30.7.21

The Propcast: What Does The Next Phase Of PropTech Hold For The Real Estate Industry?

What Does The Next Phase Of PropTech Hold For The Real Estate Industry?

The Propcast talks Jack Sibley from Insurami, and Alex Edds from JLL about the next phase of PropTech and what this means for the real estate industry. They review the last five years and lessons learned, the education gap between VCs and solutions, and what various buzzwords really mean. And we address the hard questions focused around diversity and organisation's strategy.

Click here to listen to this episode, and check out a preview of our chat below:

30.7.21

Key Insights From This Episode

  • COVID was a milestone for real estate and the opportunities coming out of COVID for PropTech and for specific types of companies were going to be huge – Jack Sibley
  • Sustainability has become so important across the value chain, and now tech innovation is really coming alongside that to drive much quicker results – Alex Edds
  • In the last five years the other theme of this discussion is that parallel between sustainability and technology – Jack Sibley
  • If you put in the hard yards, what we're now seeing with sustainability and the acceptance of it, there are roles everywhere – Alex Edds
  • In the next five years we're hopefully going to see more of that business model innovation, which is what really needs to change, come from within the industry as well as outside – Jack Sibley

 

About Our Guests

Alex Edds

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

Alex advises JLL clients in the technological and systematic disruption facing the property industry. Alex is also a board member of the United PropTech Association. Alex’s career history includes serving as head of sustainability at JLL UK and at Nuveen being a Director of Upstream Sustainability Services and a Strategic Adviser to a number of UK PropTech companies. Alex takes pride in challenging the status quo and he says there’s a huge opportunity to improve the built environment by fundamentally changing the way we design, build and manage physical spaces to better serve the people that use them, and the environment upon which they depend

 

Jack Sibley

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jack-sibley/?originalSubdomain=uk

Jack leads business development and partnerships at Insurami, a fast growing start-up at the intersection of PropTech and FinTech. Insurami’s deposit guarantee platform gives landlords the same protection as the traditional cash deposit, while saving tenants over 95% of the upfront deposit costs. Jack previously lead innovation at Nuveen Real Estate, one of the world's largest real estate investment managers, including venture capital, PropTech strategy and portfolio implementation.

 

About Our Host

Louisa Dickins

https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisa-dickins-ab065392/?originalSubdomain=uk

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).

About LMRE

www.lmre.tech

LMRE believe there is a better way to recruit. LMRE focus on a more comprehensive, client led focus delivering exceptional talent to the place at the 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.

 

Resources Mentioned

LMRE website www.lmre.co.uk

UKPA website www.ukpa.com

JLL website www.jll.co.uk

Insurami website www.insurami.com

Nuveen Real Estate wwww.nuveen.com

 

Episode Transcript

Louisa

Hi everyone and welcome to the Propcast. My name is Louisa Dickins, host of The Propcast and co-founder of LMRE, the global PropTech recruitment and search consultancy. In this podcast we will explore how the digital evolution of the real estate industry is impacting the property market. The aim of each episode is to introduce you to a PropTech innovator and discuss how their work has created a shift in focus when it comes to digitising the built environment.

 

Shameless plug, but I’m honoured to be a judge at this years 8th annual Real Estate Tech Awards, hosted by CREtech. Applications are closing soon so head to their website to apply and I look forward to awarding a prize to one of you in October. If you’re interested in finding out more about PropTech, or applying for a job in this space, or keen to know who the big players are in moving and shaking the real estate industry up, we have you covered and we’ll be bringing you an episode each week to connect you with the VCs, PropTech start-ups and real estate professionals from around the globe. Also a big shout out to our sponsors of the podcast ReimTech and CREtech who you will hear from during the episode.

 

We are back for season 6 can you believe it? I started the podcast last year during the pandemic to connect with people virtually, seeing as we couldn’t meet up physically. What a year it’s been! I’m very grateful for all of those who have joined me over the past 5 seasons and looking forward to meeting many more PropTech innovators. Anyway, onto the show to meet the first guests of Season 6.

Introducing our Guests

Today we'll be discovering what the next phase of PropTech holds for real estate industry, PropTech really got into the mainstream between 2016 and 2020. The COVID pandemic has said a certain important milestone in PropTechs maturity. We look back at the lessons the last five years and discuss where PropTech is going, and what hard questions we still have to answer to help the real estate industry meet its potential. And today you'll hear from my dear friends Alex Edds, Head of Innovation at JLL, and Jack Sibley who is now the Director of Business Development at Insurami. Jack and Alex will review the last five years and lessons learned, the education gap between VCs and solutions, and what various buzzwords really mean. We'll also be addressing the hard questions focused around diversity and organisation's strategy and then we'll finish off chatting through and add to the next five years in the future. So welcome to the show, guys.

Alex and Jack

Thank you. Happy to be here, great to be here. Thanks.

Louisa

For our audience listening Jack leads business development and partnerships at Insurami, which is a fast growing start-up at the intersection of PropTech and FinTech. Insurami’s deposit guarantee platform gives landlords the same protection as the traditional cash deposit, while saving tenants over 95% of the upfront deposit costs. Jack previously lead innovation at Nuveen Real Estate, one of the world's largest real estate investment managers, including venture capital, PropTech strategy and portfolio implementation. Alex who is also joining us is Director of Innovation and Digital Consulting for JLL.

 

Alex advises JLL clients in the technological and systematic disruption facing the property industry. Alex is also a fellow board member of the United PropTech Association. Alex’s career history includes serving as head of sustainability at JLL UK and at Nuveen being a Director of Upstream Sustainability Services and a Strategic Adviser to a number of UK PropTech companies. So those who are listening in, if you want to reach out to Alex about maybe some solutions, please do you can find him on LinkedIn. And Alex takes pride in challenging the status quo and he says there’s a huge opportunity to improve the built environment by fundamentally changing the way we design, build and manage physical spaces to better serve the people that use them, and the environment upon which they depend.

 

So thank you, again, for both joining me. And let's start with maybe you can elaborate a little bit more about your roles. Why don't we start with Alex, from my side I'm seeing a massive increase of investment into these roles globally from the real estate consultancies. We're finally getting budgets for it, but you've done this role at Nuveen and now at JLL, talk me through it, what does your job actually mean?

How did you get into PropTech?/ What is your role in PropTech?

Alex

Right, yes, big question to start with, it's been a journey. So I think working backwards from today and as per your introduction thank you, my role is now actually more client facing than anything else. And so I'm helping to advise our clients on how to effectively navigate through some of the challenges that not only PropTech, but generally some of the challenges that the real estate is facing, and how they can fundamentally future proof their buildings for that. And digital technology is a key part of that.

I've got to this point from being most recently the Innovation Director at JLL. And that was more of an inward facing role, looking at how we as a business can innovate ourselves, leveraging technology to do that. And I got there, and I suppose that was a slight pivot in my career from very much a sustainability focused professional role for 10/12 years before that. And as you mentioned, I was head of sustainability at JLL UK, I was also head of sustainability where Jack used to work at Nuveen. And then prior to that, back at JLL it came together through an acquisition of a team that that I was a part of, so if you'd like, I've already had two careers, if you like. One being focused very much on this outcome of sustainability and I suppose to explain why I pivoted or why I wanted to pivot was, that was in the early 2000s, and then the early 2010s, and it was when sustainability, probably similar to how we're seeing PropTech and digital innovation now, was very much a growing trend. It was becoming a boardroom agenda but it was still seen as a little bit of a dirty word, you were the Greenie in the corner that was going to cost me money.

 

And I think I got to the point where I was feeling like progress is moving, but it's not moving fast enough. And I was dying to see this is around 2013/14/15 a lot of new solutions coming onto the market, a lot of them technology driven. But again, they weren't getting traction with us or with our clients fast enough. So to boil it down, it came down while I was Head of Sustainability at JLL putting the proposition together to say, Well look, can we create some form of accelerator where we could help fast track some of these solutions, again all being focused on sustainability at the time. And that led to long story short, saying we need someone we need a role to help us navigate this space. And actually, this is a lot broader than sustainability, and so they're in lay the foundations for a new role which are self titled myself as Director of! And really it's been a journey since then, as I say for more of an inward looking role, and now very much being a client facing role.

 

Louisa

So how many years you reckon it took JLL to give you a full time role during the doing innovation?

 

Alex

On and off as I did it for a year at Nuveen, scarily I think it's been 13 years with JLL. A year in the role at head of sustainability and again, I think it's really important and probably coming on to some things we're going to talk about later, the relationship I had with the senior management with that UK business, some of you are still here, the trust that you build with those individuals, I think is critical. And I'm always thankful for them to give me the flexibility and work with me to help support my career. And almost together we figured out well actually, this is something that's going to benefit the business, it's also going to benefit your intellectual curiosity and yes we will create a new role with you. So I'll always be thankful for them to in doing that, but I think a lot of it came down to right place at the right time, articulating what I saw going on in the market, back to effectively a set of decision makers and saying, I think we need to do something. I've been grateful that they then took that on and gave me the role to do it.

 

Louisa

Thirteen years is some time and I think it's PropTech is finally being taken seriously and almost seen like as an asset class in its own right. And perceptions are changing which we're going to elaborate on in a little bit a few questions later. And Jack, you've both worked to Nuveen, you may have been one of the first innovation hires in the UK, and now you've also got to join an actual PropTech start-up, so maybe you can elaborate a little bit more about your role. Why the move?

 

Jack

Yes, definitely. So going back I think Alex, we never quite crossed over at Nuveen and I think you were a year before I joined us, a couple of years. But I wasn't an innovation hire either and I think this first generation of people who have worked in an “innovation” role in real estate, I have a similar story to Alex, which was more you have to find the person and then fit the role around them. And then that role happens to be innovation, rather than the company goes out specifically to recruit and look for an innovation role and then finds the person, if that makes sense. So, my story is similar to Alex, I joined Nuveen at uni, and worked in the research team, then worked in the product team. And I think similar to lots of companies, I became their informal point person for innovation and start-ups in tech because I was young and keen and just interested in mucking in even if it was slightly outside of my job description, and my day to day and taking these things on.

 

I think lots of groups even groups who today don't have heads of innovation do often have one or two or three informal champions of innovation, and that was my role for 18 months, and then a part of the strategy where I got a few stakeholders who asked me to do a more strategic review of how we approach innovation more generally across the business. I did that and similar to Alex had a good relationship with the senior management there, and out of that review we decided to create a role for me to move into that was this dedicated innovation role. And so then did that three or four years, and that was everything, it was really similar to Alex, you write your own job description and job title to an extent. But for me it was it was very broad everything from VC indirect investments, where we made it made a commitment to US funds for example, through to more internal data strategy side of things, and then within our portfolio as well, how do we adopt smart building technologies for example, or new alternative data sources to help us make better investment decisions. And that full spectrum of how can PropTech and technology help us form site acquisition through asset management to disposals, as well as on the capital raising and funded operational side.

 

And so did that for three or four years and probably met 250 start-ups a year and of that, we probably did trials of about 30 every the year, and then we moved from my trials or pilots into scaling them across the platform across the US and Europe. And yes to your point, I think I just got to a really interesting point post COVID, where I could see this opportunity and COVID was a milestone as you mentioned before, for real estate and the opportunities coming out of COVID for PropTech and for specific types of companies that were going to be huge. And yes, having worked in the corporate innovation side, wanted to try my hand at being on the other side of the table almost, basically pitching to 250 large corporates a year rather than being on the corporate side, speaking solely to start-ups. And joining Insurami, just to add briefly onto your intro.

 

So I chose Insurami to join because it's really interesting group at the intersection of PropTech and FinTech, you don't actually get that many groups, certainly maybe you get some blockchain based ones, but that many really practically minded groups that really combined PropTech, and FinTech. We address a really clear pain point in the leasing process, which is that tenants hate locking up their cash deposits, but landlords need deposits more than ever. And so our guarantee products bridges the gap between that, giving landlord protection and saving the tenants as you mentioned 95% of that upfront cost. So yes, that's the point right now and it's been interesting moving from that corporate side, to the start-up side of the spectrum, especially in the middle of COVID. I think probably everyone's thought we'd be slightly further out than we are now, though. I know, we just recently had Freedom Day, in theory we're officially unlocked. But certainly it's been really interesting time to move in that time as well, when you're seeing the whole industry re-evaluate their own roles, their own businesses and handles the business model real estate as well, which I'm sure we're coming to talk about. So long introduction, but thanks for having me here.

 

What are the changes in PropTech you have both seen?

Louisa

No, that's perfect. Well, you guys demonstrated you've both been in the space for a lot longer than other people, we're seeing lots of fresh faces coming in. One of the questions which we started off in the introduction was, in the last five years what are the major changes you've seen? And maybe lessons you have both learned? So Alex, why don't you start off with elaborating on that?

 

Alex

Yes, it's interesting even just hearing Jack, I think so many things resonate in terms of when I started out when we started out on this journey, how naïve know we were that we could go really fast and do all these wonderful things. And certain things are still going quite slowly, I think when you stand back and actually look at the magnitude of change in terms of in terms of just diversity of makeup of people working within JLL, for example. I mean, when I started at JLL it was all mainly men in suits. And that was the way it was. And now, even just by the way the people that work there, the way they dress and what they do, you can tell that it's become a much more creative industry and I think, that's really pleasing to see.

 

And so I think on that journey when you step back and see easy to reflect on it, but I think similar to sustainability on that 10 or 12 year journey, when you're in the deep end and you're really trying to get stuff done and you're working day to day to try and do it, it can feel quite slow. And I feel that there's quite a lot that I can relate to from an innovation role in that respect. But actually, when I stand back and look over the 12/15 years working in sustainability, the progress that was made by the whole industry, has been really significant. And actually, and it's quite interesting, because I stepped out of sustainability being my main focus, I've been doing this role and now literally in the last 12 months or so, and perhaps partly accelerated by COVID and also just generally political world and I think just social world, has meant that sustainability has become so important across the value chain, that now tech innovation is really coming alongside that to drive much quicker results.

And so it's been quite interesting looking back, and then going well actually things have moved, from an individual day to day perspective sometimes it can feel frustrating, but I think you have to sometimes just sit back and go what a) this is a slow moving industry, b) nothing happens overnight, and if you put in the hard yards, what we're now seeing with sustainability and the acceptance of it, it's on the board level everywhere, there are roles everywhere, I keep getting get pinged every day with new roles around sustainability, I think we're putting in the foundations of tech and innovation now, what it will be in the next 5/10 years. So I think the acceleration in uptake, and even to the point on roles, I think it's quite poignant, that I certainly represent that first wave of innovation, if you like, leaders. I'm certainly guilty of jack of all trades as it were, master of none, because you have to be given that the immaturity of the industry and understanding what needs to happen, so therefore limited resources put into it they require people that can have a wide spectrum of understanding, understand the business drivers. Literally, I'll be speaking to a CEO about flex and the change of pivoting their entire business model, the next day talking to an FM provider about an IoT device to put into a workplace, and it's everything in between. So to have that flexibility is incredibly important. I know we'll come on to it but I think if you then think about where that will go, clearly specialisms will come in. And it will become much clearer a bit like sustainability, where you have now much clearer skill sets to drive much clearer outcomes. I think we're still in that middle bit. And set, certainly some organisations perhaps leading, others are now just starting to come into the job.

 

What are the lessons learnt from the last 5 years in PropTech? 

Louisa

Yes, I guess to build on that, what I’m seeing is a lot of these big organisations are looking for more general. So like you and jack, you guys get the wider built environment, they don't quite have these more specialists like sustainability or innovation roles just yet. And they all say, yes we want to bring people from outside of the industry, but how they hire these people, but then they can't look after them or give them like a full time role doing it, or know how to manage them or culturally look after them, and really get the most out of their skills and knowledge. And Jack, what about you in terms of the last five years? And what are the major lessons you've learned and the major things you've seen?

 

Jack

Yes, I completely agree with Alex saying and the best metaphor I've got for the point of you're in the detail every day and it doesn't feel like anything's moving forward. It's like when you zoom in on a graph, and you see like the volatility, but then when you zoom out, hopefully that upward trend is there even if it's not exponential, which means it's at least on a linear basis going in the right direction, you realise how far you've come. So I completely we agree that and when I started out looking at the innovation side, the questions from real estate where extremely basic, not in a critical way, but like primary school level questions like, what is a start-up? What is venture capital? What's this whole exciting, fuzzy, shiny thing that's on the side of the industry that's causing a bit of noise, that's causing a bit of a ruckus, as it were that people were starting to pay a bit more attention to. I think, in the last five years the other theme of this discussion is going to be that parallel between sustainability, and technology, which I think is huge and is really great to see, both in terms of specialisms of roles, in terms of how important it is as an issue, how much attention the industry pays to it and that difference between being the Greenie in the corner or the innovation guy, versus being baked into the BAU and the status quo of a business, I completely agree with that.

 

I'd also say when I say PropTech, I also mean the real estate side of the industry, like how real estate is working with innovation, I don't just mean PropTech start-ups, but it's in their teenage phase is how I call it the last five years. And now hopefully, we're going to talk about the next five years to get to maturing into young adult, but by teenage phase, I mean huge amounts of potential, but very clear immaturity in some areas. Some of that was on the more PropTech start-up side, on the VC side, some of that was on real estate firms and how immature they are trying to engage with innovation as a concept, or with specific companies to work with.

 

So I think there's a lot of very clear problems and pain points in real estate, but a lot of them were built on trying to solve them, you had to still work on foundations of an industry that was a 20th century industry, the ROI mechanisms for a lot of the implementation of these solutions just wasn't there because of how real estate works with long leases, and with the existing business models that real estate has done. And now I think come on through the next five years, historically I think the last five years, you did really well as a PropTech group, if you had a very clear, simple product that could be very easily adopted by Real Estate Group. And that solved a pain point that was like a marginal gains pain point. It was like, we help you manage this specific part of your data slightly better, or we will help you achieve something within your building slightly better, like access control, for example. Going forward a lot of the disruption historically has been from outside the industry groups, like your Wework’s and Coworking, but actually the right new business models and hopefully, in the next five years, we're hopefully going to see more of that business model innovation, which is what really needs to change, come from within the industry as well as outside.

 

How do we change PropTech, innovation and digitisation from being more than buzzwords?

Louisa

You mentioned quite a few things need to change. Why don't we start off with buzzwords, do you think there's a misunderstanding in the real estate industry of what PropTech means, what innovation means, what digitalisation means? Do these surveyors or old school real estate brokers know what they need to do, what they need to read about, how they need to upskill? From two of you who worked in those businesses, what on that front needs to be done?

 

Alex

I mean, it's another big one, isn't it? There's so much I think, I suppose trying to try to break it down in terms of what do you need to know, because at the end of the day, you need to know what you need to know, based on the role that you're doing or what the client or the future of your particular area of business is going. So I think certainly no one individual is going to get to have to know everything. And yes, of course, there's a lack of still the lack of knowledge and understanding. Even at a fairly simple level by the majority. That is changing, that is changing quickly. I think the way that it's changing is interesting, because what I see most organisations doing is well, let's just recruit in people, and they will be the person that's going to make this change happen. Now, that's when any of us work in an organisation, if you just suddenly have a new person or new team arrive, and suddenly they're doing a whole new and quite frankly, they're doing the interesting stuff. That's quite difficult for an existing business to get on board with.

 

And so you're not talking about failure but I think innovation is part of that failure is part of innovation, but I think some attempts to bring in a new team or an individual in and give them the resources to go and innovate. And then lo and behold, a year, two years, three years later, it's not really working well, well no surprise really, because they've just been set over there to do something, and the rest of the business is carrying on. So I think fundamental cultural transformation is so important to this and that's hard. There is no one solution, there is no easy solution and it takes time. But I think the one thing that I think is still lacking is a clear plan and strategy of how to do that. And I think that's something that real estate hasn't really gotten to grips with yet. And I think when you see, perhaps other sectors and finance being a good example of a fairly close cousin, how the banks now set themselves up in terms of Okay, how do we invest in tech? How do we bring that tech into the business? How do we build our own tech? And then how do we train and make people use that tech to drive their business? I mean, it's a fairly clear digital strategy supported by organisational strategy.

 

What needs to be done to get PropTech into existing businesses?

Louisa

Yes, well Jack you've been piloting these start-ups, getting them into businesses, you're now the guy trying to get your product into some of these archaic business, what have you seen, what do you think needs to be done here as well? Like upskilling more? What do we do?

 

Jack

Yes, again unfortunately maybe I side with Alex. And I don't think it's necessarily skills, I think it's more about culture mindset and about the relationships and incentives within the industry, like the  economics study of incentives. And a lot of the relationships between different industry stakeholders is what is often holding on to in that respect, you can go in and talk to anyone. A lot of the value of this technology is, some of it is going to be on the operational side and that's going to be very important. But a lot of it's also going to be about more about how can they serve their clients better. And if the people you're selling to, whether that's FM's thinking about their operate landlord partners, whether it's landlords thinking about how do we attract tenants, or fund managers thinking how do we attract new capital, if they're not open to making this a new part of their pitch, and selling themselves better based on their adoption of technology in the same way they sell themselves based on the adoption of sustainability and everything else, I think it's hard. So a lot of it is pretty basic, it's really hard as no one want one size fits all solution.

 

But it comes down to yet incentives, culture, and just organisational strategy, so who reports into who, even if there's no innovation team, like who reports into who. I think a lot of real estate offices are going through this decentralised versus centralised question at the moment. And that's different for like Nuveen versus investor group JLL, versus a facility manager versus an agency versus a private landlord. All of that pretty basic business strategy I think is somewhere that historically has just been left to float by the real estate industry and lots of real estate organisations. And it's hard to tag yourself on to a specific strategy in this business, show how you can help businesses, if there isn't as clear a strategy laid out. I’d also say the other big thing for me, and I think everyone is, diversity. And real estate, you mentioned before, it's getting better but isn't the most diverse. Technology is also not the most diverse, it's no surprise that real estate technology or the intersection of the two isn't the most diverse either.

 

And I think that's both in terms of race and gender, but also your thought processes and people's actual industry background and knowledge. And that has to change, for me the next five years is big about that as well. How do we bring in more people at the top of the funnel, who have a much broader diversity of thought, as well as helping them stay with the industry and find the right roles within the industry. And as well as bringing people who have started their careers and other industry into real estate. And I think that we're still at the very start of that conversation, to be honest. But yes, I think all of that is going to help.

 

Alex

One thing just the to add which is quite interesting is I get asked quite a lot about how innovative is real estate, and I think its a big, big sector, particularly if you wrap in construction sector as well, but I think my response is certainly on the transactional side of real estate, and if you think about real estate, commercial and residential, from all sizes of organisations the nature of the organisations that Jack and I have worked for, right the way down to people that buy and sell in individual homes or whatever, it's an incredibly entrepreneurial sector and it attracts really entrepreneurial people. And therefore there is a type of person and a type of willingness that those individuals are incentivised by. However, I wouldn't say that it's innovative and just to be clear on the difference, I say entrepreneur in so much that you see a lot of people saying, Well, I've done this at JLL or I've done this organisation, and this is how real estate works, I'm just going to do it on my own. And you see it pop up in real estate companies all the time, three or four people will leave an organisation, they'll set up on their own, but they'll pretty much do cookie cutter exactly what they did before. Because, I'm not teaching you how to suck eggs, but the real estate industry hasn't been disrupted. It's quite easy just to replicate and go, Well, I can make money doing the same thing myself. There's a very entrepreneurial industry, people love the challenge, the financial incentives are there for them to do that.

 

But it's a very cookie cutter approach and I think that the innovation, which has been historically pretty poor, is saying Okay, how do we bring to Jack's point, new ideas, new business models, new ways of solving that problem, or new ways of bringing a product to market? And that has been lacking. And I think what we're now seeing is organisations trying to figure out Well, what's my role in that, if any? That's the first thing. And secondly, how do I do that? And I think we can come on to talk about this, maybe but I think certainly there are some operating models emerging, whether it's, I'm just going to invest and I'm going to carry on, I'm going to bring in a whole team, and I'm going to try and build stuff, I'm going to try and bring a whole new load people in and embed them throughout the organisation, I'm going to bring in a champion from Silicon Valley, and they're going to lead it. So there's lots of different approaches being taken to figure out well, hey, what's my role, but then be how do we implement that. And I think, to Jacks point, that's where we are. But I think to culturally embed that you have to empower and motivate those individuals who are incentivised by the opportunity to say, Well look guys, you can take that opportunity, you can go and be entrepreneurial, but here are the tools to help you do that. And I think that's the bit is currently is currently lacking.

 

Jack

I think the other challenges with real estate, there's so many stakeholders involved in every single decision or the implementation of that decision as well. And so sometimes you might get a really innovative person on one side, but the whole rest of the supply chain is unable to implement the vision. And we used to talk about at Nuveen, there's like veto rights all the way up the supply chain and down the supply chain. If you want to get something done successfully, you don't have to just convince the landlord, its the landlord and the leasing agent, and the tenant rep, and the tenant for example, and that's just one that's a relatively short supply chain in real estate, let alone some of the longer pieces. So yes, it comes back to incentives and mindset again.

 

Alex

There's so many opportunities, and it's so easy to say, no we're not going to do that, rather than it is to put in incentives and to say, yes. That is rife and its quite difficult to change that.

 

Are there the right PropTech solutions for large businesses to engage in?

Louisa

Well it's clear there's a huge amount of opportunity, but how many of these big businesses who are going to be using the products, how many of them are properly engaged? Do you think there are enough solutions out there which are at the point of development where you would actually take the risk and trial them?

 

Jack

I don't think any one business has got everything, right. And I think if we ever get to a point where one business has and we say they’ve got it completely right, that’s probably never correct. It’s never about the destination, it's about the journey, and so on and so forth. But I think most real estate business is at a point now where the appetite for like piloting something new is definitely there. Certainly from the clients I speak to, we get a lot of positive engagement and we're doing something it's fairly technical in some ways, like replacing the traditional cash deposit. We get a lot of interest and we kick on with a lot of pilots and get people comfortable with it. I think the challenge of real estate is how do you really take that to the next level, and go beyond? And the same as sustainability and where sustainability was three or four years ago, it used to be on sustainability, Oh let's have one or two buildings that are really green buildings, and we're putting stuff into it and they can be our flagship buildings. And now sustainability is table stakes. It's not about, You should point me to the two buildings in your portfolio that you think are energy efficient. It's about , specifically what's the statistics on your overall portfolio, energy efficiency and climate impact, and so on.

 

So I think it's that mindset move that I'm hoping and positive and optimistic  about, that the COVID is going to bring as well, towards more of a proactive stance to embedding this within the business and into the EU. And anytime you want to achieve a specific outcome in real estate thinking, Oh what's the sustainability angle to that? The future is going to be all, What's the new technology or new innovation angle to doing that and getting a bit more first principles? Rather than this is the way we've done it before so we're just doing it the same way again.

 

Louisa

Surely we have all the investment going, especially from the VCs, and say JLL setting up JLL Technology to invest purely into technology, surely there are more solutions, there is a way more way more adoption? Alex from the JLL standpoint, what have you seen? Is there a delay, are things moving as fast as the VCs and founders would like it to be?

 

Alex

Yes, so I'm going to get some big questions! Because yes, there's a lot of VC money fuelling tech but it's really important to remember that VCs have a very different business model for real estate. And the reasons for and how they invest in anything, certainly in technologies, is not how real estate companies assess investments. And I think that is often either not communicated or is poorly understood, because these two worlds are colliding and you're always seeing headlines about PropTech A or PropTech B has raised loads of money, it must be the best thing since sliced bread. No, that's just the VC model of, We're just going to pump a load of money into a load of ideas and one of them's going to make it, I mean, they work on an 80% failure rate. so that is not how real estate works. And I think therefore to put the two things together and say, Well, there's loads of really cool, really fast, great technology companies, why are they not onboarding into real estate? Because they're completely different business models completely different ways of assessing value. And I think that is a key point. And I think that you've still got an industry which is assessing value on a very different principle. So just bringing in a PropTech that’s a unicorn or a PropTech that has made a billion dollars value is irrelevant, if it's not going to add your bottom line rent or bottom line asset value on my portfolio.

 

And I think there's a lot that can be said about how that value and asset value is calculated, and maybe there are some things that need to change to do that. But at the moment, that's why there's a disconnect between those, to be clear, this is not about shortage of technology, there is not a shortage of technology, I think a lot of the pain points, challenges issues, and a lot of the things that we could do to improve real estate in any shape, way, shape or form exists already. The question is and the challenge is, how do you onboard it and get it used and adopt it for the people that need to use it? That is the challenge, I think. Yes of course there's going to be developments in technologies that will bring a whole new levels of innovation, whole new levels of insight and new business models, absolutely. But there's an awful lot that could be done with what we have and it's not about technology.

 

Louisa

Yes, there’s a massive problem of integration of getting all teams to use it as well, it must be so painful especially the founders and the technology companies.

 

Alex

How many people use Excel, or how many people know how to use the full depth of Salesforce? You know what you need to know to do your job. I certainly would agree that PropTech generally has been quite poor at communicating the value. And again, I think that's been a journey, I remember some of the original pitches were, I've just got some money from a VC, they've told me to come and get JLL on my books can we come and do a pilot? I mean, that was literally the pitch. And I'm like, What is it you do? I think that has become a lot better, not least because a lot of these companies have pinched people from real estate to come and support the VD side of it. But the maturity of how you propose your solution and where and how it adds value and crucially, how can it align with the business model of your client, that's crucial.

 

Jack

Yes, I think, as you mentioned it there are more people moving between both industries, both from say start-up techie side moving into real estate, and more people with real estate background moving on to that side, I think it's only going to help I agree. I've seen companies who have pitched a really good pitch and then the response on the corporate side isn't what you'd expect in terms of different timelines of adoption, or just like the strategic value around it. On the other side I've seen where all that company needs to say is, and I always know exactly what the value creation is and that was my role at Nuveen and part of your role at JLL was almost being that translator and almost an extension sometimes of the business development teams of the start-ups to try and help translate that technology solution into an ROI. Because it is hard, I think real estate is a hard, opaque industry, it's quite a hard industry to understand.

And it's easy to think, for example, that if you're going to speak to Nuveen, and just if we're using these companies of Nuveen versus JLL, they have hugely different priorities because they're two different completely different parts of the supply chain. But if you were just coming into real estate, you'd think that they're both really big real estate companies and start pitching the same, but even like Nuveen as a fund manager versus like a British landlord who's publicly listed, though they're both landlords with very similar buildings is actually significant in terms of their different incentives as well. So it is a very simple industry but it's not the easiest industry to understand I think in terms of length of supply chain, incentives every level and as you say the pitfalls of adoption, there's definitely enough of them in real estate.

 

Louisa

Yes, we're going to be doing an event and there's going to be two conversations going on. One is what do the technologists need to understand about real estate depending on their role, whether you're on the data side, or on the innovation implementation side. But then also, what do the real estate professionals need to learn about whether it’s about innovation and technology, and this will be like a slight debate, we'll have people from both sides and what they wish they learned what they didn't and everything like that. So that will be quite interesting. And also for the future of real estate, is that in syllabuses from universities and those real estate universities or the courses, which they are going to start implementing new modules around software as a service, around sustainability. I know there geography and those elements of it as well but there's not really cool modules on real estate innovation at the moment, so that'll be quite telling so we'll see what happens there. But going on to our final question, and what does the next five years hold for PropTech or real estate innovation or built environment innovation?

 

What does the next five years hold for PropTech and real estate innovation?

Alex

I think we've touched on some of it already but I think it's worth actually, for even from a personal perspective I think it's interesting because being that jack of all trades as it were, I’ve been there if you'd like “at the beginning” in helping the business to create an engine and create the narrative. And now and speaking from a JLL perspective, we've got JLL T, a whole team of people, in many of whom are new come from tech, a lot of it's based in San Fran, a different culture, different organisation and the speed at which they want to move at. And I'm presented with, what does that mean for my role, where I was helping to champion it within the organisation here in the UK. And I think what we're now seeing, and perhaps for some of the pioneering companies, and certainly I would suggest over the next few years is, a specialisation of Well, what do we actually mean by innovation transformation? Who’s role is what? Let's start to compartmentalise that.

And so I think we'll that's certainly something we will see. And I think dedicating people at senior level to say, This is your responsibility, is it innovation, that doesn't just mean tech. Is it tech? If it is, is that tech we're investing in, is that tech we're building is that tech to make sure the lights turn on? Whose responsibility is that? What's the supply chain and the partnership model we use to manage that? How do we engender culture and ideation, whose role is that? So there's a whole range of new skills and new roles I think to support what we've talked about, in terms of how you not only go find tech but onboard it. So I think we will see a professionalisation of that and new roles emerging. I think it's interesting because, Okay well, where do I sit within that and what's my role within that? So I think for those of us who were here at the beginning, it's finding our way through that and almost either reinventing ourselves again, or actually picking one of those specialisms and saying this is the area that I'm going to try and own. And I think that's something that I'm certainly thinking about at the moment. But I think for me, that’s certainly a trend.

 

And I would say the other thing, so from a systematic perspective I think that's one thing. The second thing I would say is still, I think there's a big disconnect between the VC fuelled PropTech solutions, and then the solutions that they're seeking to aim to solve and actually the market problems that exists now. And we talked about already in terms of if the timings not right it just doesn't work, or if the organisation's not got the right lease structure in the right building or its funds ownership system doesn't allow it. So there is a big disconnect between an actual problem which has got a budget around it, let's say a new development being built and they want to build the smartest, most sustainable building in the world. There's going to be a budget available for about a two year window and we want to look at A, B, C, and D, and there's a runway that you need to hit and there's a budget, there's a problem, there's something needs to happen. How do you align that in a clear way with, And here are the best in breed solutions that can support that and we can give you revenue, there you go. That mechanism is still massively lacking in real estate. So I would like to see and I think we will hopefully see better and better mechanism of connecting supply and demand around real problems with budgets. So I think whether that's an accelerator or some form of R&D facility, or whatever it might be, but some form of matchmaking system that needs to happen. So yes, those two things.

 

Louisa

Jack what about you? What is the next five years hold for PropTech in your opinion?

 

Jack

Yes, I agree in terms of the what the incumbents need to do, and on the VC point as I said, is not every problem or pain point is necessarily VC backable in terms of like the solution you build, it has to have a certain business model really, to be like a solid, attractive venture investment. And VC is certainly definitely part of the solution, a pretty big part of the solution in many ways. But I think real estate also needs to pull up its bootstraps and look at how we how can we solve problems? If you're not being brought solutions to problems you have, how can you build them themselves and explore more creative ways of looking at them. As Alex mentioned, a couple of examples around how R&D’s and accelerates, but overall I'd say that real estate being in a teenage phase the last five years, hopefully and maturing into young adults is the right word, but we're getting to a point where a lot of the potential is coming to fruition. There definitely needs to be more change on the incumbent side than it does on PropTech side, so both sides coming more as corporates, but both sides coming together more. I think disruptive business models or different business models, is hopefully what you're going to see a lot more from the incumbents and the corporates themselves, rather than I suppose just being a marginal adopter of solutions that help ace one specific project, or one specific RFP, or piloting one budget here. Actually thinking a bit more bottom up, like how can we how do we need to remodel our business? Primarily in light of COVID, but then how can sustainability and tech and all those things feed into that?

 

And the last thing I'd say is the blurring of lines between FinTech and real estate. I think FinTech is a huge industry in and of itself and I think there's been a lot of solutions focused on the operational level for real estate, they haven't actually been that many successful solutions focused on the transaction side of real estate. And frankly, the transaction side real estate is where a huge amount of value lies if you look at budgets and flows of capital. And so Insurami on deposit side, we're part of that FinTech piece but we're more than the leasing side. There's real estate transactions and actual on the capital markets piece as well. And no one's really cracked that at all. But if you can start to crack that, and I believe there'll be a couple of business models that do start working with that. I think that's really where the huge value to unlock is for real estate. And when I was at Nuveen we always said this is a 20 year track digital transformation journey. Forget any other industry, no one goes in five years from being an industry that was at the stage where real estate was five years ago, to a fully digital industry. It's all about that journey and taking it through the phases. And I think real estate definitely on that journey. But the next five years it will be even more exciting than the last five.

 

Louisa

Yes, fingers crossed, hopefully slightly quicker than Alex's first 13 years of career!

 

Alex

Jack’s analogy of teenagers reminded me of a quote that I used to use for sustainability. But I think 10 years ago, but I think you could adequately use it today in terms of digital, which is technology and digital is like teenage sex, everyone's talking about it, no one's doing it well!

 

Louisa

And on that note guys, we're coming to the LMRE part, which is how we end it. So the L part is, what was your main lesson you've learned? The second part is the M part, which is you can mention anyone, whether it's a product or service you'd like to give a shout out to. The R part is what's the most rewarding aspect of working in PropTech or doing a role? And E is what are you most excited about personally for the future PropTech. If you want me to remind you in any of them as we go, afraid, I can! But let's start with your biggest lessons learned since and starting your career.

 

Lessons learned, special mentions, rewarding aspects and exciting prospects in PropTech?

Alex

Probably the biggest lesson I think looking back is actually don't be afraid to take chances, take risks, if you've got an idea, take it to whoever you think is going to be able to make that that idea come to life and go for it. And I think don’t procrastinate too long about it. That would be certainly a lesson I've learned.

 

Louisa

Okay, now mention anyone, it could be a product in the ESG sustainability space, it's completely up to you.

 

Alex

Rather than specifically one product, I think I would just say I think net zero certainly is something which is now taking a lot of attention. I think the transition to sustainable buildings, we've started but we've got a long way to go and an incredibly short timeframe. But I think that if you are in the space already, or you're looking at the space, whether you're an investor or whether you're a tech company, I think it’s a massive opportunity. So really just a shout out to everyone in that space, but also to those coming into that space. And if anyone out there has got a product or a solution that they want to they want to show me then I'm more than happy to be connected.

 

Louisa

Okay, now what's the most rewarding aspect of working in PropTech?

 

Alex

It's probably the people I think meeting people, doing things like this, but certainly meeting new pioneering people that are really trying to come up a problem with a different way of solving it. For me that's really interesting. And constantly learning, which is important for me.

 

Louisa

Awesome. And the final part, what are you most excited about?

 

Alex

Probably actually the sustainability piece I think, if we can really make big impacts in the way that we build, design, build and manage buildings really, properly sustainably, for me that's probably the biggest impact that our industry can have in the next 100 years.

 

Louisa

Okay, Jack what’s your biggest lesson you've learned throughout your career? Bear in mind this doesn't have to be from Insurami or Nuveen.

 

Jack

I don't want to be too similar to Alex but I would say the level of knowledge in this industry around certain topics like innovation and technology, the benchmark is pretty low. And still today it's an extremely flat playing field for people who want to advance their career. You can try and be the best leasing agent in in London for example, that's a very competitive market. I still think innovation if you're good and smart and work hard and understand the problems and truly try and be an independent thinker about it, I think being an independent thinker used to be undervalued in real estate, and I think going forward is going to be the most the most valuable thing on that side. So that would be my lesson.

 

Louisa

Okay, what about mentioned anyone or product, you can't say Insurami..!

 

Jack

To be honest I think, the leadership team at Nuveen, whether that was my managers and or my team I worked with in the US, or the CEO, our team for me was the turning point in my career in terms of being backed as a young guy who's interested in this topic to make a success of it and bring value to the business. And I think I’ll always be grateful for that and Nuveen is not a company that's perfect in every situation but the leadership mentality they have around it I think is really admirable. And the people that that work there are great. So that'd be my not very exciting mentioned, I suppose.

 

Louisa

It's nice to hear someone talk about their previous company in such a kind way as you just have. What's the most rewarding aspect of working in PropTech?

 

Jack

I think seeing a new solution to an age old problem, I think lots of really interesting thing with real estate is the problems you're solving have been problems often for decades or hundreds of years. Again, to mention Insurami but like the cash deposit, its always been for hundreds of years a feature of leases, or how people transact on the lease side on real estate. And I think just the excitement, Oh, we've got a new way of doing this that works, and is better than the old way, and so on. And whether that's on the adoption side at Nuveen, that's what really gets me out of bed is more the idea of solving a problem differently than it's ever been done before. And to move into that on the excited side, that's what I'm most excited about to see in the next five years, is how many more kinds of areas, I suppose will see the mentality shift in the industry.

 

 You've already seen it around like co-working three or four years ago, a lot of the industry was very, very sceptical and predominantly all the conversations about like Wework for example, and fast forward five years has been a great example of how corporates and real estate companies have basically been forced to change their views on a lot of these topics. And I just think there's so many other topics that at the moment are just accepted truths by the real estate community and in five years we will look back and think God why were we so sure and so certain about this one element when now it's clear that there is another way to do it. So it's not everyone's wrong in real estate or anything like that but seeing that change of mentality and the change of narrative around these themes, I think is really exciting.

 

Louisa

Guys I knew we wouldn't do the usual 30 minute podcast here and the audience is going to absolutely love this. I feel like we've covered a lot of bases and everyone who's listening if you want to reach out to Alex or Jack, you could reach out to Alex because you want to talk about your products and if JLL would want to implement it, and speak to Jack if you want to learn about deposit free renting as well than the office space or any commercial real estate, or office industrial. Thank you guys and I'll catch up with you after the show.

 

Thank you for joining us this week on the podcast and a big thanks to our guests and our sponsors CREtech and Reimtech. Make sure you visit our website www.lmre.tech where you can subscribe to our newsletter, keep up with our industry news and events or if you’re looking for your next career move it’s all on there. The Propcast can be found on iTunes, Spotify and Youtube where all good content is found. Whilst you're at it, if you found value in the show, we'd appreciate if you could spread the word and tell and friend about it or even write us a review, and I’ll catch you next week.

 

 

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