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PropTech Summit Australia; a review

POSTED BY   james
September 7, 2018

This was the first PropTech summit in Australia . – well the second actually; I hear there was another one run by another firm that had about 10 people through the door and has been hushed up ever since! – so lets call this the first successful PropTech summit out here in Aus.

Australian PropTech Market

Before I go into the aspects of the conference; good and bad, let me just spend some time talking about the market. Many were keen to hear my perspectives on this given some of my travels and I did something similar for the event in Chile recently and summarised my thoughts there on key themes.

The Australian PropTech market is obviously getting going and gathering steam quickly. While I was there the first PropTech Meet up was getting going, next week, three different meet ups are coming together to discuss how they incorporate PropTech into their agenda.

In our initial analysis at Unissu, there are just over 200 active businesses in Australia, as you can see from the diagram below. Caveat being that this is just an initial estimate. My guess is that there are actually closer to 300 all said and done. Still however, not a huge market compared to others.

There are far more figures that we have gathered but I won’t bore you with them now. Suffice to say the market is resi bias, the peak for start ups was in 2015 and most of the money that is being raised in the region is currently between seed and pre-seed stages. There are evidently some big players and success stories that were discussed. Mainly firms like Active Pipe and Equiem who both seem to be raising well and expanding geographically.

Online agents again a theme

It was interesting to hear that once again online portals is a key area for discussion. With Purplebricks coming into the market in Australia it appears that there is a lot of animosity – not really a surprise. To be fair, as I have said many times previously (and you can read my thoughts of instructing online agents when I was selling my flat earlier this year here), there is no right model. However, disruptors will come into the market. You just have to analyse their strengths and improve your on game by knowing your own weaknesses. Just ignore theirs for now. It really doesn’t matter.

The battle of the REITS

Other than that this key information was something I really took away. It is only when you immerse yourself in a market that you start to understand it. Here the REITS control it all – certainly Sydney anyway – 80% of all buildings owned are run by 11 REITS. Therefore if you are PropTech businesses trying to help the commercial sector, you need to priorities the pain of the REIT over the occupier first and foremost.

Gut feel

There are small specifics you can pick up, like the two mentioned above, but there are other more subtle things you have to be aware of. I often talk about the developed markets having one of my two core indicators but not the other. The infrastructure on which technology is built is strong but the mentality to instigate change is not. Other, less developed markets seem to be the other way around. They have a strong ethos of change management (their history of fast population growth and changing economic situations may be a part of this and dealing with classic lean methodologies in their day to day lives) but they lack basic structure on which too build – poor internet or physical infrastructure.

Sydney in particular, seems to be quite finely balanced in the middle. They would say that their mentality is a little conservative and whilst I would agree in part, it is nothing to other areas. Whether it was the price that drove Tech start ups away (see a little later in this article) or not, 80% of this conference were traditional property people. That is quite telling.

A concern I have is that people I spoke to are looking at the market in isolation. The key fact is that the Aussie market should be able to export easily and I would encourage them to do so. Solutions are and can be global now. Think big. Don’t just look domestically.

Anyway, other points about the conference:

Pricing

Being the first, you never really know what is going to happen but Quest, the team behind it, and a proven outfit, obviously know what they are doing. There were nearly 200 people signed up to the event; most were paying between $1000 and $4,000 AUS which is an outstanding and eye watering figure. Most conferences go cheap on their first go. These guys went big.

Audience

Some hugely impressive people were at this conference. Some really top names and companies that came along – probably indicative of the price point. For an example here check out my panel for the first day discussion on “The Uberisation of Real Estate“. It comprised of:

  • Rita Arrigo – Chief Digital Strategist for Microsoft
  • Rafael Niesten – Founder of Bricks and Clicks (and ex Australian of the Year – yup there is such a thing)
  • Selina Short – Managing Partner of EY, Real Estate and Construction
  • Antony Cervalo – Founder of Sine (and ex Love Film co-founder with Alex Chesterman of Zoopla – or no ex Zoopla)

That is just a small sample of what was an impressive group of people all gathered for a terrific agenda.

Content

My hats off to the organisers here. I have not yet seen such an attention to detail that they got all things covered. They had set up a “committee” of influencers beforehand, to curate a list of topics that were wanted to be discussed. This, whilst being a little much in some cases, appeared to work well with pretty much every topic covered but in a logical way.

Having said that, it was interesting to see the dynamics at play here and the obvious geographical bias here of Australian. Rita (of Microsoft) got it started with discussions on the Digital Twin – something I have been driving for some time now; if we have a physical building (or city for that matter), why do we not have a digital representation of the same thing? – and it just kept coming.

I am not sure I have heard many people talking about the concept of the Digital Twin previously but here it was. It didn’t stop for two days. Bravo.

If you want to see a complete list of the agenda you can see it here – worth looking at some of the titles covered.

Speakers

Apart from the dodgy Chairman on day one, and keynote speaker for that matter (not sure I will be invited back), they were universally good – and again I don’t often say that – almost without exception, they had good topics, good slides and they spoke well in front of the audience.

Panels are often tricky – you really don’t know the quality of the panelists and the moderators are key to the hole thing – but they kept them tight – no more than 4 people on a panel and a 40min length. So many people pack a stage and then give 20mins. Doesn’t work and you don’t get enough input from each panelist.

Stand out presentations from me included – in no particular order by the way:

Rita Ariggo on the concept of Digital Twins and Smart Cities demonstrating what Microsoft are doing. Great content

John Preece, Chief Property Officer of Hub – Co-working operator here. Great passion for his topic and really solid overview of the sector in Aus with great stats.

Carolyn Trickett – Head of Business Technology at JLL. It is so tough to be the last person on stage but Carolyn had a quirky and endearing style that made it an interesting presentation (about the future of jobs in our sector). Evidently a well researched presentation

Chris Rolls – Managing Director of Pielabs – I don’t think I have heard as much content delivered in such a short time but Chris packed in a load of information on the VC perspective in Aus. Really well delivered

(caveat being I was only there on the afternoon of the second day as I had meetings that morning so not aware of the other speakers – apologies to those)

Start up competition

I have seen many of these now (and been the judge on a few), and they are so difficult. 5 mins for a pitch and then 5mins of a Q&A. You can’t really get a true perspective on a business in that time. Having said all of that, the businesses all pitched really well – rare I have to say – and it was interesting to see.

It was all managed by Johanna Pitman of City Connect who is pretty close to the businesses given her role and the businesses included:

Winner – SymbIoT Technology

Runner upSoho Property App

3rd place–  Inndox

I think it was a fair outcome if I am honest but a special mention to UDrew who seemed to be the favourite amongst the other people pitching (they won the “if you weren’t running your firm, which one would you like to be running” question) and also seemed to have a fair share of the audience vote too

Right I am off to the airport so that will have to do for now but I hope that is useful for those that might be considering an attendance in 2019.

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