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Unissu – democratising global proptech knowledge [Transcript]

Kylie Davis:

Welcome to the Prop Tech podcast. It’s Kylie Davis here and I’m delighted to be your host as we explore the brave new world where technology and real estate collide. I passionately believe we need to share and grow a sense of community between the innovators and real estate agents, and sharing our stories is a great way to do that. Now the aim of each episode is to introduce listeners to a Prop Tech innovator who is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and explore the issues and challenges raised by the tech and how they can create amazing property experiences, especially in these strange and unusual times we’re living in.


Kylie Davis:

Now, my guest in this episode is James Dearsley from Unissu. It’s a global platform that helps real estate agents procure the best technology. Now, James is an international expert on Prop Tech and is based in the UK, which as we all know is a few weeks ahead of Australia on the COVID-19 curve. I wanted to get his views on what the impact of the virus has been on the UK property market so far and how he sees it affecting Prop Tech globally. And this is a pretty far ranging interview and it goes a bit long. So sorry about that. We cover everything from how COVID-19 is making us re appreciate our homes and being home, the impact that it’s going to have on the funding of Prop Tech. And James has a fantastic vision for democratising access to education around technology. Here to share with us the future of Prop Tech in a post COVID-19 world and forced me to reveal some extraordinary secrets about my own past, James Dears ley, welcome to the Prop Tech podcast.


James Dearsley:

Thanks Kylie. Good to be here.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, thank you.


James Dearsley:

After everything that’s happened, we’ve finally made it even through a webinar.


Kylie Davis:

This is an indication of the new normal, isn’t it? Is that when you sent me the message to say that you had to cancel or postpone our second hookup that we tried to connect because you had to go shopping. It was completely legitimate, completely. And I read your message and just thought, “Fair enough.” That is truly a big deal right now. And I did the same thing this morning.


James Dearsley:

Well, I’ve never had to do that before in my life, but this one I’ve got to go, 6:00 AM in the morning. I had to go to the shop because by eight o’clock in the morning they’d be all sold out and it’ll all be gone. And there were a one in one out policy and I’m going to, I’ve got to be honest Kylie, I’ve gone shopping.


Kylie Davis:

No, no, no, completely understand. I did the same thing that today and I came home with them paper towel and it was like a major victory.


James Dearsley:

It’s mad, right?


Kylie Davis:

Like winning the lotto.


James Dearsley:

It’s a unique social experience. And you know, no matter what we’re about to talk about from a business perspective, these are fascinating times. And I’ll tell you what, I would love to be sort of a young teenager looking at psychology and sociology and all the impacts on society and how we’re changing and evolving and developing. And this is a unique experience, which we will look back on when we come out the other side and just look at and analyse human behaviour, which I think will be fascinating.


Kylie Davis:

Well, you know how you do those memes and all that social stuff that goes on at the moment where you look back at the 80’s or the 90’s or the 70’s, and you kind of joke about the hairstyles and all the kind of trends that were going on there. I just kind of throw forward and wonder how are we going to be looking back at this time in that way. It’s going to make-


James Dearsley:

Toilet roll is going to be in there for sure.


Kylie Davis:

It’s going to make some great memes. But anyway, let’s get back on track. So James, you are the CEO and founder of Unissu. Tell us about-


James Dearsley:

No, I’m not clever enough to be the CEO, just to be clear.


Kylie Davis:

Oh, okay.


James Dearsley:

But I’m a co founder and CCO of the business.


Kylie Davis:

Cool. Okay. And so what’s the Unissu elevator pitch?


James Dearsley:

Unissu, it’s a Prop Tech procurement platform. We recognise that there’s a serious need for the real estate industry to be procuring technology solutions. And obviously that is a vast market and we recognise there is no one really out there who had curated every single Prop Tech business around the world into one place and had the knowledge and the experience to enable the real estate industry to do that automatically and to find the right term solutions for their problem. If too many people get doors knocked saying we can solve your problems. Ultimately we’re the first people to actually say, no, let’s reverse that. Let’s have the property industry saying this is the problem we have, can you solve it? So we are the Prop Tech procurement platform.


Kylie Davis:

Very cool. And so where on earth does the name Unissu come from?


James Dearsley:

So, my co-founder and I were very hung over sitting in a café in the lovely South of France. And he will tell you that we just miraculously came up with a name because we were still probably slightly drunk. But in actual fact, in genuinely fact, we sat down and just said, look, what are we trying to do? And we listed a couple of sort of adjectives to pull it all together. And the first one we realised was that because no one had actually built a global database of Prop Tech companies to sort of start that journey into the procurement side, we needed to unite. I loaded different lists from all over the world and there were venture capitalists who had their lists of businesses. They were Prop Tech associations who are fledgling at the time, who had their little sort of unique local lists. And we were uniting all of them together.


James Dearsley:

And the double S and in the middle stands for being the single source of truth of Prop Tech data and information and research. Which again, was one of the things that we recognised there needed to be a global sort of a set up for somewhere to be the home for Prop Tech. And the U was probably the hardest bit of it all, which is when we were trying to unite all these different lists together and sort of build this database, there was no real uniformed structure of analysis. You couldn’t compare an Aussie Prop Tech with an English with an Argentinian Prop Tech. Because everybody analysed Prop Tech completely differently. So we sort of started with a definition of what we felt Prop Tech was. We were very transparent about what we felt was and what wasn’t. Coworking is not a Prop Tech business. Some people feel it is, it’s a technology enabled real estate business in our mind. And so that’s really what it is. So it’s uniting single source and uniformed.


Kylie Davis:

Well that’s really helpful. I might be able to spell it correctly now knowing that story.


James Dearsley:

We’re the double S not the double U.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, I am guilty. I’m looking at my notes and going, oh, okay. I better correct that. So look, let’s talk about Prop Tech in the time of COVID-19. Now you guys recently held the future connect webinar like online Ted Talk sort of events. And they were 100% digital. And for me, the first time that kind of COVID became real was when all of the events that were scheduled around that actually got cancelled.


James Dearsley:

Yeah. There’s a conspiracy theory that the Eddy and I invented COVID-19 just to prove that connected work.


Kylie Davis:

I’m pretty sure Netflix, Zoom and Facebook are in on it, especially Zoom.


James Dearsley:

Oh man, Zoom is crazy. And the multiples of revenue they’re trading at is nuts. But yeah, I would suggest in that sense. Connect is, it’s actually, it’s not really a Unissu thing. We’ve developed it to be deliberately non-Unissu, but it’s the collaboration between us and at the minute, 13 different partners around the world. We’re looking to increase that to be sort of 25 to 30 partners. As you say, we have keynote speakers like yourself, Kylie, going to film studios and recording keynote speeches in the very highest quality. Because we just a big believer that you have to be able to democratise the ideas and share those ideas so that somebody in the very southern tip of Chile or the very northern reaches of Finland has got the same access to the education and the content from this new wave of real estate models and technology that somebody in Paris or London or Sydney has got.


James Dearsley:

Because ultimately conferences are wonderful things. But I think they’re ultimately elitist in the sense of they’re very expensive. Even if you’re in Sydney for a Sydney conference, the prices you pay for a conference are prohibitively high. Especially for somebody who’s new into the industry and they’ve got to dedicate a lot of time and money to come and learn. And we just felt that it was fundamentally important that we democratise the access for those in the industry to access the very best speakers. But also at the same time, the likes of you, Kylie, who you know, I know how influential you are down under and yet probably somebody in Argentina has never necessarily heard of Kylie. And we wanted to make sure that the ideas of people like you really got shared with others to give you a platform.


James Dearsley:

So it’s really a… Connect is a collaborative platform for speakers and partners to get global attention for their thoughts and ideas and at the same time democratising the access. So it’s free for everybody. That is absolutely fundamental. People must learn from others, irrespective of where they are in the world. Because it’s only when those ideas are shared does everybody… And this is the key point, the next entrepreneur in the property of Prop Tech space should be from the very southern tip of Chile. They shouldn’t just be in an epicentre of New York because that’s where all the learning is coming from. In this world of digital access, anybody anywhere should be the next entrepreneur. And that’s what we want to try to facilitate really.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. And it was great fun to be part of it, although I’m still too scared to watch my video.


James Dearsley:

How did you find it? Because it’s har-


Kylie Davis:

I hated it. I love presenting on stage. I really struggle in front of a camera. I have a deeply traumatised teenage childhood story around being on camera, which I’ll tell you another day. Yeah. Well actually I’ll tell you now because at least then they’ll be wondering what’s going on. But when I was 12 years old, I loved singing like all young girls do and I wanted to learn to sing. And there was a show called Young Talent Time, which was like kids on stage or kids would sing at this variety hour thing like you used to do in this sort of the early eighties. And I-


James Dearsley:

Don’t give that away.


Kylie Davis:

No. Yeah, I’m just being careful there. And so what happened is that I went for an audition because they had a spot available and I got through the first round, I got through the second round, I got through the third round and they said I was going to do a screen test. And I was supremely confident. My mother was deeply unhappy with me for going. And it was a day in Melbourne when it would have been about 42 degrees and being 12 years old and being very untrendy, they said just wear casual clothes. Just your jeans or something, your jeans and a shirt. And I interpreted that very literally and went and borrowed a shirt of my mom’s that was very see-through and wore jeans. And so when I got on camera, I was hot and sweaty and saw myself on camera and completely froze and Danny [Manoge 00:11:37] got the gig. And that is a true story. So I did have a little moment, James, in front of the camera where I just said, Oh God, what am I doing? Anyway, we shall move it.


James Dearsley:

I expect to connect to be a lot of things, but not a sort of a therapy session.


Kylie Davis:

No, it wasn’t. It was this a reliving of the trauma, that was my therapy.


James Dearsley:

But let me just say one thing which I find fascinating. I know this from, a lot like you Kylie, sort of being on the stage and speaking. And when you’re on the stage speaking, you do get a sense of the audience and you do enjoy the audience interaction and you should be able to partake in sort of some banter too and fro with them. And then you get a sense of how they feel you’re doing as a speaker. So you’re getting instant feedback. And obviously there’s a vanity and an ego thing around that, of course. When you’re dealing with a camera, it’s a completely different sense because there’s an openness and a vulnerability that you have as a speaker because you don’t get that sense of instant feedback.


James Dearsley:

So when you’re on the stage, you can adapt and evolve what you’re talking about. When you’re doing to a camera, you can’t. So unless you know your material completely. Unless you’re so comfortable in your knowledge and expertise about that particular topic, you get undone and nobody else does it other than you. You are the undoing of your expertise. And that’s why it’s quite fascinating. And I think when connect 2.0 comes out in October with sort of hopefully 30 to 40 cities depending on the number of partners we get, I think we’ll see a massive ramp up in the style of the speeches and also in the quality of the actual speaking. Because people will now see how others have been and hopefully not many of them will have haunted memories of being a 12 year old.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. Let’s hope. Well, let’s hope I’m catastrophizing. Anyway, but look, let’s talk about COVID-19 and how you’re seeing it play out on the global Prop Tech market. What are the trends that you’re seeing? [crosstalk 00:13:39]


James Dearsley:

Oh, it’s really tough because we’re seeing, I’m speaking to a lot of PropTechs obviously as part of my day job. And I’m really seeing a mixed bag in a sense of you’ve got some Prop Tech businesses who’ve recently been funded and are therefore well capitalised and they’ve got product market fit. And as a consequence they’re scaling their business, they’re in scale up mode and they are incredibly happy that they’ve escaped to this catastrophe that we’re seeing in front of us. And so on the more mature side when they’re well-capitalised, I’m seeing a lot of relief and I’m also seeing a lot of pain. And that’s not restricted to a geography, a city, a technology. I’m, I’m seeing a lot of pain and worry and concern simply because in a lot of those cases, if a Prop Tech hasn’t quite got product market fit yet and they are still in that testing and iterating phase where they’re trying to work out… They’ve got a cool piece of tech, but they haven’t quite got that application yet. And so they’re in that whole testing mode.


James Dearsley:

There’s a whole other pain around that because suddenly not only is capital dried up, so if businesses are in the middle of that fundraising period, there’s just no capital for them. And if there is capital for them, there is a whole raft of very similar businesses in similar technologies going after that same bit of money. And the investors really in the driving seat there, if indeed they’re deploying capital at all. So you’ve got one side, you’ve got the investors who are really have got the keys to the volt and never more so than now. But on the other side, if you’ve got PropTechs who are actually quite well capitalised because they’ve run investment rounds but they’re still looking for product market fit, you’ve now got this slight quandary. And I say slight because on one hand you’ve got the real estate market that sort of ground to a halt a little bit. So if they’re trying to work on tests or run feasibility studies with real estate firms, the real estate firms just aren’t trading. And as a consequence, it’s very difficult for them to get those testing sessions out.


James Dearsley:

But the sort of the silver lining on that is a lot of these real estate people who perhaps some of these tech companies are looking to interact with or are in conversations with. There’s an element now of time. We are starting to see that some of the real estate professionals have now got more time than they’ve ever had because they’re at home. And they’re sitting there with much more efficient timescales and therefore they’re able to sort of give the time and the thought process to these companies. So if PropTechs have access to people, there is a lot more feedback available for them, which is another interesting side of it all.


James Dearsley:

But someone has said to me, what’s the difference between South American and Africa and Europe and surely there’s a difference. And, and the thing is there’s not. And this is the uniqueness of a situation. Every single one of us is in exactly the same situation. And that is so strange and so unique in the sense of all phone calls starts off with exactly the same thing. How are you getting on? Are you okay? Yeah, never has there been a more empathetic audience than there is at the minute.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, exactly. Let’s just pause there for a moment and here quick word from our sponsors.


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Kylie Davis:

So do you think the pandemic is helping or hurting the adoption of tech in the real estate sector?


James Dearsley:

Is it helping or hurting? I think ultimately it’s helping. Because, and this is where there’s a geographical difference, because if you look at, why did we start off as a business in the first place? We started because we realised there was going to be an adoption from every single real estate company in the world at some point using technology. In America, in Europe, the adoption was slightly faster there in the sort of the starting point of technological adoption. It’s a seven to 10 year process in terms of understanding mentality, understanding the competitive business models, understanding change and then ultimately implementing technology. But that was US and Europe is at the start of the journey and that’s where we felt Unissu was well placed so we could help them.


James Dearsley:

What we also realised was the likes of some sort of further flung economies were going to be slightly later to the game in the sense of their education of what technology meant. Take Africa for example and the many times I’ve been out there. Prop Tech to them it’s just making sure that they’ve got a bloody wifi signal that is constant and that they’ve got connections into their homes and we laugh. But that is their serious point. The innovations are fundamentally simple. It’s can I have a computer system to run my CRM on? It’s not what CRM, it’s what computer system do I use. So there was always a disparity between developing and developed worlds when it came to Prop Tech. What we’re now finding in current situation that we’ve got is everybody is grouped together. They are trying to find technological ways of doing their business. And it doesn’t matter that you’re based in Africa or America, the whole nature of connecting with people to try to facilitate business decisions. Everybody is doing the same thing. So all of a sudden this whole, the regions of the world are bunching together in trying to adopt technology like never before.


James Dearsley:

So I think it’s accelerated growth in developed worlds. Of course it has. And I think this whole resistance. And let me just explain that in the developed world, you’ve got the friction between intention and action around technology is a mentality thing, which we don’t need to do anything differently because we’re okay at the minute, thank you very much. So their mentality is shifted to Christ, if we’re going to do what we’ve always done, we’ve got to adopt technology. In the developing worlds, the mentality has always been there. We want to progress, we want to change, we want to fail and find a new way of doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. So in that case is actually what the pandemic is doing is hastening the adoption through to more infrastructure and sort of a physical aspect of the technology, not the mental aspect of the technology. So everybody’s bunched in at the same time. It’s a fascinating sort of melting pot of adoption, which we will see what happens when it all hopefully, and eventually it subsides, I think will be a totally different industry when it happens.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, I think you’re probably right. Do you think, now before you talked about they cashed up, the Prop Tech that have got good investments sitting behind them and those that are struggling, the kind of haves and the have’s not’s of the cash world, I guess. How do you think what’s going on now is going to affect the arc of Prop Tech and the arc of development? Because it was, the sector was going at such a cracking pace. Do you think that’s going to slow down or how do you think that’s going to shake out?


James Dearsley:

I think it’s going to be an inevitable slow down. Something again, I think we’ve discussed it before. We’ve always said there’s going to be a consolidation of the sector. In certain industries there has just been a crazy amount of sort of development around this. And then a lot of places people have been very critical of Prop Tech and saying it’s solving problems that simply don’t exist because you’ve got technologists who are coming into the property sector who don’t understand the property sector, but they’ve understood one small aspect of their own personal journey in, I don’t know, renting an office or selling a flat. And therefore they’re creating solutions to problems that don’t exist. So, we’ve often said that there’s going to be consolidation. I think we’re going to find that now.


James Dearsley:

I think there’s going to be an awful lot of failure and not necessarily because their business model has failed, but just because they’ve run out of capital and it’s gone and they don’t get the opportunity to explore their ideas. It’s going to be a shame. And I think that the traditional real estate market should be a little bit upset about that. And I do think there is no better time for the traditional real estate market to take a look at the arc as you put it. Look what’s happening beforehand to realise that ultimately it’s not going to change the adoption and there’s no better time than now for the traditional markets to start looking at the arc within the arc as it were. To look at the different technologies and the different models that were being created to ask yourself the question, we’ve been screwed by COVID-19. The way that we operate our business has been completely messed up. So how are we going to adopt a technology or a methodology or a business model that will safeguard us in the future to sort of, let’s call it, flatten the arc as we’re sort of flattening the COVID-19 spread. To sort of stop that sort of crash as it were.


Kylie Davis:

Do you think in the real estate space that this was the crisis we needed to have to get more traditional real estate operators to embrace technology? I mean, it is virtually impossible right now in Australia to conduct a real estate business if you have to only be in your office with other people sitting on a legacy system.


James Dearsley:

Oh yeah. Come on and look, please tell me that story we did just before, because this is all getting a bit serious [crosstalk 00:24:18] and that fascinating example. Because you know the answer to this and that example you gave about the legacy systems, was a fascinating.


Kylie Davis:

yeah. Well what a handful of friends and I in the tech space all took a look at what our platforms were doing in terms of where our users were using us from. And the integrations that we were being asked to do through CRMs and things like that. And we came up with a number that was as good as we could get, which was at about 65% of our users were running us off desktop platforms. And in fact, a good proportion of those were running us separately to CRMs or had like minimal integration because their CRMs wouldn’t integrate.


Kylie Davis:

So what we see in that is that the industry has… And when you compared that to market share of some of the legacy CRMs, because they had dominated for a long time, you could see that the majority of the industry is using quite old technology to do it’s day to day work. And a little side note, which we didn’t get to talk about is that actually the biggest CRM in the space for quite a while has actually just been bought by one of the more modern, newest ones and is now being going to be cannibalised to upgrade everybody that’s on that system. So I think we will see stronger adoption generally into cloud based stuff. But, yeah.


James Dearsley:

Well maybe that’s the answer. Which is what we’re going to see as a stepping stone. Do I think this is the answer to absolute mass adoption and acceptance of technology use? No, not in a million years. Is it going to be a stepping stone into propelling it forward? Yes. Things that people understand are going to be now accelerated. So take the growth of, I don’t know, the easiest one that comes to mind is 360 degree virtual viewing platforms. There is a raft of how do we implement this in our business today because otherwise we’re going to fail. And so there is a need and a must that they have to sort of implement that. And that’s commercial retail and resi have adopted that very quickly. So that’s your first stone, which is there is a need for that right now.


James Dearsley:

And I think that will continue because they will… That resistance between the intention and the action, which I keep on coming back to, is going to be absolutely gone. Do I need to be physically in a building to show somebody around? Absolutely. You don’t necessarily. And and my point has always been there’s a fundamentally inefficiency within our real estate industry. And some things like that are such a no brainer because there’s little or no cost involved. It’s good for both sides. It’s a very efficient process of, and I don’t think the buying or leasing of buildings will necessarily happen because of a virtual [inaudible 00:27:21]. But I do think the process of speeding up those that are definite no’s will be wheedled out, which will save on all time for everybody to go and view the houses they want or definitely go and view the offices they want. It means that we’re all more efficient, both from the real estate side and also on the client side.


James Dearsley:

So that’s the first stepping stone. The second stepping stone, you mentioned CRMs. Again, absolutely. These legacy systems which aren’t set up for a new way of working. There’s going to be a process before the widespread adoption, which is going to be, okay, we need to take a long, hard look at our systems and work out how we improve them. So the real estate industry is going to have to review this period of time with an absolute fine tooth comb to work out what can we do better because the market is going to change. And then the adoption of certain systems will be far faster. Will that be legacy systems or not? I don’t know.


James Dearsley:

There’s a lot of trust and what we’re seeing, especially from a procurement side is, when you’ve got larger real estate firms looking to procure technology solutions, often they look for established businesses which have got good cashflow which you’ve got good systems which can help them and support them. And they sort of veer away from more growth or agile based businesses. And we’re quite lucky to have something called a uni score, which allows us to sort of give a community driven metric on how well adopted and how innovative a certain solution is. Which allows us to guide the real estate companies to say this is an established business or this is a growth stage business. And what I think we might find is we might find the risk profiling from the larger real estate companies dropping slightly out of that more, we must have an established business, to actually, they probably don’t suit our way of working now so let’s look at slightly newer, more growth businesses or you know, very well adopted and innovative businesses that we can take in.


James Dearsley:

So I think we’ll, we’ll move that sort of CRM needle will be a little bit more, businesses will take a bit more of a risk profiling. But then there’s more sort of deep the tech. Which I do think will still take time, the AI’s of this world. Because they are not frontline real estate services. They are going to be needing of a lot more understanding, lot more education before they start getting adopted in use cases. So it will speed up adoption, but it won’t be everybody at the same time. It will be a stepping stone over the next couple of years, but it will definitely speed up.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, it won’t be mono, the speed that it goes out. That’s going to depend what sort of sector you’re in. So I reckon the UK is probably about three to four weeks ahead of Australia in terms of COVID-19 issues. How’s the real estate market affected? Has it been affected in the UK? What have we got to look forward to? She says laughing from stress.


James Dearsley:

Well, I mean, I can’t give you the absolute detail simply because I’m not on the front line anymore. If I’m brutally honest, Kylie, I’m quite pleased I’m not. I think one of the things that we’re definitely seeing is that the portals are being absolutely slammed-


Kylie Davis:

[crosstalk 00:30:48]


James Dearsley:

… from a residential side. Let’s, let’s focus on that. Well, in terms of volume, but actually well, volume in which way?


Kylie Davis:

Transaction volume.


James Dearsley:

Yeah. Okay. So from transaction volume, yes. Funny enough, what I would call property porn is huge at the minute. People are stuck inside and they want to look at some different properties. And so the feedback we’re getting, and this isn’t just UK but European wide is viewing figures of properties is doing well and holding up. And in a lot of cases they’re the sort of the thought, and there’s no basis of this, is that people stuck in homes are now in a position to really analyse what they want from their home. And it’s such a bizarre thing, but for once all the families are in one place and, oh God, this is actually a bit small for us, isn’t it? Or I’d love to live somewhere bigger or with a garden because just… What can I do? I’ve got nothing. I can’t-


Kylie Davis:

That’s right. I need vegetables to grow my own vegetables for the next pandemic.


James Dearsley:

But that’s the irony of this situation. Which is, it’s making people and forcing people to look at their perspectives and say, well what do I need? So there is an aspect from the portal side, but you’re saying we definitely need to reflect on where we’re going. So I think they’re quite happy. But there is a significant pushback from the real estate industry to portals, which ultimately, let’s be honest, portals are a little bit like crack cocaine for the real estate industry on the resi side. Which is they don’t want to have to be dependent on the portals, but they are. And you know what? Some of the portals have made huge mistakes over here. Is that they are, initially they didn’t really do anything to help out their agents. They just kept on with payments. They might’ve set up the third payment schemes which got absolutely slammed.


James Dearsley:

And so we started to have a little bit of a portal wall in the UK in this time in particular. Where the sort of the second and the third place portal made a very big run on the first place. One by saying, look, we’re just not going to charge you for extra time or we’re going to give you a 30% discount for X period of time. And so there’s been a really interesting dynamic sort of making this a little bit shorter than me, just waffling on about it. In terms of the agents pushing back to the portals and just saying, “You know what? We don’t need you. You’re not going to give us anything at the minute because nobody’s buying. We’re just cutting all of our subscriptions.”


Kylie Davis:

Right.


James Dearsley:

So there’s an interesting move there for sure.


Kylie Davis:

So the UK portal business model is the advertising slash listing subscription model. It’s not the lead generation model like the US have.


James Dearsley:

It’s a mixture really. There’s so many convoluted ways of sort of working on the subscription modelling. But you know, one thing is for sure every single year without fail, the pricing for all portal subscriptions for members to list a number of properties. And there are other ancillary ways of lead generation and advertising and all this sort of stuff. Which there’s no one size fits all in our portal market. But the only thing that is a definite constant is prices keep on going up every single year, which is why it’s like heroin. The agents cannot afford to leave. But they’re now at the point of saying this is the protagonist for us to ask questions. They still won’t leave because at the minute there isn’t necessarily a viable alternative. But I think the traditional real estate market is now in that position where they are taking time to reflect in their business models and saying, “What do we need to change to make ourselves a viable business? Because at the minute we’re not.”


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, no look, I suspect… Well I can see similar rumblings happening back here as well. Let’s just pause there for a moment and hear a quick word from our sponsors.


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Kylie Davis:

So let’s talk about funding. We sorta touched on it a little bit before. How do you think the pandemic and what’s going on now is going to affect VC funding for Prop Tech?


James Dearsley:

There’s no question it’s going to drop. I think, let me just say, I think there’s a real difference here between VC funding and other forms like angel funding and family offices and all that sort of stuff. Because I think the VCs quite right, everybody has got their own personal agenda at this time. And this is where we’re all in this together. So general VCs, which are built on the premise of you’re playing with other people’s money, it doesn’t mean… I could be speaking out of turn here. It doesn’t mean as much to them to deploy other people’s capital. I think they’re going to be focusing on other things.


Kylie Davis:

[crosstalk 00:36:31]


James Dearsley:

We’re also going to see… Oh, totally. And therefore they’re going to look after themselves for a bit. And secondly, I think those who are investing in the market, I’m hearing horror stories of desperate founders of tech businesses having valuations absolutely slashed because quite simply they are more desperate and the investors are a just dispassionate bunch.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah.


James Dearsley:

So I think we’re really starting to see the true capitalist nature of VC funding in a minute. It’s a true sign. I think that unless you’re a business that is generating revenue, unless you are a business that has generated product market fit, you are going to struggle for a considerable amount of time. And it’s not just because you’re pre-revenue. But I think it’s also the fact that you are coming into a time where so many people will be looking to raise money. But the supply and demand challenges, let alone anything else, are going to be completely sort of in a very sort of situation which the odds are against you as a raising business. And I think on a family office and an angel side, I don’t think that’s going to change too much.


James Dearsley:

I think there has been and there will be a small blip which is, oh God, this has happened. And when those angels and the people whose it’s actually their money that they’re deploying, I think that there’s going to be this sort of month blip while they get used to the new normal. They then realise that this is now how it is and they’re in a better position to deploy their own capital. So I don’t think that’s going to change significantly is my view. And also may I say corporate money, the corporate VC side I think is stuck somewhere in between the two. Where they want to invest in companies which will impact their business and they will probably be a little bit later to deploying capital and they might have to make a slightly bigger use case for why it’s going to impact their business. But like we’ve already discussed, the real estate industry needs to change. There’s no better time to consider it now. So there’s a story of three different groups I think.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. What do you think is going to happen in the commercial space? Do you think this whole working from home is going to lead us all to question why in God’s name we all spend so much time on public transport or in cars trying to turn up to an office for a set number of hours a week? And what’s that going to do to-


James Dearsley:

I can’t call this one. I can’t call it.


Kylie Davis:

Or not wait to get back to work so we can get away from our children.


James Dearsley:

But you laugh, but I think that’s quite serious.


Kylie Davis:

I know.


James Dearsley:

I do genuinely think that, and that’s why I can’t really call it. Because the sort of the thought leader in me says this is absolutely what everybody was looking for to justify why flexible working was needed.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah.


James Dearsley:

So again, I don’t think we’re going to see a one size fits all. I think we’re going to find some people want to and can work from home. I think we’re going to find some people who genuinely, even if they haven’t got kids or parents at home who are going to nag them, are going to struggle with the work environment in their home. They just haven’t got that discipline to do it. And I think that’s going to struggle. And I do genuinely think there’s a particular age gap, probably between the ages, I don’t know, 25 and 55 who just can’t do it.


James Dearsley:

Because we’re all assuming, and this is the other assumption that people are making, that people think that they’re well set up to work from home.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah.


James Dearsley:

They’re probably not going to be because they may not have home computers they can work off of. They may, in the event of them having a family, they just haven’t got a room to spare to work outside of their family environment. So there is a real societal thing here, not just on a business level. Are they set up to work from home? Can they work from home with family around them all the time? So I don’t, I can’t call this one. What I do think is it’s going to shake it all up. What I do think is the coworking spaces in the short term are going to really struggle. We’ve already started to see that. Re-work or renegotiating their leases, which the stock market has always said will be a critical point.


James Dearsley:

If re-work have to renegotiate leases, they’re screwed. So I do think there’s going to be a short term struggle for coworking. I think longterm it’s more viable. The flexible aspect of working I think is going to be more viable. And let’s flip this a little bit on its head in terms of how is this going to impact the work life balance. One of the things that I’m definitely seeing and I’m fascinated to see it, is not only are we starting to see, and I’m sure you see it as well on LinkedIn in particular. I must have seen hundreds if not thousands of people posting pictures of matrix’s of people on webinars.


Kylie Davis:

Yes.


James Dearsley:

Almost sort of saying how proud they are to be able to host meetings with 20 people. So that’s a passing fad in my view. But it does show that a lots of people who are not technology enabled beforehand are now becoming technology enabled. So they’re showing that they can work from home or have a more flexible work life balance and it works. But the other aspect of this, which I’m finding fascinating, not only are we becoming more technology enabled, but we’re also becoming more traditionally enabled. In so many people that I’m seeing on my more personal network sort of baking bread and making pasta. And doing things that they’ve never done before. DIY, I think we’re up-skilling both in technology but also in tradition, which is something I wholeheartedly think will improve our work life balance.


Kylie Davis:

I don’t think there’s a safe banana in Australia at the moment. The risk of every banana in the country being turned into banana bread. Everyone’s baking like buggery. I think you do it for comfort too, don’t you?


James Dearsley:

But that’s great though.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah.


James Dearsley:

Yeah, too right. We do it to pass… In the terms of if you’re a parent, we do it to pass that knowledge and experience to our children and they will remember this time.


Kylie Davis:

Oh yeah.


James Dearsley:

There is no way about it. And we are in a time now where society can really bring back what it had and not just get used to the status quo of everybody doing everything for you. We’re having to become self-sustainable again. Again, maybe for the first time. And I think in terms of looking at this from a business commercial perspective, it’s going to change things. We will become more flexible. We’ll become more adaptable as a society to understanding how work is not the defining point of we have to be there at nine and we have to leave at five or six or whatever you leave. But we’re also going to find that adaptability within our home lives and our family lives, which will change.


James Dearsley:

And I think there’ll be an increased importance on, not just a screen time all the time, but cooking as a family and sitting down as a family. Because I hope, and this is a rather idealistic notion that some, most families have started to enjoy each other’s company again.


Kylie Davis:

[crosstalk 00:43:46]


James Dearsley:

Because they’ve got to that point, which we always try encouraging our kids, which is let the kids be bored for a period of time because creativity is a result of that. And that I hope is what’s happening as a family, which is they get so bored of each other, they get so bored of fighting, of squabbling that actually you get back to playing board games and you get back to the baking and get back to eating as a family. And not just sitting in front of the black mirror of a screen in front of us and just getting absorbed by it. So there’s an idealistic notion to that, but there’s also quite a, hopefully, a realistic output that we will have as a society.


Kylie Davis:

And I think what’s going on at the moment too is this return to the idea of the safety of home, isn’t it too? And how home is where the heart is. And that when the world is going crazy, you need to be home or be with the people that you love and try and cocoon yourself against it rather than where our lives were going, which was constantly external out all the time. Yeah, interesting. So what do you reckon the next… Well, what does the next five days hold for Prop Tech or the real estate industry, but what do you reckon the next five years, what’s on the horizon once getting through this? What do you think is on the horizon?


James Dearsley:

I think it’s a very simple answer. I think it’s there won’t be such a thing as Prop Tech. Really what we should all be doing and you guys with the association in Australia we should be getting to a point where Prop Tech isn’t a thing. It’s just a more technology enabled real estate business.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah.


James Dearsley:

And technology is an integral part of that and really we should be looking for a seamless integration of technology and work practises and methodologies. It’s just a more efficient property business. That’s it.


Kylie Davis:

It’s the end of us and them.


James Dearsley:

Totally. Well, I think this is beginning to open up that opportunity that there isn’t a them and us. It is a, we’re all in this together and we’ll try to help each other. Christ I’m idealistic. It’s terrible, isn’t it? But yeah. There shouldn’t be such a distinction between that. We need to realise that this is digital transformation. And that we’ve got different minds trying to save the same problems. Some will fail, some will work, but this is the time for the traditional industry simply to try to understand these new business models because that will be a part of their working life and the over the next five years for sure.


Kylie Davis:

Absolutely. And so what does the future hold for Unissu?


James Dearsley:

Oh, God knows. Who knows what happens? But I suppose in some sense, let’s use a bit of marketing speak here. On the very top of the funnel for us we want to try and educate every single property professional around the world with our connect series. Working in collaboration with people from all over the world to record the very best educative content that will try and ensure that every single real estate professional around the world watches at least one of our videos. Because if they are more engaged and more educated in the sector, then it’s going to help them. So I think top of the funnel, it’s about education, bottom of funnel for us, it’s very much about helping every single property company around the world procure the right solution for them.


James Dearsley:

And rather than making a mistake, an expensive mistake in some cases, and just jump on the bandwagon of Prop Tech and because somebody is knocking on their door, they adopt their solution. We want to make sure that we can help them with their particular problem to find the exact solution for them. So they’re sort of the top level thoughts for me in terms of what can Unissu do for the industry and what can we do for partners all around the world? Personally, I just hope I can pay my bills next month.


Kylie Davis:

Yes. I-


James Dearsley:

It’s as simple as that.


Kylie Davis:

It’s end of quarter here in Australia and it’s the end of a tax quarter so I made sure I paid everything today and sucked it in and went, okay, I’m going to get it all done. And then made sure the mortgages were covered and felt good after it. And also said a little prayer to the money God, that it happens again next month. But James, so-


James Dearsley:

Oh man, I need a money God. That’d be great. I want one of them. We have this money tree in our society at the minute. With all the… Some of the politicians and political parties managing-


Kylie Davis:

Giving it a good shake.


James Dearsley:

… this magic money from [inaudible 00:48:23]. Oh man. And I tell you what though Kylie. It worries me because the inevitable is the fact that if they can pay out these trillions of dollars, which is going to happen and bail out everybody, we’re in for a tough time. But us technologists need to realise that it’s genuinely during recessions that alternatives to the status quo are adopted. So this is the time for technology to be the winner, I think.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:48:47].


James Dearsley:

I hope.


Kylie Davis:

Well, James, it’s been a fantastic conversation. Thank you so much. We’ve been going for nearly an hour now, so I’m going to wrap it up.


James Dearsley:

We are going to bore the people on your podcast rigid.


Kylie Davis:

No, I’m sure they’ve found it fascinating. Thank you so much. And hopefully when all of this is over, we’ll see you back in Australia for a beer.


James Dearsley:

Oh man. I want to, I want to be out in September again.


Kylie Davis:

So that was James Dearsley co-founder of Unissu, and I really loved having that conversation with him. It really cheered me up after a couple of absolutely insane days. Now James has made some great observations about the way Prop Tech is likely to be affected by the virus and how it’s going to change funding and impact, especially on startups. But I especially loved his observations around how COVID-19 is changing our appreciation of home and how it’s helping us to reconnect to what’s important. And I really love his vision to democratise sharing information around Prop Tech. And personally, I love taking part in connect even if it did traumatise me slightly. So check out the connect presentations. The links are included in the show notes below.


Kylie Davis:

Now, if you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Prop Tech podcast, I would love you to tell your friends or drop me a line either via email, LinkedIn, or on my Facebook page. You can follow the podcast on Spotify, Google podcasts, and Anchor, and Apple iTunes, and I think a few other spots too. I’d like to thank my audio support, Charlie Hollands and the fabulous [Deal Escudero 00:50:14] and our sponsors Smidge Wines, proud to be the official wine of Australian Prop Tech. And HomePrezzo, turning your data into amazing marketing content, which has never been more important in these days of social isolation. So thanks everyone so much. Until next week, stay safe and keep on PropTeching.