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Diversity and Tenant Engagement with Gabrielle McMillan

21.7.20

The Propcast: Diversity and Tenant Engagement with Gabrielle McMillan

In this episode we talk to Gabrielle McMillan from Equiem about Diversity and Tenant Engagement.

About Our Guests

 

Gabrielle McMillan

Gabrielle is thee founding CEO of the world’s leading tenant experience platform, Equiem, and a passionate advocate of the power of technology to transform the global commercial real estate space. As the founding CEO of Equiem, Gabrielle has led the business from its 2011 inception to become the world’s leading tenant experience platform today, used by 137,000+ people across 60 million sq ft of prime commercial real estate worldwide. With a proven track record of success in delivering growth through innovation, development and leadership, Gabrielle has helped build Equiem from a team of two, to over 200 employees, in just eight years. Today, Equiem manage a client portfolio of 135+ buildings across Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the USA, with over 8,900 companies using our technology.

 

Key insights from the episode:

  • In a business like Equiem, if you’re a good person and you’re willing to put in discretionary effort and you can learn, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can do. There are no barriers – Gabrielle McMillan
  • If you’re a woman and you worried about how to get started there’s plenty of groups these days… and there’s plenty of great, amazing women doing amazing things in the space, if you can find yourself whether it’s an official mentor or whether it’s you set up a handful of coffee chats and get your network up and running, everyone’s willing to help each other out help good people get their start – Gabrielle McMillan
  • Ultimately, put your hand up, go ask for advice. Communication is everything and if you don’t ask a question, how you ever going to find the answer? – Louisa Dickins
  • How do we keep that competitive edge? I think we certainly try to be very customer centric in our approach – Gabrielle McMillan
  • In terms of what’s coming next, I’d say almost certainly more consolidation – Gabrielle McMillan

Today’s podcast is on diversity and the future of tenant engagement and today I’m fortunate enough to be joined by the wonderful Gab from Eqiuem, so welcome to the show.

Louisa

You’ve got over 200 team members and a huge challenge that all start-ups and just general businesses worldwide face is the importance of hiring and getting the team dynamic right. But also, from the very beginning as we all know, real estate and technology are both fairly male dominated sectors I think. I mean, this is a stat which is thrown about so many people that I think it’s 9% of PropTech founders in the UK are women compared to 80% of men, and 3% of females, say a career in technology is their first choice and 83% of women find it impossible to name a female role model in the tech industry. Now though I know that can change the whole time but, I’d just love to hear about your journey into becoming the CEO of Equiem. How did you get into technology and real estate? I’d love to hear.

Gabrielle

So yes, actually it was a funny way that I started at Equiem because I didn’t have a background in real estate or technology really when I started, I’d spent 13 years prior to that scaling and running a sales and marketing firm. And that had been hugely successful and we’d been lucky enough to put together an extraordinary team at that business as well and we’d scaled the business kind of nine or 10 times revenues over six or seven year period. I’d been there for 13 years, a lot of the work we were doing was actually in the health and wellness sector and I was kind of thinking about my next move, and I was told  as you do when you’re making a significant career change, I was meeting with lots of folks and talking to lots of people about it and trying to work out what I wanted to do.

And it was part of that discovery that I was introduced to a guy called Lorenz Grollo and the Grollo family are kind of synonymous with real estate certainly in in Melbourne in Australia. So over three generations, they’ve developed and built many of Melbourne’s landmark buildings. And so, Lorenz was firmly rooted in real estate and at the time was managing his family’s joint venture interest in a building called Rialto which is Melbourne second tallest office building. So it was through this introduction to Lorenz and him outlining to me what was happening at the building, which was 25 years old at the time and this huge kind of significant regeneration that he had planned to really reposition and rebrand and redevelop the asset. But he said to me we’ve got to take the tenants on this journey, we’re doing this huge redevelopment, it’s going to be extraordinary, but how do we actually leverage technology to connect with the tenants? And how do we actually create effectively a virtual community using technology to really drive deeper relationships with the people that are occupying the building every day? That was kind of my first conversation with him. And after meeting him a number of times, I just got more and more fascinated by this opportunity at the intersection of real estate and technology. Literally real estate was an industry which I was unfamiliar with largely, but I quickly realised I really hadn’t innovated not on the property management and kind of tenant engagement and experience and communications, really hadn’t innovated in a long, long time. And then technology broadly, I mean this is 2011 Lu so technology was not very well adopted in real estate at all at that time, and so just having spoken to Lorenz and realising that, hey, these buildings have got thousands of people in them, these little mini villages, and just seem to be such an enormous opportunity to essentially revisit the way that buildings are managed and marketed, and create a platform that would kind of remove the barriers between landlord and occupier. Does that make sense? Create a platform that everyone in the building could connect to, that we improve the service levels, we’d improve the communications, but would also create a lot of data and insights for the landlord along the way. So, I was introduced to Lorenz, through a mutual friend, a number of conversations later we kind of embarked on this journey and here I am nine years later.

Louisa

Well, you were talking about community engagement like naturally when I think of say, real estate or tech, I don’t think of that social aspect. I often feel like when I’m talking about some of these products I’m working with there’s a massive education piece and whether I’m talking to a candidate in say, sales, customer service, or from a different industry, I feel like there needs to be more promotion about what you’re, tenant engagement and tenant experience what that actually means. It’s not just straight real estate,  how have you gone about  hiring your team? You hired Bronny who is your now UK and Ireland GM. How do you find the right team and attract them into PropTech? What’s the big selling points which you like have?

Gabrielle

I think Bronny an interesting one. Obviously, a great superstar who has been with the business a long time, was one of the first 10 employees. So yes, when I actually met her, she was working at Realto on the property management side. And so I think if you’re in property management, you’re working in real estate, there’s a real appeal to come to a business like Equiem that’s changing things up, depending on who you are and what your mindset is, the opportunity to innovate and improve things and change things and move at pace can be very appealing. And of course, it’s much easier to move at pace in a scale up or in a technology business than it is when you’re running a huge asset, a million square foot asset property management’s naturally, kind of fairly conservative and slow moving.

And so I think that’s one of the appeals and we’ve hired a bunch of people from real estate, but it’s been really important to me, I mean, it’s pretty cliché Lu, but we typically hire for attitude not aptitude always and I think one of the things that people often observe is that there’s a real commonality running through Equiem, in terms of culture or personality or something, and there is this kind of competitive spirit, they’re just a bunch of superstars. That kind of culture doesn’t suit everyone. So I think hiring for attitude, hiring for drive, hiring for innovation, and people who are prepared to go above and beyond as well, because what happens in small companies is you’ve never ever, ever got enough resources! You’re always stretching everyone to the limit. And so that’s something you kind of have to hire for as well. You have to have people that are effectively willing to put in discretionary effort because they want to be part of this bigger purpose, and they want to be part of a growing company, as opposed to people who are maybe looking for something different in their in their company.

Louisa

Yes. Well, I’ve seen I think a lot of people love the idea of love joining a start-up, and finding that culture, leaving that  big  corporate world, having that autonomy, and they get into it and they’re like, “Oh no, this is my day job and you’re asking me to do something about marketing or an event?”. So yes, run with it – help me out!

Gabrielle

Where’s the instruction manual? And so work it out. Yes, all of that. I mean, I think it does take a certain  person that really loves that, because the other thing about businesses like Equiem is that you get opportunities above and beyond what you would get in a big organisation as well. We’ve a lot of people, the first few employees are all still with the business, which goes to show , but they’ve all moved up, through the business and all being given opportunities to kind of stretch themselves and grow and expand their career development, which sometimes you have to wait a lot longer in bigger businesses, but I think in a business like Equiem, if you’re a good person and you’re willing to put in discretionary effort, and you can learn, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can do, there are no barriers.

Louisa

So for diversity as a thing, which everyone talks about, there’s a whole different part of diversity. If we go back to a couple of the facts I mentioned about women in this space, well, are there any things that you wish you’d known or any insight you can give women coming into this space? Like, “oh, don’t be afraid”, “you can learn the real estate”, what advice would you give for fresh newcomers from different industries joining prop tech, or tenant engagement specifically?

Gabrielle

So newcomers to the industry, I would say that don’t be scared. I came in knowing nothing about real estate, and we obviously had aspects of technology at the marketing company that I was running, but it wasn’t a product company. So , I think if I can come in and being on paper hugely unqualified to do so there are no limitations. And I think that real estate tech, hugely exciting space, lots of investment flowing into the space, a lot of companies are now starting to get a handful of companies like Equiem that have been around for a while and some that are bigger again, like and VTS others that are really kind of quite mature. I mean, you mentioned Yardi earlier, so there’s a good spectrum of, of organizations at different stages.

So you can find a good spot, but, that it’s going to be an industry where there’s going to be change and growth and a lot of innovating happening, I would say over the next five to 10 years as these companies and probably a lot of consolidation as well, I think it’s going to be a pretty interesting space to be in. Yes, don’t be don’t be scared. I guess if you’re a woman and you worried about how to get started there’s plenty of groups these days, women in real estate and a few things like that and there is a group for women in real estate tech. And there’s plenty of great, amazing women doing amazing things in the space, if you can find yourself, whether it’s an official mentor or whether it’s you set up a handful of coffee chats and get your network up and running, everyone’s willing to help each other out help good people get their start.

Louisa

Yes, I think a big thing is, it’s just ultimately put your hand up, go ask for advice, communication is everything, and if you don’t ask a question, how you ever going to find the answer? I think I probably ask a bit too many questions but hey ho! So that aside from you scaling your team, as your team changed, tell us a little bit more about your product, then. How has it developed over time since you’ve started? Then we can then go on into what does the future of your product look like.

Gabrielle

Yes, sure. It has changed a lot. The first version of a it was almost completely different to what it is now. We did a six-month beta test with Minter Ellison who are a large law firm in Rialto. So we worked with them really closely to build a product, and what we kind of initially envisaged we would build changed along the way, and has continued to change as we deploy more buildings and more communities. The product itself, I mean, it’s a software platform, right. And it’s on desktop, as well as an app, but the thing about it is that it’s quite adaptable and configurable for each site. So it’s really a piece of technology that you tailor depending on the building in terms of which features and functions you need. Do you need room bookings? Do you want the commerce store so that you can integrate the retailers? Do you want to integrate your wellness center and be able to use the event management functionality to manage yoga classes or suit fittings? There’s a huge kind of key communications aspect.

We’ve done a lot of work on that over the last couple of years just because we’re having, I think it’s pretty well known but property management teams are not that adept at communicating and they’re busy, and it’s just not natural go to. And so one of the things that differentiates our product is that we’ve actually created hundreds and hundreds of templates to just make it almost brainless for property managers who don’t do this as a full time job. They’re not marketing people, and they’ve got a million other things on their plate. So we make it as easy as possible for property managers to quickly create content and get it out to people. Even quickly create newsletters, get it out to people, the notifications and announcements.

The other is probably worth mentioning is the data and analytics aspect of our platform Lu which is which we’ve been investing in a lot over the last probably three or four years now and evolving. So as you plug the platform made a motion to community, what’s happening in the background is it’s tracking not personally identifiable information, we anonymise all the names and email addresses, but it’s tracking every single activity and event that a user is doing on the platform and every single interaction, and that’s creating huge piles of data that then in aggregate are hugely valuable to landlords to help them make better investment decisions, help them measure tenant sentiment, , really help them understand what services are working best, which retailers are performing best, a whole lot of data that you can track to really help you manage your building be smarter.

Louisa

It seems like every time I speak to someone, we come back to the topic of data and that the  general consensus data is power. And when I first went into this industry, I never thought I’d be interested in data, I think I wrote a blog the other day about how data is now sexy. It’s a hot topic for people to talk about, whether you’re like a landlord or investment fund. Who controls it? What can you do with it? How do you aggregate it?

Gabrielle

The thing about real estate is, which was a big aha moments for me even way back in 2011 as we were rolling this out, is just the complete absence of data in real estate prior to this. Rialto had 72 names on an Excel spreadsheet, that was typical, that was advanced! How to manage without a platform like this there is just no way to actually communicate with everyone in the building, or to understand what they want. it was just so bizarre to me because I think it comes down to real estate being so transactional, no one was really thinking about customers, the end user, and so therefore no one had ever taken a b2c, a business to consumer type approach to running a building.

But this is what our platform allows you to do, suddenly you’ve got 4000 people that you can connect to, in a million square foot asset not 72. And that changed everything, and data is not this mysterious thing data its just knowing who’s in your building and knowing what they want and knowing how happy they are, and knowing which retailers are popular, and all of these things. Prior to having something like this landlords are just flying blind, I kind of described it as getting rid of the blind spots out of your asset management strategy.

Louisa

So, what would you say the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry so far? How have you guys adapted to it since you started in 2011?

Gabrielle

There are a lot of players around. Literally when we started a PropTech and real estate tech were not phrases, they were not a thing. It was no such category, let alone a tenant experience category. So we spent a first year, while we were scaling in Australia, actually educating people that this was a thing, we didn’t really have any competition or not significant. And it was really only as we started to scale globally into the UK and into the US so around, I would say around 2017/2018 was where we started to see kind of serious competitors emerge in our space. and now , we’ll get invited to an RFP and they’ll say, we’ve invited 24 others to participate, which is astonishing but is good in a way because what it does in our category of tenant experience, it kind of normalises it, if that makes sense. So it becomes something that every building needs, and it’s down to which platform or company will you choose, as opposed to do I need this at all? So that’s to become kind of this ubiquitous thing that every building has, which is good news for us!

In real estate tech generally, I’d say the same thing, like just huge, huge amount of new players coming into the scene. Real estate technology in the olden days was just a handful of companies, and now it would be kind of old school fairly closed platforms. Think about Honeywell, and even Yardi to a degree, but you really only had a handful of big players. And now there’s a new map, like a landscape map gets published, every couple of months, ever changing. That’s why I think there’ll be in terms of what’s coming next I’d say almost certainly more consolidation, and it’s still such a brand new industry, I mean you kind of can’t lump real estate technology and call it one thing because there’s so much variety in there.

Louisa 

There’s so many different verticals. I mean, I meant to be hiring in this space but I seem to get a client with a different vertical every day, and it’s whole new vertical and area that I need to learn about! As new players coming to market, how do you maintain your competitive edge? You seem to be constantly bringing out a new part of Equiem. So since obviously there’s been a huge amount of change and last a few months, what has your team working on?

Gabrielle

We have been working on a couple of things. So before COVID over here, we were already working on a major upgrade. Over the last probably two, three years, we’ve been completely rebuilding our tech stack because over time, you need to do that right? So that was kind of in the background and we’re up to the last piece of that, which is a big upgrade to user and company management and our ability to segment content. And so showing users content that’s relevant to them in a timely way and giving marketing managers, or buildings, or property managers more tools in their toolkit to get the right message to the right person in the right moment. So that was happening. And then COVID hit, you said, how do we keep that competitive edge?  I think we certainly try to be very customer centric in our approach. And because we’ve got 170,000 users and 9000 companies using our platform, that is a huge competitive edge because we have more capacity to gather data on what users really want than anyone else.

So when this hit, we were very, very focused on keeping those end users happy and on the platform because that’s how we deliver value to landlords is keep those people engaged and our landlord clients were obviously dealing with a million other things for those first three to four weeks, including a bunch of rent abatement requests. So we busied ourselves basically just partnering with our landlords to keep users on the platform and keep users engaged, even while they are working from home. So we launched something called Remote and really, it was just a complete pivot to move what is usually kind of all of this on site engagement and activations and physical events and activities, to all online and online services and trying to keep people connected, and productive and healthy and well, while they were isolated and lockdown.

And then so that kind of all happened to them in a mad rush and credit to my team, I joke that our other competitive advantage Lu, is the fact that we can work 24/7 right? Because they do this amazing relay baton change, Australia comes online and then the UK, and we can literally work around the clock which allows us to get things done really quickly as well. So our global team is just really kind of almost being brought together through this, which is amazing to watch and kind of exciting. Not that you would ever wish for a pandemic, but it’s been a little silver lining is just kind of like watching how amazing the team works together.

So then we’ve been working on how to get everyone back to the offices, right? Because none of our clients want empty offices, that’s not good for business but how do you do that safely? And how do you follow all those social distancing guidelines and so we’ve just released our return to workplace solution, which includes a couple of really exciting new things, one of which I want to tell you about, which is called Smart. And we’ve essentially launched a smart building solution to sit alongside our tenant experience platform. And it’s sensor tech and data and dashboards and the initial application comes straight from all the user surveys that we’ve been doing to really create a little dashboard in the app and on the desktop, to show users what’s actually going on in their building live. So you can look at this dashboard and see what the air quality is, you can see how many people are in the lobby, you can see how many people are in the building. So it’s like a digital twin of the lobby right? And this is something that’s hugely important to people, because we know that this is one of the things that they’re most worried about in terms of returning to the office is, how long am I going to be waiting to get into the elevators? How many other people am I going to have to come into contact with? And so we’re creating this dashboard to basically show people exactly what the density and the occupancy of the building is using this new smart building platform, but we’re also making it available not only to landlords, but to tenants who may want to monitor their space to see how many people are actually in their office and use the product in that way. So it’s super exciting.

It was something that would have been on the more medium to long term roadmap and this COVID-19 period its really had this operating at more speed. And so we’ve been working really hard on this and putting the right partnerships in place. We’ve partnered with actually a UK group called Metricus to bring this product to the market, and they’re leading smart building provider that is doing some really some really great stuff. Alongside the smart product we’ve also done a bunch of integrations to allow people to use the app for touchless entry, so that you have direct access to building access your office, call the elevator. And we’ve also launched the ability for tenants to book their arrival and exit times to the building.

Louisa 

Sounds that your team has been busy!

Gabrielle

It’s been absolutely insane Louisa, I can’t even begin to tell you! As I said to start with, I would never have wished for this to happen, but I honestly think that we’ve achieved two years worth of work in the last two months. It’s been extraordinary and I’m so proud of the team. And the product too, I’m proud of us as well because I think that we’ve really listened and we really paid attention to what our landlords want, what our users are asking for and hopefully we’ve got this kind of solution that will really be truly valuable in this moment to get everyone back to the office safely.

Louisa 

Yes. And I think that’s definitely on everyone’s agendas. I mean, my team I know, and all my clients teams from like I said funds, agencies, consultancies, start-ups, everyone misses that human interaction in person. And like you said landlords, everyone needs to get back so hopefully sooner rather than later. It sounds like Equiem is well equipped to help businesses do that. This brings us to the end of the show sadly, but before you go Gab up is there anything else you’d like to show our audience and listeners about the best way they connect with you and Equiem?

Gabrielle

If anyone’s interested in finding out more about anything that we just talked about, they can just head to Equiem website, which is www.getequiem.com  and I’m also happy to have people following me on LinkedIn. We’re going to be releasing early to mid-June, we’ll be releasing a report basically on these insights that we’ve been capturing from our 170,000 users over the April and May period. And I imagine some of your listeners might be interested in getting a copy of that, because there’s some pretty fascinating insights in there across the four regions that we operate in. So happy to have people follow me on LinkedIn and then they’ll see that go live once we once we release it.

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