The benefits of being PropTech gamekeeper turned poacher

In every aspect of life, through business, love and war, there is nothing more valuable than insight.

Insight is where understanding and experience meet; it’s the convict turned policeman, the hacker turned infoSec. It’s every person who chooses to use their specialist domain knowledge to help, rather than exploit.

The same applies to business, the same applies to property.

I am a gamekeeper turned poacher. At Coyote, we have built a PropTech platform based on the insight of 8 years working in a successful commercial real estate business.

My time as gamekeeper

To offer some historical context, I started working in CRE in 2006 and was most recently CTO at M7 Real Estate, a pan-European property fund and asset management firm. I spent 8 years working as a strategic technologist, looking at how technology could empower property companies to be slicker and more efficient.

At M7, we understood that technological change in some shape or form, was inevitable and it was happening around us in other industries. We didn’t pretend to have the answers — but we made it clear to the emerging new wave of PropTech companies that we were open to conversation and learning more.

The most poignant take-away from this time was that the world of technology is vastly different to that of property…and ultimately, too separate. We didn’t understand enough about each other’s needs at that time to allow true innovation to occur.

Yes, there was already technology out there – I’m not saying this iteration of PropTech is the first. Indeed, some of the larger property management systems have been around since before I was born. The problem remained that none of the tech solutions we experienced helped solve the business issues we had. They were either so complex they would have taken months of configuration to get close to what we needed (and cost sums of money we simply couldn’t justify), or they were simply solving problems which we didn’t recognise as the same problems we were facing. This is still a real issue in the PropTech world, but I digress. So, with no other option and eyes wide open, we decided to build our own. With my software development experience, I headed to the basement of our office and started coding.

6 months later, version 1.0 of Coyote was born.

Of all the things I learned…

Designing a PropTech platform on a blank sheet of paper from within a commercial real estate business gave us a unique advantage over the majority of other tech providers — we could engage with colleagues, clients, experienced property professionals; the profiles we would subsequently pitch to.

As we developed Coyote, we tackled (and solved) everyday problems and frustrations that were occurring in the commercial property world. The feedback from asset managers, fund managers, investment managers, and agents enabled us to address genuine industry issues.

Every feature of Coyote makes something easier, faster or better, and whilst that shouldn’t be anything worth bragging about, I’ve witnessed many tech providers offering solutions to issues which simply don’t exist. Not because they’re trying to hoodwink the buyers, but because they just don’t understand the true needs of the client. As a result, the tech “solution” becomes irrelevant to the original issue.

These lessons we learned at M7 continue to inform everything we do. Even now, as our software matured into a standalone product and we launched Coyote as a startup business independent to M7, we make sure that we spend as much time as our clients will allow talking to the real, day-to-day users in order to continue addressing their day-to-day frustrations.

What else did I learn?

Well, I learnt that when a firm engages with a new software platform, signing on the dotted line is barely 15% of the job. The initial transfer of legacy data, team training, and ongoing uptake that follows, is the critical part of the process.

It is simply unacceptable to sell a product and then disappear. If you don’t nurture the clients you’ve worked hard to win, it leads to a significantly higher churn rate where clients will give up and head back to the cosy comfort of Microsoft Excel.

Tech providers need to take responsibility for ensuring that on-boarding is easy – both from a technical perspective, as well as from the perspective of new users. You get one chance to make a first impression on your new users and to educate them on how to get the most from the platform.

Simplicity is respect. It’s not just those you pitch to, but a much wider audience who need to know their way around your product. For anything to be useful, it must be easy to use; the original iPod click-wheel, the humble paperclip, any one of the exhibits in the Design Museum at Kensington. The common link is simplicity, and that’s a sign of respect to the user. Let’s leave the 100 page manuals to the early 2000’s.

I learnt to see the property industry more holistically, and it’s essential that technology reflects this wider vision. A successful product, solution, platform, tool — whatever you want to call it, is designed around a trifecta of technology, operations, and end-users. Tech companies need to be confident that they’re in control of all three aspects.

It’s not just about selling to an innovation team, to an end-user, or to the IT team; it’s about getting the whole business on-side. Your end-users need to be passionate that the system is going to make a real change to their working lives, and for the better! The IT / systems team need to entrust you with one of their company’s most valuable assets and they have to believe that you can deliver what you have sold to the business, without draining their internal resource. The operations team need to support and encourage the business process required to see that your product is successfully adopted throughout the organisation.

When PropTech providers engage with an organisation, they’re often selling an overhaul of how a business is run. If they can’t demonstrate the tangible value of their technological genius, they’ll be sent packing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I learned that the majority of property professionals are excited about technology. Despite what you might hear, the problem lies not in reluctance to adopt PropTech, but in the fact that many feel the current marketplace doesn’t solve real world issues.

Tapping in to this excitement requires an open dialogue with your target audience, and from my experience, property professionals are keen to have that conversation. They want tech companies to be asking questions, requesting guidance and advice. They want to feel influence over the tools they pay for, and would rather be co-creators than guinea pigs.

My final thoughts

Personally, I don’t consider myself to know more than anyone else in PropTech, but I am confident that a constant pursuit of insight has allowed us to understand what property professionals are looking for. Something which I rely on every day.

I feel fortunate to have gained so much insight on my journey from gamekeeper to poacher, and I can’t stress how much I recommend others hunt, chase and take as much of it for themselves as possible.

You may be interested in…