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Bricks + Agent – Making Property Maintenance Manageable [Transcript]

Kylie Davis:

Hey there. Welcome to the PropTech Podcast. It’s Kylie Davis here. 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 create a sense of community between the innovators and real estate agents. Sharing our stories is a great way to do that especially in these crazy times we find ourselves in. Now, the aim of each episode is to introduce listeners to PropTech 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.


Kylie Davis:

My guest in this episode is Rafael Niesten from Bricks and Agent. This is an episode specially for the property managers. So shout out, girls, Bricks and Agent is a platform that specialises in making it easy for property managers to organise maintenance. Now Bricks and Agent is special in a couple of ways. First of all, it’s integrated already into most of the big property management platforms out there.


Kylie Davis:

So it’s a feature that’s sitting inside the software that you’re already familiar with and that you’re already using, it’s designed to save you thousands of hours that we know property managers lose each year inside that email tsunami, it stops the need for you to run everything through your email or through phone calls because it has pushed notifications telling you what needs attention and what has been actioned. But the most astonishing thing of all, is that Bricks and Agent is absolutely free for property managers to use because their business model is based on being a marketplace for trades and services.


Kylie Davis:

So I hope there wasn’t too many spoilers in that. I know you’ve probably got lots more questions. Here to tell us all about it, Ralph Neston. Welcome to the PropTech podcast.


Rafael Niesten:

Thank you for having me, Kylie. Good to be here.


Kylie Davis:

No, no worries at all. So look, I’m really curious to hear the Bricks and Agent elevator pitch busted out. I know you’ve had lots of practise.


Rafael Niesten:

I only said it a few million times. So basically, we developed a platform which is open API-based. We look after the entire maintenance and inspection workflow now, with regards to property managers, tradespeople, tenants and owners. So basically, everyone works on our platform to get maintenance and inspection tasks done really quickly, simply and easily.


Kylie Davis:

Fantastic. So is it commercial, residential or both? Or what’s the …?


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah, we look after both. So we have clients that are commercial, and clients that are residential, but residential is the sweet spot. A lot of the residential applications lack the sort of workflow that comes with maintenance. Some of the larger, more savvy, commercial operators do have a large tranche of tools that they can use. They may not be as good as what we’ve created, but at least they’ve got some structure and process that they utilise as well.


Kylie Davis:

Cool. So what are the specific problems that Bricks and Agent brings solves like, why do we need a platform to help us manage maintenance?


Rafael Niesten:

Well, I suppose at the end of the day, it’s sort of something that most people don’t thing too highly off, it’s just something that they assume will get done. But a property manager, as you well know now, they basically have more properties than ever that they manage with the pressure, downward pressure on fees. So what tends to happen is there’s around 20 touch points per maintenance request. So if you can multiply that by a hundred properties that you manage and on average, there’s 2.7 maintenance requests, where you end up with about 5400 touch points.


Kylie Davis:

Oh god.


Rafael Niesten:

Without a system to help you, it’s a very difficult task. So people, and if you look on the internet, you’ll see mainly negative reviews with regards to maintenance. It’s because it’s one of 45 things on every property manager has to do. But it can sometimes take up to 30 to 60% of their day, depending on the portfolio that they’ve got to manage. So it’s increasingly impossible for them to do. What seems to be very simple often becomes quite complex. So for example, your toilet is blocked. You send someone, they fix it, unblock the toilet.


Rafael Niesten:

The next day, it becomes blocked again. You send another tradesperson. Tradesperson puts a camera down and says the sewers collapse. The owner then says, “I don’t have $6,000 to pay for a sewer.” So you start adding well more than 20 touch points on a work say example, that then turns into a very complex process. So it’s very difficult for a property manager to manage that volume of properties and the level of maintenance because everyone is using a disjointed system, owner on one thing, trade is on another system. Then it’s maybe on a different system the property manager might notice. So there’s a lack of coordination there.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. I guess into that lack of coordination steps, both email and the property manager themselves and they become that kind of bottleneck for all of that communication.


Rafael Niesten:

A property manager once summed it up quite nicely. She said maintenance figure is like a glass of water. She has a sip, puts it back down and the glass is full again. So she never gets to the end of what she needs to do with maintenance. I think that’s a pretty accurate description with regards to maintenance as such.


Kylie Davis:

It’s really interesting, isn’t it? We’ve had both Sarah Bell and Patrick from Realm Property, who sort of do a lot of that ARN. Patrick had done some research around property managers. Just the volume of emails that they’re dealing with on a yearly basis and phone calls and stuff is phenomenal. If it’s 20 touch points in every property maintenance requests, no wonder, no wonder. So how big a problem is it not just in terms of volume of work, but is there a dollar size to it as well? Is it a problem that needs solving?


Rafael Niesten:

Well, I think on average, there’s about $70 billion worth of maintenance tasks that get placed in the economy every year, just in Australia alone. I think it’s about 140 million jobs. So as you can appreciate, that’s a pretty sizable number. Given that the bulk of properties are managed by property managers rather than self managed owners or owner occupiers, there’s a huge number of that that would be applicable to the property management space.


Rafael Niesten:

It’s just such a big, big dollar spend. Because unfortunately, when you build a property, things go wrong. The older the property gets, the worse it becomes. Then you’ve got delineation between, is it residential property? Is it the Stratus problem? There’s all these different facets that come into it. Iron right maintenance is pretty much a heterogenous all around the world, from what we’ve seen, where people have a problem and they need to have it resolved. So it’s a huge, huge problem that needs to be solved. That’s the reason we entered this space.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. A toilet that needs to be unblocked in Singapore is pretty much the same as a toilet that needs to be unblocked in Sydney, even if the water does go around in a different way.


Rafael Niesten:

Correct. It’s all pretty much a matter of much-ness. Things get built and things break. We see across our portfolio some of the older dwellings, we see a much higher rate of maintenance than we do with some of the newer dwellings. We also can potentially see higher rates of new apartment builds, where things haven’t been brilliantly from the first day around and things essentially become problematic.


Kylie Davis:

Interesting. So tell us a little bit about how the platform actually works. Because you mentioned before that it was an open API. But what does that mean? Why do I care?


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah, cool. I mean, as a property manager, you probably don’t care except that we basically have the tools to embed into any property management CRM. So our ultimate philosophy in the world is a single sign on deeply embedded solution that runs as the default maintenance package. We’ve done that with one integration to date. Others, we’re having discussions on. But essentially, what that means is you get all of the tools smarts, and all of the workflows that we put together. Essentially, they embed into your property management CRM. So you’re logging into one system, you’ve got one set of mobile apps, your tenants and owners have one set of mobile apps headquarters rather than having to log into multiple different places. Because in 2020, people are looking for a single solution rather than having you know 15 solutions that run their business visits. Any property management, the tenure of a property manager is around nine months from start to finish. So if you’ve got five or six or 10 systems that you’re running to train someone, a new system becomes quite problematic and quite difficult.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. So who are you integrated with?


Rafael Niesten:

We’ve integrated with all of the leading property management CRMs in the marketplace. So the likes of Brockends, Property Meets, Palace Consoles, etc. We’ve also integrated with Vault who I was on your programme recently.


Kylie Davis:

Couple of weeks ago. Yep.


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah. So we sort of integrated with all sorts of different platforms, and some are quite deep. Others have just added integration. We work towards building a more deeper integration. But it’s, in our view, all the integrations work really well. But if we can have that single sign on deeply embedded solution worked really well for property managers, and it’s much higher, received much, much more regarded than if it’s just sitting outside.


Kylie Davis:

Cool. So I love that you don’t have to decide if you want to go with you guys or a different. That whoever you’re using as a CRM right now, you can probably integrate with you guys to streamline that workflow, you don’t have to … It’s not some big, enormous emotional drama of having to change a CRM.


Rafael Niesten:

No. We’ve made it as simplistic as possible. We sync all the data that’s required. We push that data that is required back into the CRM. So we’ve made it very, very simple and very easy. All of the heavy lifting, and all of the stuff that happens in the background is better for your benefit and positivity on of the platform comes from.


Kylie Davis:

So just talk me through how it works. So since I’m with my CRM, what does it let me do that’s faster and better than sending emails?


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah, well, basically, everything happens inside the platform. So tenants can post a maintenance request via web portal or via using their mobile app. We’re also doing things with boxes which seems to be the flavour of the minute with maintenance, but also allowing people that may not have the technology to use their phone and email or send SMS-es. It’s exactly the same process as we would by posting it. So the first step I suppose is it removes the entire ability for a tenant to have to email or call a property manager.


Rafael Niesten:

They can quickly take the steps that they have or using one of those methods I spoke of before. Within 60 seconds, the maintenance request is logged. Now the property manager then gets that maintenance request, they review it, they can send it for owner approval, they can reject it, they can edit it. They can do whatever they need to do with that specific request. Once they’re happy, they can send that out to a trades person, they can send it out for quotes. They can use our market to find trades that will work in the area to send those quotes to, or they can just simply issue a direct work order to that trade. The trade will then use our tools, the mobile app to then check in check out all of the functionality that they need to run their business including integration with zero and mile.


Rafael Niesten:

Once they complete the task, that will then go back to the property manager for review. They can make sure they’re happy. Tenant and the property manager can leave feedback, and then that invoice will transfer seamlessly across to trust accounting. So essentially, it runs the entire maintenance workflow. That’s obviously a very simple view of it. There’s literally hundreds, if not thousands of workflows that go through our platform to make it as automated and seamless as possible.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. So it’s basically pushing notifications and things that have been done as opposed to a property manager needing to ring up and check. Did that get done? Have you done that? Can you send me a photo? I haven’t-


Rafael Niesten:

We’ve automated a lot of it as well. We built a rules engine so that they can set certain rules. If the rules are breached, then certain actions will happen so that they don’t need to physically be checking these things every single day. Essentially, the engine will do that heavy lifting for them.


Kylie Davis:

So you mentioned two things there about trading is that I wanted to dive a bit deeper on. What are the benefits to the tradees to being involved in a platform like this? I mean, because if there’s an industry that is worse than real estate agents or property managers that adopting technology, it is the building and construction and maintenance industry, right? So the only thing more painful than selling a house is building a house or renovating a house. You said that it’s all in one easy platform for them, but but why would they want to get involved in it? How does it make their lives easier?


Rafael Niesten:

As we roll this out to more and more property management offices, they get a few inherent benefits with utilising our technology. Firstly, there’s no cost to them ongoing so they can use the technology we’ve built. So as I said, there’s GPS tracking. There’s check-in, there’s check-out. There’s videos before and after, there’s customer see pictures. There’s all the integrations with accounting platforms, etc. But they also have the ability to run their business using our platform as well. So they can enter jobs that they get from other sources that aren’t related to our platform into our platform’s product.


Rafael Niesten:

We’ve built things like a dispatch board and a calendar system. So you can schedule your workforce in our platform so they don’t have to leave. One of the other really big benefits is we have hundreds of thousands of tenants and owners in our database at the moment. Those tenants and owners can also use our app to post jobs or things that they need around the house, for example, cleaning, or gardening or something that’s not related to the property manager,


Rafael Niesten:

They can use the same trusted traits that a property manager uses to service that portfolio. So it’s a really big benefit for the trades people because it’s essentially another flow of work, not only from the owners and tenants, but also as we add more offices on, if they’re in an area and an office is looking for a trades person, they can find that specific trades person in our database and contract with them.


Kylie Davis:

So you can add your own tradees in that you’ve worked with for a long time or that you trust explicitly. You can allocate work directly to them or you can put it out to tender kind of, integrate them.


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah, exactly. You can find someone, for example, that’s working in your local area. You can see how many jobs they’ve completed, what their feedback is. You can add them to your stable of trades, if you wish as well. So our encouragement is that the more work that people do on the platform, the better their profile looks, the more work that they complete, the more opportunity that they’ve got to make more business that they would otherwise never, ever see.


Kylie Davis:

Let’s just pause there for a moment and hear a quick word from our sponsors.


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Kylie Davis:

And so look, I just want to back up on something you said before too. So you said there’s no cost to property managers to adopt, to integrate the platform, that it’s free for them to use. So they can completely streamline and change how they’re managing their maintenance inside the existing CRM that they’ve got. There’s no charge to them.


Rafael Niesten:

True.


Kylie Davis:

All right.


Rafael Niesten:

That’s correct.


Kylie Davis:

So what are the key objections that you get, Raph? When? When people say, “Oh, no, I think it’s not for me?” Why would anyone say that?


Rafael Niesten:

It’s very difficult. Look, we sort of looked at the scenario, we saw that the pressure that property managers rammed up in terms of maintaining costs, etc., we didn’t want to be another cost centre for them. That’s why we opted to not go down that path with regards to charging them. Our charging model is essentially quite simplistic. It’s transactional based, and it’s to the trade, to the service provider. But because we’re giving them all of those extras and all of the tools that they have, or that they don’t have now to run their business, it’s a cost that’s minimal for them. It’s only if and when they complete we’re using our platform from leads that have been generated from our platform. So essentially, that’s the only mechanism by which we charge. They can use it for whatever purpose they so see fit.


Kylie Davis:

Cool. You are global, aren’t you? You’re in more than one, you’re more than just stores. Where are you?


Rafael Niesten:

We won a very big contract in the UK. So there’s a group there called Places for People. They manage 210,000 properties across the UK. So we have them as a customer, we’re very thankful to have them. They’re a great place for us to have a UK operation, one of the largest property management companies in the region. We’re also in Singapore as well, and New Zealand. That’s why we actual perfect it here in Australia.


Kylie Davis:

Oh, no, no, don’t say that.


Rafael Niesten:

We’re all friends, Australia and New Zealand, we’re all mates.


Kylie Davis:

Until we start importing virus to each other. Yep. Then it all gets nasty.


Rafael Niesten:

Exactly. Right. Yeah. But yeah, I suppose at the end of the day, we always set up with a global focus. As we touched on earlier, maintenance is a global issue. It’s the same everywhere. It’s just slight differences and nuances in relation to the way things are done. For example, in Singapore, the first $200 of a trades person has to be paid by a tenant on average. That obviously isn’t the case in Australia. So there’s little nuances and quirks in different markets that we’re in. But by and right, it’s the same underlying core principle that needs to be locked in that bid for one something fixed.


Kylie Davis:

You’re in Singapore at the moment, aren’t you? Tell us a little bit. Tell us how you got ended up there.


Rafael Niesten:

I’m having a fun time in Singapore, it was a great time to come up for one of the Austrade landing pads. So Bricks and Agent, we were fortunate enough to get into Australian government landing pad where they basically opened up the region to you by using the badge of government. Just the timing with the whole COVID-19 situation wasn’t ideal. I’m still here because the borders are closed pretty much everywhere around the world. So I’m hanging out in Singapore, but it doesn’t matter. I can work from anywhere in the world. Business still keeps going, which is the luxury of a tech platform. You can pretty much run from anywhere you’ve got a laptop and an internet connection.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, no. Well, and I hope your family are all okay and safe back home and not missing you too much.


Rafael Niesten:

We’ll be fine. I have some tights to-


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. I hope your wife’s talking to you when you get home.


Rafael Niesten:

Which one?


Kylie Davis:

I don’t want to go there. So there’s a little bit of competition going on in this space though around maintenance platforms. Who do you see are your main competition and how do you compare?


Rafael Niesten:

Well, look, I suppose this there was the version one players, the people that came out four, five years ago, with a product that served the purpose for version one. I suppose our biggest review of the market, I suppose, is that people went for a property manager approach. They didn’t really consider the other stakeholders. So the tenants and owners or the service providers. In actuality, there’s very few if any platforms that take care of the service provider at the same time as well and give them the tools. The most difficult part of what we’ve developed is actually implementing the service provider because they provide a whole Pandora’s box of issues that come with how they integrate, and how they work, and how they want to work etc. We’ve got customers that are one man bands and we’ve got customers that are national organisations with thousands, 10s of thousands of contractors that work for them.


Rafael Niesten:

So we have to cater towards that. So the service part, it was really difficult. That’s the hardest thing. I mean, we’ve seen competitors come out with chat bots. I mean to me, that’s not overly exciting to a property manager. I think it lacks the integration. At the end of the day, if you collate and collect information from a chatbot, and it sends you an email, I don’t think that’s a really exciting thing for property managers. It’s all gimmicky in my view. So we took the hard road and we spent three years building something that is very complex and very rich, feature rich, that can be used with all or nothing of what we’ve developed. Then we also took it a step further, because I suppose our thinking is more aligned with let’s look a couple of years into the future about what this is going to look like. So we looked at the second biggest pain point for property management, which was inspections. So the inspections are very difficult to do.


Kylie Davis:

Especially now.


Rafael Niesten:

Especially now. They are very difficult, time consuming, and at the end of the day, there’s no connectivity to maintenance. There’s six or 10 requests that come out from a maintenance perspective when they’re doing an inspection. So we built a tool around six months ago that we’ve been refining. It allows property managers to not only do on site inspections, but also remote inspections. As you can appreciate, in the current times, that technology is something that people are screaming for. That whole integration with maintenance and inspections, there is nobody else doing that in our space at all. So because we’ve got those deep integrations and most are integrations, we can cover off both maintenance and inspections. It means that it’s a seamless user experience for a property manager in using these tools.


Kylie Davis:

Wow, fantastic. So I imagine you’ve seen adoption go through the roof in the last couple of weeks.


Rafael Niesten:

It’s been the busiest, last month was our busiest month ever. This month is looking even more busy and an interesting statistic for you, one of our partners to who is Brockend, they have a property, a CRM for property tree as you well know. They sent notice out this morning to their property managers. We have our first webinar on Thursday of the integration, there are 1000 people coming to that.


Kylie Davis:

Wow.


Rafael Niesten:

Being asked for. So there’s, yeah, 1000 agencies in I think the span of a couple of hours registered to join the webinar about maintenance plus the inspection component.


Kylie Davis:

Fantastic.


Rafael Niesten:

I think a lot of people are sitting at home at the moment and looking to see ways that they can make their business more streamlined and more efficient. So obviously, we’ll continue to work on these processes. We have a roadmap that’s full of cool stuff that consumers use that we think property managers should use as well. The hardest part for us was to build the core, the integration framework. Now, we’re adding cool things on because we’re putting volume, and volume, and volumes of jobs every single day. So it’s an exciting time to be in PropTech.


Kylie Davis:

It sure is. So tell us a little bit about the structure of the business. Have you got co founders? You’ve mentioned before that you’ve been going for, what about three years or …?


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah, about three years now. So yeah, myself and my co founder, John, we started the business. Basically, we’ve known each other since we were five years old. If you want to see a stellar performance, you can see us on Shark Tank from a few years ago, that was pretty fun.


Kylie Davis:

Maybe we’ll share that in the show notes.


Rafael Niesten:

You should. Shameless PR, shameless PR. At the end of the day, it’s all about the sum of the parts. So it’s John and I started the business and we sort of built it up. We have a total of 85 people that work on the product now. So we’re pretty big by way of prop tech companies. That’s the reason we can get so much done so quickly. So we can turn things around from idea to reality in a matter of weeks, rather than months or years. So we get that feedback from our customers constantly. We push and we push the boundaries that we have as quickly as we possibly can. The bulk of our team is in research and engineering. So that’s how we push product out. We’re not really a massive sales focused organisation, we’re more of a product focused organisation. That product focus helps us to proliferate through our partners and through the relationships that we’ve got.


Kylie Davis:

Fantastic. So what’s your background Raph? How did you fall into this crazy thing called prop tech? Tell us about your journey, there is.


Rafael Niesten:

I’ve been working in software for probably 15 or more years now. I was in the medical space for a very, very long time. I had a company which I sold at the end of 2016, which was fantastic because I’d had enough of doing medical software. It’s a bit more difficult than PropTech. “I sort of thought, Well, I have to do something else because this is boring sitting around doing nothing.” So I spoke to John, he’s my co-founder, he had 12 years in real estate.


Rafael Niesten:

We got chatting and hits on his business. We thought, “Should we do something? Let’s try it out.” Then it just happened to be at a time where I had a property manager. Every single maintenance request that was going through was between 480 and $495. I’m talking about changing the light bulb or cleaning gutters, etc. I thought this is very strange. Why am I always receiving this? I noticed that my threshold was $500. So every job just under the threshold came in at that amount. As it turned out, one of their family friends was getting all the jobs and she was getting a kickback. So if this is happening to me, it’s probably happening to other people.


Rafael Niesten:

So we built that whole platform around mobility, visibility and transparency for all parties across the ecosystem. That’s sort of where we got started. So yeah, 15 years doing software, and this is another thing that we’re doing. That’s why I have all the skills I learned over that period of time in building software, I’ve applied to this business. Obviously, all the things that didn’t go so well, I haven’t applied to the business.


Kylie Davis:

Or you opposite to the business, right? It went the other way.


Rafael Niesten:

I’ve learnt some lessons with that, I’ve learnt some lessons.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah. So you mentioned Shark Tank before and you managed to drop off trading there as well. But you got what else you guys have have been sort of darlings of you’ve had you’ve been involved in a lot of programmes and accelerators. Tell us about some of them.


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah, we did an accelerator with Chartered Hall on the commercial side. We weren’t really overly excited about commercial to begin with. Then we did this accelerated with Chartered Hall and they showed us how exciting commercial could be. So we got very excited about that.


Kylie Davis:

I feel a t-shirt coming on.


Rafael Niesten:

Definitely, definitely. It’s just another side of the market. The difficulty with commercial is they take a significant amount of time to make decisions. By the time they’ve made a decision, often the person that’s making the decision is no longer there anymore. They’ve moved to a different home, a different of the company or they’ve left completely. So yeah, commercial is a very interesting space, but it’s also one that’s fraught with danger as well, because you can have huge long sales cycles that can basically go forever in a day.


Rafael Niesten:

So we did the Chartered Hall accelerated we did one out of London with the places for People Group as well try to prove out and pilot our technology and obviously, here in Singapore, with Australia. I suppose the thing about us is it’s always a shameless self-promotion. We’ll get up and get in front of anyone, and talk, and talk about the business, the idea and the product. In actuality, I was pitching at some event. Someone in the crowd was from Australia. She said, “You should apply for this programme.” I said, “Okay, sure.”


Kylie Davis:

Why not?


Rafael Niesten:

Here I am, ended up in Singapore, in quarantine lockdown and keeping in some apartment somewhere. So it’s all good.


Kylie Davis:

Let’s just pause there for a moment and hear a quick word from our sponsors.


Kylie Davis:

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Kylie Davis:

So what at the biggest challenges that you face as an entrepreneur as part of Bricks and Agent?


Rafael Niesten:

Look, I suppose we like to run everything pretty lean. Although we’ve got a huge team, we still do a lot of heavy lifting ourselves. So I suppose the challenge for us is always resourcing and how we can grow at scale without adding a huge number of resources. So we look at technology to help us and all the systems that we’ve implemented. In the case of this whole COVID-19 situation, we were able to basically up and have everyone working from home in about half an hour for making decisions. So we built the company around that, but I suppose the biggest challenge for us is always finding people and try to find people at a time where we need them. So they’re not sitting idle. At the same time, we’re then often now scrambling because we’ve got so much volume to find people and trying to train people from home and get them on boarded remotely when they’ve never met or seen or heard anything about the product is obviously has some significant challenges to it.


Rafael Niesten:

But that being said, it’s not complex what we do. It’s not rocket science. It’s a platform that delivers maintenance. So it’s simple, unlike medical software, where it’s very difficult to train people on how to use that. It’s much more simplistic to do it. So that’s I suppose the biggest challenges. We’ve got a pretty awesome team. Everyone gets along really well. It’s a great culture. Yeah, that’s I suppose the biggest stuff is just trying to keep up with demand when it comes.


Kylie Davis:

Where are you guys based when you’re in Australia, Sydney, or Melbourne? Yeah.


Rafael Niesten:

In Australia, so yeah, we’ve got the two centres. Yeah.


Kylie Davis:

And are you guys bootstrapped? Or if you had investors


Rafael Niesten:

I sold my company and John sold his. So we just put our own money into it. So yeah, we’re a very rare occurrence these days. We don’t really need any funding. We’re self-funded. To be honest, we’re cashflow positive. So at the end of the day, we make money out of the business. So we haven’t really sought funding. Funding has definitely tried to seek us. But we have simple principles that we won’t take funding from people that are our clients or people that could potentially be our industry partners, because then you can preclude a whole heap of people from utilising what you’ve developed. So we’re very neutral in that regard. We don’t really need the VCs money at the moment. So we’re just happy prod along and to continue to fight the good fight.


Kylie Davis:

Happy Days, especially at the moment because I suspect it’s going to start to get harder to find. So what do you reckon the next five years or whatever, the next five months and the next five years, what do you reckon? I talked to Peter Matthews the other day about, from Realtor about. He was talking about the restart and what the restart’s going to be like when all of this takes off again. What’s your crystal ball around COVID and how that’s playing out?


Rafael Niesten:

Well, I think depending on what you’re doing in PropTech and where you sit. So obviously some of the commercial landlords are suffering quite substantially. So the investment in PropTech might be significantly reduced for a period of time while they sort of lick their wounds, depending on how long this whole situation goes for. So I suppose the only caveat is nobody knows how long this is going to go for. If it’s over in a month, great. If it’s over in 12 months, well, it’s probably going to be a completely different discussion. But whatever happens, people will get used to this being the new norm for a while.


Rafael Niesten:

Then they’ll just basically continue as business as usual as we spoke of in the very beginning, so I suppose in the next five months, what I’d expect to see is a bit of consolidation around the PropTech sector. I think there’ll be people that basically say, “Let’s work together because we can’t do it on our own or bigger companies come in and go.” Well, now’s a good time to buy up. Let’s go and acquire some companies. So I think there will definitely be some consolidation. I think they’ll also be some people that don’t make it through. Because this is the time where it really challenges your business model. If you’ve got a penchant for spending a lot of money to build market share, that may be something that’s going to come back and haunt you because of the situation, the liquidity is difficult. If you’re banking on external funding, that could be quite difficult.


Rafael Niesten:

I know of a few people really, that have reached out and said, “Is there anyone that I know that could help them get funding?” Things like that. So I think there will be some difficulty. But once all of this is over and done with, I think people have had a taste of what it’s like to use technology now that they may not have used before. Everyone’s on Zoom, and everyone’s on teams, everyone’s collaborating remotely.


Rafael Niesten:

They’re seeing that technology can actually help them. They can actually run their business from anywhere in the world. So I think that’s going to wake up a lot of the people that are in the industry, to potentially refactor what they’ve done in order to have a different view of how it can potentially work in the future, given that they’ve just gone through this torturous period of time. So people have that in the back of their mind for quite some time. I think once it’s all over and done with, there’ll be a huge amount of expenditure. There’ll be a tonne of projects coming out, whether that’s government-sponsored or whether that’s just industry sponsored, or whether that’s just industry collaboration, I’m not sure but I think that the space is very, very exciting.


Rafael Niesten:

I’ve always had the view that the real estate space is exciting. It’s something that is massive and mainly untouched. I think it’s a very exciting time to be alive in the real estate space. I hope you’re not COVID.


Kylie Davis:

He says, as Carly chokes off in the back corner, no, it’s not.


Rafael Niesten:

I was wondering if you’re going to cough, should I hold off. But I think there’ll be definitely consolidation. There’ll be some giants that I think are born out of the space as there was out of the last crisis and the crisis before that, where people are rethinking the way that they do things. A point in case, when we released our remote inspection product six months ago, people laughed at us. They said, why would we want to do that for? I want to go and stand on the floors and smell the building and …


Kylie Davis:

Smell the smell of cabbage in the morning.


Rafael Niesten:

Pretty much, “I can smell if there’s marijuana or something like that.” Now, they’re saying, “Well, I don’t have anything. I’m asking the tenants to take pictures and they’re not going to give you truth. So how do I get this software? How do I get it going?” This isn’t just this the support, these are the giant franchise networks and the big company-owned networks that are saying, “We want this yesterday, let’s roll this out, it is going to help us.” That will obviously on flow once the crisis completes for us. Because we haven’t come across anyone who’s doing remote inspections at this juncture in time. It took us a good six, seven months to get the technology right, before it actually work edproperly.


Kylie Davis:

Are you seeing that the in the services and maintenance industry too that they’re really embracing the technology as well? Are they finding benefits in adoption through COVID?


Rafael Niesten:

I think it depends a lot on what sort of trade they are, what their attitude is to technology. This is probably not the best thing to say, but also people’s ages. I mean, we’ve found that some people, that they’re a bit older, are just not interested in technology. They’ve got their carbon paper book. That’s what they use that’s all they’re ever going to use. I mean, we like to tell people to use our technology or not, if they don’t want to use it, they don’t have to at all other than to get a job via the email and to send an invoice back in. They don’t have to.


Rafael Niesten:

But the people that are more progressive and are now realising actually technology is going to help their business rather than hinder it are looking forward to doing it and are doing it. The main issue for these guys is that they are manically trying to get as many jobs done as they possibly can, not knowing if they’re going to be able to do those said jobs tomorrow. So thus the massive spike on the platform over the last month, where people thinking it might not be happening from tomorrow. We don’t know that, if the government does lock everything down, and the trades may not be able to do work, which will obviously impact them. I don’t see that happening, but you just don’t know in this crisis as to what’s actually going to unfold. But I think people are definitely embracing technology more than they have before because they need to, they can’t use the same methods they’re used to using before.


Kylie Davis:

No, we can’t do the things the way we’ve always done them and then expect different results out of it. Raph, as someone who owns a couple of investment properties and has fantastic service out of a property managers, and then owns her own property that she lives in, and has rock paper scissors, absolutely every maintenance request with her husband as to who’s going to deal with the tradees, is there any plan to make it available, the maintenance kind of booking service available to property owners, or is it always going to be through the property management team?


Rafael Niesten:

Look, I suppose from our perspective, there is a huge amount of platforms out there at the moment that deal with the owner space. I’ve had the property and I want to get something done. Those guys they have very deep pockets, and they’ve been doing it a very long time. That space is about marketing, spending millions of dollars on marketing in order to get market share. At the moment, we haven’t got any plans to go into that space because we simply don’t have a need to. Because, as I alluded to before, if an owner or tenant downloads our app, the owner can use it to post maintenance. I’ll give you a classic example, an owner approved the maintenance job using our mobile app. Then a couple of days later, they drove into the driveway and knocked their litter box over other things, apparently.


Rafael Niesten:

They came back on the app, and they logged jobs for those said contractors by the app. So you’ve got the ability to do it in the app automatically by default. So as an owner, you automatically have that. We’re just not going to go out and chase people to do all that resource or go to market. I suppose the other reason competitors come into the space or it’s exciting is because you get that throughput, whereas a property manager may have 100 painting jobs in a month, your average person might do one painting job every five years.


Rafael Niesten:

So you get that fun. The other thing, I suppose that the those platforms lack that go direct to the owner is if you like a trade, you’re never going back to that platform. You’ve got your painter for life now. So they make one set of income, and that’s the end of it. But with property managers, it’s a continual flow. They just need to get jobs done. So that’s what they do. They come in and they post job after job after job. Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of them, and they just need work done across a huge portfolio.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, yeah. Cool. So what does the future look like for you guys, for Bricks and Agent?


Rafael Niesten:

What does the future look like? God.


Kylie Davis:

The next couple of years for you, like what’s on your roadmap?


Rafael Niesten:

Look, we want to continue to grow


Kylie Davis:

Hashtag spoilers. Yeah.


Rafael Niesten:

Yeah, that’s right. Spoilers. We want to continue to grow obviously, in Australia, because that’s our own market. By virtue of the fact the partnership we’ve created and the networks and the offices that we have in discussions and and/or using our application, that will just continue to grow. We’re very excited to explore other parts of the globe as well with our application, obviously the UK and Singapore. There’s also other opportunities around the Asia Pacific region for us too, albeit a bit smaller than our home market. Then you’ve obviously got the beast, the US.


Rafael Niesten:

So that’s another market that we will probably turn our attention to via partners in the near term, post-Coronavirus completion and coming back, and we’ve already had some conversations with the big players in the US as well. It’s just a matter of working at the correct time because we are a scalar. We are still growing and you can’t be everything to everyone and you can’t do everything at once. If you could, that would be fantastic.


Rafael Niesten:

But we’ve got a roadmap and a plan that got somewhat dislodged with Coronavirus, but we’ll just play it by ear. We’re just looking at it. Rather than having a long term view, we’re just day to day at the moment, just getting through what this is going to look like and try to keep up with the demand. Then we’ll see where it all goes after that. But we’re hoping to go from strength to strength. Our ultimate view is we would like to be the default maintenance solution for property managers in the industry. That’s where we’d love to see ourself. We’re certainly heading in that direction at the moment.


Kylie Davis:

Well, I think if you’re integrating with every property management CRM out there, and it’s free to managers to adopt, property managers to adopt, I can’t see anything getting in your way, Raph.


Rafael Niesten:

That’s it.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, thank you so much for being on the PropTech Podcast. It’s been great to talk to you.


Rafael Niesten:

Thanks, Kylie. Appreciate your time and if any of your listeners want to join us www.BricksAndAgent.com, there you go. That’s mine.


Kylie Davis:

Yeah, we’ll put the link in the show notes and and also pop your contact details so they can harass you personally.


Rafael Niesten:

Just give them someone else’s, give them John’s. He’ll love that.


Kylie Davis:

No worries.


Rafael Niesten:

I appreciate your time, and thanks for having me on your show.


Kylie Davis:

So that was Rafael Niesten from Bricks and Agent. How much do you want to jump into your property management system right now and find out where Bricks and Agent functionality is hidden? I met Raph about a year ago. We’ve been bumping into each other around the trap since then. He is enormously good fun to hang with. But I’ve never dived into exactly how Bricks and Agent worked until this interview. And I’ve got to say I was really blown away.


Kylie Davis:

In real estate, we’re aware of the business model where PropTech’s click the transaction ticket, it’s been done to us many times. But here’s one that is doing that to trades and services, to enable it to be free to us, while also offering those trades and services significant advantages in reduced advertising costs and efficiency tools. But what I love most about Bricks and Agent though is the fact that they are already in the software platforms that you’re using, and it’s free. So the competition is pretty strong in attendance and maintenance reporting, but I think Raph has played a blinder in this regard. There’s nothing new for you to learn. You just have to let go and make a commitment that you’ll stop being the bottleneck through which everything must go through.


Kylie Davis:

We know that this happens in property management. That if you have to manage every email, if you have to manage every phone call, then that’s making you a bottleneck. It’s not making you more efficient. So this is great tech, ladies, check it out.


Kylie Davis:

So now if you have enjoyed this episode of the PropTech Podcast, please tell your friends drop me a line by email, LinkedIn or on my Facebook page. You can follow this podcast on Spotify, Google Podcast, Anchor and Apple iTunes. I’d like to thank my audio supportm the wonderful Chaley Hollins, and the fabulous Jill Escudero, and our sponsors Smidge Wines, official wines of the PropTech Community now delivering free of charge during COVID-19 for six or more, and Home Preso, turning your data into amazing marketing content, which has never been more important in these days of social isolation.


Kylie Davis:

Don’t forget to check out the free content that Home Preso is offering agents to support your digital marketing, and that works for property management as well as some articles there. So thank you, everyone. Until next week, stay safe and keep on PropTeching.