Ep 1: PropTech & COVID-19

Michael Strucievici
April 11, 2020
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Many companies around the world have had to adopt remote working strategies in order to adapt to COVID-19. This led to a dramatic drop in office occupancy. Nonetheless, the ability to facilitate cooperative working spaces that are compliant with public safety regulations remains invaluable as we move towards the “new normal”. Fortunately, with the emergence of PropTech, it is possible for office managers to create both a safe working environment and a flexible workspace.

As part of our ongoing TechTalk series, this 45-minute podcast is aimed at providing students with a practical overview of how corporations facilitate flexible work arrangements by leveraging technologies such as IOT for data aggregation and machine learning algorithms. Drawing from industrial expertise, this discussion will seek to provide insight on the following question: How is PropTech helping businesses adapt to and thrive in the world amidst COVID-19?

Episode Transcript


Hi, everyone, thank you guys so much for coming. Welcome to the first episode of the PropTech series. This is hosted, of course, jointly by Rotman Commerce PropTech. That's us and Rotman Commerce FinTech. So just quickly, I wanted to say something about tech talks. Tech talks are the panel or sorry, the the channel we're hosting this all on. It's a new initiative that seeks to create an approachable and accessible environment for University of Toronto students to engage with industry pros and academics so that hopefully we can understand technology's growing impact and influence in business sectors. Over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year, the goal is to deliver workshops, keynotes, panel discussions and podcasts with experts, of course, from a whole host o diverse backgrounds. So in order to provide wider access to these, we're actually going to make all of the tech stocks, whether that's in person or recorded one like this, they're all going to be free. So everybody who's a U of T student can join. If everybody at home does want to donate, we're actually going to do up to five dollar donations on our website for local charities.


None of this is going to us. It's all for charities in Toronto. So you can go to head to our website. That's our tech talk dossier and just click the community support tab if you're interested. So, yeah, let me just quickly introduce myself. My name is Michael. I am the founder and president of Rotman Commerce PropTech. And just personally, I'm really excited to have this conversation. I can't wait to hear about how fast and fast offers are helping other companies not only adapt, but hopefully thrive and in the era of covid-19. I think this topic is really, really interesting. And for everybody at home, if you guys find this super interesting, we are hosting episodes biweekly starting today and ending on August twenty eight. So make sure you guys stay tuned and follow our socials for more information. Our next tech talk is going to be information and analytics and commercial real estate. So cool. That's my spiel. I'm going to go ahead and pass it off to Ben now.


He is the managing director of the Colliers PropTech Accelerator, powered by TechStars. So he can go ahead and he's going to introduce himself, the other panelists, and kick off our discussion. Michael, thank you for inviting us here. We're thrilled to be here. It's definitely a privilege to, as a former U of T commerce alum, come back and essentially kind of give back to to the community here with me. I haven't come alone. I've brought some of the best founders in the world tackling some of the largest issues in commercial real estate, commercial real estate tech. Quick background myself, managing director of the Colliers Proptech Accelerator powered by TechStars.


If you're not familiar with TechStars, we're one of the most active seed stage investors in the world today. And I'll just a quick stroll down here so you can give a go into it. So what we are is a seed stage investor. We look at companies all over the world. We actively invest in about five hundred companies per year. And so we are the most active steed stage shooter today. And we look at this from a variety of different geographies and also different sectors.


And one core sort of mantra that we have is where we're essentially here to kind of get first and help entrepreneurs succeed. That's the mission of the company. And our belief is that by helping early stage founders and companies thrive, we're leading to a better world in the future. And so that is within the core DNA of TechStars today. In order to do so, we look at this to we partner with all different organizations to evolve sectors. We're generally at the forefront of each of these industries, mainly because we're looking at this from an early stage.


So there's a lot of ambiguity investing in early stage tech companies. Markets in segments of markets are yet to be carved out. But that's the fun of it, right? So we get to help work with some of the most forward thinking entrepreneurs to be able to kind of evolve every single sector. And in conjunction with doing so, we also work with some of the leading industry partners in in those particular industries, for example, retail, finance, media.


And of course, in this particular case, real estate is just a quick snapshot of TechStars by the numbers. I've talked about this just a bit, but let me say, I think that the that the one quick stat here is we represent probably about five percent of all series A follow on financing. So we invest at the seed stage and we have a tremendous amount of success working with these companies to obtain additional financing so that they can continue to grow and thrive as a business in the market cap of the companies is highlighted here.


So I think these are all success metrics that any investor would generally be very proud of, particularly in real estate, which is the topic of discussion today. I think we're seeing even sort of pre covid just some megatrends that are really kind of pushing this industry forward. Many of you are very, very familiar with this because you were attuned to the influx of millennials into the workforce. And so certainly the change in demand and the change in necessary technology that you're all accustomed to and used to have grown up with natively is now impacting the workforce and impacting, of course, real estate, because you spend about 80 percent, if not more of your time once you hit the workforce in office buildings.


There is the growth in connected devices. And I'll just say the sort of large data that touches various different aspects of the office and building stack. And certainly there's the rise of urbanization. So these are just a few of the sort of the driving forces and the mega trends, if you will, that are really kind of pushing forward the need for technology to service real estate. And this has grown exponentially over the last just five years alone. And when I say the last five years, you'll look at 2015 and you'll see that it was shy of two billion dollars in financing in real estate, real estate tech, first half of 2019, that skyrocketed to 12 billion, if not more. So you're seeing a huge influx of investment capital. So this sort of smart money thinking through where they want to place the next debt. And real estate has traditionally been a bit of a laggard industry, but it is a two hundred, if not the largest global sort of sector that is today, actually, which is largely untapped with respect to technology. And that is quickly changing. So we're seeing a lot of money getting poured into this particular sector over 2019.


If I kind of refresh this, if your take a while and guess how much money sort of was poured in by the end of the year, it was close to 30 billion. So so that that gives you a rough sense of where where was the overall direction? What were some of the driving forces just before we stepped into the pandemic? And we'll get into that in just a moment, because that is quite topical. As I kind of mentioned with with every industry we step into, we work with the major partner.


And part of the question is, well why? From a TechStars perspective, we're experts in technology, tech innovation, working with startups. We have a huge alumni network, essentially the global network around early stage technology and also investors. And so we bring together the sort of largest network of venture capitalist investors in the world. And we partner with groups like Colliers and organizations like Colliers because they bring that specific industry expertise. In our program alone, I think we have one hundred and fifty mentors that are actively spending time with each of these companies and they're doing so voluntarily to be able to help early stage companies succeed.


But also, I think as a as a as a result of this, they learn a substantial amount about using and working with technology solutions. So there's a lot of sort of synergy and how this partnership comes together. I think the the gist of this is I think there is a question that was asked, how do you think about real estate? Well, we look at this from the investor lifecycle. We look at this from the occupier lifecycle. So all that to say we'll look at every step of the value chain.


So think about the life cycle of an asset of how a real estate asset gets constructed, designed and built and operated and ultimately marketed. So that's sort of in broad strokes is the entire lifecycle of real estate as it comes to fruition, ends up being built and then touches the ultimate sort of occupier, then subsequently the employee. So we'll look at that entire value chain and we'll look at how is technology used today and how can be used in the future in order to improve that overall process.


And so that to me, largely is is protec. And what are the range of technology solutions that we've seen that are being applied in the short term in the mid-term? And there are some aspirational technologies that we will see, such as blockchain, the ability to try to automate buildings with respect to technology. And even AR/VR, which I previously thought was certainly a little further out, even just a year, year and a half ago. But I've been proven wrong and happy to be proven wrong because we have a couple of folks on the call here with us today that have brought those seemingly sort of far technologies further along and brought them to reality today in practical use and sort of live in use cases and buildings and their thriving businesses.


So you get to meet them in just a moment. And as we kind of look at these technologies, my job is to, as an investor, scour the world so quite fortunate to spend time in many different countries. And this is quite rare for early stage investing. But we have we look at the sort of at scale across TechStars. And unfortunately, I'm not the only kind of person running around. There's a whole company that that helps with this process.


And we see 20, if not more than 30 thousand applications towards our program per year.


And the acceptance rate is is one point five percent, so you're seeing the absolute best of the best out of the areas that of companies that that we've identified opportunities and from a thematic perspective. And you'll get a chance to meet them in just a moment. Every year we invest in 10 companies and we bring them into a program that happens to be here as a proud Canadian, fortunately for us, happens to be in Toronto.


And so 10 companies from all over the world spend three months with us in Toronto and we help them from everything from identifying pilot opportunities with companies like Colliers, but also working with the broader real estate industry and hopefully in some respects, leading the way. And so we're able to carve out some really interesting solutions that I think the market has yet to see. And that's that's part of the goal of this. It's it's to be able to kind of drive forward innovation.


It's to push the boundaries on what is deemed sort of further, further, further out and bring it into reality in a shorter time frame. And that's exactly what we've been able to accomplish and quite proud to have worked with a couple of founders that you're about to meet in just a moment. Fast office represented here from native Canada. And so we're proud to see them and the program. And we also have been asking automation, who back in twenty eighteen spent three months with me in Toronto.

[00:11:23.610] So so with that, the last thing I'll quickly mention here is the culmination of that three months leads to one milestone. It is just the beginning of the journey for these companies. But that milestone is whatwe call demo day, in which these companies have a chance to present in front of a live audience, five minute TED style presentation, talking about what they've accomplished in those three months. In 2019, we hosted this in conjunction with a larger real estate forum which brought together about thirty thousand people in Toronto are our separate sort of event in the theater within that had about a thousand people that attended live.


And of course, we broadcast this. It's live streamed all over the world. So we have generally 60 plus countries that that participate in that overall event with thousands of viewers that join each of our demo days. And this happens every December. There's a bit of a pause, of course. But what I would love to do is suggest that you reach out to Michael and have a chat with them, talk to him about how you can get involved in a future demo day, because we'd love one of the things that we look to do is build sort of momentum around the community itself and those interested in project.


There are many different ways to get involved and participate in the overall program. So we'd love to have you join us. And with that, Michael, I'll pass it back to you to introduce the company's.


OK, so I think we were going to start here with with Eldar, he is the I believe is the founder and CEO of Basking Automation, the an overview of passing automation. What are you guys what are you guys

doing? Sure.


Yeah. Thanks, Michael. And thanks, Ben. Happy happy to talk to you.


Yeah. So basking, we call it A.I. and Wi-Fi based occupancy analytics platform. And so the Wi-Fi based part is coming from the fact that we're using existing Wi-Fi infrastructure that is already available in the office on campus as a sensor, as a source of data about where the people are, where what is the space utilization rate, what is the occupancy rate in the in the office. And we really focus on the workplace environment. So offices is our key, key asset in terms of real estate.


And the AA part for us is basically it's a key part of the product, really. So we are using machine learning algorithms to applying this machine, learning algorithms to the raw data that we get from Wi-Fi networks. And that's how we arrive at real estate metrics, workplace insights, everything that is important for the customer. This is a result of our machine learning product. And so I think it's important. Maybe I can I can still in the screen.


And just so you know, I guess it's important to always look at what was going on with the customers. Right. And what we know right now when we talk to the customers, looking at the market in general is obviously covid is putting a lot of pressure on the real estate team's corporate real estate teams. And these are our target customers. So we are really working with companies with more than three thousand employees in terms of headcount at least. Right.


So a lot of offices, a lot of footprint companies are looking to efficiently manage these properties, improve the utilization rates, improve the conditions for the employees. And that's what they are using basking.


But now, obviously, with a lot of pressure, they they have two things on their minds, really, in terms of. What's going on right now? It's back to office measures, how do you how do you bring employees safely back to office? There are several concerns here, obviously. First part is making sure that employees actually feel safe coming back. Right. So, you know, if you if you spend several months working from home and you need to take some public transportation coming back to work, you probably want to know that it's safe out there.


And so companies are really trying to use technical solutions to to provide this kind of information to the employees. And the part is, obviously, you want to also make sure you have the right data to comply with safety guidelines. You want to know actually how many people are present in the office and what is the current safely allowed number of people to be present in the office at any point in time. So that's the bottom concern. And the long term, obviously, companies are looking at a potential cost savings from real estate.


Everyone is concerned about how do you make sure the footprint of the office footprint that is there is utilized fully? Companies understand how that work from home is actually a thing. It's possible to be productive working from home and employees are actually looking to to work from home more and more. So some of the service, one of the recent research from Colliers International was actually found out that about six to seven percent of the employees are looking to work from home after the lockdown is lifted.


So this is a long term saying you need to adapt, you need to make sure you financially adapt as well. So with all this concerns, we actually took a lot of effort. We developed several features that are specifically focused on covid response back to office measures just to help customers, obviously with the most urgent needs that they have. And like like I was saying, you know, we we are at EHI and Wi-Fi based technology, so. The fact that his wife based we're using existing office infrastructure, so no need to install additional hardware, that means we're easy to deploy.


We can it's a software product, right?


It's not hardware. So we are based in Germany, but we are working with multinational companies across the markets, Latin America, North America, Canada, obviously. Europe, yes. So easy to deploy, cost effective. But again, it's no additional hardware involved. So no maintenance and no costs associated with that. So 10 times cheaper than some of the traditional sensors could be even more affordable. When you look at the scale, when you go to multiple buildings and then something that is very important for us being based in Europe, but also quite important for North America now is privacy.


So we are protecting the privacy of the employees by design. It's something that is at the core of the product as well. Yeah. So I just I wanted to share this slide as well. This is an example of what's happening in the offices right now. So just one of the one of our clients where we are deployed in the headquarters in New York, a Fortune 500 company. And so their goal was to basically understand how they can save money on real estate, on this Manhattan property.


There are several ways you could do that. You could allocate more people because employees are working from home a lot of time. So you actually don't need that much desks sitting idle. Or you could also improve the employee's conditions or focus on productivity creating spaces that are missing. So this is what our product is about. And so you see here know, once we deployed, it was back in December. But then obviously it was a very important part of the project.


What we did is we work to forecast the potential occupancy levels for this client as well. So after covid, after the lockdown restrictions, what's that going to be like?


So we created some scenarios around that and also we've identified some cost savings, obviously. Obviously it's about a million dollars in just this office, along with certain steps to be taken to allocate people more efficiently, essentially. So maybe just to give you a quick overview of how the product looks like, so this is a cloud based Web application, basically an overview of old applications is what you see now. Portfolio overview, right.


So you see the occupancy right now across different offices connected. And then another view that we're providing is building dashboards. So basically a level below what's going on, on the particular location, what's going on in this particular office. You see the occupancy in real time. You see metrics for a certain period of time and you see potential opportunities for optimization. So is there allocating more people here? People count opportunity or a space opportunity so you can actually improve the selection of rooms, space for quite work and so on.


So there are several, several different charts showing basically how to what's possible in terms of optimization. But now, like I said, I think the most important part of the product is these three features. So we are showing social distancing and density levels in real time, again, across building or floor levels or area levels as well. Now, the number of people present and then we compare it to the benchmarks from WHO or MIT studies to show where this particular parts of the office is.


And if something is wrong and the density is too high, people are just kind of congregating around. We send out the alerts to all the stakeholders that they need to see that. Right. And then there is another another feature that is also quite important is office, the office, mobility, mobility monitoring. So what we can provide is essentially a way to understand how people are visiting different offices. So if you are working in one office and you're coming to that office, a lot of times this would be tagged as the home base.


And when you visit another office in the same company in your company, you would be seen as a visitor. This is quite useful for covid response as well. And there is a positive case and one of the offices, the company could quickly take corrective measures, clean all the potential potentially affected locations as well. And then the last piece here is basically floor floorplan that we are providing that by default. But it's now it's even more useful for us to prioritize cleaning and services when it's the area a certain part of the floor and say is more occupied than others.


There's more people there. You obviously need to pay more attention to clean it more frequently. So all this features help clients to to take care of their employees in terms of safety. So that's the problem. I saw the questions you showed, Michael, before. Beforehand, right.


So I guess coming back to the covid effects on the on the on the market and on the workplace, what we actually are seeing at Basking and we're talking to customers just to add a couple of points, if you look at the demand side, we we see that obviously and demand side of the real estate. It's basically employees. What are they looking for with the obviously work from home is is the keyword here. And the employees are looking to spend more time at home.


They want to be more flexible. So that's one part. And on the other side of supply. Landlords, what they are, what they're working on, what they are seeing is obviously kind of balancing that the companies need to provide more space to for to create some social distancing around employees so that these two two forces are at play right now in general is just a great, I guess, time for technology and real estate. This this is very useful for the market.


Technology is the solution in a lot of cases, from tracing cases to safety measures. Right. And, yeah, it's it's a good time to look at property as a business. And I'm happy to answer additional questions. That's great. We're we're definitely going to get some some more of those talking about, like how you started doing things that are solving PropTech or sorry, covid issues and then maybe how that's going to continue afterwards. So, of course, like you were talking about, you know, making it more efficient to stay in the long term in the office and bringing the costs down and things like that.


We'll get to those when we start talking about the questions. First of all, thanks so much, Eldar. That was really great. We're going to go ahead and and move on to call in now to give us a little bit of a. of a talk about fast office and and what you guys are doing over there. Thank you very much, Michael.


And for this opportunity to speak to everybody. My name is Colin Graham. I'm a co-founder and CEO of the office. So what I'd like to do is invite you at any time to just go to our website, where you'll see basically where Fast Office has essentially two product lines. We started out by providing 3D interactive 3D services that allow tenants to very quickly and inexpensively understand how the requirements could fit into a potential space so they could move forward at least that space.


With the advent of covid, we've seen that we can apply the same toolset to enable tenants to look at the space they're already leasing and understand how they can return to it safely and how to optimize the safe return to that space over time. As I said. Workspace is our solution for landlords and tenants of brokers to market space that's available in the market by combining all of the marketing assets that would typically be available, whether it's photography or 3-D models or Matterport visualizations, and combine that with our ability to take a simple PDF plan and and turn that very quickly into a 3D interactive model.


This model can then be laid out in real time to showcase how that tenants requirements would fit into a particular space, that technology we've extended as a result of the Covid pandemic into allowing tenants to to keep their existing sites in such a way that they can see where the ceiling would be unsafe to to utilize and what they would need to do to the existing ceiling in order to make it safe. So with that, what I'd like to do is just jump in to the demo and support I'm going to showcase.


Here is our app, which is which is a Web app. So you can anybody can free to sign up for an account on fast office.


So what you see here is an imported PDF plan that has been reconfigured or converted into a three a 3-D plane, so to speak, and where we can very quickly pop this up into the 3D model. So the exterior of the building, which we call the white box, is created very quickly. We use AI and some automated tool sets that will analyze a PDF plan, scale it and generate a white box or based billing model. With that, you can begin to interior walls and drag and drop into it the furniture.


This this at the same time is completely interactive and which means that I can at any time. Click on Enterpriser, a product or object in the scene and drag it out of the scene and see exactly what it is, who the manufacturers, what the what the cell pricing is. And if I need more information, I can very quickly just jump to the website. From a covid response perspective, what we've done is developed a number of patent pending technologies which are centered around analyzing the current model by applying an AutoZone analysis.


So what's what I've just done is clicked on our AutoZone tool, which is enabled the system to detect chairs essentially so developing. An understanding of the of the current layout and the relative safety, as you can see, given the heat map, it's it's not particularly safe. We can generate a report on the occupancy and and read indicates it's not safe as far as you could imagine.


And over here, I've got a tool that allows me to essentially turn off chairs so I can click on the scene. And given the social distancing requirements of two meters, you can turn off the guest chairs in these offices, in meeting rooms, I can turn off chairs as I see fit in order to generate a.


The maximum number of safe seats, given that current layout in any time I can. Take a walk through the scene simply by dragging and drop and. Creating a walking path that very quickly takes me into a quick look at the scene, but from a combat perspective, what we're looking at is how to maximize the safe return at any particular point that can create an independent zone here, which has a central area, which is essentially the safe working area. So we're not statues.


When we occupy an office space, we do move around in our work area so we can define that. And that's entirely up to the user or the employer or the employee, what they choose depending on their role. So what this means is that we can go in and create zones and analyze the the office space based on the interaction of these zones and the various products within it. So with that, these zones have the ability to detect product in the scene along with the chairs, so as we're going forward, we're beginning to build up a library and catalog of products that in some cases are passed to products in other cases or active products.


So in this case, we've got a company called Prescient X, which has developed a desktop air purifier which can basically eliminate and kill the virus, or ninety nine point nine nine percent of viruses within the local area. So these particular products sit on the desk and they will purify the air within the zone relative to that desk where there are other products that will do the same for larger areas, meeting rooms. And in fact, whole offices of their products include what a lot of people have already seen, these acrylic screens that are being deployed almost universally at the moment.


But we have the ability to drag and drop them into the scene and our zones will detect them. So I'll just drag one in here, a larger one, and then rerun. My Wizard Auto Zone, you'll see that the zone will have detected that screen, which is a passive product in the scene, but it effectively separates these two these two chairs, these two workstations, making both of them safe now. So the occupancy will have increased based on the report.


And so based on our technology, the ability to import a PDF and very quickly develop the 3-D model of a current layout that can now very quickly determine where the hotspots are and they're in their office and decide which chairs they can they can take out of the space or and what products they may or may not be able to use to increase the safe occupancy. Beyond that, our system automatically tracks everything that's placed in the scene. So in this case, we've got the two screens I dragged and dropped into the into the scene.


They can be purchased directly from fast office or up. And in fact, we provide financing through our financial partners.


So that pretty much showcases what we're doing from a covid response perspective as we go forward, our our zone technology will begin to act in real time relative to the mediating products that are available. We have active zones under development which will detect when employees are actually walking around in space and the effect that their presence or or or. So impeding on on another passive zone or or a space will affect its relative safety. This combined with the beacons and other sensors in the space, it's quite an interesting opportunity.


But with that, I'd like to go back to Michael and then take questions. Thank you. Thank you, Carl. That was an awesome, awesome presentations and an examples of kind of bringing to life what we talk about. And I think with covid that there's the challenge with coming up with city wide plans, detailed plans around how we can bring everyone back into a work, a work sort of environment and in a safe manner. And then there's the execution of it and ensuring that, you know, I think that's that's the harder part of this, which is how do we come up with the sort of detailed plan and execute against it and kind of bring examples like this to life?


And I think the broader sort of takeaway for for me at least, and thinking through this is fortunate to work with with all of you is the subject of entrepreneurship, as is some of the students in your particular audience. Think about various different career paths. Right. And so my takeaway from this and having kind of built a company, I think locally, a lot of folks know about a company called Ritual, which is a mobile commerce platform. And I got to say, like working with these guys, working with a team at Ritual, one thing you kind of learn very quickly is there are various different career paths.


I think what is unique about entrepreneurship is it is a vehicle, one of many to be able to take an idea to market. And in many cases, especially where there's so much change in the environment that had been brought about with examples like covid and covid being one of examples, one of those examples that is sort of global nature right now. But we see these sort of large shifts in the economy at various different points in time. And as you have quickly seen, these these individuals very talented, we're able to bring about a new product into the market.


And so the ability to be very agile, the ability to kind of pivot in some respects is talking about all too often. But hopefully these are examples that bring those words and subject to life. And I think as we kind of talk about the innovation economy, which will continue to continue to grow, and in Canada as one of the core pillars that will drive the economic sort of engine in the country, bringing examples to life that are locally based in Canada, separately bringing examples to life and solutions and innovation from various different parts around the world is is both very sort of core and necessary to how we're going to continue to thrive as we think about this sort of years and years and decades ahead, as we think more broadly about what is needed in the Canadian economy.


So hopefully this these are examples that kind of bring that to life and help you all kind of think about what are various different career paths. And I've got to say, I'm quite fortunate to work with folks like Holland and now and and a few others and just see how quickly they're able to to adopt and adapt to to new situations. So, again, this this happened in the course of just a few months. And you're seeing what they're already kind of putting in market, which is extraordinarily quickly.


So with that, Michael, I'll pass it back to you for a few questions from the group.


You know, that's really, really great, because actually some of one of our questions was about how, you know, the most common response to this pandemic in general has been to sort of brace for impact and lasted out as long as possible. But with you guys, it seems like you managed to turn this. There's really overwhelming problem, this issue into an opportunity with the products. And we just wanted to ask, you know, what approach did you take to kind of seeing this as as not an issue, as an opportunity? And how did you then go ahead and think of your ideas and develop your products?


Well I guess the answer is to always talk to your customers. For us, there was no other way to find the find an answer we really try to understand what's what's needed, what's out there, right? So how can we know what we can do? Our product is set in a way, but there's also always, always been said. There's always the started. There's always a way to be flexible and it's actually required to to survive. So, yeah, we just went out there and spoke with all the customers and prospects, try to understand was what's really needed was we can deliver.


That's probably the way the answer is to wait and wait. But yeah, that's just how it starts. Yeah.


I'd like to echo what was just said for me.


I was actually in New Zealand when the when the call to return happened mid-March. So we made a mad dash back in the process. During that trip, one of our broker customers at the US started asking if we could use our platform for virtual tours. So we had never really framed it that way. But but in fact, that's more general description of what our platform is. We allow you to basically interact with the 3D model in real time. So virtual tour seemed like an obvious the answer was yes.


And then as for Eldar, we started talking to our customers and asking them what they'd like. And of course, if you can't actually physically visit a site, maybe you can do it virtually. So we started developing transitioning our our business model toward that that that requirement in the market. And then it became clear that the safety of the space was also paramount concern. And that's where that's where we we.


We invented the zone tool and began to look at, well, if you're a tenant, are you going to actually return to a space and you've got you've got the employer who is leasing the space. It's a large expense that at the moment is completely useless. You've got a lot of a lot of your employees who would actually prefer to stay home and work remotely. But a large number of them can't do that. And and and there's there's aspects of working at the office that are essential for four businesses going forward.


So we basically transition once again. So this is our second pivot in as many months toward market need. And it's it's resulted in tremendous demand from the market because if you can imagine. Every occupier space, every tenant in the world has this problem right now, so that's that's really that's really great. And we're talking about how all these social changes have been driving the innovation and and PropTech and things like that. And I want to ask actually all three of you, you know, what social changes do do you think are going to persist after covid-19 has ended?


And, you know, for for for calling Eldar? Did you guys develop your products with the idea of just outlasting the pandemic and helping for a short term, or do you think your clients are actually going to benefit long after new cases have have stopped?


The current system understood that it's far more efficient to to visit the space virtually than it is to to try to corral all of your senior team and get an Uber taxi or whatever to one, two, three, four, five spaces in a day. And somehow remember what each space was like at the end of the day. It's it's incredibly inefficient. It's not a lot of fun and it's incredibly wasteful and expensive. So we don't see the. Well, because of the climate crisis, the physical visiting of space has come to a complete halt.


But we're seeing more and more people going online to the space. Don't expect that that's going to change once this crisis has ended. We also see that there's tremendous efficiencies in terms of the operation of space that are coming about the technology similar to basking. And we see that there's a fly by creating digital twins of space and and their layouts, that the application and combination of various technologies is going to create efficiencies which are going to outlast this pandemic.


OK. Well, I would say crisis is just an accelerator for for all this tech adoption we we've been working on for a while. So basically our focus before covid was a workplace optimization, real estate, cost savings and so on. So all this was is still a major part of our product. Right. So like I said, short term covid response, long term cost savings, productivity gains and so on. It's just that a lot of things changed in terms of the way companies and employers perceive workplace.


Now, obviously, work from home is going to stay no matter what. One way or another. The companies are just more you know, they just understand how it works. Now, there's a lot of a lot of industries where never work from home friendly before and now the 100 percent work from home based and so on. So, yeah, this is going to stay. I think what's going to be helpful for basking in four ventures in general is that.


Employers will occupier's will look for less space, but better space, right, so there will be more flexible in terms of choices, in terms of where the headquarters are, where the smaller offices are located. So all this flexibility will create a lot of data and a lot of need to actually manage this flexibility options, flexible options. Right. So and technology is the only way to actually do that efficiently. So there is need for product solutions already.


It's just going to grow much faster.


And that's what's going to affect the maybe two quick thoughts on this one. If we look at some of the challenges in the industry for the adoption of technology. I mean, we're coming out of one of the longest bull markets in the last century or so. And so profit margins were fairly high. There was less in some respects, depending on which stakeholder you're thinking about, less of a need to change or change the way of doing the existing way of doing business, the sort of legacy business.


So I think on one front now, you have no choice but to change. This is in some respects, forced adoption, as I think a bit like the students. Like what is this that the corollary of think of staying at home, shopping for groceries and think of the e-commerce delivery companies that have now essentially been, in some respects, forced onto people. So if you weren't an early or sort of like late majority adopter previously, many different audiences very broadly have now sort of shifted online to seduce a new behavior that they weren't typically accustomed to, because there is a there's now something that's kind of forced that change in the same respect.


What I'd say is a fairly in some respects, depending on sort of which aspect of reality you're talking about, parts of the industry are fairly legacy, a little bit sort of, you know, used to doing things in a particular way. And there was no driving force to effectuate that change. And that's what we've seen specifically here with with covid-19 to be able to kind of in some I mean, you can't if you can't go into the office, period, and then you need to be able to use some technology to build the kind of facilitate what you typically do is, of course, of your business or do no business at all.


And so that's that's sort of one thing I would say has dramatically changed the need for certain types of solutions. When I say that all technology will highly be adopted, I think the short answer that is no certain characteristics, as you've seen through both of these solutions, are reflective of each other and and those that are, I think, seeing more demand, those that are sort of virtual in nature, certain behaviors that they're able to kind of effectuate scalability of it, the non deployment of hardware, et cetera, et cetera.


You can you can start to map out like, hey, here's here are some solutions that will win. And there are obviously those that that that faulter as well. So it's not it's not a case of like all companies and all solutions will be will be use. There will be some that will that will continue to thrive and see more success. But it certainly is a bit of a shakeup. So you'll have the case of seeing more winners and losers will certainly kind of happen over the course of the next year or so. There will be more systemic changes that will continue to persist post pandemic, and I think these are the entrepreneurs that are thinking about, hey, what is that sort of new norm look like and how do we kind of adjust our solutions to be able to meet those new norms and those that I think are able to kind of pivot or adjust? Largely when you think about early stage entrepreneurs and what they're amazingly good at, it's taking a very ambiguous situation, distilling it down to here's the the core thing that you need to be able to focus on, kind of decoupling sort of various different solutions in the market to what is the core problem that my customer needs and wants to see very quickly and be able to kind of take advantage of that particular opportunity.


And I think these are two great examples of showcasing exactly that. Yeah, that's that's true, and I actually just wanted to get something from Eldar before we move on to our last question, because I think we are running a bit long. You said that you forecasted office occupancy for four Fortune 500 company in the US. And I just wanted to see what how many what does that after the the pandemic ends? You said there was going to be some sort of a reduced occupancy.


What's what's that number? Well. What we did was basically a scenario analysis, we created several. You know, possible ways the occupancy will behave after lock down restrictions are lifted, and so they, in terms of what we looked at was work from home, adoption was was the key parameter.


How many people will be actually looking forward to coming to the office? Right. And obviously, on the other case, the other side of it, of this equation is capacity in terms of thefts, because you need to make sure there's not enough room. Now, it's not going to be open office anymore. It's going to be less desks. So what we found is occupancy for this particular location will be high impact scenario by impact. I mean, people will stay at home more.


It was dropping to 40 percent from seventy five, 80 percent occupancy rates pre covid. And that's that's just our estimate. Back in March, that was high time. The actual the crisis mode. When we look now and actually see how the occupancy is moving along, at least in the markets where lockdown is over now, like Europe. Yeah, it's it's still low. Still low. So we're talking about like 40 percent. I think we'll get to that sometime next year, probably maybe for some markets. Some I think it depends.


Wow. I'm sure that's really surprising for a lot of students back home. OK, so just the last question, of course, this is the first episode of the series. And because of that, I just wanted to hear from each of you guys. How would you describe PropTech to the students who are going to be watching this at home? For a lot of them, this is going to be their first introduction to the concept and to, of course, these companies that are working within the domain.


What would you say to these students?


Every technology related to real estate? Right. But I guess it's it's it's good to think about it in terms of the assets that we're dealing with. So office spaces, residential and so on. So that's that's just something that frames your thinking, frames your the way your you might come up with a venture with with an idea. Yeah. Which kind of real estate properties you're most interested in. I think that's that's kind of the angle I would go as a starting point with.


But yeah, it's, it's just growing is it's something that is booming as part of the overall technology technology sector. So something that you should pay attention to. It is fantastic. Colin, what do you think about that?


Well, I've been in the industry for quite a while, three decades and longer doing technology in the industry for probably close to 15 years. Prop tech is simply the term that's come about recently to describe what a number of people in the industry begun to realize, and that is that it's up. And up until a few years ago, before the term came about, most professionals in the industry were using generalized tools, word excel and finding that alone. They did the job initially as the requirements of their businesses started to evolve.


They realized that they needed their own tools. And for example, as an architect, I became clear to me that that the tools that were available to me as an architect, cad and graphics tools were simply not adequate. That that the that that the business is more complex than than the tools. So you see entrepreneurs begin to develop those tools as they see the demand evolve. And we now call that proptech because these are tools specific to the real estate industry and property.


So I think you're just going to see them evolve as as the ability has the potential for the technology to solve. More problems specific to the industry evolve. OK. Ben, do you have something to say about that? I just come from a broader perspective, maybe I love I love both of them have touched on it, in particular when I think about how Colin describes the driving force behind, why there's a specific need in the market for this, that that certainly continuing to evolve.


And we touched on that. Think a bit at the beginning of the conversation. I mean, largely from a from a sector perspective. You look at it as the four major figures. Right. Office that everyone can think about where you live, work and kind of play. Right. So the office environment, that that's certainly a major group of solutions. I think retail has a dedicated group of solutions, industrial and also residential and or multifamily residential.


So that essentially from a vertical perspective, would would would cover your various different types of assets and the solutions being developed specifically for those different types of asset groups and some of that kind of span, each one of them at the top. The call what I mentioned is just essentially how you think about the the built world is what they're calling it in an environment where you have hard assets, physical assets. And so how you think about investing and financing those assets.


And that's where that the capital markets function all the way through to construction. How do you manage those particular assets? So all these different services that have been created to to manage them? And again, I think the last part of this is we think about the life cycles. How do you ultimately market those assets? And so if you look at the life cycle and you look at the different types of asset types or verticals, if you will, that that is a very broad view of how you look at this particular industry and what are all the technologies that are being brought to that, you know, various different parts of of the industry based on market need.


That largely is what we're seeing in Proptech. OK, that's that's really fantastic. I hope that gives everybody at home a better understanding of what PopTech is and hopefully everybody is also interested to check out the rest of these these tech stocks when we delve more into other technologies that are being used. Thank you, guys, so, so much for coming on here on the panel. This has been fantastic. I think I really learned a lot. I know everybody at home learned a lot.


This is just so beneficial. So thank you again.


Thank you. Thank you, everyone. Thanks for having us. Thanks.

About The Association
Rotman Commerce FinTech Association
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

The Rotman Commerce FinTech Association (RCFTA) is an undergraduate interest group at the University of Toronto. Our mission is to educate students on the growing relevance of technology in finance by providing hands-on learning opportunities to enhance technical and soft skills through workshops and case competitions.