In this episode The Propcast speaks to Clinton Robinson from Lane about the changing face of the workplace experience with the modern day worker.
Click here to listen to Episode 9
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.
About Our Host
Louisa started her career in property working at a well-known estate agency in London. Realising her people skills, she moved over to Lloyd May to pursue a career in recruitment. She now is a Director at LMRE, who are a specialist recruitment firm driven by PropTech and recruitment professionals, and Louisa oversees their 5 core areas. Louisa co-founded LMRE and provides a constructive recruitment platform to the new disruptors in real estate. Louisa is also on the board of Directors at UK PropTech Association (UKPA).
LMRE believe there is a better way to recruit. LMRE focus on a more comprehensive, client led focus delivering exceptional talent to the right place at the right time. They are passionate about the industry and passionate about people's careers. LMRE spend time with each client to become and an extension of the business, and their transparency and core values help them grow with the sector. LMRE simplify recruitment and innovate with our clients and evolve the people driven, PropTech community.
About Our Guest
Clinton is a tech entrepreneur with over 10 years experience creating internet and mobile products, launching his first internet start-up in 1996 at the age of 15. Clinton sold his second start-up, a web based e-health solution in 2008, shortly after graduating from Queen’s University with a MSc Computer Science. Clinton founded the multiple award winning design and tech agency Little Room in 2011 and most recently founded Lane in 2014. Lane is SaaS software that creates a smart workplace; it leverages the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) ecosystem to enable buildings and their tenant companies to communicate and engage with urban-professionals, directly to their mobile devices.
LMRE website www.lmre.co.uk
Lane website www.joinlane.com
Insights from this Episode
- We provide a platform for each one of the stakeholders that exist in commercial real estate… all focused on giving the end user, the employee, a better experience through their day. And that is really important – Clinton Robinson
- We've got to learn how to work together and take the best parts of real estate and the best part parts of tech companies, and put those together. And that's how we're going to win – Clinton Robinson
- Tenant engagement is really important. That's an important part, and the Lane platform does that really well. That's an important piece of this bigger puzzle. But if you just focus on that you haven't solved the bigger picture – Clinton Robinson
- What I think is interesting about COVID, I think we're now starting to see a shift of a lot of interest to the suburban work places – Clinton Robinson
- Understanding how the entire industry is structured is so important. All business is relationships, but in commercial real estate it's the next level, it is all relationships. It's who can connect you, who can vouch for you – Clinton Robinson
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 a weekly host. Each week for 30 minutes we'll be connecting the VC’s, 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 Propcast. Hi, everyone, and welcome back to the Propcast. Today's topic will be on the changing face of workplace experience with the modern day worker, and who better to talk about it than Clinton Robinson, co-founder of Lane, who has joined us all the way from Canada. So welcome, Clint.
Thank you. Thanks for having me Louisa. I'm very excited to be here today.
Awesome. Well, for those who don't know Clint yet or heard of Lane, Clint who is the founder of Lane has more than a decade of experience creating tangible technology products for complex ideas. He created his first successful company age 15 and since then, he has continued to use technology as a way to create solutions to the most complicated problems in the media, retail, healthcare industries, and now obviously real estate. For those who are not so familiar with Lane, Lane was founded in 2015, to transform the workplace from the inside out. And now trusted by Fortune 500 companies, powers over 300 million square foot of office globally, which I'm sure is probably a lot more by now. The largest of any workplace experience platform in the world, Lane really turns any workplace into place that actually works, which is what we all need now. And I would love to hear a little bit more what is Lane, what is the product? Why did you start it? You've come from outside of real estate, which is brilliant and refreshing exactly what we need, please tell me a little bit more about Lane from the beginning.
Yes, absolutely. I do come from outside of commercial real estate. So I'm actually a technologist, for the last two decades I've been a technologist working on as you said, with all these Fortune 500 companies building these tech products. I've got a master's in AI, I'm actually trained in computer science. So I've been doing working with technology forever, and then kind of moved into commercial real estate with Lane. So that's been an interesting transition, for sure. Lane’s a workplace experience platform, and we provide a platform for each one of the stakeholders that exist in commercial real estate to provide their services or amenities, to modernise, to enable things with technology, all focused on giving the end user - the employee - a better experience through their day. And that really important. I think it's all about the end user, it's all about how does the employee interact with all the things that exist in your workplace.
And when we say work the ecosystem, what we mean is, in the modern workplace there's so many stakeholders have to come together to provide you with what you need throughout your day. So I'm in an office building right now that's owned by one company, property managed by another, there’s security teams in here, there's maintenance teams, there's delivery companies, there’s software for access control, there's a bike locker downstairs, there's a parking program run by somebody else. And then there's the companies themselves, and the companies employees. And it's like wow, this is this is a big ecosystem. And if you look at the office building beside us, it's the same ecosystem, but each one of those things I just mentioned may actually be run by a different stakeholder. And it kind of compounds this interesting problem of the workplace is a very complex place.
And if you look at the end user experience that we're trying to deliver the employee who goes to work, I don't know if it really matters to you who runs the parking program at your office space, or who runs the room booking system, or how your food gets delivered, or how that thing got fixed that you needed to get fixed. You as an employee, as somebody who comes to work every day, you just want it to be easily discoverable. You want to be able to interact with it easily. And you should want it to be done so you can do your job. And what we're seeing is the ecosystem so complex, that is not an easy user experience right now. And that was that is why Lane was created as this encompassing ecosystem to bring all these things together into one platform that's really easy to use, provide a beautiful user experience to the end user to the employee. And if we do that, right, we're going to provide a ton of value to every stakeholder along that chain.
God you make it sound so simple and easy! And so how did you initially start? You were part of the Techstar’s accelerator program, how did you find out about that? Coming from someone who wasn’t in commercial real estate, was that just luck? How did that begin?
Well, I’m very familiar with the tech accelerators. So there's a bunch of different tech accelerators, what was interesting about Techstars is they had a commercial real estate accelerator. And that was back in 2018 when PropTech was still kind of just getting started. And it was one of the first ones out there was really exciting. So we thought, what if we go through this accelerator, we know technology really well, I've always been doing that but can we get a bit more of a crash course and exposure to a whole lot of commercial real estate all at once. By going through an accelerator it’s kind of half technology half here's the world of commercial real estate.
Nice. And how was that process, was there a steep learning curve? It’s quite a big crash course you did, but lots of people say you can pick up real estate, it's just about combining the two technology and real estate together and merging them which is the tough part?
Can you pick up the real estate, that's interesting! I don't know if that's true. That's makes it sound way too easy. It's like real estate trying to pick up technology, they haven't done that very well! And technology hasn’t picked up real estate very well. No, you need that immersive crash course of both to merge both of them. And the reality of this entire ecosystem too is we can as technologists, we can complain about how real estate works as a business, and real estate can complain about how technology works as a business. But if we need to work together, we've got to come to some middle ground. And I don't think technologists can just easily pick up real estate, you can't just come into an industry and be “I disagree with everything, and how this is done” it's not going to work. We've got to learn how to work together and take the best parts of real estate and the best part parts of tech companies and put those together. And that's how we're going to win.
Yes true, that might be actually quite a good topic for my next podcast. Delving back into your product a little bit more, there's lots of variables that come into it, there’s some people that are listening might ask, what's the differentiator between what a tenant engagement platform will do and then what your platform would do? How you get include the whole ecosystem? So how does tenant engagement fit into it as well and what's the differentiating factor?
Yeah, absolutely. So the workplace ecosystem is much larger than just tenant engagement, tenant engagement is a slice of that bigger picture. And if you focus just on that slice, you're not going to deliver end value to the end user. And that's the fundamental problem with it. It's not encompassing enough. Ultimately, if the end user, if the employee doesn't use this platform, we haven't solved any problems for anybody. And what I mean is, if you don't get adoption from the employee, from the person that you're trying to solve this problem for, you're not going to get data and analytics, you're not going to bring things onto a platform and make it easy to use, you're not going to modernize your old workflows, because nobody's using it. So we ultimately need to be employee end user focused. And to do that, it's beyond tenant engagement.
Tenant engagement is really important. That's an important part, and the Lane platform does that really well. That's an important piece of this bigger puzzle. But if you just focus on that you haven't solved the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is a lot more complex and it requires a lot more work. But that's what we're focused on. How do we bring in property management, the owners? How do we bring in the different teams in the building? How do we bring in retail? How do we bring in the parking systems and the delivery companies? How do we get the companies on board and get the companies to get their employees on board. And once we've done that, that's the full ecosystem. And that's when things actually get super easy to use for you, the employee. That's when everything's connected and seamless, and you've got that kind of beautiful experience to the day, whether it's booking your monthly parking pass, to getting a guest registered, to booking a room within your own office, to having food delivered, was that seamless experience for you/ And that's what we've got to achieve, otherwise, it's we're just missing the mark.
Yes. You started this in Canada, where did you go next and have you seen uptake in your product in certain places, in certain cities? Are you seeing other hubs of adoption? What are the future plans?
Yes, that we did start in Canada back 2014 and then we expanded through the US, let's say probably 80% of our current live businesses is in the US at this point. And it really did start with major urban centres. So we started with Toronto, going to New York, to LA, to Houston, to Dallas, to San Francisco, and what I think is interesting about COVID and we'll probably talk about that later, but I think we're now starting to see a shift of a lot of interest to the suburban work places. Because before COVID, it was well, everybody's working in skyscrapers downtown, and they were probably more likely to adopt technology and growing really rapidly in those kinds of centres, especially across the US. And actually this year, we started to expand globally too, so just launched in Australia and Dubai, expanding to Germany, UK, Brazil, there's definitely a global need for a product like this. And we're kind of expanding as fast as we possibly can.
Everyone talks about the new normal, the new modern day worker, what does that person look like? There's so much data analysis going into it. How has it affected your product, how have you changed it pre and post COVID? I'm sure it's changed due to new expectations and needs of workers, and even the property managers and everyone who's part of your product wants and needs to deliver.
Yes, that's a great question. I think from a technology perspective, we really haven't changed anything for COVID. And we put a lot of emphasis in building a really configurable technology platform that solves all these different kinds of use cases that you could probably think of. And that's also a huge differentiator between us and our competitors, we put more thought into the engine that makes all this stuff work, than specific use cases.
And what I mean by that is rather than just build a guest registration module, we built all the things so that you can build a guest registration module and make it work any way you want. And that's really something the industry really needed. Nobody does room booking the same, nobody does visitor management the same, nobody does their parking pass the same, you really need this very configurable thing that allows you to really solve any kind of use case. And that also comes out of working with commercial real estate, because the ecosystem does change dramatically, one building parking’s managed by the building. Next building over, it's managed by a third party. Next building over it's managed by a third party, and you don't even have access to it. It's like, oh wow, this is there's a lot of complexity that we need to put into our technology stack to make all this stuff work. And so when COVID came around, we didn't really have to build any new technology, our technology already covered a lot of the use cases that we wanted for COVID.
One example is, we can only let 10% of the building back and we also have to per company, each company is allowed to have 10% of their employees back. And we need to stagger them, so they don't all show up at the elevator lobby time. So we're going to let them in at seven or eight or nine in the morning, and you’ve got to book your slot. And when you come in, you've got to scan your QR codes so security knows you’re supposed to be here. That was all possible with our platform, we didn't actually have to build anything new. Our platform already did that. But our marketing and business has changed one hundred percent. So from a business perspective, we've changed how we've positioned a lot of things. And at the top of mind right now for all of our commercial real estate is, how do we get people back in a safe and healthy way? And a lot of that is powered by, let's get people to sign waivers as they check in, and let's manage flow through the building. So in terms of how it's changed our business approach, it's really just how we explain different things you can do with our platform.
Long term, what we're seeing is a huge amount of demand increased across the board, as every commercial real estate company who hasn't rolled out something this is realising that they are really behind the curve. Now, if they want anybody to return to work in their office building, they're going to have to have something like this installed for when people get back. Bare minimum as a communications platform, absolute bare minimum, you’ve got to let you get to update people now instantly, when things happen. So larger trends I think more flex-work, we don’t mean coworking when we means flex-space, people are going to configure their offices to be more flex-ish, where you book a slot to come in, we have to space out people more for the next year at least. So that's going to be a main driver. And I don't think companies are going to renew their giant, monolithic offices, I think they're going to set up more satellite office. And we're going to see a rise of suburban offices again, where maybe two days a week you drive in to the urban centre and come to the big office, one da you're working from home, two days you're going into the suburban satellite office, that is what we've learned. That's not our guess, that's what all of our clients are asking us if we can help them power that kind of solution.
Well, a lot is going to change then I think. And it sounds like your product is fairly dynamic, and there's obviously lots of parts to it. Now, would Lane look to partner with any other technologies when you're implementing it in a building? Or is it a fairly all-inclusive product that you wouldn't think to do that?
No, we love partnerships. And we want to work with the people who are best in their class at doing what they do. And if you look at access control, there's three or four companies that do it really well. And that also involves hardware, a lot of hardware installed in the building, there may be incumbents or buildings may not want to go and switch out their hardware. And access control systems are complex enough, that's another company to go solve that problem. We want to work with the best ones and bring them into our platform. There's so many different parking providers and different parking systems out there, we want to work with a great company like Arrive who's made that whole thing simple for everybody and they really solve the parking problems so well, we can just work with them because they do it the best. We’re really happy to work with those. We're less likely to do integrations, it’s the key word in the industry right now for tenant engagement or workplace solutions, and what we're finding is there's this whole class of software systems that we don't want to integrate with because there's no need now. We displace a lot of legacy software, or we can take those 10 software systems you use, and bring it down two, meaning “let's use Lane for room booking, let's use it for guests registration, let's use it for the booking system downstairs”. So we actually see that we displace a whole bunch of kind of single use products. There's not always a need to integrate with those, it makes more sense to bring it into Lane, and power it natively through the platform.
Yes, it's great for business for you, but in season one I was interviewing the chairs of Real Estate Tech Association from the biggest investment funds globally, and they were all saying there are some awesome products out there, but I want more of an all-inclusive one. I don't want to have to trial or pilot a million different types of technologies that do one thing for my building, I would much rather go to one, trust them to sort everything out and connect the dots, because otherwise it get’s really complicated, really expensive.
Yes, it's a terrible end user experience. If you take a building that has a conference room that's managed by the building, and then you're in your office run by your company and you have a room in the office that you can book, you're going to need five logins to software to just book a room. That just seems crazy. if you want to invite me into that conference room run by the building, you've got to go figure out how to do that, and then you want to invite me as a guest, then okay how do I actually add you to the guest register? That that's too complicated. Your job isn't to go figure out that whole thing. You just wanted to have a meeting and invite some people. And that’s causing problems for everybody. So the building isn't generating any revenue from that conference room, because it's just too hard to use, or nobody even knows it's there is another problem. The fact that none of this stuff is easily discoverable or easy to use, it’s a little bizarre in 2020 that I can't just renew my monthly parking pass in the place I work through my phone.
Yes, I haven’t been into a Wework for a while, but I’ve had so many meetings there and so often no-one knows what meeting rooms are being used. Lots are vacant, you always walk into one which might have been booked, and there must be more efficient way of doing this, obviously it’s through Lane! Anyone who's got a really good access control system business who’s listening to this, you know to pitch to Clint because that's what I'm looking for. On a completely separate note, obviously you're technologists by trade by background, since age 15 which is insane. What was it like coming in to this real estate world, and getting your business off the ground? Is anything that surprised you?
I mean, tons. Coming into the industry and not being from this industry, there's so much to learn. It's even to how these entities are structured. And you look at this large property company, and it looks they own all their assets, and they have 80 buildings worldwide, but they don't. They actually have a collection of ownerships and it's this complex ownership structure, where each building is owned by somebody else, and they call them their investors and I had no idea. Once you start to pare back, this is a very complex world of real estate, where things are not so straightforward. So I think, being able to navigate that universe and understand who do we actually go pitch to, to get this product installed, who's the decision maker. Coming into it in 2014, we had no idea how to do that. We just assumed that we could go into a building or talk to the CEO, and hey, this is a great idea. And it doesn't really work that. So I think understanding how the entire industry is structured is so important. And also not realising how much of a relationship driven industry it is. All businesses are relationships, but in commercial real estate it's to the next level, it is all relationships, it's really, it's who can connect you, who can vouch for you. And that is that took a while to learn, but I think we've done a great job at navigating that. And once somebody can vouch for you, we're working with Brookfield at a pretty massive scale, having them as a client especially early on, that's an amazing relationship to have. And it's kind of like people look at that and they're oh, well Brookfield using them.
That's a pretty good case to go by! The episode before I was interviewing Mike from Dealpath, and Fitz from Blackstone. And I said to Mike, having Blackstone as a client and strategic investor, that's not bad, that must have made your life quite easy. And he's said yes, but you got to get that initial first client. But when you do, like what you have with Brookfield, it really carries and you're now a global business, which is insane. A lot has changed with COVID and stuff now, but it's great to see you have these clients and hopefully that will continue, and everyone will know about Lane after this podcast. And outside of being a technologist, okay, outside of real estate and all of that, is there any other career path which you were you'd love to pursue? Any personal goals that you have?
I mean yes, that's such a hard question to answer when you're in a start-up, a tech start-up, because this is 150% of my time as I build this thing out. We've done an amazing job, but we've got such a long way to go from here. But I think long term, getting into solving some of the bigger problems that are facing us, getting into alternative energy next is probably going to be my next project. That's probably pretty far down the road because Lanes got at least another decade of some serious work to get done until we've really cracked this workplace experience problem. But I think in the future, focusing on energy, we've got a bit of a carbon problem in the atmosphere that we've got to go solve and we need some really intelligent people working on this stuff. So that's probably my next thing. And then beyond that, this is a trend with COVID too, it's rediscovering the countryside and realising that this is a pretty good life. Being downtown felt great because it was so busy, I was never home, I was always traveling or doing stuff is go, go, go. I never really had time to really look at my apartments and realise how small it is, how there's no greenspace so probably in the future moving out to the countryside again.
Well, I’m longing to get out there and try and explore a bit more of the Canadian PropTech scene. So when we start, traveling again, that's next on my hit list. Before we go Clint, please tell the audience how they can connect to view and hear a little bit more about Lane as well.
Yes, absolutely. If you've got any questions about workplace experience, if you're commercial real estate, or even companies looking to launch a platform like Lane, please do reach out. Or if you're an interesting partner, like access control companies, always happy to talk about interesting integrations into the platform. Or if you're a PropTech start-up, and you just want to ask them questions about raising money, or how to build a team or how to scale, or how to sell to commercial real estate, always happy to give back to the community. Or even ask about Techstars and what that experience was please reach out, You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or even find me on LinkedIn and send me a message.
Awesome. Well Clint it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the Propcast, and looking forward to catching up with you soon.
Great. Thanks so much for having me.
Thank you for joining us this week on the podcast 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 it if you could rate and review us on iTunes. Or if you simply spread the word. Be sure to tune in next Tuesday, and I'll catch you later