After more than a decade of speaking at conferences, both nationally and internationally, I can truly say that the hospitality, the setting, the curation of talent, original content and the sheer energy of Proptech Riga 2019 made this the most useful and enjoyable conference I have attended in recent memory.
Huge thanks to CEO Irina Sjarki, hospitality queen Daniella and all the team at the Latvian Real Estate Association LANIDA for inviting Proptech Ireland to participate and share our experiences of this emerging sector to date. My keynote focused on:
DIGITAL PLACEMAKING & EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT
Placemaking describes a more holistic and inclusive approach to successful, sustainable, people-centred urban development. New tools and technologies allow project owners to host all digital assets pertaining to a project on one AI-enabled platform, then invite and gather data and local area insights from the community. Project stakeholders and local communities can ‘experience’ the proposed new development through immersive technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality. By using emerging technologies to capture the insights of planners, designers, engineers and architects together with local communities and end users of mixed tenure developments, what you get is a regulatory-compliant, citizen-owned neighbourhood strategy that works. Case-study presented was based on work by PLACEengage.com in Dublin (city and county).
In addition to the main stage, there was an ‘Open Stage’ on the second floor of the venue with nine new technologies presented and there was an international startup competition where 18 start-ups pitched to the panel of judges after the main event. While all startups pitching were of a reasonably strong standard, of the 18 pitches, at least two were new problems being solved or new technologies being applied to recognised problems – this might not sound like much but 2/18 is a good hit rate for real innovation. It was a long but most enjoyable day!
So, how was this conference different?
To start with, the majority of delegates were from the real estate industry, not technology or proptech.
The next big differentiator was the Oxford Debate:
OXFORD DEBATE – Does Real Estate Need Further Digitization?
At every other proptech conference or event, the speakers share views, criticisms and recommendations for and about the real estate industry; in my experience, Proptech Riga 2019 is the first event to turn this on its head and invite proptech detractors to the main stage, asking what traditional real estate professionals think of proptech. It was divisive, it got heated in parts, but it was deeply compelling.
This debate was superbly moderated by Prof. Dr. Michael Trebestein, Professor of Real Estate Management at Lucerne University.
Pro: Ardi Roosimaa, consultant from Estonia was the ultimate winner (but it was much closer than any of us Proptech proponents were comfortable with!)
Contra: Aigars Smits, real estate agent from Latvia who gave a searing takedown of innovation for the sake of innovation and lack of commercial thinking across many new proptech startups (no ROI consideration etc).
Another big difference with this conference, and particularly with the start-ups pitching, was the focus on construction technologies rather than just asset management and real estate promotion (majority of early proptechs). This was particularly exciting for me as I see the greatest future potential here, at least in the medium term.
The conference was well moderated by Jean Mauris from Latvia and Ardi Roosimaa from Estonia, both of whom brought expertise, humour and critical questioning to the stage when needed.
First up was Bartosz Dobrowolski from Proptech Poland to tell us ‘Why the change is inevitable?’
He took insights from his recent two-week #back2nokia experiment (including international travel without mobile boarding pass and Uber etc), outlined an AI-powered future where choice/preferences are predicted for you and spoke of the scaling advantages of a fail fast culture for startups.
He profiled Gen Z (those born 1995-2005) as follows: Avoid risk, creators and supporters of the sharing economy, need of belonging (one of the primary reasons co-working and co-living works), and how they do not believe in/trust social media as much as millennials do/did.
His final words of advice were clear- “Do something. Anything!”
Next up was Jonas Canton who took us ‘Down the Rabbit Hole of Proptech’
He explained how to conduct a macro environment analysis and then how to interpret the findings to determine how these trends are likely to impact your business and your sector. He also spoke of the importance of competition benchmarking and the challenges proptech poses and, separately, solves.
Gianmarco Gavagnino, architect and designer with Storymoving told of the importance of taking real estate ‘From Stories to Reality’.This ties in with the theme of ‘Place’ and how best to bring developments to life in a way stakeholders really care about.
Ivan Nokhrin of Wiredhut and co-founder of Proptech Russia spoke of ‘Integrations and Platforms: The 2020 Trend of Proptech’. Ivan is a proponent and creator of digital-first platforms. He points out that “PropTech already has its unicorns and disruptors, but more sophisticated digital-first platforms aggregating multiple products, services, IoT protocols and open API gateways are only emerging”.
Idress Goossens of PropTech Lab and co-founder of PropTech House explained ‘Onboarding Europe to Construction and Real Estate 4.0’.
There are (conservatively) 2900+startups across Europe, curated by 23 national hubs. Idress set out why innovation ought to be a priority for real estate corporates and strategies for getting started.
He reminded people in the room that great innovation provokes debate and shared a quote from Autodesk:
“By 2050 there will be 2 billion new people on the planet. We would need to build 1000 buildings every day to prepare for this.”
Markus Porvari, founder of HyperIn Inc. presented a Hong Kong-based case study demonstrating ‘How Technology is Transforming Retail Real Estate’. He explains how mobile loyalty applications with indoor navigation/way-finding are evolving within retail spaces and sets out that the collected consumer footfall analytics and behaviour data can be used for commercial enhancement.
Alina Mezciema, head of project management at LMT showcased the power of ‘Leveraging Smart Technologies for Improved Lifestyle’. She articulated the use cases for 5G and enhanced IoT connectivity for asset protection, public safety and placemaking.
One of the highlights of the conference for me was Martynas Zibuda, director of development with EIKA – Spaces for Life, who showed his organisation to be an exemplar of best digital practice for property developers. He walked the conference delegates through the company’s integrated AI-enabled CRM platform and app (including VR) complete with FM monitoring module, real-time marketplace analytics (including competitor analytics) and their use of chat-bots. Essentially, the company has integrated six or seven of the best proptech solutions and digital tools available in a stream-lined way and are already reaping the benefits.
He provided the quote of the day: “There was no proptech but there was always innovation at EIKA”.
Mari-Liis Keris from ÖÖD Hotel showcased their off-grid, low-impact tiny homes that blend into the landscape. At a cost of 60K per unit, the returns are on average 45k per annum per unit, based on 70% occupancy. This is similar to offer offerings in the marketplace. In the presentation, Ireland was listed as one of the sites already hosting a home so I will definitely check out the business model, off-grid technologies being used and, most importantly, planning permissions.
Sergejs Volvenkins from iMarketings presented on ‘Understanding the Differences in Digital Marketing from Real Estate Companies in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia’. This was a benchmarking exercise comparing the website performance (particularly focus on SEO) and social media reach across the industry in the three countries mentioned above. There were lots of useful points re: recent changes to Google algorithms and a few quick tips that are likely to impact performance and reach. Also, he reminded us of the pervasive power of remarketing!
Alexander Ragozin of KONNEKTU explained ‘How to Win the Battle for Customers?’ This was specialist content for shopping centre portfolio managers. The company currently manages the data of more than 30 million consumer profiles. Alexander explained the importance of tracking that data and interpreting it to better understand and improve the experience of your customers. He also showed how this could be enhanced through strategic digital marketing for shopping centers. This was an excellent and detailed presentation, my short summary here cannot do it justice!
Stefan Müller-Schleipen, CEO of Immovativ GmbH gave an introduction to ‘Urbentec – The Next Big Thing!’. He discussed how digitization helps municipalities to sustainably reduce the land consumption by identifying and activating inner urban development area.
Alfredo Díaz-Araque Moro, best known online as Spanish Proptech, gave a great overview of the Spanish real estate market and proptech ecosystem: ‘Housing in Proptech: The Spanish Case’. There are 322 tracked proptech startups across Spain right now and the focus is mainly on residential – Alfredo gave some explanations as to why that might be and what needs to happen next? The proptech scene in Spain is particularly interesting and is growing at a faster rate than other Europen countries so it will be interesting to follow the progress. [New Spanish Proptech website launching shortly].
Wouter Truffino, founder of Holland ConTech & PropTech gave a rousing, Tony Robbins-inspired talk, ‘Unleash The Innovative Power’ to get the delegates motivated to take action on the ideas of the day.
My final thoughts on this whole conference/pitch competition is that maybe the big events where corporate ‘speakers’ actually pay up to £25,000 to present from the stage to thousands of delegates – who are on a bit of a jolly from the office – is not the place to capture real, on-the-ground insights on early-stage innovation or to get an accurate sense of upcoming trends. There is certainly a place for both, and a market for both, but the impactful learning will come from the traditional real estate industry players sharing their challenges, pain points and vulnerabilities – and I’m not convinced they will pay for the privilege of exposing these frustrations from a main stage. Are we antagonising the industry with our proptech jargon and hashtags? I would be interested to hear other opinions on this – email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
*Apologies, this was written very quickly in the airport at Riga – please excuse any typos. Also, if any speakers above wish for me to add or clarify anything, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org!