In a previous article, I theorised that one of the key PropTech themes for this year is that of “smart” technologies. Industry players seek solutions that help deliver the now widely accepted principle of real estate-as-a-service. There are many ways this goal can be achieved, from the deployment of sensors and the intelligent analytics that go with it, to customer experience platforms that span use cases and asset classes. As we already discussed late last year, exciting advances are being made in the residential, commercial and retail spaces, as well as in placemaking. The latter will, I think, become increasingly important as connectivity becomes key to entire local communities, bringing the concept of individual buildings being managed in silo from their surroundings into obsolescence.
Over the past few months, I have met many interesting startups through this column. Here are four that operate in the smart buildings space which are well worth looking out for.
Czech PropTech startup Spaceti focuses on smart offices. It was launched in Prague in 2016 by six entreprising co-founders who realised that many smart buildings projects weren’t scaling due to the fragmented nature of the market. They believed that the only way to achieve scale was to build an integrated approach in a single platform, combining hardware, sensors, data analytics and the UX side of things. Spaceti make their own sensors so as not to be dependent on third party suppliers, but can also integrate with external partners. These measure everything from occupancy, through parking utilization, to indoor air quality. According to co-Founder Akash Ravi, now that Spaceti have a well-rounded sensor portfolio, they are focusing on an analytics platform to creating deeper insights and recommendations with better algorithms and more contextual data. The system has open APIs that integrate with existing platforms already present in the buildings. In future, they want to focus on advanced analytics and on being an open provider that can track data between different systems, analyze this data, and make recommendations off the back of it. The company’s client list is already impressive, with top names such as Vodafone, Invesco and Castellum using Spaceti in their portfolios.
UK based Doordeck deals with access controls. Contrarily to many other players in their space, they decided to build a pure SaaS model, layering proprietary tech over existing hardware to open doors through their platform. They work in 24 countries but are staff light (they currently boast a tech-heavy team of seven people) because clients can install Doordeck autonomously. Co-Founder William Bainborough believes that Doordeck’s USP is their platform with one true single key (operated using NFC technology) that can work across multiple buildings, whether the tech in them is reverse engineered or, in the case of new buildings, preferred manufacturer hardware is installed. Doordeck can also be embedded in the client’s preferred tenant engagement app. According to Bainborough, Doordeck has been scaling quickly with very little external capital thanks to largely inbound enquiries from real estate companies internationally. In just three months, they were able to reach over 75 buildings in seven countries without one needing to meet their customers face to face.
Most startups dream of beginnings like the one Chicago-based Livly has had. Founded by Alex Samoylovich, initally for internal use in his FLATS multifamily portfolio, Livly raised an eye-watering $10 million seed round from venture investors and industry players earlier this year, and boasts a network of 35 partners across asset classes. In March 2019, Livly unveiled its first two products: an operating system to run a tenant’s entire experience in a multifamily property from before they move in to after they leave, and back end support for direct communications between management staff and tenants. According to CMO Jacob Rynar, “Livly is the operating systems for managers and tenants to unlock new revenues and streams. Every building can become a micro distribution hub and is considered a global marketplace. We are positioned for Livly to do to buildings what Tesla did to cars and Microsoft did to computers.”
The platform is provided free of charge, and Lively make their money though the affiliates that market to tenants via the platform. Landlords benefit from greater tenant satisfaction and retention, the premium tenants are willing to pay for digital infrastructure, and a share of the affiliate fees.
With regards to the IoT side of things, Samoylovich told me that they are and will continue to be connected as an operating system through physical connections and hardware. The Livly mobile app with be the key to getting into the building, accessing your amenities and your unit, and controlling things such as the elevators, room temperatures, and your Amazon Alexa or Google Home. Livly has been in beta in 1200 FLATS units for the past 2 years, and is now rolling out across the partners’ portfolios.
Boston-based HqO launched in early 2018 to deal with four key areas in commercial real estate. These are:
- Mobility – how software can make it easier to get to and from a building, for example by integrating with parking systems, and public transport databases;
- Control – how to turn each person’s phone into a remote control to digitise mobile access in CRE;
- Commerce – people spend a lot of their waking hours in commercial buildings and landlords are trying to make the hours they spend at work more convenient for their employees to attract and retain talent. HqO connects to ground level retailers or the services that are brought in;
- Community – HqO gives property owners the tools to create the right interactions for their tenants. This needs to be driven in the physical world by the people working at the building, which is something they help their clients with. The value add lies in connecting tenants to the property, tenants to tenants, and tenants to their neighbourhood.
Co-Founder Chase Garbarino shared with me what he thinks set HqO apart from the competition. He reckons it boils down to assurance of continuity due to the company’s significant raise to date (they raised a $7 million seed round) and investor base, the high usage rate of over 80% in the buildings the platform is deployed in, and a strong strategic model that doesn’t seek to undercut the competition.