially during challenging times?

 

Charlie

I think the reality is, it's difficult. Maintaining a culture, especially within the VTS one, which thrives on human contact relationships and as I mentioned, being in the office together as a team, it's very hard to recreate some of those things in a remote world. That being said, I think we've done our best to try and recreate this. We’ve done all the usual ideas of virtual social events, games, gifts back to people's houses, swag, everyone likes the nice little gift that appears on their door. Being very mindful of health and wellness, and making sure that we are doing our best to consider everybody's different circumstances, whether you are some of our younger team stuck in the smallest, one bed flat in the middle of town not able to get out, to maybe some of our other team that have got families and they're trying to balance childcare and two parents working like. Everybody has their challenges and it's about I think acknowledging that. Nothing can replace the impact of the office. I'm a big believer in that and your ability to create and maintain the culture of the office brings, it just can't be replaced.

 

But I will say and take this as an opportunity to say that I'm incredibly privileged to work at a company that didn't hesitate in figuring out how to manage our business in a remote work, and one that accepted things were going to be different for an extended period of time and didn’t just kind of bury our head in the sand and hope this would all go away. Our people team did a phenomenal job in making sure we have the tools, and we had the resources we needed to try and maintain our company culture, from support with childcare to resources around health and wellness. They were called to action in the first second week of March and they crushed it. They did not hesitate and they managed to maintain that through 2020 which is the I couldn't praise our people team enough. And I do feel incredibly proud to work at a company that they don't put their people first and make sure they figured that out before we worried about how we were then going to run and manage our business.

 

Louisa

Yes, you spoke about prioritising things earlier and I think a common mistake that businesses who want to scale at such drastic speed often make is, they don't look after people. People, that is your business, without good people that trust you and want to work for you, if you don't look after them, you have no business. Now, you've got an incredible team supporting you and growing the business, going back to the VTS product, what can we expect for the rest of this year and 2021. Any new developments coming out?

 

Charlie

There's always things coming out. Much of our product development for 2021 and 2022 certainly kicked off and took place during the pandemic during COVID. And it's been focused on ensuring our clients have the resources and the solutions they need to navigate the pandemic last year, but also the long tail effects going through 2021. While 2020 certainly was a challenge, I think there are other challenges that we still need to face on the horizon. And so we will continue to work with our clients to expand those products and those solutions. And I guess the vision for the VTS platform, I think is really going to come to life in a big way through 2021. And the success that you've probably seen us have in New York, through those last six months of 2020, you're going to see that success start to get replicated in other markets that we operate in. And again, working with our clients, we're going to see the VTS platform and the VTS vision that we alluded to earlier, really come to life outside of just New York. And I think that's probably what’s to look out for in 2021. Less about what new products are more about the products you've already got VTS, and how you're going to deploy them and how you're going to support the industry in those markets.

 

Louisa

And what about acquisitions? VTS hasn’t made any so far, can we expect this to potentially change?

 

Charlie

Well, I guess from a European perspective, you're probably saying VTS hasn't made any acquisitions. We've obviously made two very large acquisitions for a company of our size, Property Capsule and then also the Hightower Acquisition, were pretty sizable. But yes, as we continue to grow and deploy some of our strategic capital, we are always on the lookout for opportunities that makes sense for our business, and allow us to expand our offering in a way that makes life easier for our users. So whether it's Europe, whether it's the US, whether it's a combination of the two, if you look at the caliber of the guys and girls we've got in the VTS stable, Bob Bies our CFO being one of them, you'll know that Bob's last role I think he did something crazy, like 32 mergers and acquisitions in the final year of his role before joining VTS, so he is a veteran. And with someone like that in your corner, we’re going to take advantage of it and any opportunities that come up, if that makes sense. I'm sure you'll see some more announcements on that in due course.

 

Louisa

Very exciting, Charlie. Now, going back to the very beginning of our conversation, you made the jump from Jones Lang LaSalle to VTS, plenty of our listeners vary from the VC, the funds but also fairly Junior people in the real estate world who are dipping their toe into property technology. Have you got any advice for those looking to make the jump?

 

Charlie

Yes, I think you have to remember when I decided to leave, I guess the traditional surveying role that you talked about before I joined VTS, the idea of PropTech, as we know it today, was definitely in its infancy. FinTech was the buzzword, we were just getting introduced to mobile banking and if you think about five years ago, the idea of mobile banking and that pretty simple concept, how it has such a dramatic impact on the way we use real estate. We use the local branch, your bank, your high street, bank, etc. The idea of digitalising the commercial real estate industry was just that it was an idea, it was kind of a concept. What I would say is five years on the industry has definitely moved on and I would argue that PropTech is no longer an idea. And the idea of PropTech and where it sits in the industry, I think is a bit less risky.

 

I would argue that that technology and PropTech and innovation and digitalisation and whatever other words you want to use to kind of altogether, I think it's fully ingrained as part of the industry now. And so a move from a traditional surveying role into a position to a fast growing technology business is perhaps seen as less risky move in today's market, but maybe just the same as moving from JLL services business to client side, moving from JLL to Lansec or whatever it might be. I think it is simply another aspect of the industry that creates a different type of opportunity. Like all companies, not every company is created equal so you should do your research. But I don't think it is seen today as a move out of the industry or a risky prospect in joining a proptech company. And I would argue that some of the more recent moves and hires in recent years are testament to that, that it's not leaving the industry, it's just moving into a different role within the industry with a different challenge and a different, opportunity.

 

Louisa

Yes, definitely facilitating it as well. And that Charlie it’s been a pleasure having you on the show today but unfortunately, we're coming to the end of the podcast. Is there a bit of parting information you'd like to share with the audience and the best way for them to connect you and find out more about VTS?

 

Charlie

As always, please feel free to reach out to me directly or any of the team, whether you are considering an opportunity, we're constantly hiring. We've got new roles opening up all the time, you'll have seen a recent press announcement or news articles that 2021 is quite a big year for us in a local UK market. So if you are a client, if you are a prospect, if you are someone in the industry that just wants to learn more about technology or commercial real estate, or how the two have collided over the last few years, please don't hesitate to contact me and I wish everybody a successful 2021. I hope that it is a very different year to 2020., albeit I think that we've got a few more headwinds to navigate through in the early part of the year. And, I'm very much looking forward to working with everyone and anyone as we go into a different market, and hopefully one that sees a lot more opportunity for everyone out there.

 

Louisa

Awesome. Well Charlie, thank you again for joining us, and I'm looking forward to catching up with you after the show.

 

Charlie

Thank you very much for having me.

 

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.

More stories that might interest you...