Kylie Davis: (00:01)
Welcome to The PropTech 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 create and grow a strong sense of community between the innovators and real estate agents and property owners, and sharing our stories is a great way to do that. Now the aim of each episode is to introduce listeners to a 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: (00:35)
Now the past few weeks have been a little bit personally rough for me with the passing of my dad so I apologise for the unexpected gap between podcasts, but my dad always wanted to be a radio announcer and did a lot of voiceover and MC work in his retirement so this episode is dedicated to his memory. Love you, Pete.
Kylie Davis: (00:54)
And my guest this week is Jill Chen, CEO of strata management platform Uxtrata. Now Jill is a super impressive proptech CEO. She has a bachelor of science in mathematics and computer science from the University of Auckland and has had 10 years experience in banking, and from there she moved into technology businesses that specialised in payment and business process improvement including time iterating on the WeChat system.
Kylie Davis: (01:24)
Uxtrata is a New Zealand based proptech that is disrupting, or probably more accurately, improving the strata management experience. Uxtrata specialises in AI driven business process improvements for strata companies with cloud based modules that streamline accounting, document management and communications, and they were part of the 2020 Australian Reach programme and they’re now active in Australian and the Southeast Asian market. Jill Chen, welcome to The PropTech Podcast.
Jill Chen: (01:52)
Kylie Davis: (01:54)
It’s great to have you here. So look, as someone who owns a couple of investment properties and struggles with strata on what feels like a monthly basis, I am really excited about this conversation because I have great hopes for Uxtrata fixing strata here in Australia. But tell me, what’s the Uxtrata elevator pitch?
Jill Chen: (02:15)
We help strata management companies to meet and exceed compliance and enhance efficiency through a full service cloud SaaS we’re offering across residential and commercial properties.
Kylie Davis: (02:31)
Okay. So not just residential strata but also commercial.
Jill Chen: (02:35)
Kylie Davis: (02:36)
Okay. Cool. So what are the problems that you’re solving for strata?
Jill Chen: (02:42)
So we are an end to end cloud based SaaS provider. We help strata management, from business logic angle, use our product to reduce the labour cost and auditing cost.
Kylie Davis: (02:54)
Right, because strata is really manual, isn’t it? When I have to deal with my strata committees that I’m part of, it feels like you have to go back to 1980 to get into their headset as to how they function. Except email, email’s made it a little bit crazier.
Kylie Davis: (03:15)
So tell me, why do you think strata is so traditional? I’m going to be really polite.
Jill Chen: (03:25)
I think strata management is an essential area in the property ecosystem. However, because of the layer of strata management business which is including board of trust, strata management and site management as well as the trust accounting system, the business logic in this area is very, very complicated. By saying that, is having trust account management accounting and strata management overall. The reason it’s been very traditional is because of it would take an IT company a long time to understand three different areas and merge them all together to solve one industry problem. So the investment in this area in terms of time and cost is very, very high, so not many IT companies are working in this field, or what we’ve heard is some of them have tried before but they’ve changed to other directions due to the complexity.
Kylie Davis: (04:34)
Right, yeah. So it’s true, isn’t it? Because strata is like all of the complication of property management scaled by the number of properties in the building almost, isn’t it? And then also some of them are rented, some of them are owned. Trying to heard all of those cats, I imagine… I always feel very sorry for my strata managers.
Kylie Davis: (05:05)
It’s not a huge industry in Australia, although it’s growing, how big is the strata industry growing? How big a problem is this in terms of dollars and something to get our brain around?
Jill Chen: (05:17)
In dollars it’s really hard to find. I think this industry, all the levy and everything in different countries cost differently, however we know that for example, in total there’s about 2.18 million units in Australia.
Kylie Davis: (05:36)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow.
Jill Chen: (05:37)
Yes, and globally the strata management market size is… In 2008 it was about 14.47 billion USD, that’s only for property management, and estimated by the year 2023 that’ll be 22 billion.
Kylie Davis: (05:59)
Wow, okay. So this is a really big problem that needs fixing in terms of the dollars that it could be saving and the time that it could be saving, but it’s also… Look, I know how much pain goes into trying to get things fixed from strata side and the [inaudible 00:06:20] of the experience for property owners and tenants from the start side too. So there’s a lot of customer expectation coming through in this as well, isn’t there?
Jill Chen: (06:33)
Kylie Davis: (06:34)
So how does your platform fix it? How does Uxtrata work?
Jill Chen: (06:41)
So in terms of, say for example… I’ll give you an example. A medium to large size strata management company, they might need roughly about 20 staff including accountants, bookkeepers, account managers, that not include the site managers yet. So by using our software we can at least reduce half of the labour cost overall.
Kylie Davis: (07:12)
Right. And that’s because you’re centralising everything in one spot so it all… Yeah.
Jill Chen: (07:18)
And also all the documents are easy to find, everything’s transparent, especially… I’ll give you another example. Say if attendants need to have reports, instead of they call your strata managers and ask for all the reports and everything, sometimes it takes a long time for all the managers to collect all the information, but using our software it’s just several clicks. And we either can use our client’s portal, they can just log in and get the information themself, or they can just email their manager and the manager will be able to email out straight away.
Kylie Davis: (07:58)
Right, okay. So this is talking to a problem that we see being addressed across a range of industries but especially in real estate at the moment, isn’t it? That if you don’t have really transparent and instantly updated data, transparent systems and platforms that are able to collate and make it easy to see data, then all of your cost goes into your people because they become almost the IP that drives your business, because you need to know that Mary knows everything about 47 Smith Street and John knows everything about 29 Potter Street and it’s all in their heads, not inside the systems in your business.
Jill Chen: (08:44)
Yeah. And we believe strata management should be a service company instead of a manage company.
Kylie Davis: (08:54)
An email company, sends emails that, “Please approve this. Please, please, please approve it.”
Jill Chen: (08:59)
Yes. So what we believe is we want to use our software to reduce the cost in terms of all the office work, but instead they can put all their time and effort into service.
Kylie Davis: (09:16)
Right. I’m loving the sound of this. If I’m a strata management company owner this is going to be awesome for me because suddenly I’m looking at having less staff on my books. Not so great if I’m an accountant working inside a strata company, I guess. Are you getting much resistance to it or are you seeing that people in some roles are being moved into different roles when-
Jill Chen: (09:46)
No. What we can see is lots of the strata companies, like say for example in New Zealand, lots of strata companies, they qualify to certify chartered accountants because the workload for an accountant is quite high. However lots of the chartered accountants, after they finished and have got their CA, they just move to other industries because there’s lots of repetitive work in strata management. So what we believe is if we can free them out of the repetitive work, actually they can do other things more meaningful. And we don’t believe that IT will take over lots of people’s jobs, what we believe is we’re changing them to a direction that provides better service.
Kylie Davis: (10:53)
Right. Yeah. So what we see, I know here in New South Wales every building is supposed to have a 10 year or a long term plan for its management and maintenance, and often that doesn’t happen because the strata managers are too busy just dealing with what’s in front of them.
Jill Chen: (11:12)
Kylie Davis: (11:13)
So you’re saying basically the accountants that are working inside your business now would be putting their minds to what better property ownership and what the asset management looks like more than just the repairs and maintenance.
Jill Chen: (11:31)
Yeah. Well, I think that’s a really, really good question. Say for example there… Lots of strata management, the account is, it’s not that transparent. One thing is they want to be transparent but the system they’re using or the way they work are not that clear, and actually there are so many ways to make more revenue. So for example some other countries, they’re offering… One thing is that they’re offering a parcel delivering service. They have someone there in the lobby, they can help you to collect parcels and you can help them to book meeting rooms or other facilities. There are so many different ways for a strata management company to make revenue out of it.
Jill Chen: (12:31)
And currently there are conflicts between the resident or the property owners and the strata management companies. “Why do we need to increase our levy fee for the next year? Where does the money go to?” Using our software where we’ll have the report of the past 10 years in this industry and our AI system will estimate the cost and include the inflation of next year, and say, “This is the range according to all the reports from previous years and this is the range.” So it removed a conflict between the resident and the strata management. The position of the strata management and the resident should be they’re working together instead of they’re against each other, “Why am I paying so much? Where does my money go to?”
Kylie Davis: (13:32)
So I’m really fascinated about that comment that you made about the AI.
Jill Chen: (13:36)
Kylie Davis: (13:36)
Are you looking only at the data for individual buildings or are you looking at all of the data for all of the buildings that are of similar age or type?
Jill Chen: (13:49)
We use our data… In terms of AI there’s two areas we’re really focusing on at the moment. One is RPA which is robotic processing automatic, the other is BPA which is business processing automation. We use the data to train our system and to identify where is the repetitive work that we can use our system to do instead of manually to do. The reason is, one side is, it will reduce the cost of time and labour significantly, and the other is it reduces the human error significantly.
Kylie Davis: (14:33)
Jill Chen: (14:33)
Kylie Davis: (14:33)
Okay. So if I’m a strata manager or a property owner whose strata management is using Uxtrata, I can ask for reports at any time and see them really quickly, and you have intelligence inside your system that is going to mean that the estimates going forward or the forecasting for what the building is going to require are not just based on someone’s opinion, it’s actually got a lot more data sitting behind it.
Jill Chen: (15:11)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kylie Davis: (15:12)
Awesome. Awesome, okay. So tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get involved in all of this? How did you start Uxtrata?
Jill Chen: (15:24)
Well, it’s not a long story but my bachelor degrees major in computer science and mathematics as well as education.
Kylie Davis: (15:36)
Jill Chen: (15:39)
So after graduation I worked in the real estate industry for a year and then I got into the banking industry. So after I worked for a bank for about 10 years I decided to set up my own It company because of my degrees.
Kylie Davis: (15:56)
Jill Chen: (15:56)
And so then I met Philip, the founder of Uxtrata. We had several great chats together and I’ve personally had a study of the property management, strata management industry and I can see there’s a huge, huge potential in here, so I’ve decided to join Uxtrata as CEO working on the business side and Philip can be more focusing on the technology side. We’re a tech driven company so we want to have really good technology to support our client.
Kylie Davis: (16:38)
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Kylie Davis: (17:15)
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Kylie Davis: (17:48)
Awesome. And you’re based in New Zealand, aren’t you?
Jill Chen: (17:50)
Yes, we’re currently based in New Zealand.
Kylie Davis: (17:52)
Okay. But you’re selling or have a large client base in Australia?
Jill Chen: (17:59)
Yeah, we’re talking to clients in Australia at the moment as well as other countries.
Kylie Davis: (18:04)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And you were part of the NAA reach cohort for last year, weren’t you? Congratulations. So how big are you at the moment? So how’s your expansion growing? What can you tell us about that?
Jill Chen: (18:20)
We are growing quite fast at the moment, and size wise we cannot give a particular answer at this stage as we’re having several big deals. It’s under discussion at the moment. I would like to give you a more specific answer after deals come through.
Kylie Davis: (18:40)
Okay, awesome. Oh well, good luck with all of them. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you. We love a good deal story. So how does your charging work? And the other question I’ve got for you is if I’m a property owner inside a building that’s being managed by Uxtrata, does it require me to do anything or is it just that I have better access to information?
Jill Chen: (19:07)
It’s a good question. We used to provide a full solution and then we found out it’s a little bit hard hard for some strata management companies to change their system overall and some of them, they might want to have a little bit of training on how to use the software in a particular way. So what we decided is we’ll break our product into different modules. The reason is we try to solve clients’ pain points straight away. For example, if their bookkeeping has loads of work in terms of accounts payable and accounts receivable, well we can just put our RPA solution into and solve that pain point straight away, and slowly they can understand, “Oh, this is how it works,” and then they can adopt our other modules or if they’re happy with their existing modules they still can use it. We can integrate with the others as well.
Kylie Davis: (20:08)
Right, okay. They identify the thing that’s hurting them the most, use that module, get comfortable with it and then hopefully they are going to love it so much they ask for all the other modules.
Jill Chen: (20:22)
Kylie Davis: (20:23)
Jill Chen: (20:24)
Yeah. The other thing is our company strongly believes in the future, instead of we compete with each other from the same industry, we strongly believe to work together will be the best strategy as well. Say for example, the example I gave to you just now to book the meeting room, to book the swimming pool, other facilities, for that type of software we don’t want to touch it. They’re somewhat already having it in place so we can integrate with them and everybody can do their specific fields. That’s how we can make this whole industry grow faster.
Kylie Davis: (21:19)
Right. Okay. I should hook you up with the Erin Living guys, they’re doing some interesting stuff in that space. I’m hoping to interview them soon, I’m on their advisory board so I’ll connect you up. So look, but there is a growing amount of competition in this space, isn’t there? Back in 2019 before COVID I went to the University of Griffith conference on strata management here in Australia, and we talked about the handful of… There was half a dozen or more strata technology businesses popping up. Who do you see as your main competitors or how do you want to integrate with them?
Jill Chen: (22:02)
To be honest, because our core product is the double entry accounting system as well as the AI field, at this stage we don’t want to see anyone as our competitor because what we provide is quite a niche market. That’s why we want to open up and say we want to work with different companies together to make this industry grow in terms of technology. And for us, we have the confidence about our product as our business logic is the end to end strata management sector, not only one point, and technology wise our R&D team are consistently developing new products or upgrading our existing products. We have a team of university professors and PhD students working on our R&D area in terms of RPA and BPA, and also we’ve applied trademarks and patents already and well continue to do that as well.
Kylie Davis: (23:16)
Awesome. Awesome. Sounds very robust. So what are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced? How long have you been part of Uxtrata for?
Jill Chen: (23:25)
For about two years.
Kylie Davis: (23:28)
Okay. and during one of those years was COVID so it must have been a hell of a two years. What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced so far as CEO of Uxtrata?
Jill Chen: (23:43)
I think industry wise, even this COVID, it affected lots of people, but for the strata management side it’s okay. I won’t say it’s not affected, it’s okay compared to all the other retail sectors. I think the biggest challenge for us is finding the right people, so we need to find someone that understands both strata management and IT which is…
Kylie Davis: (24:18)
Small pool. In Australia and New Zealand, I imagine.
Jill Chen: (24:23)
Yes it is.
Kylie Davis: (24:26)
There’s not that many people like you that have been out there that have got your background and history, I imagine.
Jill Chen: (24:35)
But yeah, we’re trying our best to find the right people. And we’ve been quite lucky, all our staff are very, very capable and motivated.
Kylie Davis: (24:45)
And are they all located in New Zealand? Or are they across Australia and New Zealand? Or virtual, or what?
Jill Chen: (24:51)
All in New Zealand but we’re looking for other people from Australia as well.
Kylie Davis: (24:58)
Okay, awesome. So what do you think the next five years holds for strata? I’m hoping it improves, I really am.
Jill Chen: (25:08)
The next five years we’re aiming to expand it to Australia, Singapore, Canada and UK, and fingers crossed, hope COVID can pass as soon as possible. And as I’ve mentioned, we are a strong believer of working together with partners so we’re willing to work with other strata IT companies to provide better service to strata management companies and all the property owners as well.
Jill Chen: (25:46)
The company strategy wise, we are working on becoming this sector’s RPA and BPA pioneer. And again, we’re a tech driven company, we believe to invest money into our products is very, very important. Overall a good product will solve real problems.
Kylie Davis: (26:08)
Yeah, okay. As strata does start to adapt and improve, what is the technology that you think is going to be fueling or driving its growth in the next couple of years? With your computer scientist hat on, what do you see?
Jill Chen: (26:33)
I think again that’s the area we’re doing R&D at the moment which is the RPA and BPA, the robotic processing automation and business processing automation. The reason is because of the loads of repetitive work in this industry, labour costs are very high as well as human error is very, very high.
Kylie Davis: (26:58)
Jill Chen: (27:00)
And also in terms of reporting, compliance, the problems are there so we want to use RPA and BPA to reduce those risks and reduce the labour costs and reduce the errors.
Kylie Davis: (27:19)
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Kylie Davis: (27:48)
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Kylie Davis: (28:09)
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Kylie Davis: (28:27)
And so in the places that have used you so far, how have traditional strata managers coped with this idea that they start to manage the exceptions, not doing the work every day, that they actually start to step back and put their faith in the automation?
Jill Chen: (28:51)
I think there’s two layers. One layer is the owners of strata management companies, they like the idea when they approach new buildings on board, they can show them, “This is how transparent we are. This is our report, we can have instant reports.” And say for example there are several… The one with applied trademarks which we called AI Alert, we can tell them, say if the water bill of a certain building suddenly increases, our alert system can tell the strata management company and say, “Probably check if there are any leaking issues or not.” So we reduce their work and they can provide a better service.
Kylie Davis: (29:41)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So as a strata manager or as a strata business owner it gives me the tools to go and win more business, I guess.
Jill Chen: (29:47)
Yes, yes. Yeah, they can get more business so the resident or the board of trust loves it. I think lots of governments try to put regulations and compliance in this field as well, however the auditing cost is very, very high, and if they decide to audit one company that will cost the company a lot to provide all the information as well. So the government and the strata management company are very happy to have a system in place. Any time if anyone wants to see it, they can provide it straight away. Now on the strata account manager’s side, which I think they love it as well, is they can provide better service by chatting to them or thinking of other services they can put into this building to create more revenue instead of they have to get the email and say, “I need the report,” they go back and prepare this and that and chase that resident all the time.
Kylie Davis: (30:59)
I know, I know. Every time someone on our strata committee asks our strata manager, who is a lovely girl, but basically you can feel her inwardly groan. You can feel her go, “Oh god, this is going to take me so long to find that information.” People are usually asking for it so that they can save, I don’t know, 100 dollars or 20, some really small amounts, and the work that goes into trying to save that money seems to be extraordinarily out of kilter. The work that the strata manager has to do to save the committee 120 dollars between quotes or to understand the cost of something just seems quite out of whack, yeah.
Jill Chen: (31:51)
Yeah, and also the other thing is… Like the voting system that we have helps a lot. Say for example if we decide to plant five trees in front of the building, we need to get it approved where the money goes through, and by sending out email and waiting and this and that, actually we have an approve button that they can just approve it straight away. The record will have the terms and conditions in there that means they agreed with the decision. So that will save a lot of communication cost.
Kylie Davis: (32:31)
Yes, okay. And so does it keep reminding you if you haven’t voted? Does it keep nagging you to get your vote in on whether you want magnolias or fir trees?
Jill Chen: (32:42)
Yeah, it depends on the strata management style because from our backend we can adjust it. Some of them prefer if there’s no response after two times they will pick up the phone, call up [inaudible 00:32:57] services and say, “Hey, this is what’s happening.” Some will just say, “Well, if they’re like this you can just pushing notifications.” From our side we’re flexible. We’ll adopt into the strata management company’s style and work with them together, and that’s why we’re working with our clients to do R&D consistently to understand their style of working so the property owners will feel comfortable about it.
Kylie Davis: (33:28)
Okay. And so one of the complaints that I hear about property management and strata systems from people who don’t use them very often, so if I’m a property owner or a tenant in a building I don’t want to have to learn a new app just so that I can vote on the trees or vote on things occasionally. Do I have to download something and log in or does that come through my email and record it that way?
Jill Chen: (33:57)
We have both.
Kylie Davis: (33:58)
Jill Chen: (33:58)
So we have a client portal as well or we can integrate with the email system as well.
Kylie Davis: (34:05)
Right, okay. Awesome.
Jill Chen: (34:06)
As we understand it’s a traditional industry then we should adopt into the way they feel comfortable with first, but later we can introduce some of the clients after they use email for about six months and then say, “Hey, I think it’s time to introduce our client portal,” but we try to keep the portal as simple as possible so the clients can go in and see it straight away.
Kylie Davis: (34:33)
Awesome. Well look, I love this Jill. I think it’s fantastic what you’ve outlined today. This whole idea of a modular system that helps strata managers find the thing that’s most painful to them and then solve that problem and then get more confident with what they’re doing, and I love that you’re also letting people use the structure that they’re comfortable with and then building themselves up to take on more of what you’re doing. And gosh knows that strata needs so much help. Please strata managers, do stuff in this space.
Kylie Davis: (35:08)
So just to finish up, tell me, it sounds like you’ve got a very exciting future coming up. Tell me what you can about what the immediate future of strata looks like. Expansion into Australia-
Jill Chen: (35:22)
Kylie Davis: (35:23)
What else? Anything else you can share?
Jill Chen: (35:26)
Expansion into Australia and some Asian Pacific countries.
Kylie Davis: (35:33)
Jill Chen: (35:35)
Yeah, we’ll announce after the deal seals.
Kylie Davis: (35:38)
Jill Chen: (35:39)
Yeah. And also we’re very excited about our current R&D as well and the BPA we’re working in at the moment is very niche in terms of the artificial intelligence area, so very, very excited about it.
Kylie Davis: (36:03)
Oh, I can’t wait to hear about it. Well look Jill, thank you so much for being on The PropTech Podcast. Now I’m going to include your contact details in the notes once we finish so that if you’re another strata business that’s interested in reaching out to Jill or if you are a strata manager, obviously curious about Uxtrata, we’ll put all your contact details in the show notes.
Jill Chen: (36:26)
Yeah. And again as I’ve mentioned, we’re happy to work with people in the sector, IT companies, we want to work together to change this industry to provide better service, and I think it’s time to apply more technology in strata management.
Kylie Davis: (36:44)
Absolutely. And it would have been great if we’d started five years ago but we’ll take now. Now’s good too. Now is the best time to start.
Jill Chen: (36:56)
Now we can grow faster.
Kylie Davis: (36:57)
Yeah, absolutely. Well thanks so much for being on the show, Jill.
Jill Chen: (37:01)
Thank you so much, Kelly.
Kylie Davis: (37:03)
So that was Jill Chen from Uxtrata, a business that is working to make life more streamlined for strata companies. The strata industry in Australia is probably one of the most traditional and broken inside real estate, which is an awful accolade given how old school so much of our industry still is. According to the Australian National Strata Data Report from 2018 there are 2.6 million title lots in Australia and 316,277 strata schemes.
Kylie Davis: (37:33)
Now the industry is relatively small, employing around 7,330 people but the absence of quality technology in this space has locked those employees into some awful manual work practises. And back in 2019 I presented to the Gryphon University Strata Management Conference so I’ve included the PDF of that presentation in the show notes if you’re interested in the space.
Kylie Davis: (37:55)
I love Jill’s approach to her business. It’s smart because it recognises that when you’re moving a traditional workforce into new workflows, you need to break that down into small bite sized chunks and you need to give them the opportunity to become familiar with the technology that allows your clients to enjoy some wins and benefits before you try to sell them into more of your product, and that’s an approach that we see is working across proptech, not just the strata space.
Kylie Davis: (38:21)
The work that Jill and her team across communications, backend business processes and enabling that with AI and data is really powerful and it reflects similar things that we’re seeing in property management and sales platforms. As someone who has two investment properties in different states, I deal with two very different strata management styles but both of them are tied into the traditional methods of email and manual handling. Tech like Uxtrata has huge potential to improve the end user experience for people living in strata schemes and to break down the terrible delays and bureaucracy that exists between strata, owners, renters and property managers. So what do you think?
Kylie Davis: (39:00)
Now if you have enjoyed this episode of The PropTech podcast, I would love you to tell your friends or drop me a line either via email, LinkedIn or Facebook. You can follow this podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Anchor and Apple iTunes. I’d like to thank my audio support Charlie Hollands and the fabulous Julie Scudiero, and our sponsors Direct Connect, making moving easy. Smidge Wines, exclusive wines made in limited quantities and available only by the cellar door at smidgewines.com. And HomePrezzo, now part of ActivePipe and helping you make engaging content for your email marketing.
Kylie Davis: (39:36)
Do you run a proptech business or are you the founder of a proptech? Well, make sure you join the Proptech Association. It’s Australia new not for profit association made up of tech people who are passionate about the property industry and committed to improving experiences in how we buy, sell, rent, manage, build and finance property. Joining will give you access to events and networks across Australia and globally that will help you promote and grow your business. And we are in the middle of our proptech awards with nearly 100 entries which is awesome for our first year, so go to proptechassociation.com.au.
Kylie Davis: (40:13)
Thanks everyone, that’s it for this week. Until next week, keep on propteching.