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Clients Should Be at the Heart of PropTech, Not Investors

There is so much noise in PropTech right now, it is hard to know what to believe. Everyone is cloud-based, everyone is predictive, everyone is industry-leading. The self-promotional words all start to blend together into a tasteless buzzword soup ML, AI, RTEM, IoT, scalable, digital, time to value, single pane of glass, sensors…you get the picture. Buzz words are buzzing around PropTech so loud that it is hard to hear anything else at times.

If we all use the same words, do they mean anything? Customers are confused. Hell, I get confused. And, what are we doing to prove that we can even stop confusing everyone and each other.

I was recently speaking with a person whom I respect that manages social media and marketing for a PropTech company. They spoke about how their messaging is “investor focused” not customer-focused. This might sound strange when it is said out loud like this but most PropTech companies are guilty of this. Think about it, how much more goes into announcing a new funding round than a new product feature? How do so many articles covering innovation in the built world start: “In 201X, $Y millions of dollars have been invested in the space.” Investors, for good reason, are everywhere around our sector. 

Investors, wait?

Where are those investors? How many buildings do they own? How many tenants do they interact with? How many zoning board meetings do they attend? How many work orders do they complete?

The short answer to the first question is mostly Palo Alto, New York and Chicago and the answers to the rest of the questions are: none, mostly no, almost never and very few. Investors by and large are not customers. The language investors need can sometimes be a long way from solving the day to day issues facing CRE customers. This is why they see words with sizzle but not enough steak.

I say to my friends and colleagues in both the technology and the property industries, this is a problem. 

While investors can help jump-start a movement the only thing that will propel it forward with any sort of longevity are clients.

Sure there is great promise for our space to transform the built environment. Some of these innovations need money to develop and don’t pay back immediately so it is important to have an ecosystem of investors willing to take the financial risks that come with any new technology. Yet, while investors can help jump-start a movement the only thing that will propel it forward with any sort of longevity are clients. We need to keep them in mind more, not just in our products but in our messaging. We need to ask ourselves, “what can we do for customers who have problems today and need technology they can rely on?” We need to talk plainly and truthfully about the problems we can solve today, not make hollow promises that we might not be able to live up to. If we don’t deliver on our words, we fail our customers, the scalability of our companies and our industry, and ultimately, whatever investors we do have. 

My experience with real estate professionals and, in fact, most of humanity, is that they want something that does what it says it will do and can be believed in. No more fake news. 

Let’s not fall into the trap of delivering false positives and promises to our customers with big tech words. No Shallow Alto lexicon. Trust me, they recognize the “artificial intelligence” in our words more than we realize. Shouldn’t we be talking about what we are doing and not what we want to be?

After looking at the booths at a recent PropTech conference I attended where everybody (no matter what space) was saying the same thing, I joked that our vocabulary was so common (investor-focused) that before long even my mother tell me to communicate with her through a portal and that she is using artificial intelligence to scale her Christmas shopping and will be using machine learning to prepare Christmas dinner.

In reality I will never hear this kind of language from my mother, she is a great cook without any tech needed. But, let me tell you something else my mother has said to me, “Be what you is and not what you ain’t. Cause if you ain’t what you is, you is what you ain’t.”

Words of truth we should heed. Let’s together, all of us changing the property industry, be more customer-focused not investor focused in our language choices. I can’t tell you when you crossed the line, but you already know it—and so do your customers. Let’s talk about what we do today as much as what we hope to do tomorrow. Let’s be what we are and not what we ain’t.

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Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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