Category: Pi Labs

25 Jan 2016

Propoly: An Online Rental Community

Building a High Growth Proptech Start-Up Featuring Propoly

Welcome Propoly! Please introduce yourselves to the Pi Labs community.

Propoly is an online platform for the rental community. We provide an eco-system for landlords and tenants to interact at all stages of the rental process starting with finding a tenant and ending with fixing your boiler. Propoly seeks to allow our landlords, tenants and service providers to communicate throughout all parts of the rental  process incorporating a feedback system available for the growing private rental sector.

How did Propoly come into being?

One of our co-founders Ben, was attempting to rent out  his flat for the first time. He was taken aback by the commission charged by agents. Even more, if was difficult to ascertain quality of the tenant, or vice versa the quality of the landlord. There was no platform with which to communicate with the tenant and log problems that arose during the tenancy. Agents wanted to charge an extra 10% for this service.

What’s your business model?

We charge for services along the way that our users will need in order to find a tenant and solve problems that arise during the tenancy. We also provide a range of innovative services targeted for landlords and tenants that we will build out as our community grows.

How do you aim to change the market?

We aim to transform the online rental community for landlords and tenants. We are excited to work with our diverse set of users to bring out this change with a proposition that will be cost saving, time efficient and a great way to revolutionise the private rental market.

What brought you to the Pi Labs programme and where do you want to be by the end of it?

We are passionate about technology changing the property sector. We want to be at the forefront of this within the long term rental and management sector and target ways for Propoly to be the go to platform for your rental home, which we believe will enhance our business. By the end of the programme we want to have established investors, mentors and early adopters that share our vision to parent up with to take us forward.  

To close, what does success mean to you?

Success for Propoly –  building a rental community that improves the experience for those looking to long-term let or rent a property.

How to get in touch?

ed@propoly.com

matt@propoly.com

ben@propoly.com

25 Jan 2016

YourWelcome: Hotel TV Services To AirBnB Properties Via Connected Device

Welcome YourWelcome! Please introduce yourselves to the Pi Labs community.

YourWelcome is a platform for Airbnb hosts to provide ‘hotel’ guest services and personal video welcomes via a connected device. We partner with market leading local services to enable guests to book everything from takeaways to gym access direct from the device.

How did YourWelcome come into being?

Previously we both ran a joint venture mobile agency which we successfully exited in October ’14. Around the same time, we both started renting our homes through Airbnb and were surprised there was no simple, effective digital solution to communicate your home whilst also offering local services to guests during their stay. YourWelcome was born from this.

What’s your business model?

We monetize both sides of the Airbnb ecosystem. Hosts pay to customise the app (to record their welcome and instructional videos) and / or rent a device. We also make affiliate revenue from our selected partners each time a guest books a service through the app.

How do you aim to change the market?

Airbnb is the fastest growing ‘hotel’ chain in the world and YourWelcome aims to be the de-facto provider of premium guest services in this market within 2 years. The huge growth in the short term let market has meant that the competition is fiercer than ever for hosts to get the occupancy rate they want. YourWelcome enables hosts to provide a more personal and professional service, whilst streamlining guest interaction to help increase host profit vs effort.

What brought you to the Pi Labs programme and where do you want to be by the end of it?

Their focus on Prop Tech, along with the quality of mentors, made them our first choice accelerator. By the end of the programme we want to have successfully closed our seed round and be focused on rapidly growing the business.

To close, which entrepreneur do you admire and what does success (one line) mean to you?

Jeff Bezos is an obvious choice – he changed commerce for our generation and is constantly demanding innovation from his team. Success to us is creating an innovative product that is adopted at scale. This is our ambition at YourWelcome!

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How to get in touch?

henry@yourwelcome.com / @islandwall

paul@yourwelcome.com / @paulloram

@yourwelcometv

25 Jan 2016

Successful Candidates For Second Cohort

We are thrilled to announce the five companies that will be joining our next programme. As announced in the Estates Gazette, the five teams include: 

·      nanoget: nanoget revolutionises the way people rent, let and manage their homes online. As the first community of its kind, nanoget provides a one-step platform for landlords and tenants to directly engage with each other without the use of an external agent. It enables users to communicate seamlessly, helping with negotiating tenancy agreements, logging issues, reporting problems and requesting home related services ranging from plumbers to private tutors. nanoget’s unique continuous feedback builds a strong ecosystem of dedicated users. See more at: nanoget.com

·      EnergyMiser: EnergyMiser is seeking to build an ongoing consumer engagement platform for households to help them save money on their energy bills. They intend to disrupt the space by building a digital toolset for consumers to put them in charge of their energy bills and to make it as easy as possible for people to take action saving money and energy. See more at: Energymiser.co

·      RoomFlick: With spiralling rental costs, more people are sharing properties than ever before. Finding the right place to live, and the right people to live with isn’t easy, using social connections and interests, RoomFlick matches people looking for spare rooms and properties, with landlords and existing tenants. See more at: Roomflick.com

·      YourWelcome: YourWelcome offers a hotel TV-style connected portal for AirBnB properties. Their connected screens can be rented by AirBnB hosts who can tailor the device for their guests to broadcast host-generated welcome videos and home instructional guides, alongside relevant local information. YourWelcome then serves up daily local offers to the AirBnB guests direct to the device, matching a highly engaged audience with targeted money saving offers. See more at: yourwelcome.com

·      Switchee: A smart thermostat for social housing. It learns a household’s weekly routine and automatically turns heating off when no one is home. Switchee has been designed in conjunction with affordable housing providers to combat fuel poverty and reduce property management costs by collecting actionable home usage data. See more at: switchee.co

Our programme officially starts on Monday, September 7th and will run until December 4th. 

If you are an investor and interested in hearing more about these companies or meeting the teams, email mary@pilabs.co.uk

25 Jan 2016

Didn’t Get In To Pi Labs? Now What?

The obvious question any company will have when they are not accepted into an accelerator programme is “What could I have done differently” or “What was missing?” or “What can I do to prepare for the next programme?”. Before I address what you should focus on next, I will say that accelerators receive a lot of great applications from strong teams with interesting ideas. My first piece of advice is don’t give up. We could have missed something in your application and/or we may need to see more traction in order to understand the potential market for your product.

In this post I will address what all early stage companies should focus on as they prepare for an accelerator programme or early stage investment.

Solve a Real Problem

Is your product a nice to have or a must have? Would your customer pay for your product or are the alternatives good enough to prevent a switch? How often would your customer use the product and would they easily forget that it exists?

There are a multitude of interesting ideas but what all successful technology companies have in common is they have developed products that are far better than any alternative, products that are sticky, and products that their customers eventually cannot (or believe they cannot) live without.

Know Your Customer 

The first step in building a product that solves your customer’s problem is understanding who your customer REALLY is. I know this sounds obvious but so often, companies list all the customer groups they could sell to without focusing on one specific group.  With limited resources you will need to focus on your core customer group and identify the unifying problem that group has. Knowing your customer is the first step in articulating what problem you are solving to investors as well.

Spend Time with your Customers

Get a prototype in front of your customer as soon as possible, especially if you do not have deep market knowledge and/or if you do not have direct experience with the problem you are solving.  From there, establish your customer feedback loop (customer feedback- iterate – customer feedback-iterate) and start tracking the right metrics. When I say the right metrics I mean the metrics that help you develop your product. Identify how often your customers are using the product, how long they use it, and what they use it for. Take a look atPirate metrics to start identifying what to track.

Ensure Your Market is Large Enough

If you plan on bringing external investors on board you will need to prove that your market size is large enough and your business can scale. When you calculate your market size take into consideration future product features and new markets.  All expansions should fit in to your company’s original vision.

Also consider your direct and indirect competitors. Will they take market share from you? Is the market large enough for several players? Is your product unique enough that you can protect your market share?

Balance Your Team

The strongest teams have complementary skill sets. Review your team and identify what gaps exists. No one expects you to have a full team from the start but you should understand your team’s strengths, it’s gaps and have a plan to fill those gaps. Consider adding strategic advisors to provide market knowledge and potentially fill some of the skills gaps.

Build Your Investor Network

Start meeting investors before you actually need investment. It takes time to really understand a business and to feel confident that a team is able to hit its targets. Warm introductions are always best so use LinkedIn to see how you are connected and talk to other startups that may already have investment from those investors. Keep a list of all investors you have spoken to and update them when you have hit key milestones.

Finally, if you really want to join an accelerator programme, consider applying to other accelerators that also fit your company profile. If you really feel that one specific accelerator would benefit you, keep the team updated on your progress and apply for the next programme.

– Mary Criebardis Singh, Programme Director

25 Jan 2016

AirSorted: Making Airbnb Hassle-Free

There are many great benefits of Airbnb hosting. Socially, it offers you the opportunity to meet new and interesting people from all walks of life, and can even foster life-long friendships. Financially, it gives you the chance to receive an extra income and, if handled well, quite a substantial return.

But anyone that’s hosted on Airbnb before will know that with these rewards comes a large amount of hassle. From damages and repairs to cleaning and laundry, there is a long list of unglamourous chores and potential problems that can make the process time-consuming, inefficient and ultimately unenjoyable.

Having encountered these difficulties first-hand, we set out to deliver a more hassle-free experience for Airbnb hosts, And so, AirSortedwas born.

Our mission is simple: we want to make it easy to share your home while earning an extra income at the same time.

We take care of everything, including screening guests, taking guest inquiries, arranging cleaners, conducting meet and greets, organising repairs, co-ordinating key exchanges, providing 24/7 guest support and even optimising pricing. Fundamentally, we are an Airbnb management service that takes care of your booking while allowing you to earn higher yields, without all the hassle that usually comes with Airbnb hosting.

We join Pi Labs as the programme’s youngest team both in terms of individual age and company lifespan. Having begun on Boxing Day 2014, we applied to the accelerator at an early stage to help us kickstart our business, and as an Airbnb property service, “Property Innovation Labs” seemed like the perfect option for us. We are currently focused on the London area, but have ambitions to grow internationally.

25 Jan 2016

Property 2.0: Britain’s Property Innovation – By Faisal Butt

I spent eight of the formative years of my life in California – often trekking between university and work in Los Angeles and friends and family in Silicon Valley. 

A lot of the innovation in tech at the time coincided with the first dot-com era. I was very much part of that ecosystem and feel California has left a lasting imprint on the way I view the world. People who know me today as a Mayfair based venture capitalist would be surprised to hear that I actually did some of the software coding for Web 1.0. I was also was one of the thousands laid off when the dot-com bubble burst in the early noughties. I’ve been through that cycle, and survived it with battle scars and inspiration that I brought with me when I moved to London in 2009.

When I joined hands with James Caan in autumn 2009, I entered the business world in Britain with an open and inquisitive mind. I wasn’t quite sure which industry I was going to disrupt. It just so happened that we were in the midst of a global recession fuelled by a property boom and bust cycle. There were definitely similarities with the early noughties recession in the U.S. I observed an industry in churn where people had been laid off and teams were in movement. To me, the property sector seemed ripe for disruption. What had worked before wasn’t going to work for the future – and a lot of bright, talented people were now idle and looking for new ways of doing things. My thesis for investing in property innovation in 2009 was really that simple, but it’s one that has quickly proven to have some legs.

As a venture capitalist – I was a recipient of the business plans created by the unemployed-come-entrepreneur masses created out of the “Credit Crunch” – so I had an apex view of what was going on in the property sector and had a premonition of what would come. At the time James wasn’t looking at the property sector in a VC sense, but seeing the similarities with what I had experienced in the U.S., I saw an opportunity. You only have to look at businesses like Skype and LinkedIn, which both launched during the dot-com recovery, to see what can be born out of ecosystems that are in churn.

Old Street Roundabout

Silicon Roundabout

I felt that this would happen again with the property sector in Britain, and I wanted to be at the centre of it. A lot of innovation is formed out of constraints. When faced with adversity, people tend to tap into recesses of their brain that they wouldn’t normally utilise. Armies of innovators, faced with numerous constraints – the newly unemployed – were formed almost overnight. Like never before, people were questioning the status quo and challenging a sector that has been starved of innovation for decades. This was an early indicator of the change to come.

The drivers for property innovation in Britain go beyond market churn and constraints. I have definitely seen a “cluster effect” happening. In many ways, London is to the property sector what Silicon Valley is to tech. Real estate in London attracts investment from all over the world, and London is a global hub for professional services. There are financial, legal and accounting services that are built around the property sector here. And – because of the number of transactions and overall strength of the sector – there are all of these other support services that you wouldn’t see to the same degree in other parts of the world. The UK has a worldwide reputation for its property related services. You have British architects working on projects in Kuala Lumpur, British project managers in Dubai, and British agents and furniture people jetting off to new-development launches in Southeast Asia.

That said, we have also seen a massive influx of international tech talent. Since 9/11 immigration restrictions in the U.S. have become tighter – and a lot of international talent that would have gone to Silicon Valley – has set up shop in London instead. We now have a vibrant tech hub of our own – “Silicon Roundabout” in Shoreditch. Many of these tech entrepreneurs will try to solve problems in other industries, and we have seen hybrid businesses forming: FinTech, HealthcareTech and also PropertyTech. Rightmove and Zoopla are examples of that collaboration. These success stories have been an inspiration to both property and technology entrepreneurs alike.

What’s interesting is that it is people coming in from other sectors that have created this innovation. Alex Chesterman, the founder of Zoopla, for example, first founded an online DVD rental service which eventually merged with Love Film. No doubt he drew on his lessons from the subscription e-commerce space to disrupt the property search space.

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Zoopla

People from other sectors aren’t boxed in by traditional ways of thinking. They are more likely to challenge the status quo and look for solutions. I’ve seen some very interesting business plans from these “industry connectors” – those that straddle two different industries and innovate by connecting dots that wouldn’t otherwise be connected. I’ve seen new ways of delivering estate agency; there’s no reason why estate agency shouldn’t go in the same way that the travel agency industry has gone – completely online.

I’m also seeing plans for online household property services. It’s so cumbersome to manage all of the services that come into your house. Why is it so disparate to order a cleaner, gardener, babysitter, or plumber? There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to order these services through a single app on your smartphone, pay through one account, have all appointments sync with your smartphone calendar, and know exactly what you’re getting through an Amazon-style feedback loop. I’m seeing a lot of interesting things like that – and I believe it’s just a matter of time before streamlined offerings like this become commonplace. I call this next wave Property 2.0. And it’s coming soon to a home near you.

Perhaps more surprisingly, I’m seeing a lot of great ideas in the commercial property sector too. Unlike the residential sector where people tend not to have a vocational degree, the commercial sector is highly influenced by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the associated RICS accreditations. While this has been good for the industry in terms of making service levels more uniform and consistent, it hasn’t necessarily been the best thing for innovation.

But once again, “industry connectors” are making their entry and changing things. A business called WeArePopUp.Com is an online service that enables landlords to fill vacant units with ‘pop-up’ tenants that are looking for space for a short period of time. With the challenges the high street and retail sector are facing, this is a clever solution that again is born out of an industry in churn. I’m not surprised to learn that the two guys that set up the company are not from a property background. This is a start-up borne out of disruptive thinking from a strategy consultant and a research scientist.

5mwtUwY9It is examples like these which reinforce my belief that the UK is certainly a leader in property innovation and PropertyTech. One of my co-investors from the U.S. has been surprised by the businesses I’m showing him in the UK, and through his venture capital vehicle he’s now spending quite a bit of time with me looking at businesses over here. Of course, businesses don’t have to be tech related to be innovative. I’ve invested in an investment advisory firm called 90 North Real Estate Partners. They have taken advantage of Islamic investors’ appetite for UK property by structuring Shari’ah compliant real estate investments. Not a technology solution at all, but one that responded rapidly to changes in the property fund management industry.

Being a generalist by nature without any preconceived notions, and as a venture capitalist, I tend to look at the property sector from an aerial view. From where I’m sitting, British innovation is very much alive and kicking. If you want to create a conventional business, a high-calibre management team with sector depth has a good chance of delivering success. But – if you’re looking to create an industry beating, category defining business – team up with someone outside of your sector. The debate you’re going to have about challenging the status quo is what’s going to drive ideas and create new offerings. What I’d really like to see is more marriages between the property guys in West London and the tech guys in the East. On my own VC platform, my strategy is to bring these two polar opposite worlds together like an arranged marriage.

Zoopla – the champion of inter-sector marriage – has recently hired a major investment bank to explore growth opportunities for the business, with one option being an IPO that would potentially value the business at £1.3 billion. I’m convinced that a billion pound business could not be built in just five years with insular thinking from the property sector alone. For Property 2.0 in Britain to really flourish, we need to see the West End property professionals spend a bit more time getting to know the East End technology entrepreneurs. It’s a match made in heaven, and one I understand quite intimately as my Californian battle scars and wisdom shape my forays in Britain’s property sector.

25 Jan 2016

Rialto: Why We Are Incorporating In London

I have been in many startup hubs in the past few years: San Francisco, Berlin, Singapore, Belgium.

First off, it was clear for the team that we had to move abroad. Staying in Belgium would make us irrelevant. That’s hard to understand when you’re in Belgium, but makes a lot of sense when you spend time in big metropolitan cities.

Why you should go abroad from day 1.

1. Product Market / Fit

The size of the market might be the number one reason. Yet a more relevant answer to me is to work towards a better product/market fit.

Obviously Belgium is a small market. It is perfect to validate an early product or idea, yet I also experienced it to be unique compared to the larger surrounding markets of Germany, UK and France. We’re addressing SMB’s and larger companies that are mainly operating within the same country.

In Belgium that is a niche market. The SMB’s that we are dealing with got accustomed to business processes created, shaped and regulated within a tiny country. If we were to pursue and build a product for the Belgium CRE market, it would fit Belgium but then we would find it difficult to scale internationally.

Understand that once you start onboarding your first customers and get early product feedback, you start adjusting parts of your product roadmap to that market. Of course you should always keep your focus on the bigger picture. Yet, tuning the product for the Belgium clients would potentially jeopardize a product/market fit in a bigger market.

The sooner you go abroad, the more your product will fit with the customers in that market. Of course, you want your product to stick to a large market as compared to a small one. The good thing is that there are more similarities between the big markets (UK, Germany, France) as compared to the Belgium market.

2. Ecosystem

There were a few options. Berlin would be the most viable one, since I lived more than a year in Berlin. And at this moment Berlin is still my number 1 startup city in Europe. I am curious to experience London in the coming months and see how both cities compare. I am still very much in love with Berlin, it is extremely international and very nice to live in. I can highly recommend any tech startup to spend some time in Berlin. We had the privilege of being embedded in the German real estate tech scene via the lab of ImmobilienScout, i.e. the largest European listing site in Europe.

In Berlin there are a bunch of real estate tech startups working on new interesting products. Some difficulties when commercialising a product in Berlin, especially when addressing the SMB market, is language. The SMB market that we were addressing mainly spoke German. Our mistake was that we outsourced the early commercialisation too fast. Accordingly we lost precious time in the early days. To me it is critical for the founders to be on top of sales of the business before there is a product/market fit.

What is different in London?

Obviously, language will not be an issue in London. We will work from inside the property innovation lab “Pi Labs”, which was founded to become the centre of the property innovation ecosystem in Europe. London is also the number 1 market for commercial real estate in the continent and definitely the right place for a product as ours.

Another big difference is that we will be working together with our UK customers before launching the product in the market. One of the strategic partners will be Cushman & Wakefield, the n°3 CRE broker in the world. On top of that we get the backing of seasoned real estate tech investors and business angels from inside the ecosystem.

In the end we keep in contact with our contacts in the rest of Europe, but the product market/fit will be shaped primarily with the help of early UK customers.

And so, Rialto Ltd was born.

– Didier

25 Jan 2016

OfficeRnd: Office Space Planning

The quality of the office design affects our lives, health and happiness dramatically. Lack of good planning results in poor performance, thus bad business results of the company overall.

Miro and I were managers in a dynamic software company for more than 5 years and we experienced the space planning problem ourselves. We relocated often and every time we struggled to plan our team rooms in the best possible way. Most of the time we failed because we lacked design and architecture skills. We didn’t know the rules nor had the professional software for such tasks.

We decided to make a tool suitable for non-professional designers to let them plan and manage their office. Let’s call it ‘Do It Yourself’ office space planning.

download (5)

Then we coded a lot in the evenings. We’ve learned a lot and met a lot of interesting people, including our Chief Architect Pavel Yanev who joined the team. We left our day jobs. Then at some point we were invited to apply to Pi Labs.

We were extremely happy because it’s called ‘Property Innovation Labs’ and we are doing property innovation software. So we thought “that should be it”. Then we researched it and found all the great mentors there. We checked the place – Second Home. For us doing architecture and design software it will be a pleasure to be in that place. The application was quick and smooth. We couldn’t believed it when we were accepted.

Now we are here, ready to relocate to London and start our journey in the exciting world of the proptech.

25 Jan 2016

Wilde Rooms: A Different Use For The Traditional Retail Space

When we can browse an infinite array of fashion products online, the act of browsing in shopping malls for clothes we like appears a very inefficient method of fashion inspiration. Why can we not select the items we like and see online, and then try those items in one place; without the hassle of multiple deliveries and processing returns?

“I want to go to a comfortable environment, in a convenient location, where the staff know my name and know what clothes I have come to try. I want to relax, try my items, buy and then leave.” 

In a world of convenience, fashion retail has become very inefficient. Physical fashion retail means you move from store to store; talking to various staff, trying and comparing items, all before buying. While online fashion retail gives you an infinite choice, but you have to then await deliveries and process returns. Why can we not combine the best of both these methods?

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At WildeRooms.com that is what we do. Founded in May 2013, our technology enables consumers to browse online selecting any items they like and create their bespoke fashion selection. The consumer can then schedule a time to try those selected items in one place called a Wilde Room. A Wilde Room is comprised of luxury changing suites in a high-footfall traditional retail location.

K fashion retail generates in excess of £0.5bn of spending per week on average. Whilst the market is huge it is extremely diverse. The variety of retailers in the industry range from luxury to trans-season fast-fashion. Some consumers buy £350 Givenchy T-shirts, while others £6 Matalan T-shirts. The point however is that fashion apparel retail is personal, and each consumer is unique.

Shopping malls in the 1960s became successful as they offered the consumer everything they wanted under one roof. Technology today enables the consumer to access an infinite aisle online, but the translation of that aisle to the physical is yet to be defined. It is with this opportunity in mind that we created the WildeRooms.com technology.

We have had advanced conversations with leading UK landlords Westfield, British Land, Land Securities and Hammerson who have all expressed an interest in providing the location for the first Wilde Room. It is with these conversations in mind that we joined Pi Labs. Whilst it is possible to create the technology within a small team; retail and real estate are global industries worth many billions of pounds. it is this realisation that meant in order to create the full Wilde Rooms concept we needed a partner that understood real estate and how technology was impacting the use of that real estate.

Wilde Rooms imagines a different use for the traditional retail space, the same space that landlords can let for high rental premiums to traditional retail tenants. Through the infrastructure and support Pi Labs can afford at Wilde Rooms we feel we are in a stronger position to unlock the corporate door that is our primary barrier to realizing our vision and proving that Wilde Rooms is a viable commercial proposition.