If you believe a lot of what you read in the post-COVID pandemic analysis of society, it would seem that everything is going digital. E-commerce has achieved decades of progress in a matter of months, while the future of work and play seems increasingly likely to have a larger online component - perhaps fuelled in the long term by the promises of web3.
But the digital world has its limits, and one such boundary is the world of property and real estate. There is no immediate or medium term future where the internet can put a roof over our heads. Real estate, in all its concrete glory, will remain, as far as we can predict, real and tangible for centuries to come.
And yet, notwithstanding the physical property itself, there is an immense amount of tech-enabled innovation waiting to happen to the real estate industry; which happens to be the world’s largest asset class - worth $277 trillion, three times the total value of all publicly traded companies.Big data, low-code software, machine learning and VR/AR all promise a “prop-tech” led future transformed by new innovation. But who are the seed-stage startups trying to innovate in this space and, most importantly, what can they do to grow into one of the businesses that shape this future?
Let’s meet the contenders
- Doorloop - rental property management software that offers screening tenants, collects rent, and manages accounting services.
- Awning - technology platform and brokerage built exclusively for real estate investing.
- Ukio - real estate firm that offers a network of design-forward furnished and serviced apartments for monthly stays.
- Naborly - tenant screening that works for both landlords & tenants.
- Humming Homes - technology-enabled home management service with a mission to make homeownership easier and more enjoyable.
- Homeppl - preventing fraud, guaranteeing rent.
- Concreit - simply invest in real estate: easily & securely invest within minutes with no minimums.
- Norban - real estate tech company helping people sell their homes through an integrated marketplace and brokerage service.
- Brik - the community of real estate investment owners.
- Jupe - dwelling unit inspired by the stars, designed for new frontiers beyond the city and off the grid. It isn’t just a quick place to stay. It’s a gateway to the outside world.
- Stake - the future of FinTech powered real estate with CashBack rewards.
- Realpha - digital marketplace that simplifies, finances, and manages your short-term rental investments.
- Sugar - builds community and transforms the residential experience by integrating with technology stacks that power modern buildings.
- UpsideHOM - fully-managed living option for older adults.
How we’d approach growing a Proptech startup
1) Lean in to the fact that not everyone wants the existence you envision for them
Post CV19, it’s more apparent than ever that different people want to structure their lives in different ways. Some people want 5 days in an office while commuting from within the city, others want to be totally remote professionally and personally, the next group half-in, half-out, etc.
What this enables is a company like Ukio to be very particular in its product marketing. A life switching between beautifully-furnished apartments across Europe at 1-2 month intervals won’t work for, say, +99.5% of people, but the small group that are open to it are likely to have a common view of the world in which you can and must embed your brand.
Get granular to understand the digital communities and key opinion leaders that move the needle for your ideal customer persona (using a template like this), and think about how you’ll build a wedge in that group. On that note, Lenny Rachitsky, perhaps the most frequently cited thinker in this newsletter, came out with one of his all time great newsletters last week about picking a wedge. This is exactly the approach to take.
2) Command the space you occupy through thought leadership
Property is typically the most important valuable asset that someone will ever acquire. That makes high levels of consumer trust the table stakes for any brand seeking to integrate themselves into this category.
Trust is earned when every touchpoint of your brand is consistent - and when you look at Marty Neumeier’s full list you realise how much consistency can be required. This is why less is more when it comes to social channels, for instance. A well maintained LinkedIn presence is a lot more persuasive than five channels that are sparsely populated with content.
For Proptech businesses, especially those that sell B2B, thought leadership delivered through content marketing - be it written, video or audio - is the best way to start cost-effectively building brand and, in turn, trust; so long as it’s done consistently. If you’re Concreit, for instance, it would be prudent to replenish the “education” and “blog” sections of your website before too long. It might not seem like that investment drives short-term results, but it is one of best tools available for pushing leads through a funnel. No new blog content since 2020, for instance, is a soft signal to prospective users that you’re not consistent, reliable and trustworthy.
3) Get validation in the right kinds of media
PR is one of the most commonly under-leveraged tools in a startups arsenal. Part of the reason is that many founders’ conception of PR is trying and failing to get featured in The New York Times.
Big splashy headline features are possible for certain seed-stage startups at certain points in time (e.g. travel startups as flight bans are lifted, or food-tech startups ahead of COP26), but, if we think of PR more as managing and disseminating information about your brand to the public, arguably there’s greater or at least equal value in pursuing an approach more focussed on trade press, specific podcasts and newsletters.
It might get you fewer likes on your personal LinkedIn profile, and there are high-authority backlinks to consider from a SEO perspective, but a good PR specialist will be encouraging you and enabling you to promote your messages in more niche corners of the media landscape, where you can have a greater impact. A brand such as Jupe, for example, should be initially looking to feature in all the “outdoor travel and hospitality” focussed news there is, where it will be easier to gain a foothold and deliver social proof for would-be buyers.